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Traditional Sanctuary Ascending to New Technical Heights

An outdated system is updated from analog to digital audio, along with video that modernizes this historic sanctuary with robust audio, visuals.

HICKORY, N.C. – Having just celebrated 150 years since its founding on May 19, Corinth Reformed Church - about an hour northwest of Charlotte - is on the verge of completing a comprehensive audio, video and lighting upgrade to both its sanctuary and contemporary worship spaces.

The driving force behind the church's comprehensive install, was with its recent 150-year celebration, it “wanted to see how we could improve the worship experience.”

Beginning with the growing church’s Thanksgiving Day service last year, Corinth has been rolling out notable improvements over the last nine months, starting with that service in the sanctuary, to its audio system.

Among the loudspeakers and amplifiers that were added as part of the recent install were a pair of d&b audiotechnik 10D four-channel, 700 watts per channel amplifiers, and four passive d&b audiotechnik 16C column loudspeakers, featuring four 4-inch drivers and a single 3/4 -inch dome tweeter. In addition, the audio upgrades to the space included a pair of two-way d&b audiotechnik 24C column speakers, which include six 4-inch drivers and six 1.1-inch high frequency drivers, along with a pair of full-range two-way d&b audiotechnik 8S loudspeakers, each with an 8-inch/1-inch coaxial driver combination.

Prior to the installation of the sound system, Greg Davis, senior vice president at AE Global Media, based in Charlotte, said, “What really led the way (to the upgrades) in the sanctuary was that the intelligibility was exceptionally low, because they had a very old, outdated system.”

The previously installed speakers in the sanctuary, he noted, were about 20 years old, and the church was still running analog for front of house. In terms of the sound issues with the prior system, Reagan Lail, the church’s technology coordinator said, “The biggest thing was how bad the sanctuary sounded, having to deal with a 3-1/2 second decay, and the system had no EQ’ing to account for it. There was a lot of noise in the room; nothing was easy to understand.”

The move from analog to digital by Corinth also made things much easier for the church to transition between different types of services on Sunday, as Lail noted, “During the early 8:30 a.m. contemporary/traditional service, they have some band and some hymns that is a little more intense than the standard traditional service. Previously, there was never any continuity to how the board was set up (between services).”

With the ability to program the Allen & Heath AH-SQ-6, 48 channel digital audio mixer, paired with an AH-AR-2412 24x12 Remote Audio Rack, the church can now “move between different scenes, instead of having to start from scratch,” between each service, added Davis.

Following the audio upgrades to the sanctuary, among the other integral updates were the additions to its video gear, which included a Panasonic PT-RZ12KU 12,000-lumen, 3-chip WUXGA DLP laser projector, used with a Da-Lite Ascender Electrol 139-inch floor-recessed screen. In addition, the church included a pair of Panasonic PT-RZ660WU 6,200-lumen single-chip DLP WUXGA laser projectors in the transept area, to project lyrics on the wall.

While Corinth had previously used projection in the past, it had only done so in a limited fashion. The church introduced its updated video system during its anniversary celebration in May.

As detailed by Lail, “The old (projection) system was where someone had to drag it out,” compared to the new ascending screen, rising up from behind the altar, and hidden when not in use. “We also had to set up the old projector on an old pop-up table, where today, hidden from view from the pews, the main projector permanently set up,” underneath a stained-glass window in the balcony.

In addition to the extensive sanctuary upgrades, Corinth also incorporated additional updates to Bost Memorial Hall, its contemporary worship space. The church had originally completed that space in January 2013, with AE Global then installing audio and lighting gear in that space. “In their contemporary space, they wanted more fidelity, more intelligibility than they were able to have, up to that point,” said Davis.

Even though the contemporary space had been completed about six-and-a-half years earlier, Lail explained, “That was around when the recession hit, and we had to scale back what we wanted then. This was the time to get what best suited the room.”

When asked what the driving force was behind such a comprehensive project, Lail noted, “We just had a 150-year celebration for the church, and we wanted to see how we could improve the worship experience.” In particular, Lail recalled how previous to the project, there were a few hard-of-hearing congregation members who had stopped attending “because of frustration over hearing. They are happy now, able to worship in a fuller way.”

By having the focus be on improving the worship experience, at a church that averages about 1,000 congregants across three services each Sunday, and “not having a cooler sound system or projection system,” the project’s overall goal has been met, explained Lail. Davis also noted the value of improving the church’s worship experience, adding, “Their sanctuary is so beautiful, we wanted to the experience to equal their expectation of their music experience.”

Beyond the return of those congregants, Lail said he’s gotten a significant amount of positive feedback in recent months. “I hear from members of the congregation that they don’t have to grab the hearing assisted gear anymore, or turn their hearing aid on anymore, or to a lower setting … I hear a lot of thank yous.” Pertaining to the lighting upgrades, the feedback has similarly strong, as he added, “We have specific lighting for the altar, and a lot of people really enjoy that, seeing the lit altar.” On the video updates, he said, “With our streaming to Facebook, we are working toward streaming all three services. Already, we hear from people in Nicaragua and Moldova that tell us that they are watching our services online on Sunday, along with those who cannot attend (locally, for health reasons).”

In particular, though, Lail recalled a boy’s funeral at the church, and how limitations that existed prior to the project, pointed to needing such updates. “We couldn’t fit everyone in the sanctuary. There had to be at least 600 people in the sanctuary, with 450 sitting and the rest standing … we had to turn people away. We realized we wanted people to see that type of thing (by adding streaming and video capabilities), if it came up again.”

Since the video install work was completed four months ago, Lail noted, “There has been some tweaking, even though everything has been operational since April. With the many change orders, we are very close to getting (the overall project) wrapped up, about five percent away from completion.”

Among the other tweaks, as detailed by Davis, related to some recently planned additional sanctuary lighting, as some fixtures in the original plan were cut due to budgetary constraints. When the sanctuary’s lighting install was first finished in December, though, Davis added, “They wanted to add some more, for some lighting for broadcast.”

For the sanctuary’s recent install work, Lail said, “We didn’t previously have any additional lighting, as we had canned lighting that shined (heavy) vertical shadows.” As part of the lighting upgrade in the sanctuary, it included 12 ETC ColorSource SPOT Black Edition fixtures, along with an ETC CS20 lighting console with 20 faders and 40 control channels.

In the contemporary space, the lighting updates were limited to adding eight ETC ColorSource PAR Black Edison fixtures, and six ETC ColorSource SPOT Black Edison LED fixtures, replacing “several LED lights that hadn’t worked for a while.”

In light of the various tweaks, there has been no need for any repairs to any of the new gear in either of the two spaces, explained Lail, with the only issue having been needing to replace a new Earthworks PM40 piano microphone after three months, but it was easily changed out by AE Global, as it was under warranty.

The only additional time still needed on the project is tied to scheduling training, including some video training in the next week or two, which previously featured learning the basics around streaming.

As Davis elaborated through those opportunities to learn about the new gear at the church, “Better technology is easier to operate, even though it is intimidating at first.”

The install work at the church began last September, explained Lail, with it done in stages to work around concerts and services during the Christmas season. In all, Davis noted that the time on site amounted to four weeks between the two spaces, with the project dating back 18 months from the beginning of the process, when “we started the conversation” with Corinth on an upgrade plan.

With the schedule stretched out to complete the project’s different aspects, the work was successfully completed without any delays or cancellations of any services. In addition, as Davis explained, “We phased it in a way that they were able to entirely use the new audio system; it was completely ready to go,” upon its rollout last November, similar to how the video and lighting upgrades were completed. Lail added, “That was our biggest stressor, to avoid starting something too big, where (a certain aspect of the project) could not get done before a Sunday.”

Among the different aspects of this multifaceted install, Lail deemed the audio portion in the sanctuary the most challenging, particularly for the short time window for completion. “We pushed the envelope by getting it operational by Thanksgiving,” but with the help of AE Global, avoided any issues during that first service using the new audio system.

Upon the completion of all install work, Davis said, that the most significant difference was “the worship experience in the sanctuary – from an audio perspective – but in all three areas, they are all vastly different, even though the audio experience is almost unrecognizable from previously,” thanks in large part to the d&b audiotechnik speakers.

Beyond the sound improvement in the sanctuary, the church also blended the speakers visually into the space. “If I ask (a congregant) from the back of the space, to tell me where (the new speakers are), they can’t tell me, as they are inconspicuous, and we cut the number of speakers by half or more.”

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