• Spring Hills
  • First Baptist Church of Ukiah
  • St. John's Lutheran Church
  • Vi4

Church Production - Spring Hills

Faith may indeed make all things possible, but there's never a guarantee that it will be easy. Such an assertion could easily have served as a mantra driving the construction of Spring Hills Community Church in Santa Rosa, Calif., a house of worship with an itinerant heritage running so long and deep that it would have been easy for congregation members to feel like they were on a extended mission, not part of a grounded ministry.

"Spring Hills spend years holding services in other people's buildings," relates Greg Adams, a man ultimately responsible for helping the church complete the A/V systems found in their first permanent home. "These people worked their tails off and stuck with it year-after-year, doing all the thankless toil required of a portable house of worship. They struggled through the early morning setups and late-night tear downs, and did a fantastic job. All the while maintaining very high production standards, I might add."

Although owning property in Santa Rosa proper, a town serving as the county seat of California's Sonoma County in the southwestern corner of Wine Country, zoning issues kept the church from renovating and occupying one of the buildings on the site for years. Surrounded by working vineyards, the land has a natural and pastoral beauty ideally suited for Spring Hills' intended use. Once all legal matters were finally resolved, the one-time commercial structure was gutted and repurposed for a new and markedly different life. Now housing a sanctuary and classrooms, the renovated facility was finished quickly using both volunteer labor and professional contractors.

With seating for 750 to 1,000, Spring Hills engages its congregation with a contemporary worship style falling just a few notches short of full-tilt, concert level rock 'n' roll. Glenn Schulz, the church's worship leader, is a accomplished musician as well as a forward thinker in terms of technology. The pastor of the church, Bret Avlakeotes, is also one of the drummers in the house band. These kinds of skills and professional-level talents run throughout the congregation, and served the renovation project well in capacities ranging from pulling all of the wire required of the A/V installation, to building a production booth that is an example of art in woodworking, as well as a working space.

Making its debut in time for Good Friday and Easter services earlier this year, the new and finally permanent Spring Hills Community Church burst into existence, impact of the Great Recession be damned.

"We al hear this too frequently these days in every aspect of life," says Adams, who helps give direction to engineering and sales at Santa Rosa-based Sound Expressions, the design/build A/V contracting firm enlisted to help with the systems portion of the renovation, "but budget on this project was tight. And I mean so tight that it was a moving target at al times."

Trying to make the best of what they had as part of efforts to bring the kind of high-quality A/V systems to the new facility they had grown accustomed to in the portable world, at one point Spring Hill administrators even considered simply using the church's portable gear in their new environment. Funding opened up in the 11th hour, however, for a dedicated new system, and Adams set about in earnest to revise a blueprint he had been working on for the church over the years in anticipation of the day that had finally arrived.

Facing an environment with low ceilings and a distance of 65 feet from the stage to the rear of the main room, according to Adams three things guided the project: Money, the need for a compact, unobtrusive systems footprint, and a lot of bang for the buck. In order to make this dedicated new A/V a reality, the church was forced to offset as much of Sound Expressions' labor costs as it could with its own.

No stranger to the house-of-worship maker, Sound Expressions had a sympathetic understanding for the budgetary situation, and was more than willing to work with the church to meet its goals.

"We were ready to get creative with this," Adams readily imparts. "Wherever it made sense we let the church get involved as little or as much as they could. We flew the speakers, but they pulled all the wire. Using as much of the portable system's legacy gear as possible, we also mounted the amp rack, terminated the wires, and tuned the PA, but most everything else was done by them, and done wel. There was indeed an element of necessity that went along with trying to offset our labor with theirs, but on another level, these are take charge people who weren't afraid and had the skills to take on ownership of the systems in a very active fashion."

Despite the sanctuary's low ceilings, performance and coverage needs dictated the use of a line array for sound reinforcement. While giving careful analysis to a number of options, JBL unveiled its subcompact VerTec VT4886 enclosures just in time to make the cut among a crowd of other contenders and emerge as the final pick.

Living up to their subcompact claims with Lilliputian dimensions allowing them to be deployed in full stereo stage left and right within hanging arrays, four deep despite the low ceiling height, the VT4886s were supported by JBL AM6215 out fills. A pair of JBL SRX728 subwoofers was used to buttress the low-end, powered by Crown MA - 9000i amplification. Crown amps fueled the main arrays and out fills as well, with a single I-Tech I-T12000 HD providing the juice and DSP for the former, and an XTi 6000 the power of the latter.

The eight VT4886s, with the array frames and the amp to drive them, came in at a very competitive price point, and offered value in other terms as well. "The fact that the trapezoidal boxes are passive meant we didn't have to tri-amp them," Adams says, "and because they are 12 ohm boxes, you can stack lots of them on a single amplifier while maintaing proper impedance loads."

At 110 degrees wide, the VT4886s covered the necessary real estate handily. Installed based upon modeling done with JBL's proprietary VerTec Line Array Calculator II software, the loudspeakers received EQ and other processing in accordance with recommended settings locked into the I-Tech software. Final system tuning was done with Smaart, with the out fills voiced as closely as possible to the main arrays to produce seamless sound around the room.

Onstage, Aviom personal mixers are used by the musicians to feed G2 wireless in-ear systems from Sennheiser. Sennheiser G2 and G3 wireless microphone systems are mainstays for gathering input, while pastor Bret Avlakeotes relies upon a Countryman E6 omni ear set to deliver the sermon and more.

Arriving as part of the legacy package, a Soundcraft Live 8 32-channel console sold to the church previously by Greg Adams is still earning its keep in a new life, albeit at a permanent FOH mix position for a change. Furman Sound power conditioning and sequencing components made the short trip up the 101 from Petaluma to further complement the audio system.

On the video side of things, keeping it simple and reliably functional was the philosophy holding sway during the build. Within such design parameters, 1.3 gain Solar HD projection screens from Screen Innovations measuring 8.75 feet by 14 feet now receive display content courtesy of a pair of Dukane 8949H 4,000-lumen, 16:10 projectors. For confidence monitoring, a pair of 3,000-lumen Dukane (model 8917Hs) operating at the same resolution use the back wall itself as screen surfaces. A Kramer VP728 switcher/scaler completes the circle, managing video distribution over twisted pair throughout the entire building, which also includes Vizio 55-inch LCD flat screens spread out over a number of peripheral areas.

After thigh Good Friday/Easter Sunday debut, common wisdom held that both the audio and video systems were a perfect fit, maintaining the church's standards for quality as well as performance. While most contemporary churches weigh-in with sound pressure levels during worship services running between 95-96 dB SPL A-weighted, Spring Hills takes it to the next level at 102 to 104.

"That's what the congregation likes," Adams says with a resigned shrug of his shoulders and palms outstretched. "Okay, that's a little higher than most, and we often joke about it-but hey, it's Spring HIlls. They rock 'n' roll, and that's what they want. The arrays hold together real well front-to-back with really smooth sound, and coverage side-to-side went beyond our expectations as well. We were faced with low ceilings and a small budget, but to do this right and meet the church's needs, we couldn't skimp on technology. Making good use of what we did have and letting the church do what it could made everything work. It allowed us to spend when we had to more prudently, and get what the job demanded."

Systems Contractor - First Baptist Church of Ukiah

When pastor Garry Zeek and associate pastor Mike Dobbs started mulling over plans for construction on the First Baptist Church of Ukiah, CA, they decide that an effective sound system was a high priority.

Greg Adams, lead engineer at Sound Expressions, a 15-year-old sound company that is versatile enough to cover installations, rentals and retail sales, puts it another way: "They client told me and all the other contractors that sound was more important than hot water." With this directive in place, Adams happily got into the habit of making the one-hour drive north from Santa Rosa, CA to the site for Zeek's new church.

On April 7 of this year, First Baptist opened up its new facilities with a dedication ceremony. Congregants and members of the community entering this place of worship were greeted with a first-rate sound system. Adams designed and installed the system under the premise that "the customer put so much importance on sound and allowed me to select the equipment I felt they needed, so there really didn't have to be very many challenges." He installed a system that has all the standard basic components spiced up by a smattering of new equipment and technologies that help make Zeek's sermons come alive for every congregant in the building.

"As you walk into the church from the outside," Adams said, "you enter the Narthex area, and the speakers in there are JBL Control 25 AVs. As you enter the actual church sanctuary and open those doors, the Control 25s are delayed to the main speaker clusters, so it's pretty much seamless." They supplied the church with four separate monitor mixers that can be accessed from any of four floor boxes and four JBL Pro 4892 arrays of which Adams speaks highly.

"The 4892s are impressive. Their performance is incredible for their size. You're dealing with a large-format speaker in a small box, so they create quite a low profile." The sound quality is so strong, in fact, that Zeek insisted it be able to carry everywhere in the building. Addams said that Zeek had him go so far as to install volume controlled speakers in the bathroom "because he didn't want anyone to miss the message."

At the prompting of Plus 4 Marketing, Adams used Smaart Live, a computer-based software system that integrates an Earthworks M30 microphone and acts a s a system analyzer as it interfaces with the BSS Omnidrive (The FDS 366) in the control room. "When you pink-noise the system and look at the display on the computer," Adams said, "you're able to pull down specific frequencies. And when you do that with your mouse it actually changes the parametric equalizers in the Omnidrive. So when you're done, you've basically married the speaker system to the room environment." Adams spent two weeks after completing the install giving weekend training to church employees to teach them to operate this system. "Basically," Adams deadpanned, "You don't just drop a 40-console sound system into the laps of a church and tell them good luck."

Another interesting feature Sound Expressions incorporated into its design was the Listen Technologies assistive listening system. Because First Baptist has a number of congregants who can benefit from assistive listening devices, Adams utilized this system of transmitters located at the front of the house that transmit at 72 MHz to members of the audience with a receiver pack.

Adams is a big believer in this device: "Anybody out there looking for assistive listening systems needs to look at these. They sound great. IN addition to the reviver pack, they offer any number of walkman-style headphones, single earbuds, or ear speakers or an inductive neck loop."

Church Production - St. Johns Lutheran Church

Formed in 1907, St. John's Lutheran has resided at its current location in the northern section of Napa, California since the early 1960s. The church is also home to an elementary school, which was established in 1938. Approximately 800 people make up St. John's congregation, and over 300 children attend the school. St. John's Lutheran offers traditional services featuring organ music and hymns in addition to contemporary worship involving a full praise band. An overhaul of the church's audio systems was recently conducted. Sound Expressions an A/V company operating out of Sonoma Valley, implemented an entirely new system into the 450-seat sanctuary.

Michael Schmid, lead pastor at St. John's explains the motivation behind the upgrade. "The [sound] quality was not adequate, there were many complaints about the intelligibility of the spoken word." he recalls. "The other reason was that we had added a full praise band about four and a a half years ago, and the old system couldn't handle it. It wasn't designed for that use. We were using portable speaker son stands and had wires all over the place. During one Sunday morning, we would be operating two separate systems. The systems had limitations." The logical solution was to implement one system that addressed all of the church's needs.

The sanctuary at St. John's is configured in a traditional longitudinal shape.

Listen Systems - Listen Helps Bring the "Best to the Lord and to the People"

When it came time to upgrade the sound system at the beautiful St. John's Lutheran Church in Santa Rosa California, Pastor Michael Schmid chose top-rate equipment.

His reason was simple.

"Sound is vital," the pastor said. "There is no point in being there if people can't hear."

For his parishioners' assistive listening needs, he chose LIsten Technologies Corporation. Listen provided the church with high-quality wireless sound that allowed those with hearing impairments the flexibility to sit in favorite or preferred locations in the sanctuary. That freedom can be extremely important to some in a house of worship.

"The system we had before was hard-wired to designated seats," Pastor Schmid said. "But that wasn't desirable. We wanted a system that would enable them the freedom to sit wherever they want."

Utah-based Listen Technologies Corp. designs and manufactures wireless devices to help people hear better. Listen's LT-800 transmitter, which was wired off of the main audio mixer for the church sound system, sends a clear, noise-filtered signal directly to parishioners wearing discreet battery powered receivers with headsets. The system also helps the church meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Greg Adams, chief engineer and systems designer at Sound Expressions in Santa Rosa, said the pastor and others at the church were delighted with the LIsten system when they heard the quality of sound.

"The Listen equipment sounded so good in there, it basically blew everyone away." said Adams, whose company sold and installed the system. "All the different options with speakers, the neck loops, the ear buds, made it real easy to accommodate any particular hearing impairment."

St. John's later decided to extend the Listen system to the Cry Room by installing an LR-600 Wireless Speaker / Receiver. That way, parents of fussy children could still hear the sermon.

"You can just turn the listen speaker on to hear the service," Pastor Schmid said.

He's been very pleased with the system's performance.

"We want to bring the best to the Lord and also the best to the people," he said. "So high-quality sound is very important. It's not an area that you want to skimp on."

Soundcraft - Vi4

What do Washington, DC's John F. Kennedy Center for the performing Arts and Sound Expressions, a sound reinforcement rental company on the opposite side of the country, have in common? Interestingly enough, both recently took delivery of, respectively, the first and second Soundcraft Vi4 digital live sound consoles sold in North America.

Santa Rosa-based Sound Expressions is a full-service operation providing sound system rental, instruction, cartage, engineering and consultation. "Our new Vi4 system was first used in early September for the 11th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival," reveals staff engineer Ian Riggle. "The organizer had laid on a reception with two stages that featured a number of entertainers and musical acts, including a 12-member swing band. The Vi4 handled all of these complex mixing duties with flying colors."

According to company principal Arleen Nakamura, Sound Expressions provides sound rentals to a number of local wineries, in addition to the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Aliance. "We are a service-oriented business that provides sound systems for a number of promotional events," she points out. "Because the mixing location needs to be as invisible as possible at such events, we were looking for a digital console with a small physical footprint. The Vi4 is a perfect solution; it is well built, small, and comes complete with a lightweight digital snake that can be connected very easily to the stage area. And, best of all, the new console sounds incredible."

Derived from the highly successful Soundcraft Vi6 digital console, the new Soundcraft Vi4 model offers all the features and functions of its larger sibling but in a more compact configuration aimed at space-conscious applications, such as theaters, houses of worship, and other venues with limited 'real estate' at the front-of-house mix position.

The Soundcraft Vi4 provides access to 48 inputs via 24 physical faders, with a total of 27 output busses available for use as masters, groups, auxiliaries or matrices. The console benefits from the latest Studer Score DSP engine as well as Soundcraft's new Vi Series processor card offering eight custom Lexicon DSP devices and individual 30-band BSS Audio graphic EQs for all outputs.

The Vi4's integral Vistonics II user interface features rotary encoders and switches built directly onto an ergonomically designed touch screen. Since both visual information and operational controls are combined within one area, complex mental mapping is eliminated, thereby streamlining workflow and enhancing the creative process. "The multiple Vistonics II screens are very easy to use; we can see everything on all channels at a glance," Riggle considers. "Those features are a big part of the console's user friendliness. Even people new to the Vi4 can easily locate the controls they need. It's a very quick console to learn."

"Everything we have don't with the Soundcraft Vi4 so far sounds considerably better than any analog console we have ever used," the engineer says. "The built-in [Lexicon/BSS] processing is very useful and, because we often use distributed sound systems, the delay functions are very handy. Overall, the console is an outstanding development.

Summarizing his reactions to the new digital live sound console, Riggle lists five key aspects: "First, it sounds incredible. Second, the 30-pount Cat-5 digital snake is far easier to run than a convention multicore. Third, the built-in effects and EQ are very comprehensive. Fourth, the Vi4 is extremely user-friendly; anybody familiar with an analog console will be able to get sound out of the console in five minutes. And, finally, it is a great design - the Vi4 is gorgeous to look at!"