Celebrating nearly 80 years, the Calvary Church of Costa Mesa is a multi-facility campus with an actively growing membership of over 2500. In the early 2000’s, many of Calvary’s buildings were renovated, and in 2006, the Worship Center underwent a major remodel. Last year, facilities manager John Jackson began evaluating the audio system in the main worship center, making the decision to upgrade the console – and to make the leap from analog to digital. The DiGiCo digital consoles were high on his list, and Jackson added not only an SD8 and DiGiRack, but also a new SD9, sight-unseen, as well. The flexibility, and interchangeability between the two consoles has proved to be an added boon to the church’s main worship room, and outdoor event audio toolkit.
“We had a full installation, centered around a Yamaha 5K,” Jackson explained. “Everything was brought out of patch bays, TT bays and outboard equipment, to handle the main sanctuary and recordings for various applications online. Some of the equipment was getting to an age of 5-7 years old where it was time for us to look into newer technology. When we first started exploring new gear, we stiff-armed the concept of digital consoles because we felt it was too new for us. But with the maturity of the industry, we felt it was time to look into digital… for a multitude of reasons. We wanted to get away from so much analog patching throughout the facility, to be able to enjoy the benefits of digital patching, and to have the use of numerous onboard effects from compressors and gates to EQs.”
A research outing to the NAB Show in 2010 offered Jackson and Will Smith, director of the HOW sound department, a glimpse into the myriad digital console fare available. By the time they hooked up with Taidus Vallandi, Technical Sales Manager for Group One, DiGiCo’s US distributor, they knew exactly what they needed in terms of consoles and price.
“We’d spent a couple of days at other booths so by the time we met with Taidus Vallandi, we were armed with a barrage of questions. And every one we threw at him, he had an answer for it. We came away ecstatic and knew what our solution was.”
“Having worked on analog consoles all my life,” added Smith, “one of the considerations and for me as an engineer was that I was used to having a certain amount of visual inputs at a glance. That was a big concern. The SD8’s 15″ screen gives me a similar visual input as that of an analog console. And when it got down to the functionality of the console, and the way everything is laid out, the DiGiCo was really a slam-dunk. Taidus was very knowledgeable; he handled every single one of our questions and DiGiCo came out the clear winner.”
In the main worship venue, the SD8 and DiGiRack, in tandem with a newly outfitted d&B audio sound system—consisting of 9 x d12 amps powering a 3-piece line array, LCR, with 2 subs per side—proved to be perfect solution to what had been a traditionally problematic room.
“The room was built in the early ‘70s and was designed so that the pastor would be able to look the parishioners in the eyes and see all the faces,” Jackson explained. “That was the consideration more than the acoustics. It has a high ceiling in the center and glass along the sides, which only adds to the problem. I’ve been here since 1975, and I’ve seen a lot of PA’s come in and out of here, and this is the only one that’s been able to address the issues. And with the SD8… we’d typically have to spend an hour or three EQing the pulpit mic, which picks up everything all around it… once we got the thing turned on it was literally 5 minutes and we were completely happy with how it sounded. And how transparent it was.”
“I was pleasantly shocked at how warm it sounded,” added Smith. “Being a digital console, I expected it to have a harsh brittle sound that can be synonymous with digital consoles. We had actually done a complete circuit board replacement in our 5K before we replaced it, and it was a really nice sounding console. We put in the SD8 and every single one of our engineer’s mouths dropped. We were stunned.”
They were also pleasantly surprised with the depth and breadth of all the features the console offered under the hood. “I was really shocked at how great the effects processors in the console sounded,” Smith confessed. “I held onto a couple of my favorite, go-to effects processors and boxes just in case… I assumed if I had to go to my favorite ‘verb for an event, I would have to set up patch points and insert them, but after I started using the onboard effects, I got rid of all the external effects I used to use and am loving the sound of the built-in effects.”
“One of the other things that was a lifesaver for me,” said Smith, “was that some of our volunteer engineers had a tendency to over-EQ on the analog console. Having that visual representation of what you’re doing in the EQ section on the SD8 has improved the mix quality of all the engineers. It sounds simple, but it really made a big difference going from the analog console to the digital console.”
Spending the extra money on the companion DiGiRack was another lifesaver for the facility. “One of the reasons we went with the bigger DiGiRack,” said Smith, “was that we needed more inputs than the smaller rack could handle and we wanted it to be a permanent install. Typically, we use only about 24 inputs—acoustic piano, vocal on the piano, violin, flute, 8-channel drum kit, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and 3-4 additional vocals, 2 main pulpit mics and various wireless mics. Every once in a while, we’ll have several full bands come in that need more, sometimes as many as 56 at a time. The DiGiRack is worth every penny as far as we’re concerned.”
Another challenge of the room was the location of FOH, situated above the main sanctuary in a closed-off, glassed-in, soundproofed room. What could’ve posed a problem for getting an accurate mix from an offsite location was solved via remote control… of sorts. “We’ve been mixing this way for 30 years, and it takes some getting used to,” said Jackson. “We purchased two Dell pads and it took just a few minutes for our IT guys to connect them. We can now go literally anywhere in the room and control the mix. The software is identical to what’s running on the console, which means that there’s no learning curve and no need to learn another piece of software.
It’s seamless. I think this was perhaps the single hinge point for us in choosing the DiGiCo.”
The console itself feeds a multimedia operation including delay zones, a TV room, and the Internet radio station. “A few years ago, we did a facelift in the church and had a wiring guru install all of our patchbays,” Jackson said. “When we got new consoles, we had to tear it all out because everything was built in – which was huge for us. To be able to simply hook up the coax cable from the stage and have this thing up and running in a matter of hours, as opposed to weeks when we first rewired was incredible.”
With the main console decision behind them, they moved on to seeking out an additional system to place in an adjacent production space. The criteria was small footprint with equally small price tag, and one that would interface well with the SD8. The SD9 fit the bill, sight unseen, and made them one of the very first houses of worship, to purchase the new console.
“We committed to the SD9 90% at the show,” recalled Jackson, “went home and talked to the final decision maker. We were able to seal it sight unseen just knowing what the SD8 was able to do. We bought the MADI card so we could connect the two and do identical mixes – one in stereo for our on-air radio and one PA mix. That was the justification for buying it. Ironically, though, since we purchased it we haven’t even used it on the original scenario. We have a large touring rig with a Midas 4k that we take out in the field. We loved the SD9 so much that we’ve been using it on our Monday night summer concert series, in the sports field outside of main sanctuary!”
“The console came in two days before we had a gig at the pier in Huntington Beach,” added Smith. “And we used it down there also. The amount of time that it saved, running one CAT5 and a couple of power cords, as opposed to the 52-input Midas console and have to patch all the support equipment and effects, cut 2.5 hours out of the setup time… It’s a dream come true for us. In fact, Will and I were talking about moving the SD8 out to do some of the outside gigs and putting the SD9 in its place. The fact that they’re interchangeable has given us incredible flexibility to use whatever console was best suited to what the gig called for. I don’t know who your competitors are at this price point, but for us, having the ability to pull either console out and handle everything for this style of concert, put it in a road case and roll it away offstage, and pull it out again next Monday and be ready to go in a matter of minutes… It’s a dream come true for us. We’re considering of buying another 8 or 9 for tour because they are just so flexible!”