When the tech staff of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Matthews, North Carolina was searching for the best digital console to replace an aging and inadequate mid-level analog desk, the worship facility's missive was to secure a system that would meet all of their technical requirements yet include a logical and intuitive user interface, which would not intimidate its inexperienced, volunteer operators. Christ Covenant's technical director, Jim Deal—also a veteran audio consultant in the area—took control of the project, specifying a DiGiCo SD8 system, coupled with a 56-input DigiRack. Hudson-Seymour, an integrator based in the Charlotte, North Carolina area specializing in house of worship installs, handled the installation.
"The system that was in place was installed when the church was first built in 1998," Deal explained. "And as is always the case, technical systems are rarely adequately budgeted into the initial building cycle, and compromises were inevitably made with the system that was installed. Over time, we were experiencing more and more problems with that existing system—which used a Bantam 'TT'-style patch bay with phantom power supplied by the console. Weekly, there were incidents of hum in the system, crackling, and popping. The old console's power supply was failing, we had dead channels, and signals were dropping out because of poor connections. Those are the kinds of things that you expect to see towards the end of a component's life, so the need was becoming fairly urgent. Obviously there are quite a few good options available now in digital consoles from various manufacturers, but we needed to find the best solution for our particular needs and program."â€¨â€¨Deal's laundry-list of requirements going into the search included a console that could accommodate 60+ inputs, a mix of EtherSound and analog outputs, an in-ear monitoring system interface, and plenty of local inputs and outputs for wireless microphones and playback sources. Also, he needed to be able to record multiple channels for later mixdown. Deal knew a digital solution was the direction that they needed to go, but as an analog aficionado, he had been disappointed with many of the early digital products on the market. With DiGiCo's SD8—first explored at the 2009 WFX Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina—he found that the technology had matured in the mid-range digital desks. He was able to get both the warm, sonic performance and ease of use found in an analog solution, with the added functionality offered in a digital desk.
"The DiGiCo gave us the perfect, no-brainer solution," he confessed. "I very much appreciate the feature set in the console. The layout is very intuitive; I've never found myself wishing for resources that were not there, which is a very good thing. Christ Covenant Church has production requirements ranging from contemporary worship bands to full-scale concerts with choir and orchestra, and we also do some theatrical style productions for Easter and Christmas. The SD8 has the input/output capacity we needed, the ability to adapt and expand and be flexible, as well as give us all the functionality that we needed. It's made the transition from the analog desk an easy one, and has been seamlessly integrated into our production workflow."â€¨â€¨The SD8's logical and efficient scene snapshot management capabilities made complex productions for the church a simple task to organize. The work surface is one of the most flexible I have seen, and the ability to shift banks of faders to the center section, in effect, creates a traditional-style channel strip for soundcheck. The obvious benefits of having the snapshots and recall were being able to create the overall session files and very quickly restructure the entire console, especially as we were doing the Christmas production. It was a completely different setup as far as patching inputs even auxiliary send allocations, control group setups, all those types of things. It was a real blessing to be able to see all of that in a separate file and then on Sunday morning, when we reverted back to the normal worship configuration that we have 52 weeks out of the year, I just pulled up our session files from the previous Sunday morning, and off we went! It's like having several different consoles at your disposal that you can just swap in and out, and have so many different configurations in a matter of seconds."
The addition and implementation of the 56-input DigiRack was another major accomplishment in achieving Deal's overall vision. "I wanted to eliminate as much copper between the chancel platform area and the mixing position in the balcony as possible. The original contractor had pulled several 24-gauge audio snakes up to the control booth, in a fairly circuitous path, so there was some signal degradation going on, high frequency loss, quite a bit of crosstalk between lines, and a lot of issues that we wanted to resolve all at one time. My goal was to place a stage box located as close to the chancel as possible without it being on the platform and visible. We ended up locating the DigiRack in a storage room adjacent to the platform with all the floor boxes and inputs, with a very short cable run from the floor boxes to the DigiRack and running MADI (56ch. Input & 56 Ch Output via 75 Ohm Coax cable with BNC connections) up to the balcony."
The removal of the old patchbay not only instantly eliminated all of their problems with the copper wire—no more hums, pops and crackling originating from dirty and oxidized jacks—but also offered a plethora of internal resources including great sounding effects, onboard signal processing, and myriad patching options.
"The patching options have been a real lifesaver," said Deal. "We use the control groups quite a bit. They're functioning more like VCAs on an analog console allowing us to group things together like the choir mics—we have 8 of those on a control group—and a lot of line-level playback sources from video and CD, and then different instrumental groups. That allows us to minimize the amount of switching between fader banks we have to do. Another plus were the "flexi" input channels that can be configured as a Mono channel with an alternate (spare in) or as a Stereo channel strip. This greatly reduces the required fader footprint by allowing stereo sources such as drum overheads, piano, etc., to occupy just one channel strip on the work surface. But one of the coolest features is the ease of which you can move channels around. On a lot of other consoles, that's problematic. Being able to pull something from one fader bank to another with two pushes of a button is unprecedented… I haven't seen any other console that makes it seem as easy as it is."
Another added improvement was the difference in sound quality—noticeable by both musicians and members of the congregation alike. "We received many comments to this effect after the changeover; it was noticeable right away," Deal recalled. "We started out that first weekend without the buzz, static, and the 60-cycle hum was gone… all of that was a thing of the past! The overall quality of sound through the existing speaker system was substantial—to the point that random church members - people, who often are oblivious to anything technical—would come forward and comment that the sound was noticeably better!"
For recording and virtual soundchecking, Christ Covenant is also employing an RME MADIFace card in tandem with a PC notebook computer running Cubase. "I mentioned how seamless it is to operate the SD8 for a volunteer, but DiGiCo did the same thing with the Virtual Soundcheck feature. With the touch of one button, I can flip from my live band to the high-resolution multitrack recording that I had just made and the tracks play down the same input channels as if the band was still playing live and I can continue my soundcheck without them. Also, we can use this feature for easy, real-world training with my volunteers, too."
That ease of use training capability was perhaps the biggest boon for Deal and the house of worship staff; with many of them up and running literally after a single orientation session. "From my perspective—which is more than that of consultant/specifier, but also primary users and operator—I oversee the crew of volunteers that assist with the technical needs of the church. It's important for those volunteers, who work other jobs during the week and must transform into technical people on the weekend, to be able to pick up the console fairly quickly. I felt that the SD8 had a very small learning curve—without getting into the deeper functions—and it's an easy control surface to train people on. If they've mixed on the analog console previously, they can easily see the equivalent functions on the DiGiCo. We've had a very positive reception with all of our volunteers and staff operating the system, including Director of Worship, John Haines, who would probably admit that he's not the most technical person around. His needs are to be able to come in, switch the system on, and to facilitate the rehearsals during the week that are not attended by an operator. It's been a very simple thing to get him a few recallable snapshots so he can instantly be up and running.
Haines said, "After several full-time jobs working in large churches over the last 25 years, I can honestly say that this is the finest mixer I've worked with ever. Period! What I really love is the ability for the professional to execute operation with excellence and precision, while at the same time, a novice like me can punch one button (after pre-programming by Jim), and walk away and do a rehearsal or service. Magnificent!"
Overall, Deal and the Christ Covenant staff are very happy with the improvement the SD8 has made to its production environment. "The improved sound quality is noticeable, and the desk's resources have greatly exceeded our expectations at a price point that we could manage," concluded Deal. "The SD8 has the look, feel, and features you would expect to find in a console costing many times more. All of this, coupled with a well-thought-out user interface that is useful for both seasoned professionals and volunteer operators has made this console a fantastic fit for us."