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Technology Showcase: HOW FOH Mixers

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Options abound for every type of worship service.

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Roland M-400

Roland M-400

Selecting the best front-of-house mixer for a house of worship is a process that has to take the congregation and worship style of the church into consideration. Traditional services with only the singing congregation, the church organ, and the choir may not need a sophisticated mixing system to allow all this to be heard in the sanctuary — particularly if no recording is done. Add live bands, guest performers, and dramatic productions with live music, and the mixing requirements grow exponentially. A church is a unique venue with a lot of audience participation and volunteer technical talent that combines to present one of the most challenging environments for top-quality sound in the house, online, on-air, and in recording. In many churches, which were not originally designed for live music and reinforced sound, there are also serious acoustic challenges. The mixer is the central core of the system and serves as ground zero for the most direct interaction between people, machinery, and software. Therefore, the selection process requires a careful evaluation of where the church is in its progression and where it intends to go.

Analog or digital, four or eight aux buses, mix-minus feeds, and open loudspeaker or in-ear monitoring? These are just a few of the questions that will float through the process when the front-of-house mixing system begins its journey from need to concept to reality. Many of today's churches are professional-level performance venues with live music groups performing one after another with a bare minute or two between them. In such cases, digital mixers offer the best solution with saved and instantly recalled setups. Snakes and stage boxes have morphed into one system with the mixer, and they communicate digitally on twisted-pair copper or fiber-optic lines with remote control over onstage mic preamps and recallable electronic patching. The systems included here offer some or all of these features and more to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of modern worship events.

Allen & Heath iLive-144

Allen & Heath iLive-144

The iLive system was developed by Allen & Heath specifically for live-sound applications, and a number of these systems have found homes in large houses of worship. The system is built around the iDR10 stage rack with 10 slots for 8-channel audio interface cards. The iDR-64 DSP module processes 64 channels into 32 mixes. These can be assigned as aux outs, matrix outs, and main outs. The iDR-64 can be controlled with a range of Allen & Heath hardware units, mixer control surfaces, and a PC. The analog look and feel is maintained in the iLive-80, iLive-112, iLive-144, and the iLive-176 with motorized faders grouped into three sections. The LCD display above each input channel strip provides electronic labeling and color-coding capability.

One of the best arguments that analog consoles have a prominent role to play in front-of-house mixing for church sanctuaries is the Spectra series from APB-DynaSonics. It offers the power of VCA control on inputs and outputs. For monitor sends and mix-minus feeds, there are 10 aux banks. The first four are switchable between pre/post fader and pre-EQ, while the rest are operable in mono or stereo pairs. The 100mm master fader control of all auxiliary outputs plus solo, mute, polarity reverse, pre/post matrix send, and sophisticated EQ options make this board an excellent choice as either a FOH or monitor mixer. Dual power supplies add reliability for live sound.

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