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Software to Scale

Large churches and modern tools

The most important technical aspect of any worship environment is the sound. In addition to the power and articulation of speakers, modern software tools for 3D sound design, mapping, room emulation, and immersive positioning can provide large churches with elevated options. Software can also give them self-sufficiency to shape their sound to suit their building, worship style, congregants, and mission. 

Since its founding in 2001 by pastor Chris Hodges and a core group of 34 people, the growth of Church of the Highlands has been remarkable. In that time, the multi-site megachurch has grown to two dozen campus locations, mostly in central Alabama and centered around Birmingham. Today, Church of the Highlands is the second-largest church in the United States, with an average of over 43,000 attendees each week.

Now, its newest location, a 1,000-seat church on the former site of Gibson Elementary School in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood, reflects one of the ways that Church of the Highlands has expanded so quickly and seamlessly: the church’s AVL crew is a technologically savvy group of folks. Opened in September, Church of the Highland’s team installed a new L-Acoustics A10 sound system themselves using a design from the L-Acoustics Soundvision software. Backstage Productions LLC, the local AV systems integrator who sold the system, and BJ Shaver, L-Acoustics Director of Sales, Americas, provided valued help and input for the design of the new system install.

“It was a nice collaborative effort by all of us to get this new location the right sound system for its needs,” says Backstage Productions LLC President Brad Brooks, who notes this was the company’s own first installation of an A10 system in a church, and who adds that the A10 has become a go-to solution for side- and front-fills in larger system designs. “We did a demo for them in the space that showed the A10 could handle music at volume without any problem. We’re a concert company and can create that kind of performance environment for them. The A10 can deliver a real concert-type experience but is compact enough not to be a factor for sightlines or be a visual distraction.”

The new Woodlawn system comprises a dozen A10, including eight A10 Focus enclosures plus four A10 Wide configured in two main hangs of three A10 Focus per side topped with one A10 Wide. A further two out-fill hangs have an A10 Focus on top and a Wide on the bottom. There are also seven flown KS21 subs, and six short-throw X8 coaxials providing front-fill. The system is powered by six LA4X amplified controllers, with an L-Acoustics P1 doing the processing. The PA send is from a Yamaha CL5 at FOH through two Q-SYS 510i Cores via Dante, which distributes the PA send to the LA4X amps via AVB through two LS10 network switches, establishing two redundant networks.

“With the continual launching of new campuses, we’ve gained a lot of confidence in our abilities as a team to take the installation process in-house,” says Jay Wood, Church of the Highlands’ Audio Systems Engineer. “What really contributed to that, in this case, was the simplicity and compactness of the A10 and the power of the Soundvision software. Sometimes with prediction software, you can get pretty close to what the reality will be, but with Soundvision, the distance between prediction and real life was virtually none at all. I was thrilled with how this installation came together because of A Series and Soundvision.”

Wood can get very specific about what he feels is required in a system, and A10 gave him the specificity he wanted. For instance, he says, the Focus option allowed for the throw he needed on the top of the main hangs while the Wide model on the bottom of each feathered the sound out evenly for the front rows. “The A10 has a great physical footprint, so deployment is very simple as far as rigging goes,” he says. “And the X8 are so good for front-fills. I really wanted a throaty eight-inch driver because a smaller driver never really blends in with the rest of the arrays properly, and that disconnects people in the front rows, who are looking up at the stage, from the rest of the sound. With our new system, everything sounds very consistent throughout the entire room.”

The Healing Place Church started with twelve people in 1993 and now has a total of twelve campuses worldwide, with 24,000 people attending weekly services. The original location in Baton Rouge, LA is the now largest–the main arena seats up to 3,000 members depending on the seat arrangement on the floor. Worship is led by a full contemporary band consisting of 6-9 front line vocalists, drums, percussion, bass, electric guitars, acoustic guitar, keys, and an occasional choir. 

Mike and Rachel Haman serve as Lead Pastors of Healing Place Church for the Baton Rouge location and oversee all the local and international campuses. Pastors Mike and Rachel have invested over 16 years of ministry into seeing the vision of Healing Place Church expand around the globe 

The vision for providing an engaging environment and increasing the connection with the congregation motivated Healing Place Church to upgrade to a d&b audiotechnik Soundscape system. The Orlando and Pensacola offices of Pro Sound and Video, a Solotech Company, recommended and installed a d&b Soundscape 360 system with Vi-Series loudspeakers.

“Soundscape provided immersive sound that engaged the audience from the front to the back,” states David Leuschner, Business Development, Pro Sound. “Soundscape also helped with sight lines as a traditional stereo line array would have protruded into sight lines. After church leadership listened to a demo and heard how engaging it was, how the sound really made them feel connected, as if they were a part of it, they chose to go that route. Using d&b En-Scene and En-Space programming modules through the R1 Remote software is very easy to operate, even for volunteers, and allowed engineers to develop a 360° mix in minutes instead of hours.”

Leuschner said “not only was this an upgrade to the previous listening experience, but it allowed the church to create immersive surround, and point source experiences for their contemporary services, as well as their special Christmas or theatrical services. 

“The pursuit to find a new system was driven by the desire for excellence to every seat in the arena,” states John Tillman, Technical Director, Healing Place Church. “Initially going into it, we thought Soundscape would add those bells and whistles for our big events, but I think it’s had more of an impact on our week-to-week basis than we expected. I feel like I’m now able to produce the sound I’ve always had in my head. And knowing what the congregation’s response used to be and now seeing that response trickle up to the outer edges of the room is just fantastic.”

Soundscape processing adds fidelity and headroom while reducing the burden to the mix engineer. “The speaker system is automatically optimized for every performer separately,” states Nick Malgieri, Advanced Systems Specialist, d&b audiotechnik Americas. “This allows every speaker to automatically handle a different mix of signals which alleviates issues with fidelity and headroom. The engineer often requires less channel processing and plugins because the system doesn’t require as much mix processing. Adding surrounds then elevates the capabilities even further.”

At The Healing Place, En-Space is used on console channels as desired but can also be fed via 8 DPA mics which are suspended from the ceiling enabling the engineer to selectively change the acoustics which are experienced by the crowd. “A noticeable increase in the congregation’s engagement was noticed on the first weekend,” says Malgieri. “Because of the more inviting acoustics provided by Soundscape, the audience felt more comfortable to sing and cheer, something that must be experienced to be understood. It’s also fast and easy to commission. Adding the suspended mics took about 30 minutes to program. Malgieri also added that the ability to route background vocals throughout surround speakers helps people feel included, comfortable, and engaged with the music.”

In addition to a Soundscape 360° system, the loudspeaker configuration includes: Five mains arrays of 8 x Vi-Series; four flown SL-SUBs; 13 44S for front fills; ten 21S-SUB ground subs; six 24S-D extensions; fifteen 10S-D surrounds; and eight 8S overheads. Also 22 40D and two D80 amplifiers; four DS10s and an DS100 audio network bridge, and touchscreens for Soundscape control. Pro Sound &Video also installed three DiGiCo Quantum 338’s with KLANG for the performers; WAVES; and DMI Dante to send to the Soundscape processor.


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