St. John's University Theater Upgrades its Sound

by Michael Eddy
The 500-seat Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at St. John's University upgraded its audio with Renkus-Heinz speakers
The 500-seat Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at St. John's University upgraded its audio with Renkus-Heinz speakers
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Back in 1985, Saint John's University, located in Collegeville, MN, completed a $2.5 million renovation of its 500-seat Stephen B. Humphrey Theater. Since that renovation, the theater's sound system remained essentially unchanged until this year.

"They put in a couple speakers here and a couple of speakers there," notes Production Manager Adam Dahl of the University's Fine Arts Programming Department. "There's a set of gigantic speakers hidden in the ceiling that I think will stay there forever, though we've disconnected them." The aging system could not properly support the theater's programming, which includes touring productions, concerts, theater, dance, music recitals, lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and more.

"It's an acoustically very live room, which is fantastic for individual recitals," Dahl observes. "But the moment you put in a band or somebody trying to do a lecture, it's not a great room. The old sound reinforcement system attempted to balance the room out. It was mounted in a steel mesh over the stage apron, out of sight, and it was great for the upper third of the house but it did nothing for everyone down front."

Dahl's solution was a set of Renkus-Heinz ICONYX IC Live-series digitally steerable line arrays. The IC Live is a series of small-format arrays that offer flat output from 80 Hz to 20 kHz. It's a compact, powerful system, delivering up to 105 dB (up to 108 dB when stacked) of crystal clear audio at 100 feet. "We essentially have three ICL-FR arrays stacked vertically and mounted to the wall on each side of the stage," Dahl explains. "We considered the double-sized ICL-FR-DUAL but using a triple stack made sense because the room has a fairly steep rake." Using Renkus-Heinz' digital beam steering, the tall, slender arrays put the sound on the audience and minimized the reflections off the walls and ceiling.

A colleague first suggested Dahl consider Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers for the theater about five years ago, having heard them in a local church. "At the time, I didn't think they would put out enough sound to do what I needed," Dahl admits. "Then a few years ago, I went to a venue that had a set, and I was amazed. They were much better than I anticipated they would be."

Dahl began designing the new system. With the IC Live stacks handling most of the sound, he covered the sub-lows with a pair of Renkus-Heinz CFX218S dual 18-inch subwoofers. The CFX218S employs powerful, high-impact woofers with a long-throw magnetic structure to ensure linear cone movement at all power levels. Each subwoofer can deliver up to 132 dB peak SPL and can go from 100 Hz down to 32 Hz. Two of them deliver all the low end the theater will ever need and more. "We found out that at 65 Hz, everything in the room shakes," Dahl laughs. He's filtering at 65 Hz now. 

Overall, Dahl declares, "the improvement from the old system is so great, I cannot even quantify the difference. I just added some Renkus-Heinz TRX81 point source speakers as front fills, and now we have excellent coverage everywhere. The TRX81 is very compact, and it was just right for our application."

Opened in 1928, the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater is a registered historic building, so aesthetics was a major consideration. Alterations must be cleared by a local design committee run by the on-campus monastery and university. Fortunately, IC Lives are quite slender, minimizing their visual impact. Renkus-Heinz' custom paint work completed the job. "Renkus-Heinz color matched the arrays to the wall, so they're barely noticeable," Dahl recalls. "We hid the CFX218S subs in an air return. The committee was satisfied, and we were able to move everything forward."

The rest of the system is straightforward. Dahl uses no DSP, running a Yamaha M7CL console with a Dante control network and recorder, straight to the loudspeaker system. "We got rid of all DSP when we went to the Renkus-Heinz system," he confirms. "Just out of the mixer and into the speakers."

One more step remained. "Ladd Temple from Renkus-Heinz came out and tuned the system for us, and it's fantastic," praises Dahl. "I don't have a large staff, so when I have a big enough show, I bring in an audio guy to help me out. All of the audio guys love to come and work in this room. They love the way the system sounds; they love to sit in the back and mix. It's a great system, and we're delighted."

Further information from Renkus-Heinz: www.renkus-heinz.com