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St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral
Sound System Installation
The project at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral in LaCrosse, Wisconsin presented us three major challenges: winning the church's confidence, working with the environment, and working with a difficult installation schedule.
Winning Their Confidence
The first challenge was winning the church’s trust and confidence. They were reluctant to spend money on a new sound system after they spent a substantial amount on their previous sound system installations, which not only failed to provide acceptable sound intelligibility but did not account for the aesthetics of the building.
A Unique Environment
The second challenge was the physical environment of the sanctuary. First, the reverberation time was an average of 4.5 seconds, ranging from 3 to 5.5 seconds depending on the frequency. Second, it was a very long facility; it was 220 feet from front to back with a 55-foot high arched ceiling, which presented a challenge for properly delaying the speaker system to maintain time alignment and intelligibility. Third, the construction of the sanctuary was not conducive for pulling wire or mounting speakers. Most of the floor structure was 24” of reinforced concrete topped with tile or marble slab. The basement, through which most of our wire was routed, had 36” reinforced concrete walls.
A Constantly Busy Atmosphere
The third challenge was the installation schedule. They maintained their church schedule of three masses per day, so we had to be sure we kept a partial system in place, and continually clean our work area so that we were invisible to most parishioners.
Audio Architects' Solutions
We were able to overcome the first challenge by bringing a demo system to our initial visit. We chose to bring a line array product that would work well in their acoustical environment. The demonstration proved so successful that the church insisted that we leave it in place until the new system was installed. We were able to further show them through EASE data coverage maps and 3D rendering that we had considered all aspects of the system and integration with their facility.
In designing the system, we used Bose MA12 speakers because they are very direct speakers with minimal vertical off-axis reflections and they blended with the column structure. We used sets of these speakers and correctly delayed them in the sanctuary to minimize arrival times and increase intelligibility.
The main mixer/processor was the Biamp Audia Flex, which gave us the flexibility of routing and processing individual inputs and outputs. We were also able to create presets so that only the applicable speakers were on at one time – balcony, chapel, and nave. This reduced the amount of unnecessary sound energy in the room. With that long of a reverb time we wanted to eliminate any extraneous sound, thus improving intelligibility. The Biamp Volume/Select 8 gave the user easy control over the system, while the basic system was automatic and tamper-resistant. We set up the system so that they would not have to adjust anything, unless someone new was using the microphones and required a different volume.
Getting past the structural difficulties came down to utilizing the proper equipment and taking our time with installation. We had to purchase both 24” and 36” hammer drill bits as well as marble drill bits. A hole spotter allowed us to accurately pinpoint a hole on both sides of the floor and wall. We were successful because we invested time, ingenuity, some elbow grease, and a lot of careful planning.
The church’s full schedule required working different hours. We often would not start until late afternoon and would work until midnight or later. We also spent extra hours making sure that the site was kept clean. The demo system was kept in place until we were ready to make the switch to the new system, so they always had a system to use.
The end result speaks for itself. They have a system with intelligible sound that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.