Founded in the mid-1950s, Grace Church is located in Southern California and is comprised of two 500-seat venues on its campus, averaging about 1400 to 1500 a Sunday via two services in each. With a rich history of serving the community for over 5 decades, the worship services suffered from poor audio quality due to a wildly outdated analog system. The speakers were also incorrectly focused, which created more problems from unwanted reflections, and the system was continually breaking down. Grace’s Technical Director Paul Ham and Worship Pastor Nate Watkins had heard L-Acoustics speakers at a speaker shoot-out and were impressed, so they approached the local L-Acoustics certified provider, Pro Sound & Video (PSV). As it turned out, not only did the church need speakers, it also required an entire upgrade of the existing system to bring it into the 21st century and carry it forward. PSV was contracted and Operations Manager Joe Byrne was assigned to handle the design and build of the new system.
Initially, there was no console specified for the install, but all parties agreed that a digital solution was the way to go. PSV presented a number of options from various manufacturers, including a DiGiCo SD9. “”Because of the relatively small budget for this project,”” explains Byrne, “”I did not know if we could even consider a DiGiCo solution. However, the SD9 Rack Pack was such a great deal and represented such a powerful upgrade from similar products in that price range that we ultimately decided to go with the DiGiCo SD9 mixing system. I feel 100% confident that we made the right choice and the client is very happy.””
Researching various churches in the area and reviewing their audio systems, Ham concluded that the SD9 stood head and shoulders above the competition. “”Since this installation would include the purchase of our church’s first digital console, we were starting without a precedent to follow,”” Ham explains. “”I started visiting several local churches with Nate Watkins to get some hands-on time with different desks and to ask fellow TDs their opinion, but the happiest and most unreserved endorsement came from a church with an SD8. They praised its flexibility in buss structuring and stability, and that really piqued my interest in DiGiCo. The more we dove into the research, the more I found that the SD9 stood out from other consoles in the 24-input range we were looking at, in terms of its processing, snapshot features, and effects. (We’ve loved the DigiTube emulator for warming up acoustic guitars and the bass.) The SD9’s interface is really intuitive and that’s very important for FOH in a church setting, because almost everyone behind the console is a volunteer.””
The SD9’s diminutive footprint also helped solve the challenge of mixing sound from a remote location. Now the console can reside at a more convenient FOH position. “”Our venue is a multipurpose ‚Äògymatorium,'”” Ham explains, “”and previously, FOH was located in the press box area overlooking the gym floor. Trying to hear through the open window and judge how the mix was sitting on the floor was nightmarish. The SD9’s small footprint allowed us to move FOH down to the floor where it belongs, on an 8×8 riser. Now our crew can actually hear what everyone else is hearing! A nice side benefit of that is that our volunteers feel like they’re a part of the worship service now, and not hidden in a room upstairs.””
The DiGiCo system interfaces directly with three L’Acoustics’ LA-4 amplified controllers, which power the main arrays (6x Kiva, 2x Kilo and 1x SB18 per side). Pro Sound set-up three outputs from the DiGiCo D-Racks to feed the main speaker system, which is configured as L/R mains with a separate aux feed for sub control. “”The aux sub feed was critical for them in order to control the amount of low energy required for the different styles of presentations,”” says Byrne. “”They have a youth oriented service in the gym, which may be anything from a single mic for spoken word to a theater-type presentation for special events. Their standard Sunday worship consists of two separate services, a rock ‚Äòn’ roll type and an electronica music type. Both of these formats require power/headroom, solid low-end and high fidelity, which the L’Acoustics Kiva speaker system effortlessly provides.
“”With two separate and distinctly different shows per week on Sundays,”” Byrne continues, “”the DiGiCo D-Racks, with their 64×16 configuration, make it very simple to change over from one service to the next. They simply use Whirlwind stage boxes, which stay plugged into the D-Racks and change scenes on the SD9 from one show to the next. All of the audio I/O is carried back and forth from the D-Racks to FOH over two CAT5 cables. Grace also utilizes a Roland personal mixing system for the musicians onstage, which gets a feed directly from the MADI output on the SD9. This output goes to a Roland S-MADI REAC Bridge at FOH, gets converted to CAT5, and sent to the Roland S-4000D splitter at the stage rack, which in turn feeds the Roland M-48 personal mixers onstage.””
Ham says they plan to use DiGiCo’s UB MADI in the coming months for a recording project to transfer their recordings to Logic or Reaper. “”Our musicians are making reference recordings out of their M-48s, both in rehearsals and on Sunday morning, and they are loving it. We plan to embark on a recording project this year using the UB MADI to interface to Logic or Reaper. The ease of that process via the UB MADI was another big selling point for us in choosing DiGiCo.””
The console’s flexibility was another added boon for the church. Because of the variety in its contemporary service, Ham says they can easily work with bands that range from 18 to 36 inputs on the SD9. “”From a smaller, straightforward rock band with eight channels of drums, bass, acoustic, electric, keys, and three or four vocals to a bigger, electronic/folk act which adds three more stereo sends from synthesizers, glockenspiels, even a French horn when those bands play on the same stage on the same Sunday, we really appreciate our D-Rack’s worth of inputs! Coming from the analog world, the SD9’s internal dynamic processing and effects also replaced about 12 RUs of effects and compressors. Everything onboard the SD9 sounds awesome. It’s provided everything we’ve needed.””
“”Our volunteers love being able to download the software and create sessions offline,”” Ham continues. “”Because we use a four-week rotation for audio, it’s given them a chance to really dig into the console without having to be on-campus. As I mentioned earlier, the DigiTube tube emulator is one of my favorites for acoustic and bass guitars. Grace puts on several musical productions a year, and I already know that the snapshot feature will be a lifesaver for those shows. And, of course, there’s nothing more useful in training volunteers than a handy Undo button right on the console!””
The initial comments Pro Sound & Video received from operators and principals after the system was installed and used on its first show were glowing. “”Everything went great and we got lots of positive comments from the church,”” Ham reports. “”The band was thrilled, and it’s absolutely the best we’ve ever sounded in Grace’s history.””