For most, the name Woodstock brings to mind New York’s famed 1969 rock music festival, or perhaps Snoopy’s feathered friend from Peanuts. But Atlantans will tell you that Woodstock is a city 30 miles north of downtown ATL, and that one of the longstanding beacons of that community is First Baptist Church Woodstock (FBCW), whose history traces back 185 years to 1837 when it was founded as Enon Church.
In 1986, when former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny M. Hunt joined the church as senior pastor, FBCW truly flourished, leading to the 2005 construction of a 7,200-seat Worship Center to accommodate its booming congregation of more than 20,000 members. Seventeen years later, the church has taken another major step forward by becoming the site of the world’s largest permanent installation of L-Acoustics L-ISA immersive sound technology.
Leading global technology solutions provider Diversified was brought into the project nearly two years ago to provide the church with an AVL upgrade for its in-person Worship Center experience. “First Baptist Woodstock has two service options to participate in, and while they have different musical elements and characteristics, they share a common need for sonic clarity, consistent tone, and massive headroom yet intimate sound. We were asked to help them reimagine a venue that would feel equally intentional for both of those very different services,” recalls Tim Corder, Diversified Director of Strategic Accounts, Worship and Performance Environments. “After spending several days with the church’s creative team in an intense ideation session, we imagined a system anchored on the in-room experience that would have the ability to transition very quickly within a 15-minute turnaround from one service to the next.”
From the onset, the Diversified team strongly felt that L-ISA was the right ft for the project. “They needed a system that would be able to give dimension to what they were doing in each service, as well as make their massive room feel small, intimate, and engaging,” explains Diversified Account Executive and Audio Lead Nick Geiger. “We knew that L-ISA would do both, and also allow them to essentially flip a switch to move between their two performance setups.”
FBCW Production Director Josh Belokonny points out that they initially turned to Diversified because the Worship Center’s original mono center cluster speaker system was failing to meet their needs. “We had volume and tone inconsistencies throughout the room that made it hard to establish a consistent experience for everyone,” he says. But he also suggests that a new left/right line array system might not have been the right choice for a replacement. “There’s a lot of architecture that is very specific to the space here, and we had to take that into account. Standard left and right arrays in this room were an obstacle from a video standpoint because they would cause a lot of sightline issues.”
The solution came in the form of the new A Series loudspeaker line from L-Acoustics. “A Series, and specifically the A15i, was chosen for several reasons: first and foremost because the technology and sound of the box mimic larger L-Acoustics enclosures like the K1, K2, and K3,” shares Josh Maichele, L-Acoustics Applications Project Manager, House of Worship. “Secondly, some of the major advantages to the A Series products are their size and weight. We were able to get the long throw because A15i is a line source, but we were also able to bend the array faster with the A15i Wide, allowing us to reduce the line length and keep the arrays well above LED wall sightlines.”
Using Soundvision, Diversified and L-Acoustics specified a main Scene system comprising five arrays of five A15i Focus enclosures over one A15i Wide, backed by four central hangs of two KS28 subs. That system is flanked by two Extension arrays of five A10i Focus over one A10i Wide, which is complemented with two out-fill arrays of five A10i Focus over one A10i Wide and two far horizontal out-fill arrays of three A10i Wide. Below, 14 coaxial 5XT are spread out across the stage stairs for front-fill, with two X8 providing extreme left and right front-fill. Additional A10i Wide enclosures are positioned out in the house for over- and under-balcony fill, while above the stage, two hangs of one A15i Wide and one A15i Focus plus two mountings of A15i Wide serve as choir monitors. A total of three LA12X, 15 LA4X, and four LA2Xi amplified controllers power and process the house and monitor systems, which are all managed via the new L-Acoustics L-ISA Processor II.
Another significant advantage of opting for the A Series-based L-ISA design, and one that surprised the church, was its cost savings. “Once we started running numbers, this L-ISA implementation was actually nearly 25 percent less expensive than a traditional left/right based system because we were able to utilize the cost-effective A15i and A10i loudspeakers,” Corder notes. “The overall value between performance and investment really couldn’t be touched by any other solution.”
“As the guy that is responsible for budget dollars, when I learned what L-ISA would offer us—more clarity, depth, and better imaging than we’d ever achieve with a standard array system—I automatically thought, ‘That’s going to cost a lot of money.’ So I was shocked and overjoyed that it was actually more economical,” confirms Belokonny.
With traditional left/right array-based systems, typically, only 15 percent of the audience seated down the center strip of the room hear things in true stereo. With L-ISA, nearly three-quarters of First Baptist’s congregants are now in the “sweet spot” for experiencing spatialized audio.
“By seat count, this is now the largest venue in the world to have a permanently installed L-Acoustics L-ISA setup,” says Corder. “Diversified completed the very first house of worship project with L-ISA back in 2019, so it’s awesome for us to see the technology and projects continue to grow.”
Belokonny is equally thrilled with his new reality. “When you critically listen to audio somewhere for several years, it’s amazing to walk the room and have it sound completely different overnight,” he says. “There is great excitement and peace of mind knowing that what we’re able to produce now is a lot more accurate and represents what’s happening onstage. I know that will embolden the worship leaders and band members to play out more, and it’ll create excitement in the choir. I can’t wait to see where we’ll go from here because our new baseline is just leaps and bounds better than the best that our old system ever was. And it’s consistent throughout the whole venue, which provides an opportunity for everyone to be way more unified and to have this sense that we’re all in this moment of worship together.”