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My Journey to Choosing an SSL Console for Arizona Church

Prior to deciding on which audio mixing console would be the best fit for the church, consoles from SSL, Lawo and Allen & Heath were shipped to the church to demo to help in the decisionmaking process.

About two years ago, at Oro Valley Church of the Nazarene in Arizona, we decided it was finally time to upgrade our front of house console.

For console choices to demo, I narrowed it down to three prospects that would be run through the paces at the church.

I knew this would not be a decision taken lightly, as we’d be buying into an entirely new platform, one that we’d have to live with for several years.

The planned upgrade was slated to replace a pair of Yamaha DM2000 consoles that had been slaved together at FOH, from the time the sanctuary opened about 13 years earlier. While the church’s then-current consoles were still working, we knew we were on borrowed time.

Adding a wrinkle to that search for a new console, the church at the same time was looking for a new worship pastor. I entered that process expecting that upon finding that individual, he would have entirely new ideas about how our worship ministry should look and sound.

The timing for the project worked to where I could start my console search at 2017’s WFX Conference & Expo 2017, in Dallas. I went to the show, with both a list of wants and a list of needs in hand.

I knew that the church needed a high channel count, lots of flexibility, and a platform that we could rely on for years to come. In addition, I wanted something that was volunteer friendly, sounded great, and would be able to serve FOH, monitor, and record duties.

I recognize that’s a pretty tall order, so upon arriving at the convention center for that year’s show, I started by checking out the booths of the big guys.

Among those first booths I visited, was Avid’s, where I took a hard look at the S6L console. Knowing a friend that was working with one, I called him for some insight. He said it was great that Avid was rolling out pretty regular software updates, to handle any discovered issues along the way. With a number of other options to check out, I decided to keep looking.

The next booth where I spent a good bit of time was at Lawo’s, talking with a couple of representatives about the MC2-36 console. It was an incredibly gorgeous console that looked like it had been lifted straight off the set of some futuristic sci-fi movie.

I loved the giant screens of the MC2-36, along with the metering, and that there were so many buttons and knobs (I developed most of my audio chops engineering in a recording studio, with a large-format analog desk). While I wasn’t very familiar with the brand, I was certainly intrigued.

A couple other booths I visited were the Yamaha booth, where I checked out the CL5, but realized it couldn’t be big enough to give me the elbow room I needed at the church's FOH. The RIVAGE PM10, while in some ways a more ideal option than the CL5, ran up against budget considerations. At the Allen & Heath booth, I was impressed with some nice hardware and a compelling platform, particularly for how well it seemed to be punching well above its weight class.

Among those other stops was at the Solid State Logic booth. I wanted to check out a console that I’d researched before the show, and was very interested in. It was quite dramatic to actually sit in front of it though.

It was deep and complex, but it was almost overwhelmingly so.

Following my stop to that booth, I came away thinking, “Hmm, I’ll have to come back to this one.”

After the conference, it took a couple of months to get all the pieces together to coordinate demos, with the demo units starting to arrive at Oro Valley Church of the Nazarene around the end of that December. For console choices to demo, I narrowed it down to three prospects that would be run through the paces at the church.

The three consoles brought in were an Allen & Heath dLive S7000 with a 64-channel stagebox, a Lawo MC2-36 with a 32-channel stagebox (for a total input count of 64, between the console and stagebox), and an SSL L200 with 64 channels of stageboxes.

The three didn’t arrive quite back-to-back, but pretty close. With each one, a rep from the company whose console was being demoed came out to get everything up and running for an ideal setup in our environment.

Upon completing these demos, I didn’t want to buy into something that I cussed at (only mentally, of course, since I work at a church) every time that I had to make a configuration change, or brought a new volunteer into the fold, while having to teach them how to work the new console.

While demoing each of the consoles, I developed some quick opinions.

For starters, I found that Allen & Heath’s dLive stuff was notably well-suited for the church environment. There was very little I didn’t like about the platform, and a lot I did. I just wasn’t sure it was the right solution, though, for our church, over the long-term.

When the Lawo console arrived, it made me think of what it must be like to own an exotic Italian sports car. It sounds great, it’s fast, and it looks like a million bucks. But such a sports car also often doesn’t come with cup holders, requires exorbitantly expensive oil changes, while also forcing you to keep your mechanic on speed dial. With the Lawo, we actually had to call tech support and found they had to start an SSH session with the console and change the config file to add a stagebox to the system. We found that you couldn’t just plug it in and make sure that the IP matches up to make a needed change.

Once I finally got to sit behind the SSL console at the church, things started to fall into place. Since the SSL Live platform is flexible and powerful, it’s also deep and complex. It took a little bit to get up to speed, but once I got my head wrapped around the workflow, things started to hit all the right notes.

When it came time to decide on which console was the best fit for the church, the chosen solution was SSL’s L200 console, with 96 channels worth of MADI stageboxes.

Our current setup at Oro Valley Church of the Nazarene has us running a few channels of our Unity Intercom system through the console, so that I can embed those onto channels 3 and 4 of our SDI program feed, along with having Dante running all throughout the property. On stage, everyone is using an Android tablet to adjust their own in-ear mix, paired with a Waves system that performs pitch-correction duties, thereby getting rid of a less effective 32-channel personal mixer. For special events, I’m even tying the console into a QLab computer, which runs our lights, video playback, and environmental projection from the MIDI out of the SSL console. I can control the entire show from the Go button on the desk.

A few months after installing the new SSL, the church’s new worship pastor was hired. He’s brought a completely new dynamic to our worship experiences, and a whole new set of demands to our production team.

When I think back to the other two consoles that I demoed, I try to think of how either would have fit into our new environment at Oro Valley Church of the Nazarene. The thing is, I’m not sure they would have in our particular case.

You can always adjust your workflow to fit within your capabilities, but with the SSL L200 we chose, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to accomplish the task. I can talk about features and specs all day long (and you’re welcome to email me with any questions) relating to the SSL, but the proof is in the pudding, beginning with the L200’s sound quality.

With the SSL console, I find that my team and I can keep up with crazy last-minute changes, two different bands on stage each Sunday morning, and the demands of a fast-growing church body. It was a big commitment to buy into this platform, but it has paid off. I expect the SSL console will continue to earn its place as a solution that I can highly recommend.

(Shawn Teague is the tech director at Oro Valley Church of the Nazarene in Oro Valley, Arizona.)

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