Technology for worship

Winchester Family Church has recently completed a 1.2 million pound renovation of its Middle Brook Centre, with a complete internal face-lift and a top of the line audiovisual system installed by Midas ProSound. Chris Fitzsimmons went along to take a look.

When Winchester Family Church took over the Middle Brook centre a decade ago, the former Art-Deco cinema and latterly, a Gala Bingo Hall, it wasn’t the most prepossessing place for a church. To begin with it had bare brick walls, and a fairly basic L-R sound system. However, all that has now changed.

Around three years ago the Church put in motion plans to completely renovate the building, which involved remodelling the interior, adding more flexible spaces and making it more practical as a worship centre. The other side of the project was of course a complete upgrade of the church’s AV system.
The AV and lighting project was managed for the Church by Technical Manager Will Bradshaw. "We wanted the system design to provide a flexible solution for other uses than worship. Whilst this is clearly the primary function, we also intend to rent the space out when it’s not in use for services. The Middle Brook Centre is the largest single-seat venue in Winchester, able to sit 785 people at maximum capacity. We intend to take hire it out for corporate events and conferences and it has been equipped very much with that in mind. The county council uses it already." The main hall itself is a fairly reverberant space when empty, but with 500 people seated for a Sunday-morning service the sound is bright, without echoing.

At the early stages of the project, Bradshaw turned to an old friend, Paul Nicholson of audio installers Midas ProSound, for advice. Paul visited the site, to listen to the old sound system and to help develop some ideas going forward. Paul’s suggested solution was based on L-Acoustics powered loudspeakers. He modelled the system using the company’s SoundVision software and came up with a design intended to give maximum benefit to the Worship Band, good speech intelligibility for the preacher and that would also be easy to use for the church’s technical team and outside users. Whilst the Church has three professionals one with expertise in each of lighting, sound and video systems it also has six people who are being cross-trained in all three disciplines to allow the system to be operated every week without worrying about who is or is not available.

Following a competitive tender process of three bids, the Church opted for Midas ProSound’s solution.
The system installed consists of multiple zones to serve the various parts of the auditorium. Suspended from the main truss above the stage is an L-C-R system, which serves the ground floor area. A centre hung L-Acoustics 112P powered wedge provides voice reinforcement for the preacher, whilst left and right hung 108P boxes provide some side fill for the voice. The main left and right channels are a further two 112P units, these deal only with the music. Beneath the stage are mounted a pair of SB15P subwoofers.

The second zone serves the balcony area. A pair of 112Ps are centrally mounted in the ceiling angled so as to give no downward spill into the ground floor. They form a mono-sum of the main LCR system, reproducing both voice and music.

At the back of the church the reception / coffee area is divided by a set of movable partition walls. If the church is at full capacity then some or all be removed to make more space for seating. In this situation there is a need for balcony underfills, which is met by up to four more 108P boxes. These were fitted with a custom made bracket, which fits into the ceiling track used by the partition walls. When the speakers are required, they are hung in the track and hooked into the system via ceiling-installed connectors.

For FOH mixing the Church selected a Yamaha M7D digital console. Following some research Bradshaw found that it was commonly used in houses of worship in the USA, he also liked the simplicity of its interface, which was going to be important for the untrained operators. 48 channels allow the desk to be used for both the mix and the 12 channel monitoring system. The desk’s in-built matrix sends 12 channels of monitoring back to the stage, where the musicians can each control their own monitor mix using Aviom’s Pro16 II personal mixers and in-ear monitoring system. "The personal mixers and in-ear monitoring have been a real bonus to the worship groups," said Bradwell. "In-ear monitors have solved a lot of the problems we’d had previously with stage monitor reflections from the back wall affecting the sound, and also helped them to tighten up performance in general. Using the personal mixers takes the pressure of the FOH desk to mix each individual musician’s monitor."

A wireless microphone system was also installed. Two aerials are mounted on the front of the balcony and form part of a Shure solution including label and handheld microphones as well as a pair of Shure UC diversity receivers and a UR4S. For the hard of hearing Midas ProSound also installed an Ampetronic ILD9 induction loop amplifier and a perimeter loop system, which runs around both the main floor and the balcony. Digital inputs for the loop system make for much better sound quality than normal. Finally the audio from any service can be recorded on the Alesis Masterlink HD recorder and CD burner, which allows the church to host it on its web site or corporate clients to take away recordings of conferences.

Winchester Family Church also invested in a high-end video system. They wanted a high-brightness projection system that could cope with ambient light and are currently shooting out between a Barco R10+ and R12+ projector. The 10,000 lumen R10+ is the preferred choice because it is based around newer technology, but they may have to eventually go with the slightly older R12 for reasons of brightness. The jury is still out. Vision mixing comes from a Panasonic AG-MX70, which takes feed from a Sony EVI-D70P motorised camera, a DVD player or the PC positioned behind the desk. The projector will be used for hymns, notes from the sermon or presentations as well as giving a close up view of the speaker for people seated in the gallery.

Bradshaw was also very forward looking when it came to the infrastructure for the newly outfitted church. A comprehensive Cat5e network was installed for the AV system with access points throughout the building in the secondary rooms. A second IT network was also installed using Cat6 cabling providing a future proof and fully redundant infrastructure. All the cables, both network and audio, were supplied by VDC and installed by Midas.

Paul Nicholson concluded: "We’re really happy with the solution we’ve arrived at here. The sound we’ve achieved is clean and suits both the need for speech intelligibility and music. The combination of the L-Acoustics speakers, Yamaha digital desk and Aviom monitoring is a strong one thanks to its flexibility and ease of use. We have given the Church the best available solution whilst future proofing the infrastructure as best we can. We’re hopeful that we can apply this design to other similar venues."

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