In today's digital age, many houses of worship are moving towards rich multimedia presentations that are streamed, uploaded and broadcast worldwide. The need for up-to-date systems to handle this new model of worship options often requires an investment in gear and technology. For the 2,300-seat Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) in Alaska, this was the very impetus to undertake a revamp of its overall audio set-up. The original audio system had undergone a number of expansions and upgrades over the past two decades, including a replacement of the original JBL-based main loudspeaker system with a Tannoy-based system in June 2003. And all with the help of So-California-based HOW integrators Michael Garrison Associates (MGA)—who provided the consultation, design, and installation services for the original system in 1992, as well as all subsequent upgrades over the years. They spec'd DiGiCo for this latest upgrade—an SD7 surface with expander for FOH, an additional SD7 for its Broadcast Mix location, and an SD10 for Monitor Mix location. What makes this install unique is the fact that it is a fully fiber optic system with a cohesive loop that all systems can access, it has five fully loaded DiGiCo SDRacks, and the monitor desk can be removed from the main system and used as a standalone portable system. Planning started in October/November of 2012, with the final phase of the installation and crew training completed in early May 2013.
"The consoles that were replaced had been in service faithfully since 1994 but were exhibiting signs that end of life was near," explains Bryan Dunfee, Tech Director and FOH engineer for ABT. "Also, the desire to further implement multi-media into the worship services was restricted by the amount of copper we had running between the auditorium and broadcast. The original design and implementation utilized a system of distributed floor pockets to accommodate signal routing to analog 3-way splitters via patch bays located in the amp room adjacent to the auditorium. This system was expanded from the original 32-channel console and splitter to 56 channels when we upgraded from the original Soundcraft desk to a Midas in 1994. This system collected all the inputs at a central location and pushed these signals to FOH, monitors and broadcast. This worked well for its time but did not have the flexibility or ease of expansion and adaptation that is desired now. These desires are largely driven by the need to incorporate multi-media generated from within our broadcast facility to the auditorium as integral components of each service."
The DiGiCo SD7 at FOH was outfitted with the Waves SoundGrid bundle and the SDRack was loaded with analog and digital I/O to support local record and playback devices and wireless receivers located at FOH. Onstage the additional SD rack supports the worship band and includes an Aviom card to accommodate monitor control for talent as ABT's regular services do not require a monitor desk or engineer. For the more demanding services, they have an SD10 for mixing monitors. The auditorium amp room has two SD racks loaded with analog and digital I/O. In the broadcast room, they replaced another Midas XL200 with a DiGiCo SD7, Waves SoundGrid and an SDRack loaded with analog and digital I/O to support local record and playback devices as well as the HD-SDI card for merging audio and video into a final product for capture and distribution.
"When we started planning this upgrade with MGA," recalls Dunfee, "we knew we were coming to the end of life of our existing consoles. The original plan was to install the infrastructure late spring and install the consoles early summer. The old console at FOH failed, accelerating those plans. I was impressed with how quickly MGA and DiGiCo were able to respond and get one of the new consoles shipped early to fill the gap. We ended up installing the SD7 at FOH as a stand-alone unit using our existing splitter infrastructure while the rest of the order came in and the new fiber infrastructure was installed.
"I was impressed with the level of customer service that was provided by DiGiCo. We had some fiber optic patch cables that had been supplied by a third party vendor (not DiGiCo or MGA) that were defective. Being in Alaska presented some challenges to our providers in that we are separated by such a great distance and numerous time zones. Matt Larson, Taidus Vallandi and Zac Duax of DiGiCo proved to be an awesome team and provided great customer service via phone and email and helped diagnose the issues and correct them, no matter the time."
Dunfee chose the DiGiCo solution after much review and conceptualization with Steve Shewlakow and Daniel Durst at MGA. "At the system level," he explains, "DiGiCo provided the most flexibility and expandability, allowing us to not only meet today's needs but adapt in the future to new technology as those needs arise. The ability to easily distribute I/O and route signals to various locations over the fiber optic Optocore network had great appeal. Our 500-foot cable pathway, from the auditorium to broadcast, travels through four different phases of structural expansion that span over 20 years of changing design and construction practices. The original portion of the structure was completed in 1973 when network and cable pathways were not given the forethought and design priority that they are today—hence portions of our pathway are greatly restricted and do not easily accommodate changes. This being the case, flexibility and adaptability weigh greatly in any cabling changes we make. In the auditorium, the ability to include the SD10 monitor desk, revert to the Aviom system or mix monitors from FOH easily as needed, allows our ability to scale the system to meet the particular needs of each event. At the console level, the pre-amps, 24-bit converters and up to 40-bit floating point processing sound absolutely gorgeous. Dynamic EQ and multi-band compression have been incredible assets to us both in broadcast and FOH. The Waves package has been incredible as well, after all, who doesn't want a closet full of UA1176's!"
The DiGiCo system interfaces with ABT's auditorium PA, a 6-way LCR system with an exploded center cluster using custom Tannoy cabs. Signals from FOH are processed via BSS Soundweb and distributed to QSC products for amplification. For broadcast, the mix is assigned to various busses that enable them to process each of the end products individually as required by the different forms of media distribution ABT employs. For TV broadcast, ABT captures live-to-tape and distributes the program to two statewide networks via fiber optic & BETA SX. They also capture audio only for statewide distribution via two radio networks. And, they're now distributing via the Internet, too; the program is captured by a Tri-caster and distributed to their ABTLive.Org website via Livestream.
"From a user standpoint, the interface is very straight-forward and intuitive," Dunfee offers. "The transition for our volunteer crew from analog to digital has been surprisingly easy. We have a number of musicians that rotate through different worship teams—being able to store channel presets for each of the musicians has given us an incredible amount of flexibility and consistency that we did not have with the analog equipment.
"The ability to easily scale the stage monitoring system to meet the demands of various events has been incredible. The DiGiCo system allows monitors to be controlled from FOH, controlled via Aviom or controlled via the SD10 monitor desk and we could employ each of these solutions simultaneously. The power of having such precise control over each channel through EQ—both parametric and dynamic—and multiple dynamic processes, as well as the tools available in Waves, combined with the ability to create unique channel presets for each of our sources is incredible. The flexibility these presets afford us allows consistent and precise customization for each source regardless of any particular combination of musicians in a given service."
The DiGiCo consoles have allowed ABT to overcome the challenges presented with the limitations in the capacity and layout of the Aviom system. "I have employed Aviom systems at several of the facilities at which I have worked," Dunfee explains, "and at each, the challenge was the same: balancing the unique monitoring needs of instrumentalists and vocalists across 16 channels. With our DiGiCo system, I have two Aviom cards giving me two separate Aviom networks. For the vocalists network, I'm able to group items such as drums, guitars and keys to stereo pairs allowing more channels for the vocal mics of those on stage. It also provides greater convenience for the pastoral staff members that are sitting on stage during the worship sets who don't need the band instruments broken out individually. The second network is for the band and has the vocalists grouped allowing more channels for the bands instruments so that drums, guitars and keys can be broken out individually." As far as recoding, Dunfee says they capture the FOH mix with a CD recorder as well as multi-track into ProTools using DiGiCo's UB MADI interface. The multi-track is routed back to the console via alternate inputs to allow for virtual sound check, which has been a great asset for training and also implementation of features and plug-ins. In broadcast, they capture to BETA SX, DVD, CD and multi-track to a Tascam X-48 workstation.
The new consoles have proven to be a huge blessing to Anchorage Baptist Temple, from the overall clarity of sound to ease of use. "The improvements in the clarity and week-to-week consistency of our monitor mixes has given our teams a greater confidence," sums ABT's Worship Pastor Bill Leight. "Ever since Noah had the first sound system on the Arc, worship pastors have struggled with mixes sounding different during the service than they did during soundcheck. The DiGiCo SD7 has allowed us to overcome this obstacle. Any changes made to my mixes now after soundcheck are simply because I desire a change and am not driven by the struggle to make it sound like it did during soundcheck. I've also received a number of compliments from members of our congregation who have noticed the improvements that have been made, which I attribute this to the tools now available to us in our new DiGiCo console."
"Set-up and soundchecks are now so much easier with the new system," adds band guitarist Darryl Nelson. "We have limited time for soundchecks and rehearsal, so any changes made now are just subtle tweaks giving us more time to focus on performance aspects rather than technical or tonality aspects."