Electro-Voice ups the ante at Christian Musician's Summit
It's no surprise that most live sound engineers are more comfortable with the rig they know than the rig they don't. While this reluctance to risk an unsatisfied audience and an unhappy artist is entirely understandable, it can limit the chance to make valid comparisons between PA systems from different manufacturers. So an event staged in the same venue for several years running but with a different PA each time provides a good opportunity to evaluate the comparative strengths and weaknesses of various systems. That's exactly what organizers, technical staff, and participants were able to do at the 2010 Christian Musicians Summit at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington. In the words of FOH engineer John Mills of Elite Multimedia in Memphis, Tennessee, who's worked the event for six years running, this year's Electro-Voice system was "the best-sounding rig we've ever had."
Mills describes the CMS event as having brought to life the content of Worship Musician Magazine and Christian Musician Magazine, which both focus on practical aspects of the Christian music scene. A multitude of breakout sessions featured presenters offering "how-to" classes on topics such as vocal arranging and wireless microphones. Four times per day, sessions in the main auditorium brought everyone together for presentations and performances — many of which Mills describes as "full volume, full-on rock" — by artists including Israel Houghton, Phil Keggy, and Gungor. Set up by design/install company Lift AV of Renton, Washington, the PA system covered approximately 3000 seats on the floor level of the auditorium (a balcony in the room was not used).
Powered by 40 Electro-Voice TG7 amplifiers, each equipped with an RCM-26 module for status monitoring, the main PA was built around left/right arrays of Electro-Voice XLC127DVX high-output compact line-array elements and featured a pair of NetMax N8000-1500 controllers that handled routing and crossovers as well as new FIR filter tunings for speaker optimization. "One thing different about EV compared to most other manufacturers," Mills points out, "is that they keep making their existing products even better. In fact, when they came out with the DVXs, they also released an upgrade kit so that people who had the original XLC127s could essentially get a brand new system without buying a whole new PA."
With these latest tuning enhancements, Mills says, the XLC127DVX is now "one of my favorite boxes. The vocals will sit out in front without being in your face, and the band can get big around the vocals without having a compressed, boxy sound at high volumes. In fact, the performance is now superior to many higher-priced boxes. It's the linear phase across the frequency spectrum – the mark of a really good PA system – that makes it so clean." Mills adds that more and more national touring performers are now aware of the DVX systems, so churches can usually present those artists without needing to rent a separate PA.
At CMS, the XLC127DVX were used for left/right main arrays of 14 elements each. "We also ground-stacked four XLCs on each side," Mills says, "to fire into about 500 gallery seats that are a bit awkward to cover with flown cabinets. With other manufacturers, a lot of times the side fills don't sound as nice and rich as the mains, but when I walked around the room to hear the interaction of the various zones it was seamless. The people on the sides were getting just as good sound as the people in the front."
The XLCs were complemented on the low end by sixteen Xsub high-output dual-eighteen subwoofers stacked two-high and four-wide on each side along the front of the stage. "I was a little nervous," Mills says, "because the stage design included a protruding section that created an eight-foot gap between the left and right subs. But it turned out to be some of most even sub coverage we've ever had in this room."
Six Electro-Voice XLE 181s were placed on top of the subs for front fills. "When you couple your subs with a great speaker like the XLE that has enough juice to keep up with an Xsub," Mills says, "then you are giving the people in front true full-range sound rather than having the front fills as just an afterthought. As a result, I had way more subs this year than in years past but literally no complaints about the levels in the front."
Reaction to the PA was, Mills says, universally positive. "The equipment we used in years past was very respected and in some cases quite high-end. But this time multiple people — including people who had been there over many years — were saying, 'What did you guys do this year?' The experience solidified my feeling that how much you pay for a PA shouldn't be the most important thing. We've had some high-dollar PAs in there over the years, but EV came in with a mid-priced system and it was the best-sounding rig we've ever had.”