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Eastside Worship Center • Blackhawk Church • Madison, WI
900 seats • Acoustics, Sound, Video & Theatrical Lighting

It All Started in 2005

I was first approached about the project with Blackhawk Church by their incoming Technical Director, Mark Wyse. He wrote a message to our ChurchSoundcheck Discussion Group asking for recommendations on consultants in Wisconsin. I offered up several possible companies for them to talk with. But for various reasons, the church was not interested in those companies, and Mark ultimately asked me to send a proposal for my company — Taipale Media Systems, Inc. — to be their consultant on the project.

Our scope of involvement included room acoustics, mechanical noise and sound isolation, as well as the sound, video and theatrical lighting systems in the main worship center (Eastside Auditorium), their video venue across the hall (Westside Auditorium), the Gym, the Underground (Youth room), the Temporary Music Room (future young adults ministry), the Fireside Room, the Welcome Center, two rooms in the Children’s Ministry, plus five conference rooms and additional meeting rooms.

A Little Help from Our Friends

As is often the case, we were brought onto the project much later in the design process than we would have preferred. The project was already at about 50% DD’s when we joined the party, so in order to meet the the various project deadlines to finish the Design Development drawings and push through to the 100% Construction Documents, we engaged the capable design support of fellow consultants Neil Shade, Dale Alexander and Gary Stout, all respected veterans of this industry.

Our first step was to invite Neil Thompson Shade at Acoustical Design Collaborative, Ltd. to drive the design for the room acoustics, mechanical noise and sound isolation details of the project. We then asked Dale Alexander to take on the design for the video projection systems and the light plots for the two main rooms, and we asked Gary Stout to design the distributed video system and to help us ensure that the massive amount of CAD work was completed on time and accurately. Gary has a gift for creating easily understood conduit risers, and you should have seen the smile on Electrical Contractor Randy Stobbe’s face the first time he saw Gary’s conduit riser for the audio and video systems!

Our request for conduit ultimately added up to roughly four and one-half miles of conduit, but the church now has the infrastructure to add future wiring to answer just about any technical requirement that they might envision some years down the road. My philosophy in providing that level of conduit infrastructure was simple — not only did we need to provide the infrastructure to support the systems that we had designed for the project now, but a few years from now when the church’s pastor or staff turns to Mark and says “Can we do (such and so)“, I wanted Mark to be able to look at them, smile and say “Sure, we can do that.”

The Architect on this project was absolutely amazing to work with. Our primary contact with Plunkett-Raysich Architects (www.prarch.com) was Project Manager Paul Schmidt. The level of communication that he brought to the project was phenomenal, but what stood out to us was the level of support that we received as consultants. Serving as the acoustical and technical consultant on a church project often places us in an awkward, uncomfortable position with the architect, partly because sometimes what we need to ask for competes with or even goes contrary to the vision that the architect has for the room. I’ve never met a more open, welcoming, supportive team of architects than project architect David Hoffman, building designer Michael Brush and project manager Paul Schmidt at PRA.

For example, we know of multiple meetings throughout the project — when project budget issues put our room acoustics choices under tough scrutiny — when Paul stood up for our design, both when we were in attendance at the meetings and even other times on our behalf when we weren’t there. All that to say, one very real reason that our designs for the acoustics and technical systems in these rooms at Blackhawk worked so well is due in large part to the support we received from the team at PRA. I can’t thank them enough.

Such Nonsense

Our usual policy with regard to putting the project out to bid is to allow three or four companies to bid on installing the systems that we have designed for a project. Because of the scope of the project, we included six companies in our initial list of approved contractors.

The church had determined that the installing sound, video and theatrical lighting company would work as sub-contractors to the construction company (Roberts Construction). The AVL bidding process got a little more interesting than we hoped for when we found that Roberts Construction had invited no less than nineteen companies to bid on the sound, video and/or lighting systems! That proved to be one of the more awkward moments in the course of the project, and let’s just say that not all of the bidders put their best foot forward during that process. Most involved were entirely professional throughout, although a handful of them got downright ugly. Ultimately cooler heads and the Grace of God prevailed, and Summit Integrated Systems from Colorado was awarded the contract to install the sound, video and theatrical lighting systems for the entire project.

Loudspeaker Systems

Our initial design for the main loudspeaker systems in Eastside Auditorium and Westside Auditorium used a different loudspeaker, but then along came Tom Danley’s (then) new loudspeaker, the SH-50. We had been fans of Tom Danley’s loudspeaker designs when he worked with Servodrive, creating the Sound Physics Labs loudspeakers. He had even designed a custom downfill box for us for a project of ours in Texas which later became part of their product line called the Runt. Great sounding little speaker.

All that to say, we trusted Tom’s design work to begin with. I had known Mike Hedden since 1997 when I worked for his design/build sound contracting firm, dB Acoustics & Sound, in Gainesville, Georgia. So when we learned that Mike had teamed up with Tom to form Danley Sound Labs, I knew it would be a winner. And of course they came through with a great product both in the SH-50 and in the TH-115 subwoofers. Mike had arranged a road tour to demo the boxes and came through Dallas as part of that trip. So I arranged to fly Mark Wyse from Blackhawk Church to Dallas so that he and I could both audition those loudspeakers firsthand in a large room (Prestonwood Baptist). That demo convinced both of us that this was the right loudspeaker to use for this project, and although it meant a roughly $15,000 increase to the overall budget for the sound systems, we both knew it was the right thing to do. And the final results proved that out. The sound of the Danley SH-50’s is simply stunning.

Moving Air

The three main auditoria in the project are actually on the second floor of the building. I usually place the subwoofers on the floor, embedded into the front edge of the platform. But when I did an overlay of the first and second floors, I realized that the front edge of the platform in the Eastside Auditorium was directly over one of the Children’s Ministry rooms. And the front edge of the platform in the Westside Auditorium was directly over the Temporary Music Room, which will eventually become the young adults ministry room. I asked Neil Shade to calculate the transfer of energy from our subwoofers to the rooms below — through a twelve-inch thick concrete plank floor — and his calculations showed that the subwoofers would deliver roughly 78 dB of sound energy at subwoofer frequencies into those rooms below. We decided at that time that the most appropriate solution was to fly the subs.

On a side note, we even took a moment to prove out Neil’s calculations. One day when the subs just happened to be on the job site, I asked Tyson Wiens with Summit Integrated to set up a demonstration for Mark to listen to and measure right on site, simply to confirm in situ what the impact of the subwoofers sitting on the floor would be. And true to Neil’s calculations, the measured sound energy down in the room below was right in line with Neil’s predictions. In other words, putting the subwoofers on the floor would have definitely made the rooms below unusable during worship services. It’s God’s laws of physics, and no amount of hoping is going to get around that reality.

Of course, just flying subwoofers up in the ceiling is asking for problems. We engaged the help of low frequency steering guru Dale Shirk to help us design a proper cardioid subwoofer array. Our concern was that the very wide audience seating area would be tough to cover at sub-bass frequencies by simply using the cardioid arrangement, but Dale helped us arrange four Danley TH-115 subwoofers in a way that covered the room great and yet kept that energy off the platform. We did that in both of the two main worship auditoria, and the results are wonderful.

Out on the Horizon

During one of my first trips to Madison to discuss the project, I drove out to the job site to take a look. As I was driving out there, I noticed this very tall broadcast tower on the horizon. The bad thing was that it was getting bigger as I got closer to the property. Turns out, the primary broadcast tower for the entire region, the one that carries the FM radio and TV broadcast antennas for all of the major stations in the area, is literally about one mile from the new church property.

Later that night, I contacted Jim Brown, Bill Whitlock and Ray Rayburn to ask if I should be concerned about RFI issues in the new church building. Jim was able to put together a list of the frequencies broadcasting from that tower and determined that we should not experience any RFI issues. Fortunately, no AM radio stations are on that tower. On a followup trip to the site, Chris Rayburn from Summit Integrated brought along an RF spectrum analyzer and documented the RF signal strengths at the job site. In the final analysis, we have absolutely no RFI issues in any of the systems in the new facility, thanks to our research and some careful wiring practices by the Summit install team.

Jim Brown
Audio Systems Group

Bill Whitlock
Jensen Transformers

Ray Rayburn

Eastside & Westside Auditoria

The main loudspeaker system in the Eastside room comprises eleven Danley Sound Labs SH-50’s, four Danley TH-115’s for subwoofers, five Renkus-Heinz TRX81/9’s as downfills, and five Bag End TA6000S speakers as front fills. EAW SM129z’s are used for floor monitors.

The main loudspeaker system in the smaller Westside room comprises four Danley Sound Labs SH-50’s, four Danley TH-115’s for subwoofers, four Renkus-Heinz TRX81/9’s as downfills, and three Bag End TA6000S speakers as front fills. EAW SM109z’s are used for floor monitors.

The FOH consoles in the two main rooms are both Yamaha M7CL’s. In the Gym and in the Underground, the consoles are both Yamaha LS9’s. I had originally chosen the BSS London BLU80 series DSP for the project, and Chris Rayburn from Summit Integrated suggested that we consider adding CobraNet to the system. At one point we thought that we might have to trim the CobraNet and scale back on some of the DSP from the system simply due to budget constraints, but the ultimate design includes BLU series DSP with CobraNet as well as Yamaha digital consoles with CobraNet cards in the Eastside and Westside auditoria, as well as the Gym and in the Underground downstairs. The CobraNet allows Mark Wyse the flexibility of grabbing digital audio tie lines between any of those rooms at a moment’s notice. That came in handy on opening day when the Gym was suddenly pulled into action as an overflow room during the first service.

Westside Worship Center • Blackhawk Church • Madison, WI
500 seats • Acoustics, Sound, Video & Theatrical Lighting

Video Projection

Video projector choices from manufacturers seem to change as often as computers. For example, a couple of the projectors that we specified for this project in Fall 2005 were already discontinued models when we revisited the equipment list prior to installation in Summer 2007. <g> We took advantage of a post-Infocomm release from Sanyo of their PLC-XP100L projector to serve as the main video projector for all three screens in the Eastside Auditorium, and as the main projector for the center screen in the video venue, the Westside Auditorium. The other two projectors in the Westside are Sanyo PLC-XP57L’s.

There are three video projection screens in each of the two main rooms, all from Da-Lite. The center screen in both of those rooms is the new large, tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol, and the fixed screens use Da-Lite PermWall frames. We used their Cinema Vision fabric in all six of those locations. The switcher in both rooms is the TV One C2-7100, coupled with an FSR Pathfinder 8x8 RGB Matrix that allows the tech team to put any image on any screen at a moment’s notice.

The church prefers to record the video message from Pastor Chris rather than deliver it live to the video venue, so Mark brought his Grass Valley Turbo-iDDR digital disk recorder over from their old building to use in this new facility. Admittedly, timing two services, with two separate worship teams, so that the pastor’s message hits at a very specific moment in time is something of a challenge, adding stress to the service each week which maybe isn’t so important. So this digital delivery of the message works well.

Theatrical Lighting

When it comes to theatrical lighting, Mark Wyse finds himself in an enviable location for a church technical director. The new worship center for Blackhawk Church is literally less than five miles from the ETC headquarters! And as if that isn’t enough, it turns out that well known pro audio vendor Full Compass plans to build their new facility literally across the road from the church property. That’s just too funny.

Dale Mauck, Lighting Designer for Kenneth Copeland Ministries, helped us by designing a phenomenal light plot and instrument choices specifically for TV lighting. Although Pastor Chris is not all that interested in IMAG in their main worship auditorium, they already have need for proper TV lighting since their video venue is in use every week. And given the church’s amazing growth, they need to deliver that video message to other satellite churches in the area. Budget constraints kept us from implementing Dale Mauck’s TV lighting plot during the initial installation phase, but Mark has the details and plans to implement that solution as budget allows.

One might look at our design for the lighting system and think that we short-changed the church on the dimmer count. For example, they have a total of just 62 dimming channels dedicated to the Theatrical Lighting system in the Eastside room. And we provided them with a total of 69 ETC Source 4 fixtures. Keeping the dimmer count trimmed back to a reasonable quantity resulted in a budget savings that then allowed us to include infrastructure for AC power and DMX distribution to add moving head lights at some point in the future.

The platform in the Westside room is smaller, so the dimming channel count is trimmed to 33 circuits, but here again we have infrastructure in place to add several moving lights when budget allows. The Westside room currently has 38 ETC Source 4’s to work with.

We started the church off with the simple ETC Smart Fade 2496 in both of the main rooms, which gives them plenty of control over the standard lights. They will easily be able to upgrade to a console capable of driving the moving head lights when that day arrives. Again, every time we reached a point where we had to pull back on equipment due to budget constraints, I made sure that the infrastructure was there to support the additions as well as allow for new technology in the future.

The Underground

The Youth are enjoying a pair of Bose LT 9403 main loudspeakers in their room known as the Underground, with extra weight added to the sound with a pair of Bag End S18 subwoofers. Keeping with the Yamaha digital console theme, and to take advantage of the CobraNet tie line capabilities running throughout the complex, we chose a Yamaha LS9 console for the Underground. The video system comprises a TV One C2-7100 switcher feeding a Sanyo PLC-XP45 projector using a Da-Lite PermWall screen with Cinema Vision fabric. Theatrical lighting in the Underground includes fourteen channels of dimming, with fourteen ETC Source 4 fixtures, controlled with an ETC Smart Fade 2496 console. Even here, there is infrastructure in place to support future DMX controlled fixtures in the ceiling.

The Underground • Blackhawk Church • Madison, WI
100 seats • Acoustics, Sound, Video & Theatrical Lighting

Conference Rooms

We have Bose MA12/MB4 systems in two of the deep conference rooms that are used for larger Sunday School classes. The throw to the back of those two rooms is roughly 60 ft, but the double-stack MA12’s have no problem reaching the back rows while maintaining a wide, smooth coverage even in the front rows. Each conference room has an Ashly MX-406 mixer, a Shure DFR-22 DSP, and a Crown XTi-1000 power amp. And they each have a Sanyo PLC-XU110 projector with a manual Da-Lite Advantage screen.

Fireside Room

The sound system in the Fireside Room includes a pair of Renkus-Heinz TRX121T/9’s flown high in the room to minimize the visual distraction. The audio mixer is an Ashly MX-406, with a Shure DFR22 DSP and Crown XTi-2000 power amp. Audio from the source decks feeds through a Kramer VP-719XL switcher, which is remotely controlled with a Xantech IR system. The projection system in this room uses a Sanyo PLC-XP45, with a Da-Lite Tensioned Advantage Electrol motorized screen. This room is on the north end of the building, with floor to ceiling windows challenging the brightness and contrast ratio of that little projector. But we were blessed by the architect’s listening to our pleas for such details, adding motorized shades to bring that daylight under control.


Over in the Gym, the main loudspeaker system comprises four Danley SH-50’s with Renkus-Heinz TRX81/9’s as downfills. The system can be driven either from an an Ashly MX-406 mixer with a wireless mic and CD/DVD source deck for small meetings, or it can be driven from a Yamaha LS9 in a rolling equipment cart. Both mixers feed the main equipment rack for the Gym, including a BSS London BLU80 DSP and Crown CTs and XTi power amplifiers. One nice point about the Danley SH-50’s is their extended low frequency response. I was planning to put a flown end-fire subwoofer array in this room, but after listening to the main loudspeaker system as-is, we determined that it had plenty of warmth and “weight” to the sound for their current application. Plus, the church already has a “spare” subwoofer as part of their portable system that they can use as needed in the Gym, so we simply provided them with a speaker connection in one of the wall plates near the portable platform that allows them to use the subwoofer when needed. That decision allowed us to apply budget set aside for those subwoofers to good use elsewhere.

Welcome Center

Then there is the Welcome Center. My goodness, what a perfect place this would have been for a Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC32 steerable line array. The Welcome Center is actually the main second floor corridor that runs North-South and connects all of the main auditoria as well as the Bookstore and Fireside Room. The space is roughly 300 feet long, 45 feet wide and 20 feet high (not including the clerestory windows above). I modeled the space with the IC32, and the coverage was just gorgeous. My intent was to place the tall column line array up on the wall at the South end of the space. The only problem was that 300 feet away stood this 20 foot tall glass wall (the North entrance to the church). I just had this sense that maybe, just maybe, a full bandwidth echo arriving some 500 ms later down at the entrance to the main worship center might not perceived as a good thing. And I was unable to convince the architects to do some angling to that glass wall at the North end, again partly because we were brought in so late in the project.

So Mark and I decided this was one design hill not worth dying on, and switched to a total of twenty-one Renkus-Heinz TRX81/12’s cascading down the side walls, fed from Crown XTi-2000 power amps. I’m told by the installers that it sounds really cool if you put on your Heelys and take a quick run down the corridor, but of course consultants have to keep up our refined image, right, so I didn’t try that. <g> The two main restrooms upstairs have EAW CIS400 ceiling speakers fed from a Crown CTs-2000 power amp.

The church decided to wait on installing all but one of the flat panel video displays planned for distribution around the facility, but there is an R.L. Drake RF video distribution system in place ready to feed those displays when the time comes.

Commissioned and Put to the Test

November 4th, 2007 — more than two years after starting this project — was opening day of the new worship center. It was as though the entire city came out to see what was going on with this new facility. During the first worship service, both the 900-seat Eastside worship center and the 500-seat Westside worship center were filled to capacity with additional chairs set up, and the Gym was tasked as an overflow room with an estimated 400 people there. And I was told that at that point there were still cars lined up for two miles from the entrance waiting to get into the church parking lot. The second service had both of the main rooms filled to capacity with additional chairs set up, but the Gym wasn’t needed and there were no lines of cars waiting to get into the lot. I believe that qualifies for a “successful” opening day.

Eastside Worship Center • Blackhawk Church • Madison, WI
900 seats • Acoustics, Sound, Video & Theatrical Lighting

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