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Automated Expertise

Jan 15, 2013 11:49 AM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Affordable DSP and expert programming transform a small church system.

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The choir area is supported by a digital snake, Audix microphone, and PreSonus mixer.

Another key component was the Extron touchscreen processor, which allowed for a simple interface (and an upcoming iPad interface) and unified control of both the audio and video systems.

St. Lucy had existing racks for the old audio system as well as a video system that Zamar had installed several years prior (two Christie projectors that can be independently sourced via a TVOne dual output switcher/scaler). Zamar reorganized the racks and modernized them with Furman power conditioning and UPS (the new F1000-UPS) and Middle Atlantic temperature sensing fans. “It’s really important with a digital system to have stable power, especially for the touchscreen,” Dow notes. “And they had reported difficulty with power glitches in the past.”

Dow liked the performance of the Audix podium and choir mics, which improved gain before feedback. “The microphones had to perform very well with all the different types of readers,” Dow says. “So between the mic performance and the programming we were able to support that range.”

The simplicity of the Extron touchscreen allowed Zamar to develop an easy, intuitive, bulletproof GUI with profiles for the various liturgical scenarios.

“One of the features of a Catholic service is a lot of microphones are open at the same time,” Dow explains. “Which can be challenging with an operator, much less without one. We spent days bringing up mics until we got it nailed down, where we had balanced all the microphones and provided good tonal characteristics while eliminating feedback. We made it through Christmas holidays with no EQ or volume issues and no complaints.” “That’s huge,” Wentz interjects.

Additional help came from an Optogate device with an IR sensor that shuts the mic off when someone walks away from the podium. The improvement was truly astounding even to the casual listener,” Dow says, because the band was no longer competing with two open podium mic; he estimates there was a 60 to 70 percent increase in intelligibility. “You might ask why we didn’t just put a gate inside the Symetrix. The problem is they’re volume sensitive, so they can come on with other sounds in the room. The Optogate physically shuts off the mic as opposed to electronically. It senses the proximity of a warm body and turns the mic either on or off.”

For wireless, Dow went with Shure’s ULXD4Q quad-channel digital wireless receiver and mics. Using the Wireless Workbench from Shure, Dow says they succeeded in completely eliminating what had been a lot of RF interference in St. Lucy’s busy neighborhood.

For the choir, a simple digital snake and PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 mixer allowed Dow to do presets for all of the different bands. On Sundays, for example, there are five different bands. He brought each band in, established the presets, and locked them in.

Playback is via Martin Audio OmniLine arrays—small and white, the way many churches like them—focused on the seats, not on the highly reflective ceiling. “Right now the biggest driver for our business is to make sure that the technology of these churches is serving their mission,” Dow concludes. “Can they hear the priest or pastor? Here in California we’re in a very technologically sophisticated society. People understand good video and good audio—maybe it used to be that good enough was OK. But now if people can’t hear something clearly it’s hard for them to sit through it.

“Our claim to fame is being able to program the digital devices in more sophisticated ways that even sometimes the manufacturers themselves don’t understand,” Dow concludes. “My background includes 18 years in computers, so we were doing digital programming before a lot of people were into it. I’ve been accused of being a DSP hog, but there you go. That last 10 to 20 percent you wring out of the system makes all the difference to a client’s mission.”

“Zamar used the Symetrix DSP to effectively build a sound engineer into the system,” Wentz says. “That allows us to have a high-quality sound system with amateur musicians. That in turn met our need for a consistent, reliable, and repeatable liturgical experience. The community has told us that they are really happy with what they hear, and we have the same reaction from visitors. And I have a system I don’t have to babysit every week.”

PRODUCT AT WORK: Symetrix SymNet Radius 12x8

The SymNet Radius 12x8 is a Dante-enabled, fixed I/O digital signal processor. It can be installed as a standalone processor or used in conjunction with additional Symnet Radius, SymNet Edge, or third-party Dante-network enabled hardware; multiple units can function as universal building blocks in a scalable system design. Onboard 10/100 and gigabit switches lower system cost and reduce complexity with less hardware and fewer potential points of failure. Control options include free ARC-WEB browser based interface, Symetrix ARC wall panels, and SymNet SymVue GUI.

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