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Uplifting Upgrade

Taming acoustics with scalable directivity

SVC: It’s been a while since we talked, tell us first what’s been going on at CCI Solutions.

Duke DeJong: Well, funny enough a lot of Calvary churches. This is one of somewhere in the neighborhood of ten Calvary churches we’re working with right now, so trying to keep them all straight has been fun. But we just continue to help churches all over the country with audio, video, lighting, and acoustics and try to help them really connect well with people. And as you know, a lot of churches are struggling with old systems or poor acoustics and churches, their primary role is to communicate with people. So we have a lot of work to do with churches all over the place trying to help them communicate well with people in the room.

Do you find that churches have problems that tend to repeat?

There definitely is a lot of consistency. We can pretty quickly walk into a room and tell when it was built with most denominations because they ended up using the same architect who created a lot of the same problems. But you know, I think the biggest challenge as a whole with churches in general is they’re always trying to fight the stewardship concept of how can we maximize every dollar we’re spending and how do we be extremely efficient? And all of those things inherently are good things. It’s just one of those things where they have such high expectations and want so much, but the budget often isn’t quite there when it’s all based on donations. And always finding solutions that deliver good results at a very fair and reasonable price point is kind of the name of the game for us.

So in this particular case, it wasn’t a brand new sanctuary where you might even get in on the building plans at the very beginning. You had to take out your old system first.

You know, a lot of times when we do a retrofit we kind of have to allow for a little bit of time for discovery to find out what we don’t know as we start to get in there. With these guys, though, we had a distinct advantage because 15 years ago or so, their PA was put in by us. So they were overdue for an upgrade, but the same guy who was our project manager at the time and one of our lead installers at the time were able to work on this project again. So the unknown was not a big topic for us this time. It’s a church that’s grown a lot over the last decade or two and definitely changed its style and its approach. Their services definitely have more of a rock worship type of feel, they’ve got some really dynamic speaking, and their needs have changed dramatically from where they were 15 years ago. So it was time. It was time to bring in a system that would really hang in there with the performances and the content they were throwing at it, and cover the room with not just good clarity but also warmth and fullness all the way down to the sub frequencies so they could really rock that room when they want to.

How well had you documented everything, especially after that much time has passed?

You know, that’s always entertaining for us. We’ll have churches we worked on 20 years ago reach out to us and somewhere out in a warehouse we have boxes of all those files and documentation. We’ve tried to be good over the years of scanning some of the old stuff in, but some of that we just never got to and it’s still out there in a box. So out of our 41-year history we’ve got a pretty good history of documentation and as-builts, and a very poor history of cleaning out the closets. We still own most of that stuff. Can’t always find it quickly, but we usually find it eventually.

Was this church a converted gymnasium?

Yeah, it was really kind of the ultimate multipurpose room. I mean, even today they use it for many different functions. They’ll use it for everything from a conference center to, of course, their weekend worship. I don’t believe they’re using it much for sports any more, but when they built it, it was everything. It was a gym during the week. It was conference center. So it’s definitely still got that gym look and feel to it – in fact, I believe some of the baskets are still up.

I looked at a video of this place. They don’t appear to use a podium like a more traditional church. They have mikes moving around and you never know where they might be.

And they’ve got some really great pastors on staff, very dynamic communicators. And because they are a multi-venue church, they’ve got sites in different parts of the Seattle area. Video is really important to them, so I think their staff tends to be good about staying up on the stage, but I bet during some of these events where they’re not video casting these things out, they’re down on the floor walking amongst the people.

You used the L-Acoustics ARCS WIFO speaker system and their scalable directivity must have helped get things right for the new setup.

It did. You know, for us, we love the L-Acoustics product. There’s just a warmth and a clarity to those and just such great balance that we know that any customer who gets with an L-Acoustics system is going to be happy with how it sounds. So from there it’s just a matter of what’s going to cover their room and provide for us a plus or minus three decibel coverage throughout the entire seating space. And what the ARCS WiFO system allows us to do from front to back coverage-wise is just fantastic. I mean, we are consistently able to throw those speakers into rooms that are 500-1,000 seats and really, really get just fantastic coverage from top to bottom. And the way the Wide and the Focus boxes work together, it just really gives us great coverage.

I noticed that they have a lot of projection around the stage in there. Has all of that been added since the original sound system was put in?

Oh no, that’s definitely something that’s been new in the last few years. The great news is 15 years ago speaker systems were much, much larger in general than they are today. And so the speakers that we took out of there were very large. In fact, they’ve been very affectionately named by our team “the refrigerators.” I think they were all roughly the size of a refrigerator each. But those were a custom-built cabinet that we used to make a couple of decades ago. And so really we were able to take down some very, very large boxes and replace them with these ARCS WiFO arrays. We’ve actually cut their footprint down, which is making their lighting and projection able to work easier in that space.

Sometimes the contractor has to get a little creative in where they have to locate the amps and control. Had things changed in terms of where you could locate the amp rack and that stuff?

Fortunately with this one we already had a pre-set amp rack backstage and really it was just a matter of updating the equipment in it. Taking out the old stuff and putting in the new L-Acoustics amplifiers and the Symetrix DSP. And so by and large this one was a pretty easy one as far as implementation goes. We had a great design. Everything looked good on paper. We actually own a small demo rig for the ARCS WIFO and we were able to bring that out and let the church team get in front of it and listen to it. And they just fell in love with it and within a few months we had the new rig in and everybody has been really happy.

A complicating factor on church installs usually seems to be the quick timeframe.

One of the challenges we always have in working with churches is Sunday is always coming soon, so with a project like this we’ve always got to get things done between Sundays. On a larger project it always definitely makes it interesting. This project, however, with it being primarily a PA upgrade, we were able to roll in Monday morning. And fortunately, pulling the old speakers out, especially as large as they were, gravity takes pretty good care of that. Once we detached from the ceiling they come down pretty fast. [Laughs]

How did you go through and tune it to that specific building? That must have been the fun part.

Sure. The lead for the project, Mark Pearson, has handled a lot of our larger projects over the course of the last 15 years and he ran this one. L-Acoustics is one of those speakers that seems like it’s always pretty easy to tune so we can usually roll in there with a smart setup and once we get all the timing dialed in between the subs and the mains and any fills if there are any – and there weren’t in this one –it seems like we usually don’t have to do a lot to it.

So how was it when you unleashed this new system on the church people?

Yeah, Mark was there and the response just was fantastic. People could hear clearly, the congregation could hear speech clearly; could understand and didn’t have to strain to hear. Everything was just so much warmer and had more fullness to it. It’s always fun when there’s a dramatic change, because nobody ever questions spending the money when there’s a dramatic change so everybody feels good about it. But it’s always fun to be in a room when all of a sudden there’s just extreme clarity and warmth and fullness. And regardless of what you’re doing, whether it’s a church service or a concert, you just see people really engaged because of how good it sounds and feels. It always makes this job a lot more fun when we get to see that.

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