TYLER, Texas Having been previously involved in two major system installs over the last 17 years at Green Acres Baptist Church, Audio Director Mark Leonard sought to have this third time be the charm, by having it focus primarily on improving the church's audio capabilities.
The church of around 18,000 members, which averages between 4,000 to 5,000 on Sundays, had still been using a point-and-shoot "JBL system, and it was about time," to upgrade the primary speakers to line arrays in the worship space, noted Leonard, along with a series of mini-gooseneck microphones and a pair of new digital audio consoles.
“What sold the d&b's, was that it suited our space perfectly; it was a perfect match.”
The plan for this extensive upgrade began about four years ago, when it was first presented to the church's finance committee, Leonard said. Once approved, Leonard aimed to find an integrator who "would put my interests and desires first." He found that sought-after-fit in Morris, based in Nashville, making their first contact at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, at a Kenny Chesney concert. Then about two years ago, the church commissioned a design from Morris for their desired system, and the plan gathered steam.
In Green Acres' worship space, the church had previously used large diaphragm microphones suspended over its choir loft. And this is no run-of-the-mill sized loft, with the choir typically running about 120 members strong for a Sunday service, and up to 300 for special services during Christmas, Easter or the Fourth of July. As part of the install, completed on Sept. 1, those 28 diaphragm microphones were replaced with just nine Earthworks FlexWand microphones.
As proof that sometimes less is better, Leonard said the new configuration added up to where "the gain is better than I had ever hoped, and you can understand what they are saying." The decision to go with Earthworks, Leonard added, was largely based on a recommendation by the Morris Sound staff, including project manager Philip Hagood at the start of the install, "and that has not been a mistake."
To Leonard, what makes the FlexWand mics stand out is that "they're extremely articulate. You hear detail that you don't hear in other mics. The coverage pattern is different; with others you get hot spots. The Earthworks' pattern is so wide and smooth, like a smooth 180 degrees, to where there is noticeably better rejection from the backside." That improved performance is also highlighted from the church's orchestra being made up of a large brass section, where the sound from the horns was often picked up by the previous mics not dedicated to that section, where the FlexWands "are noticeably better at rejecting" those off-axis sounds.
When describing the primary focus of the project as outlined by the church, Hagood said Green Acres Baptist "wanted a 15-year solution that covered a wide range of styles and events that they could have. They knew it was going to be a multi-million dollar project, so they had a focus on quality as well as the longevity."
With the church having been at its current site since 2002, Hagood cited the church has undergone some significant changes over that time, to where an update was warranted.
"That original system was designed for low intensity kind of worship music from 15 to 20 years ago, and the system has been aging," said Hagood. "There was a stylistic change in their music as well, and the masses had become more accustomed to a higher quality of acoustics."
Beyond the upgrade to Earthworks microphones, the church also upgraded from a Yamaha PM1D audio digital console to a pair of side-by-side, single operation Solid State Logic L500 Plus consoles, with one designated for the front of house, and another for the monitors. With that change, the church now has access to 256 inputs and 256 outputs across the building. "It's like going from one piece of 15-year-old software to a new piece of software. It's just an awesome and beautiful board," Leonard explained.
And for speakers in the new space, the decision was to go with arrays comprised of d&b audiotechnik Vi12 speakers, with 13 elements a side. Each Vi12 is a 3-way passive unit, with a pair of 10-inch low frequency drivers, one horn-loaded 8-inch medium frequency driver and a pair of 1.4-inch high frequency compression drivers.
"I'd been on various tours and locations, and heard the d&b's in concerts," noted Leonard. "What sold the d&b's, was that it suited our space perfectly; it was a perfect match."
Overall, Leonard deemed that each of the three major aspects of install equally played a role in achieving the significant sound improvement at the church.
"I would say those three elements are all equal gains. There is no magic bullet out there that will change your world around," said Leonard. "They all meshed and worked and sounded great."
To Hagood, while he agreed that each of the major components of the install played a "contributing part" to the overall improvement of sound in Green Acres Baptist's worship space, he said, "I would say 100 percent the d&b system (was the most significant factor in the improvement). No matter where you sit, it sounded the same, and as good; that is one hundred percent the experience. "
And to make the whole new system upgrade to work the most efficient, it also required "that we gut all the copper out of the building, to where we installed fiber everywhere," said Leonard. The cable runs throughout the church extended up to 500 to 600 feet, and had previously been all analog, "and a lot of it was installed haphazardly," added Hagood. In the end, that part of the project added up to where "30,000 to 40,000 feet of cable had to be removed or put back in."
The changes have been well received at the church from the outset. Leonard said that "the musicians like that they hear things better," and that "speech has improved 100 percent." Following the first service with the new system, Leonard said he received a number of emails from senior citizen members with hearing issues. "We just put in a system that any rock and roll band would be happy to play with. But they said that they could all hear and follow along. I didn't expect that, but that meant a lot, that we were able to improve the delivery of the message."
That "delivery" was largely achieved by meeting the number one priority, as noted by Hagood, that the sound improvements "cover the room with the highest quality of the spoken Word."
For Hagood, the feedback that first Sunday service before Labor Day was similarly effusive, particularly with regard to the noticeable difference with what was heard from the choir.
"When the choir sang, it sounded (with the FlexWand mics) as though you were sitting in the choir loft," said Hagood. "The feedback we got after that first Sunday, from pastors or the congregation, was that "this was the first time I heard the choir, where before they heard a roar of voices. You could hear individual voices and sounds. Before it was loud, but it didn't sound natural or articulate. (In those emails), they said they could understand every word from the pastor without their hearing aid ... having that level of impact on numerous members of the congregation, that to me totally sealed the deal that we accomplished the goals.
To avoid any cancellations or postponements of any services, the church required an incredibly tight installation window to complete the install: three weeks, during August of last year.
"We switched to a portable system, and used that system for two Sundays," Leonard said. "That was pretty intense no services were delayed or postponed." During that time, the church changed their format, going to a praise band instead of a choir, until the system changeover was finished.
Such moves were necessary, explained Hagood, since the church was the second largest gathering space in the city, so having the congregation meeting at an alternate site wasn't an option.
"It should have been a 6-week job for any other company," noted Leonard. "Their plan was to do it for seven days a week, even moving to Tyler, Texas and renting a house here for those three weeks to get it done. They accepted the challenge, and they busted their butts. By the end of the three weeks, they were ready to drop dead."
Once the work was completed, Leonard said that the project had met its goals, "we came in under budget, and we were on time all of my goals have been met."
About a month after the install, staff from Morris returned as part of a standard follow-up, to deal with "minor stuff, some housekeeping," explained Leonard. "If there was some major malfunction, they would have been right back, but there wasn't. It was pretty much right from day one. The biggest problem was learning the new system, the ins and outs."
Hagood elaborated by adding, "We always do a 30- to 60-day follow-up, and for larger installs, we usually do two. There was nothing major (on their follow-up with Green Acres), just things like workflow, like putting this button on this screen instead of this screen. How we work, is to leave with zero items on the punch list."