Within most houses-of-worship (HOWs) and modern church environments, audio needs change on a regular basis. New and expanded inputs lists, further incorporation of consumer electronics, expanded networks and wireless connections, and various budget-restricted upgrade needs are all crucial for today’s HOW, far more often than the “biggies” such as large-format mixers, comprehensive A/V networks or new congregational line arrays.
Here, we explore a range of useful tools that are proven problem-solvers for the church-based A/V professional, many of which provide big solutions in diminutive sizes, making them perfect for the audio-for-worship landscape.
BUDGET-SAVING I/O & CONNECTIVITY TOOLS
New A/V sources, creative audio distribution and increasingly collaborative content sharing (think of all the Bluetooth sources in the congregation) have helped launch many new tools for routing signal around a church facility. Here, we look at a cross-section of proven tools HOW-based audio types are using in a variety of interesting ways.
Millennia Media, the analog preamp and signal flow hardware manufacturer, recently introduced its DA-296 Gozowta Dante to Analog Converter, connecting any two channels of Dante to analog gear up to 96 kHz with level-controlled 1/8 and 1/4-inch jacks in tow, marking Millennia’s fourth Dante-oriented product. Priced at $449 street, the Gozowta DA-296 can be used as part of a personal monitor system or for troubleshooting Dante audio streams.
Outputs include balanced XLR and Phoenix-style output connectors. Power is supplied by the Ethernet cable from PoE (power over Ethernet) enabled switches or in-line PoE injectors. Also included is a -10 dBV/+4 dBu output reference level switch to accommodate most analog equipment. The Gozowta DA-296 is the same size as Millennia’s portable preamp series, housed in a road-ready 1/3-rack width chassis, and as such, can be bolted to a rack tray.
Neutrik’s Xirium Pro
Low latency is a key component to Neutrik’s Xirium Pro line; it is built around Neutrik’s DiWA (Digital Wireless Audio) technology, which reportedly provides compression-free, FCC license-free, wireless transmission of audio within the 5 GHz band. The 20 Hz to 20 kHz audio transmission system reportedly offers latency equal to 3 milliseconds regardless of how many Xirium Pro devices are used.
Alto Pro’s Stealth Wireless eliminates the need for cable between any traditional sound source and powered speaker, opening an array of placement options in houses-of-worship. Billed as a simple way to bypass cables between a mixer and loudspeakers, the Stealth Wireless package consists of one transmitter and two receivers with three power adapters (12V DC, 300 mA) for each, plus mounting accessories: two M10 screws (for mounting receivers to fly points on powered speakers) or “hook and loop” Velcro-style strips (for mounting receivers on virtually any surface).
The Stealth’s transmitter is switchable between mono and stereo, sending one or two channels of audio to every receiver in range (reportedly up to 200 feet away) and on the same channel (one of 16 UHF channels). Transmitter features include two balanced/unbalanced XLR/quarter-inch TRS inputs; each receiver includes an XLR output. Frequency response is a sufficient 50 Hz - 17 kHz, +/- 3 dB.
Radial’s Di-NET DAN-TX stereo direct box
It’s arguable that Radial Engineering has more prograde I/O, analog connectivity and routing/snake options than any manufacturer in the marketplace, allowing customers to order the precise tool they need for a growing church. An ideal example of their available I/O tools is the new Di-NET DAN-TX stereo direct box, equipped with quarter-inch, RCA and stereo 3.5 mm input jacks, allowing connectivity between instruments or line level sources and networked audio systems using the Dante protocol. DAN-TX operates with a 24-bit/96 kHz A-D converter; its local 3.5 mm headphone output allows quick, simple signal monitoring.
RapcoHorizon’s iBLOX Series
RapcoHorizon’s neat little iBLOX Series allows HOW-based musicians to utilize their favorite iOS device-based instrument amplifier emulations easily during performances, making it a superb, truly performance-grade tool to have on-hand for modern musicians. Features include a two-foot lead with quarter-inch right-angle plugs for instrument input, belt/instrument strap clip, 6-foot iPhone interface cable, a black power-coated aluminum chassis for durability, and hand-soldered connectors. Headphones or IEMs plug directly into iBLOX, further benefitting a HOW’s main mix by eliminating traditional amp volume on stage. Switchcraft’s AudioStix DI product line gives users a wide range of I/O options, making them appropriate for the HOW environment that must employ new signal distribution forms on a budget. Case in point: Switchcraft’s 318BT is the world’s first phantom-powered Bluetooth 4.0 audio receiver DI. Featuring a Switchcraft balanced XLR connector and powered via standard 48V phantom power, the 318BT wirelessly transmits any Bluetooth audio source (via 2,402-2,480 MHz frequencies) up to 50 feet away (obstructed indoor) or 100 feet (unobstructed line of sight). In use, the 318BT allows HOWs easy access to what is now a popular wireless audio transmission feature without having to upgrade any other component in the systems.
COOL LITTLE MIXING TOOLS
Mackie makes some of the best affordable analog mixers in the marketplace. Its fourth-generation VLZ4 Series compact analog mixers are bargains, packed with useful features for the small yet necessarily versatile HOW. The 1402VLZ4 provides 14-channels, six channel inserts, six impressive Onyx mic preamps and much more. Many small churches can get by with a small analog mixer, and you really can’t go wrong with a VLZ4.
Mackie’s ProDX4 wireless mixing solution
Mackie’s ProDX wireless mixing solutions are especially useful in the growing church, especially for modern worship and even “porta-church” environments. Relying upon a smart device for its GUI, either an iPhone/iPod or Android OS product can be an equally functional CPU of the latest wireless mixing line from Mackie, the ProDX Series. The Bluetooth-enabled ProDX Series is currently comprised by two models, the eight-channel ProDX8 ($299 street) and the four-channel ProDX4 ($199 street); neither ProDX provides phantom power, though. The ProDX8 provides two quarter-inch aux outs, while the ProDX4 offers one. Both are equipped with a mini-USB port for firmware updates, an eighth-inch headphone jack and dual quarter-inch main outs. For the small congregation church, the ProDX Series allows its A/V personnel to sit with the congregation while overseeing a relatively small number of inputs.
Soundcraft’s Ui12 digital mixer
Soundcraft’s Ui12 and Ui16 Ui Series digital mixers each feature an integrated, onboard Wi-Fi router and can be controlled via a tablet, PC or smartphone with cross-platform compatibility via iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux devices—up to 10 control devices simultaneously. The 12-channel Ui12 offers four XLR combo mic/line inputs and four XLR mic inputs; the 16-channel Ui16 offers eight XLR combo mic/line and four XLR mic inputs. Features include built-in signal processing from dbx, Digi-Tech and Lexicon, including dbx AFS2, DigiTech amp modeling; fully recallable, remote-controlled mic gain and phantom power; 4-band parametric EQ; HPF, compressor, de-esser and noise gate on input channels; 31-band graphic EQ; noise gate and compressor on all outputs, plus real-time frequency analyzer (RTA) on inputs and outputs; comprehensive I/O and more.
A multichannel headphone amplifier is a most valuable tool, especially in a HOW environment, as it can feed headphones, IEMs, powered stage monitors and other listening devices in a number of creative configurations. PreSonus’ HP4 is a solid little 1/3-rackspace headphone monitor offering 150 mW at 51 ohms, one I’ve recommended numerous times to small churches, independent audio types and musicians alike for its immense value (at $129 street).
IDEAL PORTABLE PA (PPA) FOR HOWS
Available in black or white— the latter of which is, of course, the preferred speaker color in most HOW environments— Electro-Voice ZXA1 is a small (19 lbs., 18x11x10.4-inch) 800 W peak power, two-way, full-range speaker featuring an EV8L 8-inch woofer and the DH2005 1-inch exit compression driver, the latter of which is a titanium diaphragm tweeter coupled with a rotatable 90 x 50 degree waveguide; the speaker provides 123 dB of maximum SPL output. Constructed of high-impact polystyrene with a galvanized steel grille, the ZXA1 also provides portable PA-friendly I/O: dual XLR inputs (mic and XLR/TRS combo line inputs, respectively) and one XLR output.
Visually, Mackie’s black polymer-encased 9.5x17.8x9.1-inch FreePlay Personal P.A. chassis best resembles a new century “boom box.” Most importantly, FreePlay is a perfectly capable small P.A., one that is ideal for small, untethered sound reinforcement tasks anywhere around the church. It boasts 150 W (RMS) and 300 W (Peak) of power, and its frequency response is an impressive and full-sounding 65 to 20k Hz. It’s a stereo playback system: left and right high-frequency drivers with a shared, green-tinted, 8-inch LF woofer. A built-in 4-channel digital mixer plus effects (featuring well-chosen minimalistic reverb settings, two delays, four stereo mix EQ settings and a Feedback Destroyer for open mics and DI’d inputs), two mic/line preamps, an 1/8-inch input and quarter-inch monitor output comprise the FreePlay’s simple I/O scheme. Additionally, consider Bluetooth playback and the FreePlay becomes a real problem-solver.
Yamaha’s DBR Series—offering DSP, amp and speaker technologies pioneered in Yamaha’s higher-end DSR and DXR Series PPA systems—comes in lightweight, affordable packages for lower-impact “anywhere in the facility” applications. For example, the DBR10 full-range powered loudspeaker features a 10-inch LF cone driver and 1-inch throat compression driver with ferrite magnets with 700 W peak power/325 W continuous (LF: 260 W, HF: 65 W). Dimensions are 12x19.4x11.4 inches and weight is a mere 23.2 pounds. Notably, the D-Contour switch offers frequency curves for FOH/Main, Monitor or off/bypass settings, plus two HPFs at 120 Hz and 100 Hz, respectively.
Bose F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeaker
At first glance, the self-powered 1000W Bose F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeaker looks much like other similarly sized PPA gear. Its main appeal, however, lies in its simple-to-use Flexible Array technology, a first for the PPA market. Users can shape coverage patterns by manually moving its top and bottom array; in total, the Model 812 features a vertical line of eight small midrange/high frequency drivers plus a 12-inch woofer. Both the Model 812 and F1 Subwoofer have street prices of just under $1,200 each.
For any of the above at $95 each (street), the König & Meyer (K&M) heavy-duty steel 24110 Speaker Wall Mount is an ideal choice for semi-permanent mounting of powered speakers essentially anywhere in a church facility. Notably, it’s the most adjustable permanent speaker mount I’ve used. I’ve always preferred using K&M stands if I can get my hands on them; they’re well made in Germany and comparatively costly, but worth the investment. The 24110 allows speaker tilting of up to 22 degrees in 11 settings and side-to-side adjustment of up to 90 degrees. They are also easily paintable, which helps them blend in no matter the sanctuary.