Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2020

Project Profile: Grace Church of Glendora

We had just landed in Orlando and were still acclimating to the insanely high humidity of early June. Scott got a text from a friend of ours letting him know he just talked to the pastor of his former church. This pastor told Joe he needed help with getting a new PA installed, and fast. Joe told them to call us. We didn’t think too much of it until we got into the rental car and started driving toward the hotel when the phone rang.

Initial Investigation
It was Pastor John who told us that the church had been renovating the sanctuary and it was nearly complete. There was concern that the existing speaker system was not going to be adequate for the newer worship style they were going for in the newly upgraded space. [It was pretty bad…] Funds had become available to install a new PA, but there was a catch; it needed to be installed by the end of July, just over 5 weeks away.

We talked with him for about 30 minutes, learned about the church, the style of worship they were going for, what their values were and what they desired from their new PA. The worship style would be contemporary, but not rock and roll. A big value was evenness of coverage as the current system was not great in that regard, especially with the sound booth being in the balcony. There was a big disconnect between what the sound guy heard and what the congregation heard. He texted us some pictures of the space and a solution began to form in my mind.


It’s a beautiful room, but all those hard, parallel surfaces make it tough to do clean audio

It’s a beautiful room, but all those hard, parallel surfaces make it tough to do clean audio

The Building
A traditional A-Frame building, the peak was high up in the air—over 40’—and the ceiling was all wood. There was no treatment in the room, and it is more than twice as long as it is wide. A line array would give us the distance, but at the expense of putting a lot of energy onto the wood ceiling, which would find its way down to the audience area out of time and out of phase.

The more we talked, the more I became confident the solution I was envisioning would work. But, I wanted to talk to the manufacturer first. Thankfully, we were in Orlando for InfoComm, and we had an appointment with Bose the next day. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “No highs, no lows, must be Bose.” And that was true, 10 years ago. But when they released their RoomMatch product line that all changed. With 42 coverage patterns in the lineup, it’s possible to almost exactly tailor the coverage of the arrays to the seating area—something that would be critical when we’re trying to avoid energizing all the hard surfaces surrounding the seats.

A Plan Comes Together

I showed some pictures and floor plans to Rick Boring, my technical sales rep at Bose the next day. I simply asked, “What would you do in this room?” His response was almost exactly what I was thinking. The rest of the crew at Bose told us they could make the deadline work, so we left Orlando with a reasonably well thought out plan.

Getting back to the office the next week, I did some modeling, sent it to Rick for validation, and worked up a budget. By the end of the week, we had a contract signed and a check in hand. Orders were placed, riggers and structural engineers were engaged and we reached out to our friends at Wired Electric to provide the additional AV power and sequencing and low voltage wiring.

The Speakers
After a few back and forth trips with structural, we came up with a plan to fly the speakers. The design was fairly simple; a four-box array with a two dual 15” subs for the main floor, and a two-box array with a dual 15” sub for the balcony. The reason I went with RoomMatch becomes clear when you look at the coverage patterns of the boxes. For the main array we had:
55 x 10
55 x 10
70 x 20
90 x 20
The delay hang was a 55 x40 over a 70 x 20. Those coverage patterns allowed us to walk the edge of the pattern right down the outside aisles, minimizing the interaction with the walls. One of the biggest problems I see in many PA designs—especially ones that won’t be regularly run at ear-bleeding levels—is the walls getting too much energy. This creates all kinds of nasty reflections when there is no treatment, and those reflections cause phase cancellation in the seating areas. If you run it loud enough, you can overcome some of this, but they weren’t going to be rocking at 104 dB SPLA all day long. Or ever.


We used only as many speakers as required to cover the space.

We used only as many speakers as required to cover the space.

Getting the system installed was a bit of a challenge as the building was about a week behind getting finished up (shock of shocks!). But, we were able to get our team in there to get the rig in the air, wiring run and the equipment rack re-built. Our rigger, Mike Linn, does amazing work and I’m pretty sure the building could collapse, and the PA would still be suspended in the air.

Dialing It In

When it came time to tune the PA, Rick came out and spent an evening with me getting it all dialed in. Our biggest challenge was that we had to tune without the carpet or chairs being in the room. We went back and forth for a while trying to decide how much extra HF to leave in the system, knowing it would get knocked down a bit once the room was finished. Overall, it sounded pretty dang good when we left and the trace from FOH stacked neatly on top of the trace from the middle of the seating area.

I had to fly home for my daughter’s birthday, so I couldn’t be there for opening weekend. Our friend Joe was able to help out, and we heard it all went well. After a few weeks, I went back out to adjust the tuning once the room was complete.


It’s 4 dB between red and green, making it +/- 2 dB. Most people can just start to hear differences of 3 dB. Note how little energy there is on stage.

It’s 4 dB between red and green, making it +/- 2 dB. Most people can just start to hear differences of 3 dB. Note how little energy there is on stage.

We had guessed about 2 dB too low on the HF, and after putting just a little back in the system, coverage matched the prediction almost exactly. We’re pretty much +/- 2dB SPLA from 1-4 KHz over the entire seating area, including the balcony. The coverage drops off right at the edge of the seating area, which keeps wall reflections to a minimum.

It took a little bit to get the sub timing worked out, but once we did, the low end coverage is very even throughout the room as well. They didn’t need giant thump, or mule kicks to the chest every time the kick hits, so we didn’t go crazy with subs. All they needed was some ewey-chewy goodness on the low end, which this system does in spades.

Amps and DSP
As you might expect, we used the PowerMatch 8500 amps for this project. In a rare error in judgement, I accidentally spec’d the non-networked amps for this project, which made system optimization harder than it needed to be. In the future, I’ll be doing all networked amps. We also used the new EX-1280 DSP with the also new Amp Link interface. Amp Link is a simple 8-channel digital transport over Cat cables. It makes wiring the amps and DSP dead simple; just cascade short Cat 5 or 6 jumpers from DSP to amps, and you’ve got your audio flowing.

For this project, I V-Bridged two amp channels for the LF and used a single channel for HF. Because the RoomMatch boxes will go down to 60 Hz on their own, the extra power makes for really nice low end.
Each of the sub is driven by four channels of the amp, providing 2000W to each sub. While the dual 15” won’t likely shake anyone’s fillings loose, they do provide ample bass.

As part of this upgrade, we also supplied and installed a Digital Audio Labs Live Mix system for in-ear monitoring. I’ve lost track of how many of these systems I’ve installed, and they always deliver great results.

Final Thoughts
The grand opening of the room ended up being six weeks from our initial phone call, but I like to point out that we were ready in five. We talk a lot on the podcast about the importance of great relationships, and this project proved why it’s so important. I’ve been working with Bose for over six years, and have built up high levels of trust with them. Our rigger and installers are guys we’ve known for years as well, and when we called with challenging timelines, they made room in their schedules to get it done.

The church is thrilled with the system and we’re already planning the next upgrade to be installed this year—a new video system. This system looks and sounds great and will provide them with rich, clear audio for years to come. And that makes for great stewardship.

Upgrading


“This will take a while.” Great…

“This will take a while.” Great…

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when a young tech directors thoughts turn to…software upgrades. With the recent release of ProPresenter 7, the internets are all abuzz with discussions about upgrading software. Now, this article isn’t about ProPresenter per se. I have no experience with it and no particular thoughts about it one way or another. It’s simply a catalyst for me thinking about upgrades in general.

On the bookFace groups I follow, I often see questions about upgrading software stuff. Having done my fair share of it, I thought I would share some observations and ideas on what I consider best practices.

Not on the Weekend
The first rule for me of upgrading is to never, no not ever upgrade on the weekend. I turn off all automatic updates on all my production machines and make sure they are not even checking on Saturday or Sunday. In fact, it’s a good argument for production machines being on their own network, air-gapped to the outside worlds. Windows 10 can’t install its next group of productivity enhancing features providing unparalleled levels of productivity if it can’t talk to the servers.

You never know when an upgrade won’t work, or will break something else. The last thing you want to be doing during what was supposed to be soundcheck is tracking down new drivers and updates so the teleprompter…er…confidence monitor will work.

I personally put Wednesday as my hard stop for updates. That was the last day I would attempt software or firmware updates. If I ran out of time, I did not do it on Thursday, nor Friday. Why? Well, one time I installed firmware and it bricked the hardware. I had to have new hardware overnighted to get it working. Well, it would have been overnight except I found myself with bricked hardware on Friday afternoon. We had missed the shipping cutoff for the day and it wasn’t going out until Monday. That was an uncomfortable weekend.

If you break something on Wednesday, you have all day Thursday to get something new moving your way and there’s a good chance you can have something delivered Friday or maybe even Saturday. Now, to be fair, that rarely happens. But it only takes one time.

If it ain’t Broke…
I generally take the approach to software updates that if what I’m using isn’t broken, I don’t try to “fix” it. Over the years, I’ve had updates or “upgrades” cause more problems than they solved—especially when there weren’t problems in the first place. Sometimes it’s not even the software in question that causes the problem.

You might, for example, find that to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of software X that you need to update the OS. No problem, you think, it’s time to do that anyway. So, you update the OS and X turns out to be super snazzy. You play around with new features of X and it’s great. Then on Sunday you show up and find out that Software Y now needs to be updated, and you need it for the weekend. Worse, once you update Y, you discover the drivers for hardware Z no longer work. Three hours later, you’re finally back in business; right about the time the pastor is starting his message…

It’s even worse when you upgrade and then discover your hardware no longer works with the new software. I’ve seen this with video and audio interfaces. Or maybe the drivers simply haven’t caught up yet. This is a great way to take an entire system off line if you’re not careful.

If You Don’t Need It

I always read over the feature upgrades or bug fixes in software updates on my production machines. If there isn’t a really compelling reason to update the software or firmware, I don’t do it. Sometimes an update will fix a bug I’ve never experienced. And since I’ve never seen an update that doesn’t fix bugs introduced in the last “bug fix”, it seems each update introduces other bugs that will then be fixed in the next release. If I’m not dealing with those bugs now, I don’t want potential new ones unless there’s a feature I can really use.

For example, I’ve noticed that newer versions of Mac OS X have really jacked up wired networking. I had nothing but trouble with it using my (former) new MacBook Pro running Mojave. It’s (former) because I just sold it and went to a Lenovo laptop that cost 25% as much and actually works with Ethernet. Since much of my work revolves around connecting to hardware via Ethernet, that cool new MBP wasn’t much of an upgrade. In fact, my 2013 running High Sierra is much more reliable with Ethernet. Why High Sierra? See point #2.

You really have to ask if those new features outweigh the potential risks of breaking something that’s working. Back when I was a TD, our ProPresenter machine was 5 years old, running 4 versions back of the Mac OS and I think two version back on ProPresenter. Why? Because it worked every weekend and the new versions of all that software offered nothing compelling enough to risk changing it. In fact, I remember updating ProPresenter one week and finding a bug that really caused some significant issues. They fixed the following week, but that weekend wasn’t fun. I’m not sure I ever upgraded any of that stuff again.

Again, this is not a dig on ProPresenter in particular. There are simply too many combinations of hardware and software in the world for any developer to ensure their software is going to work without issue with all of them. Renewed Vision is generally really good at getting their software up and running again, but you have to give them a little time. And you may not have that time.

Even Hardware Upgrades are Scary

As I’m writing this out, I’m remembering a time with a client of mine that found some very interesting issues with upgrading. They were in an area that had very unstable power delivery. I believe their incoming power varied from 57 to 64 Hz or something like that. Most equipment can handle that, but it was causing problems with lip sync between the ProVideo Player/Blackmagic Ultrastudio and the switcher. As there sermon went on, the lip sync would drift, but it drifted both forward and back as the power drifted.

So, we decided to genlock the Ultrastudio. That fixed the lip sync problem. However, it introduced a really weird AM modulated digital noise into the audio signal. My client spent an inordinate (or normal, really) amount of time on the phone with Blackmagic and it was discovered that the genlock input leaks voltage to the audio output stage. This caused the amplitude modulated distortion.

The ultimate solution was to use a Radial USB audio DI to send audio into the mixer and only use the Ultrastudio for video. Now, that’s a border case that you don’t come across every day—which is one reason it took so long to solve. But it illustrates the point that upgrading one thing can have a cascading effect on other things that you hadn’t considered; and that goes for hardware as well as software.

Which is why we should approach all upgrades with care. If at all possible, have a test bed for any new upgrades and put them through their paces off line first before going live on a weekend. This is often easier with software than hardware, which is why I have the Wednesday rule.

Proceed With Caution
At the end of the day, my advice is to approach all upgrades and updates with extreme caution. With our own personal machines, it’s fun to upgrade and try new things. If we’re practicing best practices, we have backups that we can restore to if things go horribly wrong. But with mission critical production systems, at least for me, there has to be a really good reason to upgrade. Some things to think about.

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