Princeton University Chapel Resurrects Its Audio With Advanced Loudspeaker Technology From Renkus-Heinz


The former university of Michelle Obama, New Jersey’s Ivy League Princeton University is one of the top schools in the United States. At the center of its religious and ceremonial endeavors sits Princeton University Chapel, an elegant house of worship that gives nod to the architectural style of the English Gothic Cathedrals of the 14th century.

Constructed in 1928 after a fire destroyed the previous worship site, the cruciform chapel cost over $2 million to construct and was the largest university chapel in the US. For years, the venue has been relied on to carry congregations, host events and offer an oasis in the center of the university campus for people of all faiths. Complete with seating for almost 2000 worshippers, the nave features sandstone walls with limestone highlights and towering 80 ft-high ceilings, but its admirable aesthetics compromised the speech intelligibility of liturgical services.

To resolve the sound issues, the chapel’s staff reached out to Maryland-based audio-visual integrators Washington Professional Systems (WPS) for a new audio system. The brief specified clear and intelligible speech for all congregants, as well as acoustically balanced music enhancement, broadcast capabilities and better audio clarity for worship leaders, the choir and the musicians. With consultancy support from SIA Acoustics, the chapel upgraded to an audio system from Renkus-Heinz, complete with innovative beam-steering capabilities.

Going into the project, WPS had to consider the historic nature of the venue, and working closely with the project architect, the integrators ensured that the system was discreet and respected the intricacies of the building. WPS deployed a tiered escalation process to identify any modifications and sought guidance on how to proceed, ensuring that the effects of the project on the chapel’s irreplaceable stone and woodwork was minimal.

“The loudspeaker system was designed with the goal of delivering high-quality speech intelligibility and tonal balance for music, whilst also respecting the venue,” begins John V Fish, senior project engineer at WPS. “With that framework in mind, the system utilizes 13 different self-powered Renkus-Heinz IC Live Gen5 loudspeakers throughout the main sanctuary, located on each side of the altar, on the columns of the nave, on the sidewalls of the balcony, and at the Marquand Chapel. Each loudspeaker receives an independent audio signal from the DSP and is programmed with specific delays to act as one unit, creating the effect that the audio is being delivered from the altar.”

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One of the main reasons WPS opted for a Renkus-Heinz audio solution was the beam-steering capabilities of the brand’s loudspeakers. A leader in the field of beam-steering technology, the IC Live Gen5 Series features OmniBeam – an algorithm that offers unmatched sound and coverage for all venues, without complex configuration. The use of OmniBeam results in custom-tailored sound that covers the exact geometry of the space, delivering consistency from the front to the back of any venue.

“The beam-steering capabilities allow control of sound dispersion from the loudspeakers in the vertical plane. This capability helps fine tune the system for highly intelligible speech in the very reverberant and reflective Chapel,” furthers Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics. “Additionally, the IC Live Gen5 loudspeakers allow us as designers to control the vertical dispersion of sound to the point where we can create the sense that sound is coming from the presenter or worship leader themselves, rather than from the loudspeakers. This system allows a historic building to meet the expectations of today’s most demanding audiences.”

The system is mixed through an Allen and Heath Avantis digital console, and a Dante-based network is used to transport audio signals throughout the sanctuary, the choir and the altar. This network enables the system to move the audio signature effectively with low latency at a low cost – all system inputs and outputs are available on Dante, which means each signal can be routed as needed including to specific loudspeaker groups. “By offering multiple modes of operation, the design allows Chapel staff to activate and use the system without navigating a complicated startup procedure,” concludes Fish. “Additionally, the system has enough headroom to be used for a wide variety of events with no drop-off in quality or sonic clarity.”

Being a working religious center, Princeton University Chapel stayed open during the installation to allow for daily services and events. To maintain these operations, WPS created staggered shifts for their on-site team that worked in tandem with the chapel’s schedule and prevented any disruptions. The result is a high-quality audio system that has achieved its goal of blending modern and advanced capabilities with flexible, easy-to-use operation.

Technical information

11 x Renkus-Heinz ICLive-DUAL loudspeakers

2 x Renkus-Heinz ICLive-TRIP loudspeakers

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