With soaring musical aspirations but only a limited budget, New Macedonia Baptist Church in Riverdale, GA, hired United Technology Service, Inc. (UTS) to design and install an audio and infrastructure system that requires minimal upkeep and that anyone in the church can operate.
Centering its audio processing requirements on a trio of SymNet 8x8 DSP units, the designers at UTS maximized the system's automation and intelligence by programming appropriate routings and signal processing for all of the church's common uses. With every element in the system connected to a local network that's password accessible from the Internet, UTS engineers can monitor signal flow, alter system parameters, and troubleshoot from anywhere in the world, relieving the church from the financial burden of retaining costly technicians.
The new church opened on March 4 and seats nearly 1,300, although on opening Sunday and Easter Sunday the congregation swelled far beyond that number with standing-room-only overflow. The sanctuary is octagon-shaped with soaring ceilings and a 65' stage that sprawls across one-third of the floor space. New Macedonia's grand plan is to build an even larger, 3,500-seat sanctuary, at which point the current sanctuary will become a chapel.
With over 20 years experience in live sound and degrees in electronics engineering technology and architectural acoustics & sound system design, UTS systems design engineer, Tony Crabtree, led the project. He had considerable input and support from UTS president, Carlos Rivera, who started the company with the belief that clients would much rather have one company design and install their entire technology infrastructure than navigate the tortured logistical terrain that is necessary when hiring multiple contractors. UTS specializes in integrated video, presentation, and audio systems along with supporting network technologies. While New Macedonia wanted all of these things, their emphasis was on the audio. In a nutshell, they wanted a concert-quality, killer sound system.
Thus, Crabtree had two fundamental requirements for the sound system. First, it had to be richly musical. Second, it had to intelligently integrate. Since the entire system hinged on the signal processing, Crabtree thoroughly investigated his options. "We demo’d all the major brands. The SymNet 8x8 DSP was obviously the most musical; Symetrix had engineered it for fidelity, not for board rooms and the like, where one might reasonably sacrifice fidelity for other features, such as video conferencing."
The SymNet 8x8 DSP was also CobraNet-compatible via the SymNet CobraLink, allowing it to be connected to a local VLAN network and accessed remotely for servicing. Crabtree explains, "If a New Macedonia staff member calls me on Sunday morning because they're not getting any sound out of their main speakers, I can hop on my computer from the office or home and get access to everything in the system. I can see signal flow, trace the good signal to where it's broken, and fix the problem, as long as it's not something physical."
The three SymNet 8x8 DSP units are augmented by a SymNet BreakIn12 and BreakOut12, which provide twelve A/D inputs and twelve D/A outputs respectively in addition to the twenty-four that come with the three 8x8 DSPs. Crabtree's comprehensive, easy-to-use, "turnkey" design necessitated the large number of inputs and outputs. The system combines live audio with the church's AV system via a Crestron touch-panel controller. Via the controller, users can select between a Sunday service setup and meeting setup. Selecting meeting setup causes the system to bypasses the 40-channel Soundcraft MH4 console so that no sound engineer is needed. The SymNet 8x8 DSPs take over with automatic mixing of five Shure wireless mics, as well as CD player, cassette player, and video system inputs. Using the touch-panel, users simply select their program source and adjust the program and speech audio levels.
Crabtree chose to amplify the EAW left and right line arrays, the EAW center horizontal cluster, and the massive block of EAW subwoofers below the stage with QSC CX and PL series amplifiers because, like the SymNet 8x8 DSPs, they are CobraNet linkable. "We tried to keep the system as small as possible without sacrificing fidelity or usability," Crabtree added. "The trick was in picking the right equipment and positioning the speakers. I modeled the room in EASE and discovered that while the left and right line arrays would work nicely, a center cluster using asymmetrical horns was needed in place of the center line array that was initially called for."
Crabtree has had copious experience programming open-architecture DSP units and is BSS Soundweb certified as well as SymNet certified. "The SymNet interface is much more flexible and intuitive than anything else I've used," he says. "It is the best programming environment on the market, hands down. I'm particularly fond of their 'Super-module' functionality. For example, I programmed a Super-module for the EAW line array that is composed of a number of SymNet's nearly 300 smaller modules. The next time I put in an EAW line array, all I have to do is drag and drop the Super-module from the New Macedonia system into the new system. That will save a lot of time down the road."
Since New Macedonia was so determined to obtain the very best sound system their limited money could buy, they had value engineered out any video system. However, late into the project, moneys were made available that allowed them to add in two 150-inch rear projection screens with two 6000-lumen Panasonic PTDW-7000U projectors. Remarkably, UTS was able to design the video system to the 1080i high-definition standard from start to finish at a very reasonable cost.
Rivera summarizes, "The New Macedonia officials were very smart. They approached their stewardship from a business perspective and opted for a system that would sound great and effectively take care of itself. Mid-sized churches grapple with how to spend their money, and I think New Macedonia serves as an excellent model for success."