The scale and complexity of production at larger churches in the U.S. has grown exponentially over the past two decades. At the higher end of the scale, both the technology and expertise of the tech team is strikingly similar to that of arena-level concert tours.
Case in point is Community Bible Church (CBC) in San Antonio, the seventh largest church in the U.S. with more than 25,000 members attending services campus-wide each weekend.
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the interdenominational, evangelical church presents contemporary worship that can involve more than 300 people performing in a single service, supported by top-shelf sound reinforcement, broadcast, video and lighting systems.
CBC facilities include a main auditorium that seats 3,500 and a central auditorium capable of hosting another 2,500, both of which received full production renovations in a project spanning several years at a price tag of about $5 million.
Morris Integration, the systems design-build and installation division of Nashville-based Morris Light & Sound, headed the multi-year project, which began with discussions with the church about upgrading all production systems and components that in some cases had been operating constantly for more than 10 years. It's a process that culminated just a couple of months ago with final implementation.
"We partnered with the church to formulate a strategic plan to implement new systems in both auditoriums," explains Morris CEO Danny Rosenbalm, a veteran of the church AV market. "Certain technology was near the end of its lifecycle, and some was coming close to failure mode. It was roulette' as to whether some of it would work from week to week, so it was time for a complete overhaul."
He adds that it was imperative to gain a historical perspective from key players of the technical and executive staff of the church in order to know what worked for them in the past and what they where looking to accomplish. Since the technology lifecycle in the worship venues on campus is 10 to 12 years, the design had to provide infrastructure to accommodate current needs as well as provide expansion for technology upgrades in the future.
In order to accomplish these goals, the design team needed to future-proof the infrastructure and equipment as much as possible while keeping the systems consistent from a venue and campus perspective. The overall goal was to incorporate industry accepted digital protocols in a clean, consistent way while not getting so far ahead of the curve that the design wouldn't be cost effective or efficient to implement from an integration perspective.
John Mills, noted for his work as a top systems tech in the live world, most significantly on the huge Kenny Chesney concert tours that crisscross North America every other year, served as the lead audio system designer on the CBC project. He was backed by a team of experienced specialists from Morris, and they all worked closely with CBC director of audio David Jones as well as pastor of communications Betsy Buhler.
Both the main and central auditorium systems utilize a similar design approach and components, so the focus here will be the larger main auditorium system. The room is wider than it is deep, with seating that begins at the front platform and tapers upward as you move out into the space. The room's extensive ceiling is treated with an acoustical cloud system that helps keep sonic energy under control, furthered by padded seats, carpeting, and the absorption that occurs when the space is full of people.
Intricate Yet Simple
There were several factors that steered the decision-making process. CBC has a full orchestra of over 75 members, a choir with as many as 350 members on stage, and as many as 20 front-line singers. There are 128 channel paths from stage, front of house, and video control that need to be distributed to the front of house console, monitor console, video control, and the broadcast and post production studio. Minimizing the number of analog to digital conversions was deemed a must.
"With the amount and variety of input sources and dynamics coming from the stage, keeping the noise floor to a minimum was necessary to achieve the desired outcome," explains Rosenbaum. "As a result, from stage inputs to loudspeaker outputs, there's only one A-D and D-A conversion throughout the entire system."
Director of audio David Jones was familiar with Midas digital consoles and favors the sound of the preamps and the workflow of the worksurfaces. As a result, the house system utilizes a Midas XL8, with a PRO 9 for monitors.
Both consoles share inputs from six DL431 3-way isolated split input/output units. The DL431 units also send an isolated split with separate gain control to the broadcast/post studio for maximum control over input sources for the mix uploaded to satellite broadcast. Two mic preamps inside each unit accommodates different gain-staging for front of house and monitors. And, a DL153 16-in x 8-out stagebox is at front of house to handle local input-output.
For live recording, virtual sound check, Aviom personal monitoring, audio for video mix purposes, and digital transmission throughout the campus, the 128 channels of 96 kHz AES audio are converted to Dante protocol by way of two Klark-Teknik DN9650 protocol/sample rate conversion units.
This allows for local record and playback of 128 (at 48 kHz) audio tracks via JoeCo Dante Black Boxes, as well as digital audio transmission to the Yamaha QL1 digital console for the video control room mix, digital transport to two Aviom D800-Dante units for personal mixing on stage, digital redundant inputs to PA amplifiers and DSP, and routing to post production for backup and archive purposes.
On the output side, modular frame output units (Midas DL351s) were incorporated for AES and analog outputs to feed amplifiers for the PA and monitor wedges, and for digital audio to the video input router.
Fitting The Bill
The church was confident in the sound and workflow of Electro-Voice (EV) loudspeakers, amplifiers, and DSP from evaluations of other venues, and as the design began to take shape, EV was introducing the new X-Line Advance line array platform.
"At the outset of the project, we saw X-Line Advance X1 introduced at a trade show, and then a bit later were able to hear and evaluate both the X1 and X2 at the Live Sound Loudspeaker Demo at WFX in Dallas," Rosenbalm says. "After that, we knew that it would fit the bill from an audio standpoint for what the church wanted to accomplish."
Mills adds, "Maintaining clean sightlines in the auditorium was key we needed arrays that would be compact. The goal was to utilize 12-inch boxes with enough output to fill the room, with quality mid-range performance. We wanted to be able to cover the vast majority of the entire space with the just the arrays."
Flown left and right of the platform, the main arrays are each comprised of 12 X-Line Advance X2 modules. They're joined by EV EVA2151D dual-15-inch subwoofers that are both flown in arrays with the mains, as well as ground-stacked (one each left and right, and two in the center). The flown subs are configured in a cardioid array to keep low frequencies off the stage and out of the choir loft.
"The flown subs and main PA act as a 3-way linear system, while the ground subs have been tuned and positioned to give an infra' type impact," Mills explains. "The ground subs are fed via a matrix while the flown subs are driven as part of the left/right."
The arrays and subs are powered by EV TG7 and TG5 amplifiers loaded with RCM28 control and DSP cards, with EV NetMax DSP providing overall system management and control. From a workflow standpoint, the NetMax processor is fed AES from the Midas DL351 frame, and from there, signal goes into the AES input on the RCM28 cards. The RCM28 OMNEO cards also allow for a Dante input that acts as the redundant in case the AES fails.
The same electronic components also drive six Electro-Voice EVH1152D 2-way coaxial horn-loaded loudspeakers that are flown left-center-right for near and out fill. The same goes for the seven EVU1062 compact 2-way loudspeakers along the lip of the platform to bolster coverage to the first few seating rows.
EV also provided considerable support on the project, Rosenbalm notes, with application engineer Stu Schatz assisting with design issues and even traveling to the church for an exhaustive system tuning process that included multiple on- and off-axis measurements in every seating area. The multichannel measurement rig deployed by Morris starts with Rational Acoustics Smaart v7, working with four channels of Lectrosonics wireless and a Shure SCM820 Dante digital automatic mixer.
"All of the work and attention to detail paid off," Mills states. "The coverage is very tight and very articulate throughout the coverage area. And at the back of the room, vocals sound just as good as they does toward the front."
Andy Bosquet of Morris Integration was central in the approach on the platform. Once again, I/O is plentiful courtesy of the Midas modular platform on the Dante network, joined by the PRO9 digital console.
Also of note is the implementation of 12 channels of Shure Axient wireless working with Spectrum Manager. The system is able to deploy frequencies on demand as well as provide seamless auto-switching channel capability. Several other wireless systems are available for vocalists and instrumentalists.
Musicians are happy to be getting stereo mixes with the new Aviom D800-Dante A-Net distributor providing 128 channels to Aviom A320 personal monitor mixers. Additional performers can be served with Sennheiser ew300 G3 in-ear monitoring systems, and there's plenty of stage wedges available as well, retained from the previous system but driven by new EV amplification and processing.
The choir also received a monitoring upgrade, with Mills devising a flown choir monitoring system above the platform incorporating three more EVH1152 coaxial loudspeakers. The tech crew wasn't ignored; with the number of stations added in the workflow of the system design, a 32-channel RTS digital matrix intercom system was included to handle all of the additional communication needs.
"This project presented a host of challenges, but it all comes down to winning on two primary fronts: infrastructure and sound quality," Rosenbalm concludes. "The system backbone provides hundreds of channels that route seamlessly to numerous locations, with extreme flexibility and future expandability. And it really sounds great, both on stage and in the house. We were a bit concerned about potentially being a bit too far out on the bleeding edge,' but we're all, collectively, very impressed with the quality of the new EV line array technology."
Used with permission by ProSoundWeb (Keith Clark is editor in chief of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International).