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HOW Sound

Sounding the Word at Cherry Hills CC

By Karen Mitchell. The Cherry Hills Community Church (CHCC) in Highlands Ranch, CO, near Denver, has been called the fastest growing church in the U.S., but until recently its audio system simply couldn’t keep up with its spectacular pace.

When it comes to audio, sometimes you just have to turn to a higher authority.

The Cherry Hills Community Church (CHCC) in Highlands Ranch, CO, near Denver, has been called the fastest growing church in the U.S., but until recently its audio system simply couldn’t keep up with its spectacular pace.

The church’s 3,300-seat auditorium, including balcony seating, was being served by a loudspeaker system that was so inconsistent, audio delivery varied from seat to seat. This not only compromised the experience for congregants at its regular worship services, but also hampered both its outreach efforts and its ability to offer excellent house sound for a growing number of concerts by popular touring Christian artists at the facility.

Enter Mankin Media Systems (Franklin, TN), which designed and installed a new PA system for the facility. It wasn’t an unusual task for the company; in 2016, a full 83 percent of Mankin’s annual revenue was in HOW integration and its concentric circles. “A modern day HOW service demands high impact, concert quality music, and we have to marry that with spoken voice, media, pre-produced clips and different SPL levels, all in the same window of time,” says Tim Corder, freelance audio engineer and sales, Production Solutions at Mankin Media Systems.

CHCC fits into the challenges of designing and installing systems that provide all the programming materials to 3,300 patrons, all at once, he adds. “If the audio is too booming and piercing, that can lead to someone not wanting to come back to the church. Our challenge is to develop technical systems that enhance what’s happening onstage and don’t distract from it. Thankfully, speaker technology is advancing to where we can provide this level of experience that was unheard of not long ago. That’s what the L-Acoustics system accomplished, providing the best job of navigating that content. It’s a very linear and transparent system; it translates whatever you give it.”

Cherry Hills Community Church’s 3,300-seat auditorium is also used for concerts by touring Christian artists.

The L-Acoustics system in question went into CHCC, as Mankin designed and installed a Kara system featuring a total of 30 enclosures, supplemented by nine SB18i and eight KS28 subs, a trio of Arcs Wide enclosures, plus 18 X8 and 13 X12 coaxial elements used for fills and stage wedges. CHCC has become the first HOW to install the new KS28 subs, which it opted to fly.

In addition, a pair of L-Acoustics LA12X amplified controllers power and process the cardioid-configured KS28 sub hangs, while 18 LA4X, chosen for their four-channel design, resolution in the main arrays and AVB-ready operation, drive the rest of the system.

“I was only here for a few months with the old system, but from that short experience, I can say that the new system has drastically improved things,” says Ben Edison, Cherry Hills audio director. “At one time, there were a lot of complaints about how ‘harsh’ the sound was in this room, even when the system was running at a generally low volume.”

The new L-Acoustics system has allowed the audio team to increase the presence of the music while eliminating the harsh feel, he says. “The room is now so much easier to mix and offers a great experience for our guests.”

Edison currently is the sole system operator on a regular basis. “I have a very capable group of volunteers and I have been working with them to get them trained so they feel confident on the new system,” he adds. “We had reps from Mankin Media and L-Acoustics present during the install. They made sure that we were comfortable with the system, software and features of the new install before they left.”

Both Edison and Cherry Hills technical director, Chris Thomas, had previous experience with L-Acoustics’ LA Network Manager monitoring and control platform, which helped ease the transition. “The software is actually very user-friendly,” says Thomas. “There was really virtually no learning curve.”

That doesn’t mean that the project, with a budget in the $550,000 range, was without challenges, despite Mankin’s own history with CHCC. “This was one of the more complex projects we’ve ever been involved with,” says Mankin’s Corder.

One issue concerned balcony seating, which was without a direct line of sight to the main arrays or main projection screen. “It really was like a whole separate space with its own projection screen and its own sound system,” he says. The solution was two rows of fill speakers for the balcony in order to give the presence that they were looking for across the entire space. Placement of the individual cabinets, Corder notes, was “super critical.”

Complicating things further was the fact that there are glass walls on each side of the main room, and keeping audio controlled and off of those surfaces was crucial to both sound quality and intelligibility. As with all design aspects of the project, L-Acoustics’ Soundvision 3D real-time system modeling software proved to be every bit as invaluable as the speakers themselves in determining the ideal enclosure quantities and placement.

“Because the church places a very high value on the role of a choir in the services, in addition to the audio experience in front of the PA, we needed extensive pattern control behind the main PA, but also a system so the choir could hear,” says Corder. This was accomplished with the three Arcs Wide enclosures. “They just line up so seamlessly and create this little slice of sound. If you can see either side of the box, then you’re out of the coverage.”

The three Arcs Wide are configured so that any combination of the three can be active, based on the location of the choir. “It was more than just pattern control. The Arcs, in terms of tone and audio quality, sound just like the Kara boxes covering the rest of the room, so even if there is any spill, it sounds consistent. That kind of consistency is one of the things we really value about L-Acoustics products and a big reason we use them so much.”

Because of the Church’s fast growth track, new leadership and stellar reputation, there was a lot of trepidation about the audio system amid weekly complaints about sound pressure. “There were a lot of opinions about what needed to be done and we journeyed through the process for the better part of a year in order to address the root problem which was the speaker system,” Corder says. “The entire leadership of the church had changed since the last system was installed about eight years ago, and the new team really wanted a system worthy of their reputation as a growing, dynamic congregation. There was tremendous pressure on us; this had to be a huge improvement.”

The selection of L-Acoustics was based significantly on its very high value, performance to cost, he notes. “A high priority was given to a speaker system for hosting concerts during the big tours. Rider friendliness was important. CHCC wanted a speaker system that could handle events that push a higher SPL.”

In addition to CHCC’s incredible growth, Edison says he has peace of mind that comes from knowing he is able to impact people with their church experience in a positive way when they walk through the doors. “That’s a big comfort for me and for us as a church. Audio is involved in almost every church service, and knowing we’re able to remove the distractions in this environment is such a great feeling for us when we’re headed into the weekend services.”

Cherry Hills Community Church

Mankin Media Systems