Thousand Oaks, CA – April 2014… Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, CA is a is a very active congregation serving the Conejo Valley northwest of Los Angeles with 5 regular services per week, plus special events throughout the year. Service formats include weekly school chapel services, a Country/Bluegrass service on Saturday evenings, followed by two Traditional services and a Contemporary service on Sundays.
Ascension Lutheran’s main auditorium is a modern asymmetrical worship space designed to showcase traditional choral, organ and classical music. While the room’s reflections and medium decay time brilliantly support the music it was designed for, managing speech intelligibility, solo voices, kids choirs, and modern music require careful management of select technology.
Select technology includes a professionally designed and installed full-range audio system with 40 input Avid D-Show console, and slew of Country Microphones and a Type10 DI box.
Talking Out Loud
Four Countryman E6 microphones paired with Shure ULX wireless systems serve primary speech duty for pastors, guest presenters, and occasional classical soloist. This combination was selected for exceptionally natural response, extremely low profile, and complete mobility. Each Pastor is assigned their own mic for consistent fit, with judicious EQ and gain control applied at the console to reproduce their voices as naturally as possible.
Sing Out Strong
Countryman E6 and Isomax earset mics also serve vocal duty for the 11am Contemporary service featuring worship band Praise Alive. Wired E6 microphones provide exceptional clarity and definition for female vocalists, while Isomax headsets provide hands-free pick-up for male vocals playing keys and drums.
Countryman Type10 DI boxes are used on acoustic guitars for both the Country and Contemporary services.
Getting Consistent Results
Audio engineers Bill Munn and Greg Riggs maintain the microphones and mix the services. They identified 3 factors to getting consistent vocal results: placement, gain staging, and subtractive EQ:
- Placement is critical to ensure a natural pick-up of the voice, and ensure that the signal-to-noise ratio of the desired voice is way above the ambient noise of the room. We’ve gotten best results positioning the capsule about 1 cm (or fingertip) from the corner of the mouth, just far enough to the side so exhaled air doesn’t hit the capsule. The worst positioning is 1 inch or more away from the corner of the mouth, which picks up much more of the room, and much less definition and detail of the voice and speech diction.
- Gain staging is important to prevent feedback, reject unwanted noise, and make minor level adjustments with the fader. Input gain is the key. We like to think of input gain as controlling a spherical “sweet spot” centered around the mic element. Too much gain and the sphere is too large, picking up unwanted ambient noise or causing feedback. Not enough gain and the sphere is too small to pick up the voice. We start with the fader at 0 (or unity), and add just enough input gain to get the vocal loud enough in the mix. I can then make small fader adjustments as the talker gets softer and louder during their presentation.
- Subtractive EQ is about pulling out frequencies that aren’t needed, or reducing unwanted resonances that sound unnatural. For our room and system, Iwe use an 80Hz HPF on all E6s, and may pull out 3-6dB of 300-500Hz if a talker has too much chest resonance.
Using the above tips, the Countryman mics provide a very natural voice lift that sounds just like the talker. We rarely have feedback issues, and those are usually the result of a soft-spoken soloist or talker standing directly in front of a loudspeaker (a trainable people issue).
The Countryman Type 10 DI box is the most natural and transparent approach to acoustic guitar we’ve tried. Acoustic guitar is a very important element in our Country and Contemporary services. When the Type 10 was introduced, we immediately noticed improvements capturing the natural tone of the instrument, quicker transient response, useable gain, and overall control of the acoustic guitar signal. They Type 10 didn’t change the guitar tone, just brought the instrument and guitarists technique to the front of the mix. Of course, it helps that our guitarists have very nice instruments and play very well.
Greg Riggs summarizes Ascension Lutheran’s experience with Countryman as, “Countryman is all about providing consistent, natural reproduction exactly as expected for talking applications, and very unexpectedly in singing applications!”