With a 14,000-plus-member congregation, The Woodlands Methodist Church is one of the largest in Texas. Back in 2001, when it moved into its new 2,200-seat main worship campus in The Woodlands, a suburb just north of Houston, the sound system was designed by consultancy Idibri, a Salas O’Brien company —then known as Acoustic Dimensions—and installed by integrator LD Systems. Twenty years on, both the church’ and companies’ commitment to advanced worship technology remains unchanged. Just ahead of The Woodlands Methodist Church’s annual Christmas stage production last December, Idibri and LD Systems came together once again to keep the church at the forefront of audio technology with the design and installation of L-ISA immersive technology using L-Acoustics A Series loudspeakers.
“The music of The Woodlands Methodist Church ranges from contemporary to blended to traditional choir and orchestra. The original system we designed there was a hybrid mono-plus-stereo system that let the spoken word use mono while the music was performed in stereo,” explains Ryan Knox, Senior Consultant at Idibri, who worked on both the original project and the recent renovation. “The bid request they had ready to go last year was for a stereo system, and we were concerned that it could de-emphasize the center for speech. So we recommended L-Acoustics L-ISA technology, which would take the church into an entirely new and immersive place for audio.”
Idibri’s Senior Vice President, Acoustics & Technology Robert Rose, PM on the project, adds, “We have a 20-year relationship with The Woodlands Methodist Church. So, we were in a unique position to influence their choice in a way that would keep them at the cutting edge while ensuring that the music and the message remain the center of every service.”
Integrated by LD Systems, the new loudspeaker setup comprises a Scene system with five hangs of five A15 loudspeakers each, flanked on either side of the proscenium stage by two hangs of three A10 each, with a center array of eight KS21 subwoofers hidden behind a color-matched grill cloth. The system also includes 13 X4i enclosures mounted into the stage lip as front-fills and 11 X8 as under-balcony fills. All are powered by 11 LA4X and seven LA2X amplified controllers and managed by dual L-ISA Processors that interface with the church’s DiGiCo SD10 mixing console.
“It was very cool to be back in the same place we worked on 20 years earlier, where we were installing what was then a very cutting-edge sound system,” recalls LD Systems Sales Engineer Kevin Broussard, referring to the line array system they fitted into the new sanctuary at the time. “Line arrays had become common as touring systems, but this was among the first to be done as an installed system.” And now as then, Broussard says, they were once again keeping the church at the leading edge of sound.
While implementing the cabling infrastructure for the L-ISA setup was the most labor-intensive part of the project, accomplished under time pressures to have the system ready for the church’s annual Christmas production, Broussard notes that the commissioning of the system, done in concert with L-Acoustics’ technical assistance, went remarkably smoothly. “Soundvision is such a reliable and accurate prediction software that we were able to verify that the performance of the model matched reality almost as soon as it was installed,” he says, leaving only some fine-tuning to be finished. “That’s one of the reasons we’re so tightly linked to L-Acoustics—we can rely on the fact that whatever we design and install will meet or exceed the client’s expectations.”
Jonathan Gentry, The Woodlands Methodist Church’s Technical Director, says the church was understandably apprehensive about making the leap from a conventional sound system to immersive. He expected that it would be overly complex, that its components would interfere with the auditorium’s visual aesthetics, and finally, that it would be cost-prohibitive. But he was quickly reassured on all three counts.
“Initially, I thought that in no way was I to bring this before the building committee, with this many arrays across the top of the stage,” he recalls. “And I figured it would be way too expensive, so I said to Robert Rose, ‘Tell me the price—I could use a good laugh.’”
However, the system’s cost was surprisingly in line with what a conventional modern line array setup would have cost. After Gentry saw architectural renderings of what the system would look like in place, he realized that L-ISA would bring not only immersive sound but also a host of other significant benefits to the church. “The way that the A Series speakers are configured up high, it allowed us to move the side video screens in toward the center more, which created a more balanced look,” he explains. “It very much worked with our larger design goals to keep them more focused on the stage.”
Production Manager Steven Rector adds that L-ISA technology takes worship engagement to another level. “Compared to a typical left-right line array, L-ISA makes worship so much more intimate, even in a very large room,” he says. “There was a concern early on that immersive sound might be a passing thing—was it going to last? We have a conventional L-Acoustics Kara rig in our Harvest worship space, so we knew the quality of the brand, but immersive is still a very new thing. However, once you experience it, you realize how much it enhances the worship experience.” He says that’s especially been the case for the church’s musicians and vocalists. “For them, the difference is night and day—the clarity and the spatial effect is remarkable.”
The Woodlands Methodist Church’s audio technology renovation brought together the original staff and crews that put the house of worship’s first sound system together. Gentry has photos of LD Systems’ longtime Project Manager Nelson Wilcox hoisting the first system and the new one over 20 years apart—a reminder that, in those two decades, they’ve become kind of a family. L-ISA is the next step in audio technology that’s bringing the entire congregation closer together. “This immersive experience is ultimately one that helps us all feel closer to each other and our Creator,” Gentry says. “It’s really created something intimate and special, especially for a large space like ours.”