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By Christian Doering, Marketing Partner, Dynamic Market Systems
ICONYX offers a unique combination of unobtrusiveness, intelligibility and musicality for St Peter Cathedral, Erie, PA

The beautiful 19th-century St Peter Cathedral in Erie, PA is among the first of many acoustically challenging buildings to reap the benefits of an ICONYX installation.

The new system’s designers, regional integrator Fact AV Technologies Inc., faced the kind of challenge that ICONYX has already proved to be a world beater at overcoming.

Parishioners love the brick and stone building’s architectural look, and the organist and choir director enjoy the room’s six-second reverberation time. But that long reverberation had made speech intelligibility effectively unachievable with any of the cathedral’s previous sound systems, and the lack of intelligibility had been a source of complaints from the congregation for years.

Built in a traditional French Gothic style by architect Patrick Keeley, the designer of over 22 American Catholic cathedrals, and opened for worship in 1893, its interior surfaces are hardwood, marble and stone. The Cathedral seats 896 persons, and for major events, chairs are brought in bringing the number closer to 1,100.

St Peter Cathedral, Erie, PA
Older liturgical rites were all in Latin, and intelligibility was not critical with preaching being largely oratorical in style.

Newer Catholic worship is in English and it is critical that all can hear and participate - but the church’s lofty interior, stone columns and highly reverberant acoustics, while perfect for the earlier form of worship, proved to be the enemy of speech clarity.

As far back as the 1950s attempts had been made to solve the acoustical challenges, and the 1992-3 renovation included new pew back speakers. “Even at its best it was inadequate,” comments Monsignor William E. Biebel, Rector.

As so often with such a venerable building, aesthetic considerations ruled out the usual modern solutions of multiple distributed loudspeakers or high power flown clusters – a much more architecturally sympathetic approach was demanded.

Eric Johnson
, owner of Fact AV Technologies, takes up the story: “Some of the remedies that may have worked technically were aesthetically unacceptable to the mission.

But when Renkus-Heinz came up with ICONYX, it really was the perfect solution. The slim and unobtrusive design fits architecturally very well with the church and was readily acceptable to the bishop for installation."
“Then, with the help of Ralph Heinz, we did a demo of a single ICONYX column in the church, which really sealed the issue because everyone could tell immediately that it would solve the church’s problems at a stroke. The applications team at Renkus-Heinz helped us with an EASE model, and our proposed design using four columns was approved. We were still limited as to where we could locate the loudspeakers, so we made the best choice of available locations that we were allowed to use – but that actually worked out well.”

The ICONYX Series uses advanced technology to provide intelligible speech and musical sound in highly reverberant environments. Their slender “thin stick” vertical profile mounts flat to the wall, blending easily with both classical and contemporary architecture.

One ICONYX column is positioned either side of the altar platform area with a further pair on the right and left hand sides of the main area of the church, midway back. Using Renkus-Heinz’s dedicated BeamWare Lobe Selector software, the team focused the sound directly at the seating areas while minimising direct energy to troublesome areas and surfaces.

The result, says Eric Johnson, is that “the sound coverage is even throughout the church from front to back, and the parishioners have stopped complaining!”

Msgr. Biebel has the last word: “We have gone from wholesale complaining every weekend to a quiet satisfaction. In-house surveys have been conclusive that we have hit the mark. Volunteer contributions from parishioners came in at over $33,000 towards paying the bills incurred. I am grateful to all who worked with us in this critical project, and especially to the team from Fact Audio who have really put in the hours and done the homework. Finally, we have solved the unsolvable.”

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