Finding The Right Console

Implementing a new audio mixing console for a house of worship is never a light matter.
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Implementing a new audio mixing console for a house of worship is never a light matter. From determining the number of inputs required to configuring the desk’s connectivity with other equipment in the sanctuary, the choice of desk depends on the unique needs of each congregation and its activities. NORTHchurch, Grace Community Church, Raleigh First Assembly Church and Central Baptist Church all faced this process in recent times, so a look at some of their reasons for choosing specific console brands and models may provide insight for others.

NORTHCHURCH

The audio team at Oklahoma City’s NORTHchurch preside over a new DiGiCo SD8 console. Many churches use volunteers to help run various aspects of their services, including the sound elements. This is the case with NORTHchurch, a nondenominational Christian congregation located near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The church holds four services a week—one on Thursday evening and three on Sunday morning—and relies on volunteers to mix sound for them, so when it needed to purchase a console as part of a wider audio system redesign, it decided go with a DiGiCo SD8 console as its front-of-house (FOH) mixer. Skylark AV, a local audio, video and lighting equipment design, build and installation company, performed the installation.

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With the SD8, which NORTHchurch installed with a pair of DiGiCo SD-Mini I/O racks interconnected by an Opto-core fiber-optic network, users can take a “snapshot” of a specific mix and save it for later. The church has implemented this feature for its services, bringing in a volunteer to set up a mix on Wednesday evenings, which it uses for the Thursday night service. On Sunday mornings, another volunteer comes in to conduct a run-through with the worship band, and is able to reuse the previously built snapshots for the Sunday services.

Stephen Kramer, NORTHchurch’s production director, says this has made it much easier for the volunteers. “Our vocal effects are all snapshot-based, and we have snapshots set up where our faders, mutes and panning are being updated,” he said. “When a volunteer comes in and hits ‘next,’ all of that is switching for them. They don’t have to assign effects or retype the tempo for the delay. It allows the mix engineers to be creative and flow and build dynamics, and not worry about the basic mix for a song.”

Full-timers at the church also appreciate the simplicity provided by the SD8. Says Daniel Dixon, NORTHchurch’s FOH engineer, who also served as Skylark’s project lead during the installation, “It’s nice knowing that whenever I step up to mix, I have all the necessary tools right in front of me to get the job done. What appeals to me the most is the scalability of the snapshots. The console can be setup as simply as possible or as complex as anyone could ever ask for, which in this day and age is key.”

GRACE COMMUNITY CHURCH

Melqui Alvarez, audio director for Grace Community Church, co-designed the new audio system at the Church’s Houston, TX campus, centering it around the Avid Venue D-Show at FOH. Grace Community Church, which has campuses in both Texas and California, likes the new 64-input Avid Venue Profile monitor console it recently installed at its main worship facility, in southeast Houston, for similar reasons. Like NORTHchurch, volunteers help with sound production for services. This is where the Profile’s “virtual soundcheck” option, which allows the user to play back a recording through the console’s inputs, comes in handy.

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Members of the church’s band and choir are volunteers, so it can’t ask them to show up three hours in advance of a service for a soundcheck. Thanks to the virtual soundcheck option, they only need to arrive about 90 minutes before the service, so the audio mixers on staff with the church can ensure the mixes are good in their ears and review the transitions between each song. “It allows us to tweak our mixes to get a better-sounding mix without having the band or the choir members on stage for a very long time,” says Melqui Alvarez, Grace Community Church’s audio director.

The church also has an Avid Venue D-Show FOH console, and appreciates the fact that the Avid software is the same across all the companies’ consoles, making it easier for volunteers working on one console to move to the other when necessary. Its interface is also simpler to digest for those unfamiliar with audio production, according to Alvarez. “When you look at the actual control surface, it’s not overwhelming,” he says. “Even the people that aren’t tech savvy get the console.”

The Profile replaces Grace Community Church’s previous desk, an Avid Venue SC48 monitor console. The house of worship also swapped out the SC48’s fiber-option snake with MADI distribution. From an Avid Stage Rack, 80 inputs feed the D-Show, which has been fitted with a MADI option card, allowing Alvarez to select 48 inputs plus 16 other channels to send via an RME MADI Bridge to the Profile. From the monitor desk, Alvarez and his team can also send MADI out to an Allen & Heath ME-U, which feeds eight Allen & Heath ME-1 Personal Mixers used by the praise band that plays at worship services.

Alvarez says that in addition to the Profile being easy for volunteers, the new MADI setup has saved the church money. “Instead of purchasing two different sets of stage racks, such as one for the front-of-house console and another for the monitor console, we have this hybrid MADI system, which allows us to share all the inputs,” he says. “The monitor console has control of digital trim, and the master console, which is the FOH console, controls the preamps.”

RALEIGH FIRST ASSEMBLY CHURCH

Raleigh, NC’s First Assembly Church just installed a Yamaha CL5 console as part of an overall system update. The new Yamaha CL5 console at Raleigh First Assembly (RFA) Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, can also store and recall various mixing scenarios—up to 300 scene memories, in fact. This is useful for the church, which, like NORTHchurch and Grace Community Church, has volunteers handle much of the audio for services. When Custom Sound Designs (CSD), a creative design/build AVL firm specializing in churches, installed the console while outfitting the audio, video, lighting and acoustics elements for the house of worship’s new 58,000-square-foot campus, it calibrated the system to create settings for specific sound scenarios, which the volunteers can recall for the services.

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“It’s very important, because they have volunteers that change from week to week, so it gives them consistency and a good starting point every time they have a service,” says Doug Hood, president of CSD.

The 80-input console occupies the FOH position of the church’s 1,700-seat worship facility, mixing all the sound elements for weekly services. Hood said that in addition to its ease of use, another reason his company chose the CL5 was that it was “rider-friendly.”

“Raleigh First Assembly’s musical department is phenomenal, so every Sunday is similar to a concert experience, plus they often bring outside groups to do concerts,” he says. “So not only did the console need to offer top-quality sound, but also it had to be one that was concert friendly, so that when different acts came in, it would be a system they’d feel comfortable with. Yamaha, and specifically the CL5, is one of the names that is widely accepted as an industry standard in this area, so that was important.”

CSD also set up the console with a Yamaha Rio3224-D stage rack, which routes all the stage inputs to the CL5 via Dante, and two Rio1608-D FOH racks, which route the signals from the console back to the stage, also via Dante. “Using the Rio boxes allowed us to minimize the conduit design, in terms of what conduit goes between FOH and the stage. Since we used the Rio boxes, we could do that over a few pieces of Cat 5 rather than a bunch of copper analog cabling—which lowered the infrastructure costs.”

CENTRAL BAPTIST CHURCH

Central Baptist Church in Gaffney, SC is of the first houses of worship in the world to adopt Soundcraft’s new Si Impact digital mixing console. Simple operation was once again a factor in another church’s decision to install a specific console. This time, it was Central Baptist Church in Gaffney, South Carolina and the HARMAN Soundcraft Si Impact digital mixing console. The 40-input desk, an upgrade from the church’s previous analog mixer, provides 32 mic/line inputs, 40 DSP input channels (32 mono inputs and four stereo channels/returns) and 31 output busses (all with full DSP processing and GEQ) with 20 sub-group aux busses and four mono/stereo matrix busses. Eight XLR/quarter-inch combi-jacks are available for line inputs and instruments, while a 4-band fully parametric EQ is available for each channel and bus. The Si Impact also offers effects and dynamics from Soundcraft’s sister companies BSS, Lexicon and dbx.

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What caught the attention of Central Baptist Church media director Terry Harris, however, was the Si Impact’s ease of use. “We looped the pastor and worship leader’s mics through the Si Impact and then back to the analog board we were using, just to play with it,” he says. “I have been amazed at how simple it is, and also how easy it has to transition from an analog board.”

Harris feels the Si Impact is a good fit for the church market, particularly those moving from analog to digital consoles. “The simplicity of the board and the benefits of the digital technology is a whole new experience for us,” he said. “None of our operators have any experience with digital mixers except for me, and my experience is very limited. However, the transition has been seamless.”

He also likes Soundcraft’s ViSi iPad application, which allows for remote control of the mixing console via an iPad device using a wireless router. This enables him to mix the sound from anywhere within the church.

As this issue went to press, we learned of writer Sarah Stanfield’s sudden, unexpected passing. A friend and co-worker, she worked on and wrote for a variety of NewBay Media titles over the years, always with a smile and an air of sensibility about her. She will be missed.