Located in the heart of downtown, First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa is nearly 200 years old and still going strong. Recently, the church decided to upgrade its sound system and engaged Music Alley of Birmingham, Alabama to perform the design and build. Not your typical system integrator, Music Alley was founded as a retail music instrument store in 1974, and founder and CEO Steve Garrett has expanded his business into other areas. “It’s really about following industry trends,” he explains. “Today, our business is 40 percent installation.”
“The job was to redo the entire audio system in the sanctuary,” says Garrett. “The old sound system was well past its prime, and the church wanted something first-class. It was an interesting design, because the church’s music presentation blends contemporary and orchestral music with pipe organ and choir. They knew they wanted a digital mixing console, and it being a rectangular sanctuary, we went with a single line array as part of an LCR cluster.”
The key Music Alley proposed a design based around two key products: an Allen & Heath iLive 176 digital mixing console and a Turbosound TCS line array, the contracting version of the company’s FlexArray speaker system. “They wanted a first-class system,” Garrett explains, “so we choose the best products available.”
The sanctuary is a long rectangle, with an arched, 25-foot ceiling and a balcony in the rear. Primary coverage is provided by a single Turbosound line array comprised of four TFA-600HDP speakers with four standard 75-degree dispersion on top, and a single TFA-600HWDP providing 100-degree wide dispersion at the bottom. Both models are three-way designs with twin 10-inch drivers, a 6.5-inch high-mid driver and a 1-inch neodymium tweeter.
Hanging on either side of the center line array, are Turbosound TCS-1561 speakers, which provide the stereo information. The TCS-1561 is a 3-way speaker with 15-inch bass driver and rotatable mid driver along with a one-inch tweeter. Beneath these are two TCS-61 downfill speakers to provide coverage for the front rows. The final piece of the system is a pair of TFA-600LDP 18-inch subwoofers, ceiling mounted behind the main cluster to provide the punch. The entire cluster, including subwoofers, utilizes Turbosound’s digitally powered architecture, with on-board amplification and DSP capabilities.
The mixing console is an Allen & Heath iLive-176. The mixing surface, which feeds both the house and monitor sound systems, resides in the balcony, while the modular iDR10 MixRack is stationed in the pit area behind the stage. This was a major upgrade from the church’s previous capabilities, both in terms of connectivity and processing power.
The lead engineer at First Baptist Tuscaloosa is Jack McCown, who has been mixing there for twelve years. “The one thing I told myself coming into this was, whether it’s digital or analog, it’s still a mixer,” he says. “Once you understand some basics of where things are and how they operate, it’s really the same. It didn’t take long to learn the board itself, not a hard transition at all. And, I’m not a soundman by trade; I’m in financial services!”
Primary training was handled by Steve Garrett. “We knew that, once we got the speakers in the air, we would be dropping in the console on a Monday and taking the new system live the next Sunday,” he relates. “Fortunately, the iLive has one of the more easy learning curves out there. I did most of the console configuration in advance, so they could concentrate on the operational side of things. Jack learned the desk very quickly, although I did go down there the first few Sundays to make sure everything would go smoothly for them.”
In addition to covering the main speaker cluster and subwoofers, the iLive also sends outputs to the church’s Aviom stage monitoring system, which feeds both personal mixers for the band along with several floor wedge monitors. Another feed goes to the legacy under-balcony speaker system, with a 55 millisecond delay to ensure cohesion with the mains.
Garrett also chose to use the vast DSP resources of the iDR10 MixRack to tune the house system. “The Turbosound speakers have onboard processing, and we did some tweaking there,” he says. “But it was pretty minimal because of the way they’ve matched the amps and speakers. For tuning the room, and analyzing/suppressing feedback from resonant frequencies, we used the iLive. It was amazing how little we needed to do. There were really only a few problem frequencies, and we just set up some real tight notch filters on the iLive and we were done.”
With the room under control, Jack McCown quickly adjusted to his new mix environment, setting up his inputs in groups. He’s especially happy with the iLive’s extensive EQ and DSP capabilities, and uses the system’s ability to store and recall settings to ensure faster setup and optimal sound quality.
“We have different praise teams that sing each week, so we’re building an EQ library,” he says. “When I come in Sunday morning and see which team is singing, I just call up the EQ settings for each singers and assign them a microphone. It’s so much easier. And I do the same thing with the preamps. If you’ve got a singer with a really powerful or really soft voice, you can save their preamp setting in a separate library. There’s so much flexibility in the system, it’s actually way easier than using an analog console.”
The improvement in the sound provided by the new system was immediately apparent. When Steve Garrett of Music Alley installed a Wi-Fi router to augment the system, Jack McCown was able to confirm that first-hand by taking advantage of the iLive’s remote access capabilities. “It allows me to go anywhere within the sanctuary and still have full control of the board, which is fantastic” he explains. “I call it a road trip. It lets you walk from place to place and tweak speakers to make sure the levels are optimized, so you can walk from one zone into another and not hear any difference. Since we mix from the balcony, it’s really an amazing capability to have.”
“Mixing here for 12 years, of course I got used to doing things a certain way,” says McCowen. “But I believe in doing whatever is easiest and makes it sound best. When I saw what this iLive console could do and heard how the whole system could enhance the worship experience, I was sold. For me, going to a digital system was like going from a ’57 Chevy with a stick shift to a brand new luxury automobile. Why would you want to go back?”