Renkus-Heinz tames the Baroque

Hamburg, Germany | May, 2011 - Hamburg's iconic St Michaelis church, the most venerated church among German Protestants, has been equipped with one of Europe's largest Iconyx digital beam steering systems.

Churches and cathedrals often pose challenges for acousticians and sound system designers, but few surpass the architectural complexity of the cavernous St Michaelis, originally built in 1750.

Its interior is ornate Baroque at its most florid. White painted walls are endowed with gilded ornamentation and its architecture, advanced for its time, supports a soaring roof without columns. Destroyed by fire in 1906, then rebuilt virtually brick for brick, it has an important role in German culture, regularly hosting televised services, most recently a memorial service for Loki Schmidt, wife of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, in November 2010.

Emphasising the importance of the pulpit in Protestant churches, where the sermon is central to worship, the visitor handbook notes the ceiling of the marble pulpit was designed to reflect sound downward towards the congregation. It adds: "In those days sermons lasted one to two hours…we can understand why, in the days before microphones, so many clergy complained about problems with their vocal chords."

Those issues have now been eliminated by the new Renkus-Heinz Iconyx system, accompanied by a variety of Sennheiser wireless and Neumann wired microphones.

St Michaelis' open central hall is surrounded by acoustically complex areas including tall, deep balconies that recede into semicircular cupolas, in some areas out of direct sight of the pulpit. A cupola on the north side houses an electronic organ and tiered choir stalls. Across the hall tiered balcony seating rakes back some 15 metres. Sermon intelligibility in these areas, and in the deep under-balcony areas, was poor.

Roland Bruder, IT and Technology manager for St Michaelis Church, comments: "The old sound system wasn't specialised enough for our demands, which means the spoken word. Three systems were presented to the church community and they chose the system proposed by ASC."

The Hamburg branch of ASC (Amptown System Company) handled the installation with sales and marketing manager Dierk Elwart and project managers Rüdiger Aue and Jörn Wehmeyer in charge.

Elwart explains: "We demonstrated Iconyx loudspeakers in the church, and the effectiveness of the digital beam steering convinced the church community.

It's ideal for this huge, complex room shape with recesses and balconies and a very long reverberation time, because you need to focus the sound very exactly into each area.

"This solution provided that focusing ability, and delivers high power from architecturally discrete and colour-matched loudspeakers."

A total of 17 Iconyx columns was installed, with a pair of IC16s either side on the ground floor level with the pulpit, a further pair of IC16s for the sides and a delay pair of IC8s, all digitally steerable.

Upstairs, digitally steerable IC24s flank the archway of the altar, forming the main balcony system, supplemented by a mechanically steerable IC7 stack either side for the rear balcony, a further pair of IC7s for the balconies' outer areas, and finally two more IC7s on marble pillars to cover two upper level balconies.

Audio routing is handled by a BSS Soundweb London with analogue audio distribution to the loudspeakers, while system control has been intentionally simplified to a basic, custom designed control panel for use by non-technical staff.

Concludes Elwart:"The toughest thing in doing a system like this is waiting for feedback from the public. And there's been no feedback at all, which is precisely the response we were hoping for."