When it comes to AV magazines, there is a propensity to profile the biggest, the most complex, the costliest, the edgiest, the ne plus ultra. It’s an understandable tendency in an industry that prides itself on pushing the limits of the envelope before the first cup of coffee is cold. However, there is considerable value, not to mention satisfaction, in finding insight in the

quotidian, in the types of projects that make up the majority of the work that AV integrators tackle day in and day out, the bread and the butter, the everyday projects that hone both technical and social skills, readying them for the big projects that punctuate careers. Here, Dan Danley explores the recent AV upgrade at Hope Lutheran Church.

 

Meat & Potatoes

Nowhere are those routine projects found more often than in the house-of-worship market, one characterized by the thousands of small and mid-sized churches, synagogues and mosques that carpet the landscape between the mega structures, which tend to get most of the attention when it comes to their AV, with screens, sound and lighting that approximate cinematic and theatrical experiences. However, the smaller sanctuaries are where the meat and potatoes of worship get done. They are the ones that need to provide a subtler AV experience, media that are almost invisible in their support of the reasons people got of bed at 8:00am on a Sunday morning, and that don’t inadvertently remind those in the pews that there’s an 80-inch flatscreen at home tuned to an NFL game later that day. 

Hope Lutheran Church, in Fargo ND is one of those churches. Built in 1958, its 1200-seat sanctuary is a perfect fit for the 2600 congregants who now worship there on weekends. But times change and so do worship styles, and Hope Lutheran found itself going through a transition that hundreds of churches before it have experienced. The traditional choir and organ music styles now share the stage with more contemporary worship music, which brings new audio requirements to the fore. The church is also learning that even the most traditional HOWs have to acknowledge how ubiquitous large-format, high-definition video has raised expectations of how we view almost everything. It was time to accommodate that change, but in a way that didn’t unmoor the church from its roots, and that kept it within budget.

 

Fundamental Change

That’s what Caleb Dick, Systems Designer at AV integrator Minneapolis MN-based Excel AV Group, was thinking about much of 2014, when he was making the drives, slightly less than 200 miles each way, between the Twin Cities and Fargo, each time listening a little closer to how an established traditional church was thinking about making a fundamental change in its technological tone. 

“Even in the simpler projects, you need to do a lot of talking, a lot of listening and you have to see their point of view, what they want to be when they take on a lot of new systems,” said Dick, whose company derives as much as 80% of its work from the HOW market. Churches that set out to raise the spiritual expectations of their congregation often need to have their own technological aspirations reined in a bit. 

“Churches will often look at what other churches are doing, but as often, they’ll also look at what touring music artists are doing, what sound and lights and video they’re using, and use that as their goals,” he said. “They’ll say they heard a line array at a concert and it sounded good and want one for their church. And we may have to tell them that, just because it sounded good at a concert, doesn’t mean it will necessarily sound good in their church. We have to decipher if they really need a line array, or if it’s a shorthand way to communicate the capabilities their new system has to provide. We’ve had churches tell us they want a line array, not just because it sounded good, but because they liked the way it looked at a concert or in another church. There’s often a tendency to shop brands instead of capabilities. There’s a lot of physics that have to be explained.”

 

Getting The Sound Right

Fortunately, that wasn’t the scenario at Hope Lutheran Church. In fact, it was almost the opposite kind of environment, with a staff technical director who once was an AV systems designer himself. That helped foster understanding about certain key aspects of what would become a low six-figure-budget systems upgrade, such as why an LED wall was necessary to replace the church’s existing rear-projection video screen (to counter the sunlight that washes out the screen location at certain times of day) and create a willingness to allocate funds for it.

However, that doesn’t mean there would not be some challenges. One of those was the need to accommodate louder, more energetic, worship music without impacting the smoothly rustic wood esthetic of the church’s interior. “Ideally, we would have wanted to apply acoustical treatments to some of the reflective surfaces,” Dick explained. “But that would have interfered with the look of the interior.”

What they could do would be to design the sound system to keep the energy off those surfaces and focused on the seating area, by choosing speakers with tightly predictable coverage pattern control. This became one of the aspects of the project where technology decisions became as cost conscious as they were performance oriented. The number of steerable sound systems on the market has grown in recent years, offering less costly solutions from a larger array of brands. That became a strategic theme for this project, with several product decisions made on the basis of picking less familiar brands in certain categories or markets. 

 

Three Zones

The system design is divided into three different zones: a floor zone for the exploded mono main speakers, a balcony consisting of three speakers; and under the balcony, which required six speakers given its short ceiling height and deep seating area. All balcony areas speakers were time-aligned to the main system, to ensure single-time arrival for every seat in each zone, including the FOH position in the balcony.

In this case, they chose a pair of Danley SH96 three-way enclosures suspended above the stage. These are large boxes, with four 15-inch drivers, six four-inch mid-range drivers and a 1.4-inch high-frequency driver, for a total of 11 drivers coupled to a single horn, with a 90°x60° beamwidth. In addition, two Danley SM 60F full-range loudspeakers are used to cover the balcony left and right areas; an SH50HO enclosure is aimed at the FOH position in the center of the balcony. This was specifically included to provide a more phase-coherent time arrival right at the FOH engineer position. Additionally, there are six Tannoy VX 8 speakers for under-balcony fills. A Danley DBH 218 subwoofer is flown, centered, over the first two rows of seats.

“In this case, it worked out well because we didn’t want to deaden the room for when they do use acoustic music, but the speakers and their locations keep the energy off the walls,” said Dick. “It’s not unusual for mid-sized churches to still use both types of worship styles, and you wouldn’t want to acoustically over treat for contemporary music at the expense of how a choir can sound in a nicely reverberant space. We want to find the right balance, and using a highly directable speaker helps us achieve that balance."

The system as installed reaches 103dB, which Dick attributes in part to the use of two Powersoft Duecanali 3904 amplifiers powering the main loudspeakers and a Powersoft Duecanali 5204 powering the speakers in the two balcony zones. It was decided that the main speakers required 2800 watts at 8 ohms. That was enough, he said, to provide the 15dB of headroom he wanted in the system, to prevent clipping, and it can still accommodate more subwoofers if the church decides it needs them in the future. The whole system is sequenced and running off of multiple 20 amp circuits. "We didn’t have to change to 240 volts and this made it very simple. The current draw was very low overall, thanks to the efficiency of the amplifiers." Dick explained.

 

Importance Of Brands

Brand names can be especially important in a market that’s endemically insecure about its ability to assess technology, a characteristic certainly of the HOW market. Marquee brands offer a sense of reassurance to those who don’t keep an oscilloscope in their briefcases. But brands even only slightly off the center line can offer substantial value, something the chronically budget-challenged church cohort often needs in spades. Hope Lutheran Church’s experience reflects that. 

Video, for instance, is supported by a 16-foot-diagonal Chauvet Pro PVP-S5 LED screen, a brand well-known in lighting (the church also bought four Chauvet Legend LED moving head wash fixtures as part of its new lighting complement) but less so in large-scale video tiles. “They’re not well known in this [category] than a few other major brands, but from a cost perspective the Chauvet display was considerably more affordable, and the image quality and off-axis view was excellent,” said Dick. A similar tack was taken with a Roland VR-50HD video switcher, which Dick said offers substantial functionality at a considerably lower cost than the FOR-A models that are often found in mega-church control rooms. 

 

Another Example

In another example, a Midas Pro 2C digital console was originally specified for the sound system, but budget constraints early on led to the choice of a Behringer X32 console with Midas DL251 stage box. The plan now calls for the Midas console to be purchased and installed in the main sanctuary in the near future, with the Behringer desk to be moved into the church’s youth center at that time. It was a strategy, said Dick, which gives the church an adequate audio mixing solution at a cost-effective price for now and an upgrade path for the future. 

“Something similar happened with the church’s video cameras. They opted for mid-grade Canon XA25 1080p camcorders, which are equipped with an HD-SDI output to integrate with pro-grade video mixers. The infrastructure is HD-SDI, which also offers upgrade paths for the future. They also went with stock Canon 20X zoom lenses and simply positioned the cameras closer to the stage. This also had the added benefit of reducing the amount of lighting required for the video. “These decisions provided the capabilities that fit the specific ministry of this church, without cutting quality or capabilities required,” said Dick.

Small and mid-sized houses of worship have understandable concerns about costs but also tend to be sensitive to brands when it comes to their AV systems, at a time when audio and video technology have become part of the a church’s own identity. AV integrators familiar with this market, like Excel AV Group, have developed strategies that address both side of this coin. “There are a lot more brands to choose from in just about every category these days, which is good for budgets,” said Dick. “As the range of brands used in churches widens, it makes it easier to present them to tech directors who may be sensitive about which brands they want to use.”