Signal Hill Lutheran Church is located in Belleville, Illinois, southeast of St. Louis. Its sanctuary is gorgeous and inviting, seating 125 people in rows of wooden pews under a natural wood framework that supports a sharply peaked ceiling. Natural light filters through stained glass, and a beautiful alter forms the focus of the cozy room. However, Signal Hill’s sound reinforcement system was not cut from that same fine cloth, a fact made evident by the church’s recent move toward more contemporary music in worship. The sound quality was not very good and a complete lack of user control meant that if something sounded bad, it stayed that way clear to the end of the service. Committed to remedying the problem, Signal Hill hired A/V integration firm Film Otter Inc. and design firm Design and Ideas Inc. The first round of upgrades is now complete, and a pair of Symetrix SymNet Radius 12×8 Dante network audio DSPs provide sophisticated audio processing and, together with a CommandFusion iPad interface, remote user control from anywhere in the pews!
“Signal Hill is a traditional church with a sound system that was not only old, but no longer an appropriate fit for their style of service,” said Phil Mahder, the semi-eponymous owner of Film Otter Inc. “The most difficult issue was that they have no tech booth and no tech person. The sound system equipment was in a closet that no one touched. If the system worked, it worked. But if it didn’t, there was no recourse.” The church contacted Mahder, a commercial A/V veteran of three decades, keenly aware of their problems but unsure whether an affordable solution existed.
Given the church’s budget constraints, Mahder will execute a complete renovation in stages, only the first of which is completed. Signal Hill’s existing amplifiers, loudspeakers, and lighting will be upgraded as funds become available, but for now things are sounding worlds better with just the inclusion of two Symetrix SymNet Radius 12×8 Dante network audio DSPs. Inputs to the system include spoken word microphones at the pulpit, lectern, and altar, as well as wireless microphones, Praise Band inputs, with microphones for up to five vocalists. The reason for two Radius 12x8s is was to get the input count necessary. The processed outputs feed the amplifiers for the speakers in three independent zones, monitor lines for powered stage monitors, ALS, and a digital recorder. The inputs and outputs at each Radius 12×8 meld via the Dante network into a fluid whole, and their open architecture design allowed for a powerful, customized processing and user control.
“Symetrix processing is excellent, and – critical for this job – the Symetrix automix/gain-sharing algorithms are stellar,” said Mahder. “The Radius 12×8 allowed us to create a predominately automatic system with convenient and simple manual controls that communicate wirelessly via a custom configuration of CommandFusion’s iViewer 4 iPad app. This solution is better than giving them a dedicated tech booth because the operator can sit with his family in the pews! Moreover, the tool is simple enough that an usher can easily run sound for the more traditional service and, by simply including additional pages on the iPad app, complex enough to mix sound for the band, multiple singers, and two monitor mixes.” CommandFusion iViewer 4 software integrates robustly with the Symetrix hardware and software to provide that customized iPad control.
Mahder continued, “This small traditional church with a small budget had the foresight to invest in tools that will allow them to grow not just in their musical expressions, but also in the technical infrastructure that enables those expressions. They went from an archaic system to one that is way ahead of the curve. The credit for this change goes to the church leadership’s willingness to trust advice even though it is something that they had never heard of, and especially to the system design and programming genius of the system designer, Philip Houser of Designs and Ideas. He not only programmed the DSPs, but actually built a custom interface that provides all the functions that they needed from a traditional audio mixer using the CommandFusion platform. There is no conventional audio mixer in the system; it is entirely the iPad app wirelessly controlling the two DSP units. The church was even able to select fader size, color, labeling, layout, and much more. Have you ever before seen a church that was able to have a mixer built to perfectly meet their needs and imagination?”