Los Angeles, CA (May 7, 2021)—Houses of Worship have always been a big part of the installation market, but they aren’t always the first projects that come to mind when the words “cutting edge” come up. That’s changing, however, as they are increasingly becoming some of the most forward-thinking adopters of new technologies. There’s several recent house of worship installations nationwide that highlight some of the latest products and technologies in wired and wireless audio networking and distribution.
Take, for example, a recent major renovation at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, which leveraged a campus-wide fiberoptic system to interconnect four DiGiCo mixing consoles and nine SD-Racks handling FOH, monitors and broadcast. According to Mark Coble, audio/acoustics design and commissioning lead for integrator Paragon 360, a BroaMan Optocore AutoRouter installed in the machine room is critical to uninterrupted connectivity.
A standard Optocore transport system operates as a loop that will run in the opposite direction if a connection is disrupted. But because the audio setup in the church’s Fellowship Hall is designed for frequent reconfiguration, says Coble, it was essential to guard against interruptions, not least because the broadcast console needs to ‘see’ every network input at all times.
“Our fear was that on Sunday morning, you’ve got 7,000 people in the Worship Center and someone goes into the Fellowship Hall to start prepping for an event. If they unplug a console or a stage rack, they could bring down the entire network,” he says.
But the AutoRouter is self-healing: “As soon as something is disconnected, it heals the loop instantaneously.” At Bellevue, there are two Optocore loops, he adds, since the total number of inputs exceeds the capacity of a single loop.
The Optocore AutoRouter is intended for audio systems and also offers Yamaha and Avid network card options. BroaMan’s version, Route66, also supports video routing and software-based fiber stream routing for broadcast and AV applications.
In addition to enabling houses of worship to make any audio source available anywhere across a facility, networking can also provide connectivity with satellite campuses. Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX, shares services from its 4,000-seat auditorium with four other campuses, where the teachings are integrated into the respective live worship services at the remote facilities and are also streamed online.
“Rather than using mic splitters and a patchbay, we installed 112 SSL mic pres, so that it could all be soft-patched via Dante,” says Travis Brockway, founder of integrator Nexos, which also installed three FOH, monitor and broadcast SSL Live consoles at the church.
“When this system came online, we also implemented a new Dante network across the Dallas campus. It was a big switch—we replaced all the previous DSP and its Dante functionality throughout the whole facility. Everywhere there’s an audio console, it plugs in via Dante, so the Children’s Ministry’s consoles and everywhere there’s a sound system is all Dante capable,” he says.
“The main service also gets distributed around to what they call the Town Center—the coffee shop and gathering space in the middle—and a couple of overflow rooms” from the FOH console, he says. “There’s also the Chapel and the Loft, and all the children’s spaces; they’re all capable of getting an input from the main auditorium—and vice versa.” Office towers next door to the main Dallas worship center host Watermark’s mid-week and children’s and student services.
It’s not unusual for facilities to integrate both a Dante network and another audio network—for instance, one associated with a specific mixing console brand—and bridge them via one device or another. According to research from RH Consulting, there are now just over 3,000 Dante-enabled devices available from 361 different manufacturers.
At Bellevue Baptist, says Coble, the Shure Axient wireless microphone system feeds the Optocore-networked consoles over Dante via a DiGiCo Orange Box. “There’s a very large Dante backbone to this system that runs over a traditional network,” he reports, adding, “We don’t allow that to jump onto other networks at the church.”
Onstage, 12 channels of playback from a Mac are fed over a Cat 5 cable to a convenient floor pocket. In an analog setup, he notes, that would have required 12 DI boxes and a bunch of cables. “Let’s say the keyboardist driving these channels moves to the other side of the stage next week. No big deal; it’s one patch away to the nearest floor pocket,” he says.
“It’s a game changer for thinking about how to transport audio. Network-based audio allows creativity and flexibility that would normally be really cumbersome in the old-fashioned analog infrastructure. It’s the anything, anytime, anywhere approach.”
Indeed, the flexibility inherent in audio networking is high on the list of priorities for Coble’s clients, he reports. “They’ll say, ‘One of our priorities is cable management. We want flexibility. We want to change our stage around without having to call guys in for two days to rewire everything.’ Networked audio becomes the solution for that.”
That kind of flexibility is on display at Calvary Church in Santa Ana, CA, where technical director Ryan Roehl installed five Allen & Heath DX164-W wall-mount DX expanders in ACE Backstage stage pockets. The church has an A&H dLive control surface at FOH with a DM32 MixRack in an equipment room below the stage. DX units connect via a single Cat 5e cable to a dLive surface.
“We were already familiar with what Allen & Heath calls their ‘Everything I/O’ collection of audio expanders, as we had a roving DX168 on stage for drum inputs and another rack-mounted at the booth for last minute I/O needs that pop up from time to time,” says Roehl. “Each pocket on stage fits the DX164-W, six power outlets and eight positions for Neutrik D Series connectors, of which we have one for the DX loop out, two for Dante connections and two for 3-pin and 5-pin DMX [Digital Multiplex].”
Cathi Strader, president, ACE Backstage, comments, “Our 174SLBK stage pocket system pairs up nicely with the DX164-W and a duo of 3-gang plates for onstage access to both digital I/O and additional customized connectivity,” combining DMX, Dante, power and AoIP in a tidy stage floor package.
It’s a simple enough matter with an audio network to quickly throw down a length of Cat 5 and add an I/O device in order to extend the reach of a system to, for example, hold an event in an outdoor area at a church. Networking also enables the expansion of the audio console setup to include options such as personal monitor mixing stations for the musicians.
Aviom, Hear Technologies, myMix and other Dante-networked personal mix systems have been around for a number of years, but more recently DiGiCo’s KLANG:technologies brand products have also been finding traction with houses of worship. The KLANG system offers musicians individual control of their monitor mixes using an iPad. Users can control not just levels but also immersive panning, allowing them to replicate the relative positions on the stage of their bandmates in their IEMs.
Florida’s 1,500-capacity Mosaic Church, in Winter Garden, recently expanded its KLANG system with a second KLANG:fabrik unit to provide the 12 musicians and vocalists with individual mixes from over two-dozen inputs. The church’s SSL Live FOH console feeds the personal monitor system over Dante, which is native to the KLANG units.
“That kind of digital integration with the console is also great from both an installation and operational point of view,” says Gil Parente, CEO of integrator AVnew. Parente says he has also integrated the same device into other area churches, including Orlando’s Whole Life Church.
The KLANG rig at Seven Rivers Church, also in Florida, is a little more complex, processing 64 inputs fed via an Orange Box to 16 immersive mixes. The analog stage outputs are routed to the rack of the A&H dLive console rack and then over a Dante network, via a DiGiCo DMI-DANTE 64@96 card in the Orange Box, to the console. Signals are sent from the console’s direct outs to the Orange Box, which is also fitted with a DMI-KLANG interface, then back to the console and into the musicians’ in-ear monitors.
Add a local area network to the installation and the capabilities of an audio system can expand far beyond the scope of this article. One relevant product, though, is the SSL TaCo (Tablet Control) mix app, which provides wireless tablet control of SSL Live consoles from iPad and Android devices. Musicians can download the app and control their individual mixes out of the Live series monitor console on their personal devices over the LAN. Alternatively, the mix engineer can use TaCo to control the entire console from a single remote device.
Perhaps more prosaically, Listen Technologies offers a product for assistive listening applications—beneficial to any church with an aging congregation or worshippers suffering hearing loss—that also leverages a facility’s LAN. The product, Listen Everywhere, enables congregants to listen to whatever audio the church chooses to broadcast, using a free app on their iOS and Android devices. While the service is an obvious choice for the audio source, one church in Utah reportedly used Listen Everywhere to enable members to participate in socially distanced bingo in the parking lot during the coronavirus pandemic.