10 Years

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman

Even as I write that headline, it’s hard to believe. So much has happened since I penned the very first post for ChurchTechArts back in early March 2007. We’ve had three Presidents. I’ve been on staff at three churches. I’ve lived in four states. Both my girls have graduated high school and one finished college. I have met hundreds of people, reviewed dozens of products and been blessed to be a part of so many things I never could have imagined back then. This has truly been a journey. 

While there have been plenty of ups and downs over the last ten years, one thing that I’ve always appreciated is hearing your stories. I’ve bumped into you at trade shows and conferences and heard how God is using CTA to help you in your ministry. You’ve sent me emails, tweets and Facebook messages. In fact, I just received an email from someone who in the last few months has gone back and read the entire site! Wow!

I remember being at Seeds a few years ago when a TD from a church in Canada came up to talk with Van and I. He shared his story and ended with, “Your website and podcast have changed the entire tone of our church. Thank you.” I paraphrased, but I’ll never forget that moment. I have heard from readers and listeners in nearly every state and more than a dozen countries around the world. I really don’t know what to say other than it has been an honor to be on this journey with you.

Looking Back

ChurchTechArts has gone from being a labor of love, to a small business and back to a labor of love. You may not have noticed that the sponsors are gone in 2017. This was an intentional decision on my part. I actually had 4-5 sponsors lined up, but I pulled the plug at the last minute. As I neared the end of 2016, I knew I needed a break. My current job keeps me fairly busy and my mind space is less than it was when I was on staff at a church. So, I decided that come the 10 year anniversary, I would take a sabbatical. And I couldn’t do that if I had sponsors to provide value to. 

Speaking of sponsors, I can’t write this post without thanking them. I have enjoyed some wonderful sponsors over the years. So many of them have become good friends and I am truly, truly grateful for the support and encouragement they’ve given over the years. My sponsors not only provided financial support for my family and funded all the travel Van and I did so we could go hang out with you all, but they provided motivation to keep on pushing, growing and developing great content. 

As I said, we’ve had some great sponsors over the years, but I really couldn’t have done it without the original five who signed on, back when we were just getting traction in this space. So, to David Schliep at Horizon Battery; Bruce Meyers formerly of DPA; Rob Read at Roland and Duke DeJong at CCI Solutions, thank you. Thanks for believing in me and what we were trying to accomplish here. And a special thank you to my friend Greg McVeigh at Guesthouse Productions. Greg not only brought Heil on board—thanks, Bob, Sarah and Michelle—but was a huge encouragement and resource as I started putting together ad packages and pricing. I had no idea what I was doing, but Greg was a tremendous sounding board. Thanks man, I appreciate you. 

Looking Forward

So what next? As I said, I’m going to take a little time off from writing. For a while, it has felt like I’ve said all I have to say on this topic. That’s not true of course, as I have a half dozen articles in my “post ideas” folder to my right. But, I need some time off to clear my head and just breathe. The pressure to write anywhere between 7-12 posts a month for the last 6 years has been pretty intense at times, and I’m looking forward to a little time off. 

But I won’t stop writing. I’ve already been in discussions with a publisher about compiling the last ten years of writings into a book. This is something I’ve been working on in my head for 7 years, and I think it’s going to finally happen. Of course I’ll be keeping you posted on those developments. 

I’ve also started another website. I guess I really am a writer at heart… The topic of that site is completely different from this one in every way possible. But it’s something that has become more important to me as a hobby and passion, and I guess I don’t feel like I’m living if I’m not sharing my passion with others. The new site is called Mike on Gun Safety. As you might expect, it revolves around my interest in the shooting sports. However, like this site is partially about production and partially about what drives those who do production, that site will not only be product reviews and match recaps—though we’ll have some of those. I also want to delve into the topics of personal defense, mindset and probably some politics. So, you can go visit if you like. And if that topic offends you, feel free to not click the link. It’s just getting rolling, but I already have more than two dozen posts in progress so it should be a good time. 

Finally, one thing you’ll notice is that at the end of March, there will be no more emails from CTA. Right now that’s costing me about $15/month to maintain that service and as I’m not going to be writing much, it seems like a waste. So I’ll be killing that off in the next few weeks. Save this email—it might be worth something someday…

We’ll keep on doing the ChurchTechWeekly podcast, though it’s not likely to be very weekly. We do it as we can and we’ll keep trying to answer your questions. Speaking of the podcast, I could not have done that without my dear friends and partners in crime, Van and Duke. I appreciate you more than you know. And to all our guests over the years, thanks for providing amazing content that built up the Church. You rock.

I may write a post here once in a while, so check back every so often. Or just follow along on Twitter. Thanks to all of you who have been part of this journey. It’s been an honor.

CTA Review: L-Acoustics ARCS

One of my favorite PAs to date; Northview Church in Anderson, IN.

One of my favorite PAs to date; Northview Church in Anderson, IN.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real equipment review, and I figured it was about time. I’ve been holding off on reviewing these speakers until I’ve had experience with them in multiple venues. In the past, I’ve found that speakers can sound OK (or terrible) in a demo space, or maybe even sound good in one application. But before I can give an entire system a thumbs up, I wanted to hear it in multiple venues of varying shapes and sizes. 

Spoiler Alert

I’m a huge fan of these boxes. There, I said it. I have now designed and commissioned four ARCS systems in three different styles of rooms and they have excelled in all of them. In every case, I’ve been able to achieve incredibly even coverage throughout the venue while maintaining a high level of sound quality. It’s hard to ask for more than that. 

Let’s talk about the system components. There are three models in the ARCS series; the Wide, the Focus and the ARCS II. The design of the boxes is somewhat unique in that they can be arrayed in both horizontal and vertical arrays. They don’t become a true line array when you hang them together, instead they cover the audience areas in sections. 

The ARCS series marketed as a medium throw system, up to around 35 meters. In practice, I have found this to be pretty accurate. My last system was in a room about 80’ deep and while we covered it very well, I was gaining the top box up about as high as I could to get the SPL we desired back there. They tend to work perfectly in the 50-80’ wide by 50-70’ deep 400-600 seat venues currently popular with modern churches. 

The Wide box is a 90°x30° coverage pattern rated from 55 Hz-20 KHz with a max SPL of 135 dB. The Focus box is the same except it is based around a 15° vertical coverage pattern. The ARCS II is 60°x22.5° and will reach down to 50 Hz while delivering 140 dB SPL. While the Wide and Focus boxes are built around a 12” LF and 3” HF driver, the ARCS II has a 15” LF and 3” HF driver compliment. 

Matching Power

Like all L-Acoustics systems, the ARCS have to be driven by an L-Acoustics amplifier. We typically use the LA4x, though depending on the design, the LA8 or LA12x will work equally well. The LA4x is a 4x1000W amplifier, and each channel drives one ARCS box. Each L-Acoustic speaker series has a pre-built amp preset that works some pretty great magic on the speakers, and they require very little EQ to make them sound great. In fact, the first time I commissioned a system, the construction project was so far behind that we didn’t get time to do any tuning of the PA prior to the first service. Even with nothing but the stock presets, the mix sounded great and everyone was happy. 

I’ve found the bulk of my time in commissioning an ARCS system is spent getting the delay times set correctly and doing gain shading to get the levels consistent front to back. I usually do 1-3 small EQ filters to correct a few minor things in the boxes, then apply a global EQ for tonal shaping of the PA and that’s about it. 

Even Coverage

For me, a huge design goal of any PA is evenness of coverage. Internally, we have a design standard that shoots for ±3 dB or less of variance across the seating area in the 1-4 KHz range. Personally, I shoot for ±2 or less. With the ARCs systems, I’ve always been able to hit that mark. Here are a few traces from the last system I worked on. The pink trace is the center of the house right section in the front row. The blue trace is in the same spot, but in the back row. As you can see, overall, it’s pretty darn close. Overall SPL was within .5 dB and aside from a few acoustical anomalies (the room really needs some treatment), frequency response is very similar. 

Pink trace = front of the room; Blue trace = back of the room

Pink trace = front of the room; Blue trace = back of the room

    More than evenness, the ARCS are musical. In fact, they are some of the most musical speakers I’ve heard. Because they act more like a point source box than a line array, the phase response of the system is very coherent. L-Acoustics has spent a ton of time and money refining the porting and waveguides of all their speakers to deliver very phase coherent sound, and it shows. Even the smallest details of the music some out clearly, and the low end never overwhelms the clarity. When combined with the SB18i subs (which will likely be the subject of another post), the overall system is one that I just want to keep listening to. In fact, in every case, when I’ve been commissioning a system, I’m usually done in about an hour to hour and a half, but I keep playing tracks and walking the room for another few hours because it just sounds so darn good! I keep throwing more tracks at them and they rock it each time. 

Surprisingly Affordable

I always had in my mind that L-Acoustics was the premium-priced brand. And to be sure, the higher end line array products can get pretty pricey. But the ARCS—and in particular the wide and focus boxes we are using in most cases—are very affordable. We’ve found them to compare very favorably to systems that don’t sound nearly as good out of the box, even when the somewhat expensive amps are taken into account. 

And that brings me to the two things I assign to the negative column of the ARCS. First, you have to use the L-Acoustics amplifiers; or as they call them, amplified controllers. I once asked our rep about using another manufacturer’s amp for some front fills and he said, “Yeah, don’t even suggest that.” Now, on the positive side, the amps with the factory presets are fantastic. I wouldn’t not want to use them, I just wish they were less expensive. 

Second, when going from a focus box (typically on the top of the array) to a wide box (typically on the bottom), there is a slight gap in coverage. It’s very minimal—on the order of 2 dB or so—and would only be noticed by people listening critically while walking forward in the coverage pattern. But it is there. It’s a zone that lasts about 1-2 rows depending on chair spacing. As I said, most people sitting in those chairs aren’t going to notice. But if you play a track with a lot of HF detail, you’ll hear a little dip as you move through that zone. Otherwise, they just work.

Like all speaker systems, the ARCs aren’t right for every application, or even every budget. However, if they are a fit for the space and you have the funds, they are an excellent choice.