Leap of Faith: Church AV Anatomy
The anatomy of a modern church AV installation.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
It’s easy to forget just how much those pioneering parishioners gave up 100+ years ago. The cavernous Victorian/Edwardian churches were perfect for organ music and congregational singing, and they were expensive – huge, bricks ’n’ mortar investments — with money raised by locals who believed in the institution.
A contemporary church has very different requirements to the traditional spire-topped sanctuary on the inner-city corner. Car parking, for one. A foyer with the capacity the size of the main auditorium would be another. Modern kitchen and cafe facilities? A must. And modern AV.
And, yes, it’s a huge investment. But it’s an inter-generational one.
Horsham Church of Christ has made a significant leap of faith into its brand new church in a new estate on the edge of town.
The church knew the old midtown site was no longer suitable. It knew what it had to do to be relevant into the future. It knew it wasn’t going to be an insignificant investment.
The new $4.5m facilities are built right. Not extravagantly, just appropriately. Anything less is simply a burden on the next generation.
PLANNING FOR AV
The AV is a good-news story.
The church leadership began talking to Mozaix some eight years ago. At that crucial stage Mozaix director, Paul Tucker, had one clear imperative to impart: make sure the AV integrator and acoustic consultant are at the table during those planning meetings.
Mozaix didn’t necessarily set out to be Melbourne’s go-to house of worship AV specialist — but word spread that Paul Tucker and his team genuinely understood the, sometime, unusual and competing demands of modern church installations.
Paul Tucker: “It’s hugely important to be involved early and to have a good relationship with the architect. Once you’re on the architectural plans you can design a ‘best-case scenario’ AV system rather than being constantly compromised.
“We always recommend Mark Hanson from Hanson & Associates as the acoustics consultant. We’ve found that other acoustics consultants often just don’t get it. They recommend treatment for a piano performance and the spoken word, or they’re more concerned with acoustic isolation rather than sound interacting in the space. When that’s the case, it doesn’t matter how expensive or amazing the PA is, you won’t get a good result. On the other hand, Mark Hanson gets it.”
Having a seat at the planning table ensured the building design worked with the acoustic treatment and the essential AV infrastructure, such as the lighting bars and PA rigging.
Paul Tucker: “It’s a subtle but important distinction: while there will always be acoustic treatment applied to the walls, the building is built in such a way that the surfaces are ready for those treatments and form part of the finished surface, rather than being a retrofit. It means the building is fit for purpose, for an acoustic and performance level the church is seeking.”
The right performance level can only be decided on through proper consultation. Again, here’s where Mozaix has a proven track record of understanding the market and understanding that churches often struggle to frame their requirements without being walked through the options.
Paul Tucker: “Churches struggle to explain themselves well. Invariably they’ll point to [megachurch] Hillsong as their reference point. Of course, very few churches have a Hillsong budget and, if you ask the right questions, you’ll discover that that level of production isn’t appropriate and doesn’t dovetail with the needs of the community they’re reaching. Which is why we spend the time digging deeper and asking the right questions.”
the building is fit for purpose, for an acoustic and performance level the church is seeking
Through hard-won experience, Paul and his team have learnt what gets the best results in churches. It’s not purely about spending the money. It’s about finding the right balance of sound quality, features and usability.
Paul Tucker: “For the most part, you’re dealing with volunteers — whether that’s technicians or musicians. As an example, we’ll specify the best possible PA the budget will allow but we’ll very often match that with a digital mixing console like Allen&Heath’s SQ series. Industry professionals will see that as a mismatch. But the SQ series is intuitive to operate, and you’ll get a better result when the volunteer operator can easily navigate their way around the mixer.
“The approach extends to the DIs we recommend. A Tone Bone on acoustic guitar and a Eden World Tour DI for bass. They give you a ‘produced’ tone without the hard work or specialist knowledge. The Radial JDX cab simulator is another box that takes the headache out of miking amps and dealing with different guitarists’ favourite combos. These devices are great for the musicians as well — their easy to plug into and give satisfying results.”
EARS & EARS OF TRAINING
Mozaix does all it can to set up the church and its teams to succeed, rather than endowing it with a complex system that needs intensive training and huge buy-in from volunteers without much of a background in AV. Saying that, one area Mozaix does insist on follow-up and training is in the use of in-ear monitoring.
Paul Tucker: “Moving to in-ear monitoring and minimising your stage volume is one of the best ways to improve your volunteers’ chances of pulling a good mix. We focus heavily on in-ear monitors and then also focus heavily on a training method for sound checks. We help train the teams to get the best out of their in-ears and enjoy a quieter stage.
Horsham Church of Christ is yet to make the IEM leap. The feeling in the camp was to get comfortable in the new space first. In the meantime, low-profile coax DB Technologies FM10 active stage monitors take care of foldback duties.
LOW MAINTENANCE LX
Lighting is another area where simplicity of operation and low maintenance are paramount.
Paul Tucker: “We recommend simple-to-use lighting consoles. We would stick with a Jands Stage CL for most churches or, if moving lights are involved, a LSC Mantra Lite with 12-channel Wings. They’re straightforward to operate.
“On this occasion we encouraged Horsham Church of Christ to go with a fairly large complement of moving lights [2 x Martin MH1 profiles and 6 x Martin MH6 wash fixtures from Show Technology]. This wasn’t to meet some kind of demand for nightclub light shows, but provides ability to adapt the coverage without physically moving the lights. The lighting bars are eight metres in the air. Combine that moving light flexibility with the ‘set and forget’ low maintenance of LED fixtures and I would imagine the church’s tech team will probably only rent a scissor lift once a year.”
VIDEO: IMAG OR NOT?
Horsham Church of Christ’s video requirements are centred around ProPresenter presentation software, a 250-inch centrally positioned Screen Technics screen and a 10,000-lumen Epson EB-Z10005UNL projector.
Paul Tucker: “The technical tipping point for video is if the church wants to display a camera feed on the projection screen — IMAG video.
“Horsham Church of Christ did want this capability, even only for special events, so this meant we installed a SDI backbone for the low latency you need for IMAG. We also built in the ability to add cameras. But the workhorse of the system is the Lumens VC-A60S PTZ camera with 30 times optical zoom. It sits behind the sound booth above the confidence monitor at the right height. So again, it’s about ease of operation for a church that doesn’t have an enormous number of volunteers.”
ROOM TO GROW
Whether it’s providing enough floor boxes on stage, points on the lighting bar, wall plates for additional video cameras or additional channels on the Jands Dimmer racks, the infrastructure will remain long past the time the mixing console is swapped out for something newer, the carpets relaid, or even the PA superseded.
Paul Tucker: “We provided the church with room to grow. There’s plenty of lighting bar scope, with extra power and DMX data. From an audio perspective there’s a significant amount of floor box infrastructure. And there’s data cable absolutely everywhere, which enables just about anything these days to be backed up.”
AUDIO: EAW RADIUS ‘COMPELLING’
The main auditorium sits 350 people on the floor with a mezzanine level for an extra 200. The PA design required a lot of vertical coverage. Paul and his team worked on point source loudspeaker designs but struggled to bring something to the table that wouldn’t require a delay system for the balcony.
Paul Tucker: “For churches, like other performance venues, it’s all about even coverage. We aim to have less than a 3dB variance to every seat.”
After extensive consultation with a number of vendors, EAW and its Australian distributor PAVT pitched a system design based on its new Radius line array that was compellingly priced and, according to the modelling, would be ideal for the unusual dimensions of the room.
Paul Tucker: “True line array is great in the right context, especially when you’re blessed with proper acoustic treatment. You can cover the entire room from two sources, and tailor the dispersion to the room and reduce reflections. That’s a major win, especially when you’re trying to direct audio up high into the balcony as well as right down to the front row.”
With six elements of Radius aside and two flown 18-inch subs aside, most people’s first impression is: ‘that’s a lot of PA’.
Paul Tucker: “With six elements aside, 90 percent of that is about even coverage. The Radius PA may be more than the church will ever need for most Sundays but, in that, there’s enough headroom to accommodate touring acts and special events.
“Initially the PA design had only two sub cabs mounted under the stage. But due to the multi-level stage lip, the church decided they wanted the subs flown, which meant we had to double the complement to get the same output. It’s a lot of low-end firepower to have up your sleeve; there’s more than enough headroom to take care of any concert or event the church is likely to host.”
Radius is an unusual beast. It’s not a constant curvature array. With its two eight-inch drivers and two HF units, it’s a true line array with adjustable inter-cabinet splay angles, but is priced well enough to take some market share from the constant curvature systems so popular in houses of worship.
Paul Tucker: “It’s by no means EAW’s flagship PA but in that room, working hand in glove with the right acoustic treatment, Horsham Church of Christ has got themselves an outstanding result.”
Radius is an active PA that natively accepts Dante digital audio and can be configured via a Radius iOS app.
Paul Tucker: “You can manage Radius over ethernet. All the DSP is on board, within the loudspeakers. It’s really quite an impressive PA, the way it can be controlled and the way it configures itself via the DSP. It’s the first time Mozaix has used it and we will definitely be looking to find other rooms to put it in.”
Some six EAW VFR69i six-inch passive loudspeakers provide infill from the lip of the stage and help to bring the sonic image down.
Paul Tucker: “Yes, it is about bringing that sonic image down for the first three or four rows. It’s also about ensuring the most important seat in the house gets the best possible sound. Front and centre is normally where the senior pastor sits and in many installs that’s the least appealing seat, sound-wise.”
Horsham is a major provincial centre of western Victoria. Still, it’s a town of less than 20,000 and a 550-cap venue with a full-spec kitchen and foyer (not to mention the best AV spec for miles) is quite a desirable addition to Horsham’s venue options. For the church, that was always the plan — the new facilities were always about connecting with the broader community.
Already the calendar is starting to fill up. Schools are booking the auditorium for presentation nights. Funeral directors are calling the church to accommodate larger funerals. As you might expect, Horsham Church of Christ doesn’t have a liquor license and nor would it be courting secular rock gigs and the like. But the new facilities, and the state-of-the-art audiovisual systems that go with it, has broadened the church’s reach, influence and income streams.
A step of faith? Sure. An inspirational one? Absolutely.
Mozaix: (03) 9558 0433 or www.mozaix.com.au
PAVT (EAW): (03) 9264 8000 or www.pavt.com.au
Show Technology (Martin): (02) 9748 1122 or www.showtech.com.au
Hanson Associates: www.hansonassociates.com.au
TAG (Allen&Heath): (02) 9519 0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org
LSC Lighting Systems: www.lsclighting.com
Corsair Solutions (Lumens PTZ): www.corsairsolutions.com.au