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 nothing short of astounding. In that time, the multi-site megachurch has grown to two dozen campus locations, mostly in central Alabama and centered around Birmingham. In the process, it has become 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 A10 packs a lot of punch for its size and offers a stellar price-performance ratio.”
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.”
But more importantly, he emphasizes, it’s the overall experience that the A10 and the rest of the L-Acoustics products create that made the difference. “We’re not looking to achieve loud for loud’s sake; we’re looking for great sound and accurate reproduction at any level,” he says. “People often buy gear because they like a particular bell or whistle, but the reality is that I’m buying tools to facilitate a distraction-free worship experience for people. There’s no such thing as the specificity of ‘church sound.’ Good sound is good sound. With A10, I can run the system at 95 dBA, and no one will leave because it’s not about how loud it is—it’s about how good it sounds.”