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Meyer Sound Connects Congregation in Willow Creek's New Church


"This is the best-sounding system in the best-sounding room that I've ever been in... Every musician is communicating directly to me, and every word is crystal clear."

- Chris Gille
Audio Department Head, Willow Creek Community Church

A church's aural environment can either support or detract from the worship experience, so it's vital that a service's words and music reach every seat clearly and fully. That can be particularly challenging in the case of a large facility such as Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois, which recently opened a brand new $73 million church seating 7,200 congregants. Services at Willow Creek cover a wide variety of program material, ranging from preaching, live drama, or acoustic guitar on up to a rock band, pop band with a horn section, or full 60- to 70-piece orchestra. The church was determined that each individual worshiper feel connected to the service, a goal that was brought to life via an integrated acoustic and sound reinforcement design featuring a 129-loudspeaker system from Meyer Sound.

The new sanctuary was designed by Acoustic Dimensions (ADI) of Addison, Texas in partnership with Goss/Pasma Architects. ADI's Brian Ellwell handled initial system design, which later also involved system design consultant T. C. Furlong of Lake Forest, Illinois, as well as Chris Gille, head of Willow Creek's audio department, and former Willow Creek staffer Bruce Smith. Willow Creek self-installed the entire system with a team of in-house personnel including audio staffer Jeff Pelletier.

"Overall," Gille says, "the room is alive in the right directions. So we knew that we needed a high-Q system to reach the farthest seats, well over 100 feet away, without spraying sound onto the ceiling or up into the roof cavity. And gain-before-feedback was crucial, because the stage projects into the audience with the arrays hanging directly overhead."

Vocal intelligibility was also a very high priority. "We wanted the voice to sound like they're standing right in front of you even if you're hundreds of feet away," Gille says. "And we knew that a line array could achieve that like no other system."

The decision was reached early on to use two independent line array systems, one for music and one focused on accurate speech. To determine which line arrays would work best, the audio staff went to many trade shows as well as live events in the Chicago area. "We narrowed it down to two manufacturers," Gille says, "and then we had a shootout."

The church committed to Meyer Sound shortly thereafter. "We were thrilled to realize that Meyer fit the budget," Gille says, "because we didn't have to use stacks of processing and fill our amp rooms like we would have had to with a conventional system."

The mains utilize separate music and voice clusters hung next to each other on each side. Each voice array is composed of 11 M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeakers. "We went with the M2Ds because of their voice detail and the gain-before-feedback that could be achieved with lapel and head mics directly under them," Gille says.

Each music array has seven MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers with two MILO 120 high-power expanded coverage curvilinear array loudspeakers at the bottom of the array. "The MILOs sound so good!" Gille says. "Even more than coverage, it's the musical detail. The two MILO 120s on the bottom totally take care of music downfill. They have the detail, and they also have headroom for days." Additional power for the low-end is provided by four flown M3D-Sub directional subwoofers and four USW-1P compact subwoofers under the stage.

The mains are augmented by a frontfill subsystem of seven M1D ultra-compact curvilinear array loudspeakers. Instead of being used in a normal vertical curvilinear array, the M1D cabinets are built into the stage as individual cabinets in a horizontal line. Center and sidefill clusters consist of five MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeakers and two DF-4 dedicated downfill loudspeakers. "We picked MSL-4s," Gille says, "because of how well they blend into the array coverage pattern. And they can handle full-range (reproduction) fine by themselves, even though they're a smaller box."

Nine UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeakers are used for balcony delays. "The UPA-1Ps take abuse," Gille says, "and they have a nice, wide, horizontal pattern for the balcony. They're also very compact; they tuck right up into the clouds." Under-balcony and under-mezzanine delay subsystems, meanwhile, employ legacy, conventionally-powered Meyer Sound loudspeakers, together using 58 UPM-1 UltraSeries reinforcement loudspeakers controlled by four P-1 CEU units and 16 QSC CX702 amplifiers.

The use of self-powered systems greatly increased the ease of system installation, which played into Willow Creek's decision to handle that job in-house. "It was just like building a rig on the road," Gille says, "except that we were hanging it 'at home.'" The room was subsequently tuned in stages by Furlong, consultant Bob McCarthy, and Meyer Sound's Technical Support Manager John Monitto, each using Meyer Sound's SIM 3 audio analyzer system.

Right from the start, Gille's response has been unambiguously enthusiastic. "At the first soundcheck," he recalls, "I pushed the fader up on the acoustic guitar, and as usual I had both hands ready to grab for EQ. But instead I just leaned back in absolute disbelief, because there wasn't a single thing I wanted to do to that guitar. We've experienced that time and time again (since the system was installed), and it takes a lot of the work out of it."

Gille continues to be impressed with the way the room and the system work together. "I've been in a couple of hundred rooms," he says, "and, to me, this is the best-sounding system in the best-sounding room I've ever been in. In so many other rooms, the first thing I would notice as a sound engineer is the system. But here, the first thing I hear when I walk in is the band jamming, the vocalist singing, or a pastor whispering into a mic. Every musician is communicating directly to me, and every word is crystal clear."

June, 2005



MILO 120










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