Considerations for the multipurpose worship space
By R. Maxwell
White Oak, SC… Contemporary worship programs place more demands than ever on today’s sound reinforcement systems. For a church’s ministries to reach out and connect with all age groups in order to make the worship experience meaningful, the necessity of having the right sound reinforcement system is critical. A high degree of speech intelligibility is not the only measure of a viable sound system. Nowadays, that system must also provide natural sounding support for a wide variety of music—from choral groups and handbell choirs to the electronically influenced praise band. This is no small requirement, as each type of ensemble places its own unique demands on the sound system. All the while, of course, that system is expected to deliver clear, natural sound to all areas of the sanctuary.
The challenge of providing a sound system capable of addressing a broad range of activities was particularly acute at the White Oak Conference Center, the meeting facility for the South Carolina Baptist Convention of Columbia, SC. Set in the wooded hills of the midlands, the White Oak Conference Center provides modern day comforts in tranquil surroundings away from daily routines and distractions. It is the ideal venue for a wide range of activities and, as such, is rented by Southern Baptist churches throughout the region for a multitude of special events, including meetings, workshops, music and theatrical programs, as well as youth camps during the summer months. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that this same facility is used for indoor sports—including basketball.
The White Oak Conference Center features a specially carpeted floor surface that is permanent, which interestingly, is suitable for bouncing balls while also providing sound absorption to help minimize acoustic reflections. For basketball games, the field goals are removable. Similarly, seating throughout the facility is portable in nature, with a capacity of 1,000 – 1,200 people—depending upon the nature of the event. A large, permanent stage area with a proscenium arch resides along one side of the court’s length, while the FOH (front of house) mix position is located in an elevated “loft” along the opposing wall. The stage area measures approximately 50 feet wide by 30 feet deep. The facility’s ceiling height measures roughly 35 feet.
Lexington, SC-based Gattis Professional Audio, a full service audiovisual, lighting, and staging company that handles design/build projects for the contractor market and also has a special events division, was contracted to handle the White Oak Conference Center’s sound system upgrade. Sid Gattis, President of Gattis Professional Audio, discussed the challenges of the project.
“For any activity that involves the stage area, the White Oak Conference Center is a space that is almost twice as wide as it is deep,” explained Gattis. “Because of this, wide horizontal dispersion was among the most pressing considerations for the loudspeaker system. This space also makes extensive use of video projection and theatrical lighting—all of which was already in place. For this reason, we had to carefully consider line of sight issues so as not to have loudspeaker enclosures block the video displays or interfere with the ability to see the activity on stage from any seat in the room.”
“Audio mixing was an equally important consideration,” Gattis continued, “as some groups that rent the facility have either paid or volunteer staff to operate the mixing console while others do not. In the hands of an inexperienced person, the audio mix can be overwhelming—not to mention devastating to the event if handled incorrectly. For this reason, we elected to incorporate automated mixing in addition to manual mixing via a console.”
After careful consideration, Gattis specified a loudspeaker system consisting of two TrueLine X5i-P powered line arrays coupled with a pair of TrueLine TL215S subwoofers—both manufactured by Greensboro, NC-based WorxAudio Technologies. The X5i-P is a two-way, high efficiency, ultra compact line array incorporating five modules in a single enclosure. It utilizes a total of five 1-inch exit compression high frequency drivers and ten 8-inch cone transducers for low frequency reproduction and is powered by the company’s PMD-3 digital power amplifier, which provides 2,000 watts of power for the low frequencies and 500 watts for the highs along with twin digital program processors. The TL215S is a compact, high output subwoofer featuring dual 15-inch high excursion transducers. The subwoofers are powered by a single Yamaha PC9501N networkable power amplifier.
“The X5i-P line arrays are flown at a height of 22 feet above the left and right front edges of the stage area in a stereo configuration,” said Gattis. “The two TL215S subs are positioned on the floor at the front left and right edges of the stage—next to the stairs that lead onto the stage. The subs are vertically aligned with the arrays. Since the front row of seats is typically about ten feet from the front of the stage, the two line arrays are tilted forward about 12 degrees to ensure front row coverage. We chose the WorxAudio X5 line arrays because they offer a very broad 160-degree horizontal dispersion, which is unheard of in products of this nature. You can be seated 40 feet past either side of the stage and still hear clear, highly detailed, natural sound. We were just amazed at how consistent the coverage is throughout the room.”
For those organizations that do not have a person proficient at mixing audio, Gattis specified a Yamaha DME24N Digital Mixing Engine. In addition to serving as an 8-channel automated mixing system, the DME24N has extensive audio processing capabilities and also functions as the loudspeaker management system. With provisions for expansion, the DME24N that Gattis installed is augmented by the addition of a Yamaha MY16-AT Digital I/O expansion card as well as a Presonus DigiMax D8 8-channel microphone preamp. The Yamaha DME24N is housed in an equipment rack behind the stage’s rear wall.
Gattis notes, “The stage is wired for 48 inputs distributed among multiple match panels and the setup includes provisions for automated or manual mixing. “Eight mic inputs are wired to the automixer, and these are primarily used for meetings and presentations. We currently have four configurations programmed into the DME24N for these types of functions. This type of setup not only provides a consistent, trouble-free mix for unattended operation, it also enables the facility’s technical staff to attend to other matters in the building without being tied to mixing chores.”
For those organizations conducting musical and theatrical events and have someone to mix the programs, the White Oak Conference Center also has a unique FOH setup. Equipped with a Yamaha MG32/14FX 32-channel analog mixer, the FOH mix position can be re-located from its usual spot in an upper area loft along the opposing wall from the stage to the main floor.
“If the client wants to move the FOH position to the main floor, this can be easily accommodated,” said Gattis. “We wired the mic inputs to Elco connectors up at the top, and we also dropped an Elco down the back wall. By doing this, the mixing console can easily be disconnected from the multi-pin Elco on the upper level , taken downstairs, placed on a table, and re-connected to the lower level Elco connector. We pulled a tremendous amount of wire through existing conduit in order to make all the patch points and mixer connections come together, but it was well worth it. This arrangement provides maximum flexibility—with options for automated mixing or positioning the FOH mixing console as required for any given event. In the near future, we’ll be upgrading this analog board to a digital console, which will extend the capabilities of the system even further.”
To provide still greater flexibility for the facility’s clients, Gattis specified four new Shure SLX Wireless Handheld/Lavalier Combo Systems. “The wireless microphones provide freedom of mobility that is simply not possible if one is tethered to conventional cabled mics,” notes Gattis, “and the fact that these particular systems offer both lavaliere and handheld microphones further increases one’s options.”
The White Oak Conference Center audio system upgrade occurred during February 2009 and was placed into service immediately upon completion. Gattis reports that everyone involved with the project is extremely pleased with the new sound system’s performance and this sentiment was echoed by John Cathcart, the White Oak Conference Center’s Director of Technical Operations.
“We are extremely pleased with the new system’s performance,” states Cathcart. “The WorxAudio loudspeakers sound phenomenal no matter where you happen to be in the room. Our old system was antiquated, lacked the flexibility to accommodate our clients, and the coverage wasn’t consistent throughout the space. Our new loudspeakers are clear, very musical, and the coverage is even no matter where you happen to be seated. And with our new mixing capabilities, we can accommodate our clients no matter what their preference may be. Since the Yamaha DME24N is also a signal processor, we even have a preset that enables us to boost the low end performance of the system through the line arrays in the event that we need the space on the main floor that is normally occupied by the subwoofers. We are thrilled to finally have an audio system every bit on par with those of the best facilities in the region.”
For additional information…
Gattis Professional Audio: www.gattisproaudio.com
The White Oak Conference Center: www.whiteoakconferencecenter.info
WorxAudio Technologies: www.worxaudio.com
Yamaha Pro Audio: www.yamahaproaudio.com