"We had outgrown our previous consoles both in channel count as well as output, so we had started looking specifically for consoles that doubled our existing capabilities," Whetstine explains. "Our philosophy was that if we're going to pay a premium for the next level of digital console, there was no sense in only gaining 12 more inputs, or only eight more outputs, especially knowing that our worship team and its needs would be growing over the next few years. We had looked at the SD8 and really liked the package, but felt like we still needed to double our channel and output capability. When we saw the advertisement in Live Sound magazine for the ‘New SD10 at 96/48,' we said, ‘That's our console!'
"We knew we were getting a better console, and we knew of DiGiCo's reputation for creating stellar-sounding products. What we didn't bank on was that the volunteers would take to it so quickly. Our volunteer team felt it was easier to get around on than our previous boards and have felt right at home from day one. More than that, we're constantly in awe at the sound quality. The comment ‘Wow, that sounds great,' or ‘Wow, I didn't know it would do that,' is heard pretty often these days around here."
The main SD10 console interfaces with a Yamaha DME64 processor by way of AES/EBU, to drive a large LCR array of HPV MAD A-9s, SB412s, MTM-1s and VLFs, all powered by Yamaha PCN series amps. The monitor desk feeds 16 stereo mixes (10 of which are PSM900, with more to be added), two wired mixes for bass and drums offering better low end, and four wireless IEM systems TPCC owned prior to the upgrade.
Some of the system's feature set proved helpful for their needs—for example, smart keys that allow the operator to easily make quick mix changes like effects and sub boosts without having to hunt down channels. The programmability of scenes with specific recallable functions is way more in-depth than their previous board, allowing for very detailed scene recall per song, and even within songs for dramatic shifts of effects and mix details. And the volunteer engineers cite Snapshot Notes and Virtual Sound Check as veritable blessings.
"I found the EQ to be both subtle and musical," says Whetstine. "We're able to do very narrow boosts in upper regions that previously would have been piercing, but on this board, it just makes things stand out of the mix while still sounding natural even when the boost might look wildly dramatic. Minor tweaks of a dB or less are immediately heard, but not sonically noticeable. Even when cuts of 9db or more are applied, it still sounds proper with no odd ‘carved' or unnatural sounds. Everything just sounds right.
"Also, the effects presets are just perfect," he adds. "Our mixes, even in our auditorium, sound more live and energetic with stock programs, versus sounding like a concert hall—or very distant-sounding. The stock reverbs just sound like natural ambience without drawing attention to the effect itself. We've also upgraded our native plug-ins to TDM. We're using the Waves' Blackface CLA-1176 plug-ins on nearly everything, including vocals, drums, bass, acoustics, etc. Having it in-line and not compressed brings a really familiar quality to the vocals. We're also using a PuigTec EQ on the bass and a PuigChild compressor on guitars. We've only purchased these few, as they were what I was familiar with from my time learning audio in Nashville. My next focus will be to step into some mastering plug-ins to help bulletproof audio feeds to recording, video and building systems. I'm also really turning over the idea of some of the different channel strips that are available for plug-ins. We've worked for several years with an end goal of developing a sonic signature for the music we produce, and I'm curious if some of those might be a step in that direction. It's kind of nebulous and evolving, but when you have really cool tools like this available, it makes it really energizing to always be deconstructing what we do to try and make it better."
Another unexpected bonus the console brought to TPCC: it's been a tool for educational growth for its volunteers, who now have the ability to record rehearsals and tweak the mixes after the fact. TPCC is currently set up to record 48 channels through an RME MADI card on a Logic Audio system, and Whetstine says they hope to purchase a second card to be able to record a full 96 channels without having to juggle inputs between racks. These recordings are currently used for training and virtual soundcheck purposes.
"The training portion is an unbelievable windfall for a church," he says. "Being able to track our rehearsals and then work on our mixes without the pressure of other people in the room has not only made our mix engineers incredibly good, it has turned out to be an incredible teaching tool. We can bring all of our audio team members in and talk through ideas of channel setup and EQ without the need for a band to do this with. As a church worker and leader of volunteers, I can't highlight this feature enough for its ability to aid training both new and existing volunteers in a safe manner that had previously been impossible. Also, the ability for a volunteer to work on his mix in a calm environment—some of whom spend up to four to five hours post-rehearsal—away from the stress of a fast-paced rehearsal has done wonders for our engineers, increasing the confidence of their work and the quality of their mixes. In short, the engineers are doing better work and enjoying the final execution more. It also makes Sunday morning that much more enjoyable in that they're fully prepared, and completely relaxed."
The SD10s, in addition, solved another sonic challenge. "Being so clean and comfortable to listen to, this console has bought us a lot of grace with our congregation, which has a broad range of ages," Whetstine confesses. "What I mean by this is that we can be powerful and punchy-sounding without feeling like it's loud. This was really evident with our previous console in that it was not as smooth as this console, so it sometimes sounded loud even at low volumes. The clarity within the mix is incredible. On some consoles, you can really only put a few things at the forefront of the mix, and the rest of the band is kind of part of the ‘bed.' On the SD10s, we can hear way back into the mix, which not only makes it easier to pick out individual instruments, but has really kept us on our toes to be better at what we do because the average person can now clearly hear whether the mix is on or not. This board sounds so clean and nice! It's exposed what we refer to as our ‘club engineer disease'—all of the bad habits developed mixing around sonic inadequacies of other gear we've been exposed to, or unrefined work that is the result of a narrow window for the mix to be heard through. There is so much space and subtlety to everything about this console, it's like you can hear in HD and 3D at the same time. We're able to mix with more power and volume, allowing the music to really connect with and engage the congregation, whilst not being perceived as being louder. In fact, we've even had comments like, ‘I'm glad you finally turned it down,' when in reality we're easily 4-6 dB louder!"
One trick he's happy to impart regards working with the choir: "I've found that by assigning the four choir mics to both individual channels and as stereo pairs, I can dial the spread on the stereo pair to Wide and then mix it back in with the original four mics. This makes the choir sound as big as a house with literally no hard work of EQing stuff out. Also, using auxes on faders for monitors while having the knobs follow the selected mix makes it very easy for the monitor engineer to dial up an instrument with a hand on the pan knob and never having to take his eyes off the stage. The pan knob for that instrument is always the pan knob no matter what mix you've selected."
All in all, the SD10 acquisition has offered TPCC incredible benefits for both staff and congregation alike. "The DiGiCo consoles have made us better at what we do in general," Whetstine says, "and offer our worshipers a message that is sonically clear—and ultimately that is our greatest goal."