Epiphany Brings Electro-Voice PA to First Baptist Church Cleveland
"30 years ago most churches had an organ, a piano, a microphone on the pulpit, and a pair of column loudspeakers," says Chuck Walthall, whose Pensacola, Florida design and consulting practice covers both acoustics and technical systems. "But churches have responded to the impact of entertainment on our society, and yesterday's sanctuary has evolved into today's worship center. Worship now incorporates elements from the worlds of theater and live music, and the technology has changed to reflect that."
A case in point is First Baptist Church Cleveland in Cleveland, Tennessee. When the church decided that its campus in downtown Cleveland was no longer meeting its needs, it set out to build a new facility whose technical capabilities would support and enhance a variety of worship styles, including contemporary services with a strong sound and media component. To provide sound reinforcement in the new campus’ 1700-seat worship center, FBC Cleveland chose an Electro-Voice PA system.
Phase 1 of construction was recently completed at the new 38-acre site, which features nearly 95,000 square feet of worship, education, and commons/fellowship space. Development, design, and construction were handled by Myrick Gurosky & Associates of Birmingham, AL. Walthall & Associates managed the acoustical and AV portions of the project, working with in-house Electro-Voice applications engineer Stu Schatz to design the loudspeaker configuration. The PA was installed by Cleveland’s GravelRoad Entertainment.
From the church side, overall supervision of the project’s technical aspects was handled by media minister Stephen Beasley. “We do three very different worship styles,” Beasley says. “We have a very traditional piano, organ, and choir service. We have a very driving contemporary service with a five-piece rock band and additional vocals. And we have a blended service with orchestra and special music features. So, when we began planning for the move to the new facility, it was very clear to us that we needed to listen to a lot of different systems to be sure to find something that met all of our needs.
In the three years prior to specifying the final system, Beasley listened to different PAs whenever he could. “We listened to box after box, demo after demo,” he says. “We were looking for something with very clear vocals, a rich low-end, and a nice crisp high-end. Overall we wanted a very clean but full sound."
The turning point came during a demonstration at the Electro-Voice “PA Roundup” event in Houston in March, 2009. “I’d already heard pretty much all the other top brands in both standard and self-powered systems,” he recalls, “and at the time we were leaning toward a self-powered system from a different manufacturer. But hearing the Electro-Voice Xi-1183A box was an epiphany. It had the best combination of everything we were looking for. It was smooth, but it had presence. It really just kind of wowed me.”
At the time, Beasley says, Electro-Voice had just come out with FIR filters for the Xi-1183A to run on the DSP in Electro-Voice’s NetMax audio control processor line. “The FIR filters really help smooth-out the sound,” he says. “And the combination of the box, NetMax with the FIR filters, the matching amps, and the IRIS control software — it all adds up to a complete system from an engineering standpoint.”
In the fan-shaped FBC worship center, which doesn’t lend itself to line arrays, the PA is built around three main clusters, each combining one Xi-1183A — a three-way, 18-inch medium-throw loudspeaker — with one XI-1123-106F, a compact three-way, 12-inch loudspeaker whose short throw makes it ideal for down-fill. The clusters also include Electro-Voice Xi-1191A large-volume 18-inch subwoofers – two on the center cluster and one each on the sides. An additional pair of Xi-2181A dual-18 subwoofers are installed under the stage. The room also has a delay ring of six EVF-1122S two-way, full-range loudspeakers, each paired with an EVF-1151S single-15 woofer cabinet.
The system is powered by 21 Electro-Voice Contractor Precision Series amplifiers. Optional RCM-810 remote control module cards allow the amps to be configured, controlled, and monitored remotely from one or more PCs. “We have RCM cards in our production rigs,” says GravelRoad’s Slade Bumgardner, “and we knew that the church would want to have that same remote control capability from a laptop.”
Bumgardner says the system installed smoothly, and has performed as well in practice – as was anticipated based on the advance modeling. “A comment we consistently hear is how even, smooth, and natural the system sounds. Based on our experience with our own EV production rigs, that’s exactly what we expected.”
Walthall describes the Electro-Voice system as being “fully capable of supporting well beyond the church’s contemporary services, to the point that they could bring in a nationally recognized touring Christian artist and not have to rent a PA system or ask the artist to unload their PA out of the truck. It’s a very robust system, and as a conventional loudspeaker system with digital processing it performs exceptionally well.”
Overall, Beasley says, “we saved a lot of money and ultimately got a better-sounding system. Going with EV was very cost-effective, and at the same time the customer support team was very helpful with everything from technical issues to the color. Now that the system is installed, we’re getting a lot of great feedback from the congregation. So it’s been a win-win situation.”