Saddleback Church

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Installations
The upgrade took place at the megachurch’s main Lake Forest, CA location. Photos by Jake Henricksen.
The upgrade took place at the megachurch’s main Lake Forest, CA location. Photos by Jake Henricksen.

Sound Image Helps Upgrade System, Acoustic Elements

The systems integration division is a well-kept secret,” says Larry Italia, VP integration division. “We are well known for our concert projects, but lesser known is the amount and size of our installation work.” Just this year Sound Image has worked on the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood, the Newel and Jean Daines Concert Hall at Utah State University in Logan, UT, Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ. However, Italia adds, “the number one vertical market for us is the house of worship market.”

The main L-Acoustics Kara arrays are complemented with sidefills, front fills and subs.

Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, CA, one of the top contemporary rock ‘n’ roll churches in the country (and the fifth-largest in the U.S.) turned to Sound Image when their previous system was just plain worn out. It’s not the friendliest room to install speakers. With nearly one million cubic feet of airspace, the interior finishes are mostly sheet rock, glass, metal and concrete with thin pieces of commercial carpet. In the end, the team went with a new L-Acoustics system, but it was custom acoustic panels that contributed greatly to making it work through all the architectural challenges.

Custom treatments helped overcome acoustic challenges including large glass windows.

‡‡         Just the Right System

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Italia was a professional guitarist who did a lot of recording and even cracked the top ten on Billboard’s Top Jazz Songs chart with his fusion band, Urban Surrender. In 1987, he went to work for Yamaha Corporation of America and, in 2006 became its VP/GM of its Commercial Audio Systems subsidiary and manager of the division’s R&D group. Italia joined Sound Image in 2015.

Saddleback offered many challenges, the first being the deadline. “The contract was signed in October of 2016, and naturally, they wanted it done by Christmas,” says Italia. Alas, typical delays with equipment that was back-ordered pushed that into the New Year. “To achieve their request, we needed to ensure we would not disrupt any of the services. So, great coordination of all parties involved was required.” The rigging was prepped over a four-day period, but the window to hang, test, tune and commission the system was tight. Moments after a Sunday service ended, installation began, and it was finished to the client’s liking in time for a sound check four days later.          

All gear — from the L-Acoustics Kara elements to the cables — needed to have a white finish

“Saddleback Church was in their existing building for 25 years, and the P.A. they had was 20 years old, so they knew it was time for a change,” Italia explains. “They reached out to us and, like a lot of mega churches, their talented audio team was great to work with.” That team showed up to Sound Image’s warehouse well educated on the latest gear, and a scheduled shootout ensued. While the Sound Image team had their client listen to systems from all major line array brands, the decision to move forward with the L-Acoustics Kara came relatively fast.

Michael Fay, the Sound Image senior design consultant on the project who designed the architectural acoustics package, says the old P.A. was an exploded mono point-source system. The new Kara system design was completed by André Pichette of L-Acoustics using Soundvision modeling software to work through the structural and sightline limitations dictated by the client. Pichette’s design called for two six-module Kara arrays to support the main stereo P.A. channels. To complete the main floor coverage, two more six-box Kara arrays were installed for side-fill coverage on the far left/right sides of the room. The side fills, front fills and delay fills all receive mono-sum signals.

“Additional low-frequency support was supplied by three SB18 subs, rigged in the air directly behind the main L/R arrays and configured for cardioid dispersion,” says Fay. “All full-range devices and the SB18 subs were powered by LA4X amplifier/controllers. The flown subs were configured as LF extensions to the Kara arrays and not assigned to an aux bus.” Additional subwoofer support was provided by four KS28 double-18-inch subs placed on the floor, under the front edge of the stage. A single LA12X amplifier/controller provided power for the subs. The subs were assigned to an aux send buss so they could be incorporated in the mix as needed.

“Because the main Kara PA is mounted nearly 30 feet above the floor, front-fills were needed, so for this, eight X8 coax loudspeakers were installed under the front stage lip.” Even though the L-Acoustics amplifier/controllers have front-end DSP, Fay felt it would be best to have a front-end DSP platform for signal distribution and zone processing. This would allow for minor adjustments to be made without having to touch the discrete channel processing that’s been dialed in during the system tuning/commissioning. The zoned signal distribution also allows for room configuration presets to be easily defined and recalled.

Symetrix Edge processors were chosen for their sonic quality, ease of programming and AES input/output card options. “With the AES cards, the package allowed us to maintain a digital signal path from the stereo outputs off the Digidesign FOH console, all the way through to the L-Acoustics amplifier/controllers,” Fay says. Sound Image also specified and installed a Cisco SG300 switch, Surgex SU-1000 Li UPS and other nuts and bolts required for the system. “With the large, exposed web joists, a rigging plan wasn’t too hard to figure out, but the California seismic codes required additional hardware and wire rope for compliance. And everything had to be white, including the speaker cable and wire rope, due to the visual appearance required for the church,” Fay adds.

Acoustic panels help tame reverb within the 31,000-square-foot facility’s space.

‡‡         Acoustic Treatment

The space also demanded a complete acoustical treatment. “An off-the-shelf product was not going to work in this space, and it had to be designed and custom fabricated by us,” Italia says. “We partnered with several third-party vendors, but there were aspects of this phase that literally had never done before.” Italia describes the facility as “a big shoe box,” seating 3,000 in its 31,000 square feet. “It was not designed with acoustics in mind and was filled with hard surfaces. HVAC, trussing and other infrastructure issues had to be addressed, including two giant glass walls.” Sightline requirements kept them from just hanging the system wherever it was convenient. “The client understood that any good P.A. would improve coverage, but it wouldn’t solve all their problems, because they would continue having intelligibility issues,” Italia adds. “Each side glass wall is 30 feet high and almost 100 feet in length, so you can imagine a lot of reflected energy bouncing around.” To tame the reverb bounce, more than 200 hanging baffles of different sizes and types needed to be installed. He says that 12,224 square feet of two-inch rigid PCF fiberglass panels were used. “These panels were specified as a mix of 4-by-8-foot and 4-by-4-foot sizes and required an additional white scrim cloth behind the acoustical cloth so that the yellow fiberglass color wouldn’t show through.”

Bass traps being prepped for the project.

While the attachment method was not too difficult to design and install, finding a symmetrical layout to accommodate nearly 200 panels while avoiding the sprinkler head spray bubble diameter of 36 inches at each head was challenging. To further complicate things, there were many air ducts, lights and steel cross-bracing elements to avoid. “We had to be real creative to find a place for all these panels.” Another challenge was the bleachers seating that occupies the back third of the room. Over 7,000 square feet of recycled cotton panels were edge-hung under the bleachers to absorb as much broadband and VLF energy as possible.

Fay also designed custom bass traps that could be installed in two key, unoccupied areas of the building. Sound Image fabricated the 20 bass traps, each having 30 four-inch spring-tensioned resonating tubes. “The treatment provided effective results down to at least 63 Hz,” he says. “We were able to bring the four-octave speech range T60 down to 1.26 seconds. And at 63 Hz, we were able to reduce the reverberation time from 2.72 seconds to 1.61 seconds. This was a huge improvement, given the high-powered sub energy that is generated.”

LA4X amplifiers and Symetrix Edge processing ensure even coverage within the 3,000-seat space.

“It was quite an interesting job,” Italia says. “We started with a room that had roughly a two-second mid-band reverb time and close to three seconds at 63 Hz. Couple that with a worship team that regularly cruises at about 90 dBA, and you can probably imagine what it sounded like.” Right now, the system is run off their existing console. “This is a two-phase project, and in the second phase, the church will be upgrading the consoles,” he says. “What they will go with hasn’t been decided on yet,” Italia adds.

“It was interesting to improve their acoustics using elements no one had ever seen before,” Italia continues. “In these cases, it’s great that we have our own wood and metal shop with a staff with the experience necessary to make the project become a reality. There are often cases when we look at what we can buy off the shelf and know it’s not good enough, and so we’re grateful to have the option of creating the exact solution ourselves.”