Twenty-three years ago, Westbrook Church was an idea without a home. Over the next dozen years, the congregation would have many “homes,” including a town hall, a former liquor store in a shopping mall, an elementary school, a high school.
Then, in one large but well-prepared leap, Westbrook Church went from a gym with weekly chair setup/take down and thrown-together audio and video components—where three years ago the purchase of a 3000-lumen overhead projector and an $800 mechanical switcher was considered a major technological advance—to a worship facility with a 1000-seat sanctuary and absolutely state-of-the-art A/V systems.
The new Westbrook Church, completed in early December 2005, is contemporary in design, windowless, with theatrical-style seating. A white onyx diamond, inset in the wall behind the platform, is back-lit with a cross centrally placed. The sanctuary is purpose-built to an expansion plan that looks to double the size of the church in 8-10 years. Infrastructure planning and equipment specification not only had to meet day-one expectations, but anticipate needs 10 years down the road. The current infrastructure is all analog, with accommodations made for future switch-over to a digital platform.
Audio equipment from major manufacturers includes: EAW loudspeakers, QSC amplifiers, Biamp Systems’ AudiaFLEX, a Midas Verona 64-channel audio console, Klark Teknik signal processing, Middle Atlantic equipment racks, and an assistive listening system from Listen Technologies. Video equipment from major manufacturers includes: FSR video processing, Magenta Research video distribution, NewTek production switching, Sanyo projectors, and Draper screens.
Where do you start…?
In early 2001, Westbrook began working with an architectural/engineering firm and a general contactor. “The initial work began with input from staff and congregation members, and grew into a 100-page master plan architectural program document for a phased build-out of the Westbrook campus,” says Westbrook Ministries Operations Manager, Paul Carter.
“A little over two years ago, we started work on the second phase of the master plan which included a sanctuary of 1000 seats, a lobby, and 11 classrooms,” says Carter. In a subsequent phase of construction, 6 to 8 years down the road, these classrooms will be removed to allow space for an additional 1000 seats in the sanctuary, in a final build-out to 2000 seats. After a preliminary schematic design was complete, the architect worked with an acoustical consultant [Dr. James Yerges, Yerges Acoustics, Downers Grove IL]. This resulted in completing the basic room design, volume, and material selection as it relates to acoustic response.
“Now, at the end of this project,” says Carter, “it’s clear to me that ending up with a state-of-the-art A/V system must begin with design consideration on the first day a pencil hits the paper.” Carter chose a local design/build firm with a strong regional reputation to carry forward with of the A/V system: Professional Audio Designs (PAD), Wauwatosa, WI (www.proaudiodesigns.com).
“Paul knew us from our work with other worship clients,” says PAD VP, Kim Leonard. She and systems engineer, Phil Roeglin, basically told Carter how they worked through user meetings to determine their client’s specific needs, both from day-one to down the road…. How many mics do you need? Wired or wireless? What kind and how many outboard devices do you need? What about a monitor system? A system for hearing-impaired? What are your needs on a daily basis and what are your needs for more complex special services and events? These and similar questions helped the PAD team to determine what should be part of the base systems and what would make more sense to rent on occasion. What about the future of the facility? On the video side, Leonard and Roeglin used similar examples.
“Paul asked a lot of very good questions,” says Roeglin. “How do you go about designing a system? Do you do cookie-cutter systems? What about product warranties and systems support?”
“What advice can I give?,” says Carter. “Check references. Really check them. Take the time and tour facilities. Remember, when the builders and designers are long gone, you need to live a long time with what you see, hear, and feel.” Though Leonard and Roeglin found him uncommonly perceptive in their first meeting, they had the feeling that Carter was looking for a second opinion. Six weeks later, those feelings proved wrong when Carter, with no re-contact, called Leonard and said that the church had decided to use the services of Professional Audio Designs.
Next steps and specifics
Carter discussed the church’s vision with Professional Audio Designs, which encompassed everything from day-one of new operations, to 10 years out. As built, the rear wall of the sanctuary is blank, curtained off with acoustically absorbent material in anticipation of planned expansion.
Another element of the church’s vision was that budget for A/V systems, while a big factor, was not their primary concern. The most important thing was to design the system right. “When the Church leadership asked me to represent them through the final design and building stage,” says Carter, “I felt confident in what they were looking for, and the quality they were expecting. Early on in discussions with Professional Audio Designs, we zeroed in on a pre-contract dollar figure. And I wanted to keep it there. I think this gave their team the confidence to really dig in and design what has turned out to be an incredible A/V system.” Coupled with a clear vision of where the church was headed, this confidence had a liberating effect on PAD’s systems design and equipment selection.
Project planning split into Phase 1 and Phase 2 needs. Phase 1 audio needs: delivery of contemporary worship services using four different performing groups in all combinations, including choir, with even SPL throughout via a fully professional audio system that can accommodate regional touring groups. Phase 1 video needs: dual-screen video coverage from six camera input positions, with monitoring for all video sources.
Numerous meetings with church volunteer user groups helped PAD determine how professional-standard video and audio systems could be made easy enough to operate by trained, non-professional volunteers. (“You walk up to the system, plug in a microphone, bring up a fader,” says Leonard. “It had to be that easy, and it had to sound great.”)
Phase 2 needs: planning and infrastructure for audio (within a three-year timeframe) includes provision for on-stage monitor mix, post-production facilities, and real-time streaming to the Web. The installed video infrastructure is built to accommodate post-production facilities.
Audio and video systems are designed to expand to Phase 2 with minimum impact. The current video screens are large enough to accommodate the expanded sanctuary, and the front-of-house audio system can deliver complete coverage of the Phase 2 house, augmented by a secondary ring of delay speakers.
Equipment that fits the vision
For the front-of-house audio system, PAD specified equipment they routinely trust in their installations.
The FOH array is made up of four EAW MQV1394 3-way, full range array modules. Trapezoidal enclosures include a slot-loaded 15-inch woofer, a horn-loaded 10-inch MF cone, and a 2-inch voice coil neodymium compression driver. The MF and HF horns provide a 900 x 400 dispersion pattern. The speakers are tri-amped—high, mid, and low. They are suspended in an arc, with inner and outer speakers basically at the same height level above the curved lip of the platform.
“Coverage and pattern control are first concerns in choosing a FOH speaker system,” says Leonard. “At the same time, we wanted uncolored, natural sound. EAW’s MQV product is a favorite of ours for achieving this in projects that are budgeted for this level of speaker.”
The MQV array is supported by two EAW SB1000 subwoofers, (two 18-inch transducers in a vented rectangular enclosure) located front stage, right and left, in concrete cavities built into the platform. “We specified the concrete enclosures in order to improve speaker efficiency,” says PAD design engineer, Robb Peters. “The subs are acoustically isolated from the platform. The enclosures have removable tops fit flush to the platform level.”
Five EAW MK5394 delay speakers (15-inch LF woofer and a 3-inch voice coil HF compression driver, 90° x 45° dispersion pattern) are located behind the lighting catwalk section in the ceiling, in a semi-circular layout. “We took out four ceiling tiles for each loudspeaker,” says Peters, “diffuser tiles speced by the acoustical designer, and replaced them with color-matched acoustical cloth to cover the speakers. The result is that the delays are not visible from the sanctuary floor, and we were able to achieve the even front-to-back coverage in the sanctuary, and at the mix position, that we wanted.”
Six EAW SM200 floor monitors comprise the stage monitor system.
All loudspeakers are powered by QSC amplifiers: two CX1102’s, three CX902’s, four CX702’s, one CX302, and one CX404. “We tend to choose amplifiers that have absolutely no service issues,” says Leonard. “The QSC product has performed perfectly for us over many installations. In the end, you have to figure how important it is not get a call at six in the morning on Sunday that something’s not working and 1500 people won’t be able to hear at 10 AM.”
A similar absence of service issues was behind the choice of two Biamp Systems’ AudiaFLEX units (each with 24 inputs/outputs) to handle DSP: “We’ve never had one fail in the field, ever,” says Leonard. In addition to delivering uncolored sound, the Biamp product offers ease of use and value.
An Audia Volume/Select 8 control panel in the church lobby/welcoming area allows users to control a 70V JBL speaker system. “Users can select a local mic input, a local line input, or the feed from the sanctuary,” says PAD’s Peters, “and they can control volume. And there’s certainly no training involved to use it.” The Biamp AudiaFlex offers a lot of DSP for the money, according to Leonard: “Setting up limiters, crossovers, compressors, ducking units, and paging functions take up room in your internal processor. We’ve used products where we’ve literally run out of DSP before we’re done EQ’ing the system. But with the Biamp Audia system, you never run out of gas.”
Westbrook needed a console that was easy to use. In addition, because they planned on inviting regional touring acts to perform in the sanctuary, PAD wanted to put equipment at front-of-house that these acts would be comfortable using. “We needed 64-channels in an FOH console, and that proved difficult to get in a digital console that would be easy for volunteers to use, and familiar to touring acts,” says Leonard. The church wanted to be able to set up for a base praise band, but also wanted to be able to set up for other praise band groupings of varying sizes and instrumentation, and make it as simple as possible. In addition, they have 12 wireless mics that they wanted to use in conjunction with a full orchestra band. “At the grand opening,” says Leonard, who engineered the event, “I used just about every channel on the console.”
The 64-channel Midas Verona gives the church maximum flexibility, and allows them the handle a wide range of events themselves. (The audio system was specified without a monitor system under the assumption that for special presentations, the church could split off the main patch panel at the platform to a separate, rented monitor mixer.)
“The Midas Verona is easy to use, very well laid out for volunteers to understand,” says Leonard. “At the same time, it offers the superior sonics we wanted for both everyday and special event use, as well as for touring acts.” Similarly, Klark Teknik graphic equalizers, quad limiters, dual compressors, and quad gates are industry standards, Leonard says, and equipment that touring acts recognize as top-quality.
Apart from front-of-house audio at Westbrook Church is the Assistive Listening System from Listen Technologies: one Advanced Installed System with four programmable LR-500 Receivers, plus six additional receivers, six LA-164 ear speakers, and three LA-166 neck loops. “The church didn’t purchase the system to meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines,” says Leonard. “They purchased it for one 10-year old girl who wears hearing aids in both ears. When we first set up the system for the opening, we didn’t know if the induction loop would work with her hearing aids. Not even her father knew. But when we showed the loop to this 10-year old girl, she said: Oh, I use those at school all the time.
“When you give people a hearing assistive device that temporarily replaces their own hearing aids, they hear only what you feed them,” Leonard explains. “They’re completely within your world. If you feed them a direct console signal, when it’s quiet on stage and people may be applauding or the congregation is responding, these people don’t hear it. What we do is set up a live room mic and bring that mic through the DSP. The console’s going through the DSP also, but when there’s no sound coming from the console, the signal from the room mic ramps up and feeds the ALS. So these people always hear something. They’re never left without sound, wondering what might be happening out of their field of vision.”
Like Westbrook’s audio systems, video was designed and specified with a vision that spans day-one to ten years into the future, as exemplified by the two larger-than-needed (at the moment) 15’ x 20’ Draper screens. VGA Video from client-purchased cameras located in the lighting catwalk is distributed via Magenta Research product over CAT5 cabling. (There are six camera positions in all, wired for remote operation, again in anticipation of sanctuary expansion.) All video sources are mixed and routed through a NewTek Video Toaster—a digital switcher, mixer, scaler, and special effects generator—and sent as S-Video to an FSR Indie 300 switcher where VGA and S-Video sources are combined, scaled up to VGA, and sent to the projectors via the Magenta product. A VGA input on the platform for a laptop computer and a computer input for SongShow software (for displaying hymn lyrics, scripture, etc.) feed into the Indie switcher/scaler as well. Video shares a position with lighting opposite the FOH audio position. Two Marshall VR44P 4-screen preview panels, with eight dedicated preview monitors, allow operators to view all video and camera sources.
“Looking back at a project of this magnitude,” says Carter, “it’s very easy to see where ‘value engineering’ could have squeezed a few dollars out of systems such as theatrical lighting and A/V…. We could have gone with four delay speakers instead of five, or we might have eliminated the stage lip front fill speakers in the platform sill. We considered $70,000 worth of such value-engineered ‘savings.’ But it takes only a few such decisions to pull down the performance of a system from superior to something simply adequate. In the end, we chose to remain committed to the original concept and the original dollar figure. If the end result is important, the cost to achieve it isn’t that much more.”