WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. For Family Church Downtown, formerly known as First Baptist Church, after more than 20 years, it was decided that it was time to move on from an aging Altec-Lansing PA system at its West Palm Beach space.
“For what we are trying to do, we absolutely envisioned (the need to upgrade the sound system), as it was pretty obvious we were going to need that many speakers, to make our space work.”
In its place, the church opted for a significant sound system upgrade, completed in September. It features an L-Acoustics line array system at that location, with the new rig comprising of 20 Kara enclosures, flown left to right. As part of the configuration in the 144-foot long by 80-foot wide space (with a rear balcony), it also includes three flown SB18 single 18-inch subwoofers per side arranged in a cardioid pattern, with one reversed in the array of three and four SB28 dual 18-inch subwoofers that are positioned underneath the stage.
For Family Church Downtown's supervisor for technical services, Michael Millington, the substantial upgrade didn't come as a surprise.
"For what we are trying to do, we absolutely envisioned it, as it was pretty obvious we were going to need that many speakers, to make our space work," he said. "The (sound) system was 24 years old, and the goal was to have a new system that would last another 20 years."
Helping to make the final decision was Jupiter, Fla.-based Peerson Audio, Inc., which has become commonplace for the church. As noted by company president Allen Peerson, his father helped install the original system when the church was built and it also "put in the center cluster system over 20 years ago."
To Millington, the choice of having Peerson Audio work on the project was a logical one.
"They are not only our go-to for this campus, but for our other six campuses. We tell them what we want, and they do a great job," he added. While the line arrays were installed in about a week, the full L-Acoustics system took an additional week, and the cabling took about a month to install. Despite those different aspects of work, Millington emphasized, "We had no interruption of service, no interruption of audio."
With the upgrade, it notably improved low-end performance throughout the building, in large part by combining a mix of flown subs and subs placed below the stage. In addition to the subs, Peerson installed four 8XTi speakers for front fill. Serving to handle the system and drive the entire rig of 34 speaker units are six L-Acoustics LA4X amplified controllers, along with two LA8 amplified controllers.
The process in deciding on what system to go with began in late 2014, when discussions started with the executive staff and executive pastor, after which consultants were brought in.
What really helped the church's staff in deciding on L-Acoustics was by arranging a "shootout" in the church space, with four line array and speaker manufacturers temporarily installing and testing each of their systems.
For the church's director of operations, Doug Lettsome, the differences between the L-Acoustics system compared to the others were readily evident.
"The L-Acoustics system was clearer, with more detail," Lettsome said. "From top to bottom it was the most even and consistent of all the boxes. I played four music selections, pre-recorded, before we went to anything live. L-Acoustics had more articulation."
In short, Lettsome added, "It met all the criteria: it came in under our price point, it sounded the best, and we could get it in white," the last point being a benefit where it could blend in with the very traditional space that includes ornate columns.
Lettsome was not alone in coming away convinced that the L-Acoustics system was the best choice for the space.
"All of them brought in half a system into the space. They were given parameters, and hung them in our space, and L-Acoustics obviously won," Millington said. "We wanted to get a system that was the best with the money that we had, and would have great sound quality. Part of what we do is worship, and we want to have a great experience. We don't want people's ears bleeding, and I think we did everything that we could ask for. We hit it out of the park."
To get the best performance out of the L-Acoustics system, Millington also outlined some additional work done around the line array and speaker install.
"One of the other things that we did for our space was that we did a lot of acoustical treatment, which we started to install around June or July," he noted. "It's hard to find (in the space), as we treated the back wall, the balcony, and outside the arches. (The church's reverberation time, or) RT60, went from two seconds down to 1.3. The space is still live, but for an older building, we are happy with the specs, and the space is really sounding amazing." Once the speakers were installed in September, the remaining acoustical treatments were added a short time thereafter.
As the front of house engineer every week, Millington said the new system is "night and day (from the prior one). It's to the point where I'm used to it, and I'm spoiled. As an operator, I'm able to push the limits because we have such a great system, from kick to bass, while having the vocals pop out, along with overall clarity it's amazingly good."
For Millington, not only has he noticed the dramatic difference in the sound, but so too have the church's congregants.
"It's funny as an audio guy, I can hear the nuances. When you get a three-generational audience, though, you wonder if they'll hear a difference," he said. "But I've heard amazing feedback from young to old, across the board. It's the first thing they notice, as we've gotten tons of positive feedback."
Lettsome also has been overwhelmed by the favorable feedback received from the church's congregants.
"People said that it sounds softer, like we'd lowered the volume, but we didn't. It's just the impression from not having the edginess through those upper-mids," said Lettsome. "Although gain before feedback on the old system was decent enough, we could never get the vocals to sound very good."
Unfortunately, for the old system, such less than glowing assessments went much further, according to Millington.
"A lot of the feedback before was about how it sounded muffled, or that there were a lot of low end artifacts, or that they couldn't hear the vocals clearly," Millington explained. "Then with different operators, the comments might have been that it was too loud, but with my doing (the sound) for a while, it wasn't that it was too loud, but it was the offensive frequencies around 2-4K, where it was hard to mix vocals."
Even though the install of the L-Acoustics system was finished about four months ago, the downtown location has also recently updated their cameras and lighting, while still being on track for additional improvements, including plans to upgrade their video screens.
"We actually upgraded our cameras to Panasonicour IMAG is phenomenal," said Millington. "We're building out the stage in April, and I've already upgraded our lighting, with 20 moving head fixtures, and about 20 LEDs color washes for different things, for drum kits and columns, and I've built walls with LEDs built in them," with all the planned upgrades targeted for completion by the middle of the year.