Arrays for Mountaintop

Budget is always a major factor in any PA system, but particularly in the HOW market, where churches — unlike performance spaces and sporting venues — typically don’t have much in the way of revenues to offset capital costs. That presents a challenge for companies such as ESB Group, Inc. of Springville, Alabama, a decade-old design/install firm that focuses on HOW as well as the education and government sectors. How do you keep costs low enough to win HOW bids while delivering results that everyone loves? At ESB Group the answer is to rely primarily on systems built around Electro-Voice loudspeakers and amplifiers.

“We’re mainly an EV house,” says ESB Group sales engineer Andy McMillan, “because when you really compare apples to apples, it’s a better product that gives us better quality for the dollar.” A case in point was a recent install for the Mountaintop Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, part of the Willow Creek Association. “Their type of worship is very contemporary, a high-volume, very high-energy style of service,” McMillan says. “You need a certain level of quality to pull that off, so their existing point and shoot system needed to be replaced.”

The challenge, McMillan says, was that the budget was “relatively small to support that style of service in a room that seats 1700 people.” The solution was to base the new system around Electro-Voice EVA-2082S full-range dual element line array modules, in 120 (H) x 60 (V) and 120 x 20 dispersion configurations. “We’ve used EVA systems many times,” McMillan says, “and given the very high-quality sound and the amount of coverage you get for the money, it’s just a no-brainer. We feel that there is nothing in that price range that even comes close.”

McMillan adds that “the clarity of the EVAs, even before we tune the system, is phenomenal. We’ve used other brands whose boxes cost nearly double but still need to be tweaked for a couple of hours to make them sound good. But with EVAs you’re not wasting time trying to make the box sound good. You’re only tuning to align the phase with the rest of the system and to deal with reflections in that particular acoustical environment.”

The EVA range offers a variety of dispersion patterns, which ESB Group combined in the main arrays, using a total of six boxes on each side. Placement and patterns were determined in part by the locations of HVAC elements on the ceiling. “The ceiling is exposed — it’s very contemporary looking,” McMillan says. “And certain objects, including elements of the ventilation system, were not present on the drawings but we saw them when we surveyed the site. So there were a lot of obstacles to get the sound around.”

McMillan adds that Stu Schatz of Electro-Voice Technical Services collaborated closely with ESB Group on working around these issues. “Our own engineers created the final design in EASE, but before we even ordered any speakers, Stu had worked up an initial proposed system in EASE, which was very helpful. But that’s the way EV service has always been: far superior to anybody else we’ve dealt with in this industry. They’ve even overnighted pieces to us at their own cost just to make sure we had something when we needed it. They’ve always taken great care of us.”

In addition to the 12 EVAs, the system uses eight subwoofers, center-hung in two arrays of four each to avoid interfering with sightlines for the large video screen. “The XLCi215 has great low-end punch,” McMillan says. “The sound engineer at the church was worried about losing punch by flying the subs, but after actually running the system he told us that he wasn’t even using half of all the low-end the subs were giving him.”

For both front and side fills, ESB Group chose from the EVF series of two-way, front-loaded, full-range loudspeakers, in 60 (H) x 60 (V), 90 x 60, and 60 x 40 dispersion configurations. “The EVFs are great front fills,” McMillan says, “and the cool thing about using EVAs and EVFs together is that they sound similar before you even tune. So when you walk into the EVF zone it doesn’t feel different from the EVA, it feels like one solid sound. We’re very pleased with how close those boxes sound to each other.”

The EVFs on the sides cover areas of the fan-shaped room that are not used all the time and are usually curtained off. “If we’d expanded the main arrays to cover those side areas,” McMillan says, “we would have created reflection issues when the curtains were closed. Using the main arrays for the front only and covering the sides with EVFs made a huge difference. The EVFs can be shut off when they are not using that area, but when they’re on they really blend nicely with the EVAs.”

The system is powered by Electro-Voice Contractor Precision Series amps. “The CPS 2.12 amps sound stellar,” McMillan says, “and they are very efficient. We’re using a lot less power than the old system, but powering a much more powerful system. And the CPS has its own built-in power sequencing system, so that when you turn on or off the first amp the rest will sequence themselves. That’s a really cool feature. Other amps come with it, but not at that price. It’s a great amp for the money.”

With the system now up and running, McMillan says the response has been very enthusiastic. “Everybody that has heard this system says it is 10 times better than what they had before,” he says. “It’s incredible. Every time I get on the phone with the music pastor he tells me that he can’t believe the system sounds so clear, and so good.”

To no small degree, McMillan credits this success to the EVAs. “That EVA box is just killer. It’s our go-to box for people who need a line array on a budget. You know it’s going to work, and its going to sound good. It’s less expensive than other brands’ entry level arrays, but it sounds much better.”

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