The Tempe campus of Sun Valley Community Church recently installed a Martin Audio MLA Compact loudspeaker system as a key component in a significant upgrade of its technical capabilities.
According to Eric Johnson, Technical Director for Sun Valley, “Sun Valley Tempe merged with Bethany Church two and a half years ago and we inherited a large campus and an auditorium with technical capabilities that were deficient by today’s standards. The audio system was old and primarily designed for natural speech, orchestra and choir reinforcement in an acoustic setting. That, plus the building is a complex geometrical design, basically a five-sided pentagon with a seven-sided auditorium that’s about 160 degrees wide, has a raked floor, many complex angles and no parallel surfaces. Needless to say, this presented a real challenge when it came to choosing a new loudspeaker system.
“The original system had worked for many years,” Johnson continues, “but changing times, culture and styles made us realize that it no longer served our purposes for electric rock and roll style music. We decided on a major renovation that involved changing the seating from traditional pews to modern theatre style seats and going from a totally carpeted floor to carpeting only in the aisles. We also reduced the size of the stage, pulling back the downstage edge by about twelve feet in addition to upgrading the lighting and audio system.
“And there was a real concern as to whether or not we could put in a system that would adequately reinforce rock and roll without overwhelming the live-sounding room. So we discussed acoustically treating the room, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or completely tearing down the ceiling and remodeling the room from the inside which wasn’t feasible either.”
Fortunately, Johnson was aware of the Martin Audio MLA system having first heard it several years ago during a demo at Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix. “I had an idea of what the technology was about,” he points out, “but I was really impressed with what I heard. The possibility of MLA and the MLA Compact system specifically, led us to realize that the technology would allow us to precisely control the audio output and put the energy onto the seats while keeping it off the ceilings and walls. So that’s the direction we decided to pursue.”
The installed system for the 1300-seat auditorium consists of nine MLA Compact enclosures per side in left-right hangs with seven Martin Audio DSX subs in bunkers arranged in arc formation along the downstage edge. Two WT3 speakers for extreme left and right outfill and six DD6 speakers for front fill complete the system with Martin Audio MA3.0 and MA2.8Q amplifiers and a Merlin Processor that manages the outfills and front fills, as well as communications between the speakers. The rest of the setup currently includes a Soundcraft MH2 40-channel Desk at FOH Sennheiser Evolution Series wireless and DPA microphones.
Johnson adds that the installation team, which included Ed Crippen from Clark, the system integration company, Jon Hunsacker and Kevin Hull from SVCC and Sean Stinson’s ream of riggers from Clearwing, had to bring in a considerable amount of additional power to accommodate the new lights and audio system since the building was already over capacity for electrical service.
Completed in the first week of April, the system debuted on Palm Sunday and according to Eric, “it was an overwhelming success. Ed Crippen was there for the whole weekend, which included rehearsals and the first service. He was taking measurements for the service and one of the things we discovered during the sermon was that real-time intelligibility readings were off the charts. He had never seen intelligibility readings that high. The first time our pastor Chad Moore who uses hearing aids, stepped on the stage and spoke through the microphone he said, ‘I can finally hear myself.’
“There was a band playing that averaged between 95dB and 104dB with subs which was clear and not too loud. With the MLA Compact, the musicians can now focus on the nuances and subtleties of their music that can finally be heard without overwhelming the space. I even had to adjust the drummer’s toms because we could hear them rattling against the support post.
“When we went to the portion with just the pastor speaking downstage, we averaged 72dB over a ten minute window,” Eric confirms. “Not only was it loud enough, it was incredibly clear and you felt as if he was talking right in front of you at 72dB. It’s unheard of to put a message out at that volume and not suffer any fatigue because it’s not loud enough. We’re still talking about that one!”
Johnson notes that the overall process of assembling the system took the better portion of a year and required that he put the installer and speaker company together because “Clark was not a Martin Audio dealer and I wanted MLA Compact in the building. Ed and I attended an MLA training class in Las Vegas and that’s when he really lit up and got what the system was all about. It turned out to be a full-fledged collaboration between Sun Valley, Clark and Martin Audio.”
Summing up about the impact of MLA Compact on Sun Valley, Johnson concludes, “One notable thing that happened on the first Sunday we used system is that the doors from the worship center out to the lobby are usually opened up when it’s time to come in the room, but it was a nice day so the exterior doors from the lobby out to the patio were also open. One person commented that the reason he came in was that when the music started, he could hear our worship leader as clear as a bell all the way out onto the patio, which we could never do before the MLA Compact.”
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About Martin Audio®
Founded by audio engineer David Martin in 1971, Martin Audio pioneered the use of all-horn-loaded bass designs in world-class touring loudspeaker systems for groups such as Pink Floyd, ELP and Supertramp. Located outside of London, Martin Audio now embodies a sophisticated mix of acoustic design, research, mathematical modeling and software engineering for a wide range of products in the installation, cinema and touring sound markets.