Photo: (L-R) Greg Labruzzi, Cowser Marketing; Joe Smart, Covenant Communications; Andrew Probstfield and Nathan Wells, Second Baptist West Campus audio; Tyler Boyle, Second Baptist West Campus lighting; Taidus Vallandi, DiGiCo; Shawn Mullins, Covenant Communications; and Matt Howard, Second Baptist West Campus audio at the church’s new DiGiCo SD5 FOH console

Christmas services this past December never sounded better at Second Baptist Church’s 400,000-square-foot West Campus in Houston thanks to a recent audio system upgrade to two DiGiCo SD5 consoles. Installed by local HOW systems integrator Covenant Communications, the new consoles replace a pair of legacy DiGiCo D5 Live FOH and monitor desks for the church’s 5,000-seat “in-the-round” worship center, which also televises its lively services.

Second Baptist Global Tech Director Mark Sepulveda notes that after seven years of duty, the time had come to retire the previous consoles and make an upgrade. “The SD5s were chosen based on what our team thought were the best overall live audio consoles on the market that continued to give us superior audio with the DiGiCo brand, continued ease of hands-on functionality, easy firmware updates that will continue to add new features in the coming years, and the ability of the SD software to integrate with Waves SoundGrid for a seamless plug-in experience,” he says.
Covenant Communications has largely handled Second Baptist’s audio/video/lighting needs for the past four years, and the eventual upgrade choice came after considering various options. “I put a few things in front of Mark,” notes Joe Smart, Covenant’s sales manager. “Our role is to be objective; it’s not an emotional decision, but one to find the best solutions for them.” The SD5’s flexibility was perfectly suited for the church’s typical need for a quick “flip around to different worship styles” – from traditional to high-energy contemporary sound – and “recording audio for future TV broadcast,” notes Smart.

Smart points out that Second Baptist required more than the 128 inputs processed by its previous system: “The new spec required close to 160 inputs, no doubt in part to accommodate the fairly large band, including 12 to 15 rhythm players and 20 to 30 string players. That doesn’t include the enormous choir of up to 180 singers, 24 of those members being wirelessly close-miked and processed for a massive choir sound.”

Sepulveda notes that the DiGiCo consoles play a major role in the church services being broadcast. “The broadcast engineer takes direct feeds via tracking of the overall mix as well as 12-16 of the individual ‘money’ and room mic channels for the broadcast mix that is edited and mixed at the Main Campus’ (Woodway) broadcast studio,” he explains.

There wasn’t much of a learning curve moving from the D5 Live to SD5, notes Second Baptist West Campus Director of Audio Nathan Wells, because “the basic operation and layout of the SD5 was very familiar to both myself at FOH and our monitor mix engineer, Matt Howard, from working with the D5 consoles. So we were able to get into our mixes pretty quickly with little trouble. In other areas, such as the software menu options, the amazing in-depth snapshot detail, audio I/O setup via the software, session structure setup and, of course, the second function button, the ‘learning curve’ was more sizable but a very welcomed change from the D5 with the expanded features of the SD series software and hardware.”

According to Wells, several particular features on the SD5 console help his team members do their jobs better. “At FOH, the addition of Waves integration is huge, of course, and also being able to set up the console screens in previously unimaginable ways – such as combining input and output channels on one bank of faders and using multi channels and set spills to condense the channel layout – has been very useful in making things even easier to get to at any critical moment,” he says.

In addition, for monitors, “obviously the 56 mix buss count is a major upgrade,” adds Wells, also citing the second function button assisting in pre/post selection, layers for the output channels, and being able to assign talkback to any aux at any time. Both positions are also greatly impressed with the flexibility of the 40 macro buttons and virtually unlimited flexibility of the snapshot creation.

Wells further notes that by upgrading from the D5 to the SD5 “gave us the ability via the fiber network to access any I/O from any console and being able to arm the control of individual I/O cards in each rack for any one console on the network, all done with ease from the GUI on the consoles.”

That the SD5 incorporates FPGA technology (the reprogrammable semiconductor devices are based around a matrix of configurable logic blocks connected through programmable interconnects) allows for easy upgradability via download from DiGiCo, he also points out.

Summing up, Sepulveda can’t say enough about “the warm analog sound from these SD5 consoles and racks. It is amazing and also a really surprising improvement from the great sounding D5 desks. With very little channel EQ and not much processing needed of any kind, the SD5 has been a wonderful upgrade right out of the box.”

Second Baptist employs as many as 30 full-time AV staff, and 70 total when combining the volunteer force across all of its five campuses, which collectively comprise the US’ largest Baptist congregation and second largest house(s) of worship overall.

In addition to the two new desks that went into Second Baptist’s West Campus, the Woodway Main Campus very recently upgraded its monitor mix position with the church’s third new DiGiCo SD5. Commenting on this Sepulveda adds, “We have plans to bring the remaining campuses up to date within the DiGiCo family of consoles in a systematic, as-needed upgrade over the next few years.”