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St. Stanislaus Church

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Acoustically, 19th Century churches are often extremely lively. The hard plaster and marble interiors produce reverb that can enhance the sound of an organ or choir, but make the spoken word hard to understand.

Such was the case at St. Stanislaus Church, on historic Mitchell Street on the south side of  Milwaukee.  The cathedral-like structure, originally opened in 1873, had fallen on hard times. Not only had attendance declined, but an ill-conceived modernization in the 1960s saw its original stained glass windows removed, the altar and chancel rebuilt, and the beautiful floors carpeted over.  The sound system added at that time was poor at best, and a newer system, from the late 1990s, little better. 

In 2007, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Catholic order dedicated to celebrating the Latin Mass, took over the property.  As they rebuilt the church and the church programs, they saw attendance increase dramatically.  Today they celebrate nine Masses weekly (more during holidays), and the attached school is thriving.  

As part of the massive, nine-year restoration, the Institute asked Lewis Sound and Video to design a new sound system that would overcome the reverb issues. They wanted clear, natural, intelligible speech that could be heard without strain throughout the sanctuary.

We based the new system on two 16.4’ tall JBL line arrays, the physics of which allow us to direct nearly all of the sound pressure at the people in the pews and away from the back wall and ceiling. Not only do these arrays sound great, but their tall, narrow design and white finish blend into the marble. They are not invisible, but unnoticeable, and do not detract from the beauty of the church.

Our work included:

  • Building an acoustic model of the church in EASE
  • Choosing, then installing two JBL Intellivox DC500 powered line arrays
  • Installing and programming a BSS Blu 100 digital signal processor to control the arrays
  • Adding two JBL speakers in the choir loft (since to avoid reverb, we steered the sound from the arrays away from the back wall and balcony)
  • Integrating seven wired and wireless microphones already in use
  • Installing Crestron control for volume levels and a power sequencing
  • Tuning the new sound system using our TEF audio analyzer and Smaart Live5 software

In addition, we upgraded, then tuned an existing sound system in the gymnasium/cafeteria of the adjoining  St. Stanislaus School, installed another Blu 100 DSP and Crestron control panel there, and installed the hardware and network wiring needed to route audio from the sanctuary into this system.

Nathan Lewis, in charge of the system design, says “It’s amazing how much sound energy we were able to direct at the congregation and nowhere else. Before we installed the balcony fills, you could not even tell if the system was on or off if you were standing in the choir loft. At the same time, however, no matter where you sit in the pews, you hear the natural sound, super crisp and clear.”

See a tour of the sanctuary on Vimeo

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The restoration explained on YouTube

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