Crystal Cathedral Acquires New EAW Sound System


There are few major decisions that will cause more sleepless hours in a clergyman's life than the need for a new sanctuary sound system. Having it done right the first time is always foremost in any pastor's mind. Ultimately, he is the one responsible to the board of directors and the congregation for major capital improvements purchased with funds usually supplied by these sources. There are too many stories in the pro sound industry of non-functioning, improperly designed or installed sound systems hanging in churches all across the nation. No pastor wants to be seen as the one who wasted $100,000.00, $10,000.00 or even $1,000.00 on a sound system that will not work properly.

Houses of Worship also represent some of the most unique challenges for sound consultants and contractors. No two sanctuaries are alike and there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf, all inclusive sound system specifically designed for these environments. An inexpensive, off the shelf "packaged" component sound system available at any music store may not be right and a custom engineered, state of the art audio system may be perfect. But, for another Church. Your sanctuary should not be a testing ground for untried technology and inexperienced, uneducated installers looking to make a break in the field of sound contracting. A novice sound contractor working out of his garage who low-balls a competing bid to the tune of $20,000.00 on an $80,000.00 project should not immediately be given the go ahead to start running cables and flying hardware. You will probably wind up spending considerably more over the long term to make up for cut corners, inept workmanship and, especially, major budget overruns when the contractor realizes that the project cannot be completed for what he quoted.

The scenarios can be frightening. But more often then not, in the very competitive field of professional sound contracting, the job is most always done right the first time. Competent and professional staff, consultants, installers and quality equipment are all required to assure top flight success. Regardless if it's your first sound system or you're first major upgrade to an existing sound system.

Steve Conrad is the Audio Manager of Dr. Robert Schuller's well known and respected Crystal Cathedral, in Garden Grove, California. Here Steve gives us a little insight into the audio history of one of the most widely recognized contemporary Cathedral in the world. Part of Steve's job requirement, upon taking the position in February 1992, was to select and have installed the Cathedral's fourth sound system since it first opened its doors in 1980. When one watches the spectacle of Dr. Schuller's Hour of Power, one can only imagine that the Crystal Cathedral is, and always has been, an alter to the cutting edge of audio and video perfection. The Cathedral itself is an architectural phenomenon as the largest all glass building in the world. The latest and greatest step towards sonic excellence is an ongoing process begun in early 1993 and planned for completion by the end of 1996. The new, state of the art Eastern Acoustic Works sound system will represent the most efficient and cost effective sound system ever installed in the Cathedral. But, as Mr. Conrad notes, major successes do not always come without cost. The Crystal Cathedral's first two sound systems resulted in an expensive learning experience.

Mr. Conrad had made his living as a professional sound contractor prior to joining the Crystal Cathedral staff in 1992. He still freelances as a sound mixer for other large scale live events on top of the demands of the full-time position he holds. In discussing the history of the Crystal Cathedral's past audio systems, he is quick to point out that, "A lot of what's known about the Cathedral's first two audio systems is not documented. I have to go by what has been handed down to me from those that have held this position before." He continues, "From what I understand, the Crystal Cathedral has had it's share of stumbling blocks and set backs with it's first two sound systems. But, it has always recovered quickly, efficiently and professionally to meet the needs of its congregation."

Fluid in his recall of data, specifications and model numbers, Mr. Conrad sounds as if he has been with the Cathedral since the opening ceremonies. States Mr. Conrad, "The first sound system installed in the Cathedral fifteen years ago was an unproven system that turned out to be very labor intensive to use and provided less then favorable sound quality for its price." The system, called the Pew Back system, was a low sound level, distributed system incorporating almost 600 small, individual speakers installed on the back of each pew. The Pew Back system had twenty-two delay lines and had to be mixed by two soundmen, from two different mix positions. Timing the delay lines so the sound was uniform throughout the sanctuary turned out to be so much work, the Pew Back was replaced in mid 1981. One and half years after the Cathedral opened to the public.

The second custom engineered sound system was a distributed center speaker cluster. This new sound system was aptly named the Crystal Cluster since the bass and horn cabinets were manufactured of transparent acrylic panels. Since the cabinets were transparent, the drivers, basket frames and other loudspeakers components appeared as if they were suspended in space by a divine force. "It was a pretty bizarre sight to look up and see a large clump of black, silver and gray electronics against the beautiful blue sky." Mr. Conrad notes, "The Crystal Cluster was not overly unattractive. Due to the aesthetics of the building, I believe it was a fair attempt at keeping with the Crystal theme. The sound quality from the Pew Back sound system was so bad, anything would have been a step up. The Crystal Cluster was acceptable, but it was still far from adequate."

The Crystal Cathedral puts on two well-known major holiday productions each year: The Glory of Christmas and The Glory of Easter. These are very large, live productions reenacting the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each production involves a very large cast of actors, live animals are utilized, actors portraying angels are "flown" above the stage and there can be as many as 27 or more guest speakers. Depending upon the event, music is provided by either a 48 piece band or a pre-recorded musical score will roll off of a twenty-four track Atari MTR-90 recorder. It was quickly realized that the Crystal Cluster sound system could not properly meet the hi-fidelity demands required of it, not only for the Glory productions, but for regular Sunday services as well. Since the production value of these special events are so great, additional sound reinforcement equipment was rented from McCune Audio of Anaheim.

Dr. Schuller quickly became agitated that the rented sound system was far superior to the Crystal Cluster sound system. It was quickly decided that a third sound system was now required since the Crystal Cluster could not meet the demands of the Cathedral's growing productions. Based upon their success in providing the additional sound equipment, McCune Sound was contracted to install the third sound system. A little over a year after the Crystal Cluster was installed, McCune installed a Meyer UPA center speaker cluster powered by modified Hafler power amps. Shortly thereafter a speaker delay ring for the balconies was added. Mr. Conrad notes, "This single center cluster speaker system was a whole new design for the Crystal Cathedral. It offered a very straight forward design with wonderful fail safe mechanisms. It was a very well engineered, bullet-proof system. The best part of it was, we were able to achieve 93% voice intelligibility on the main floor with the first stage of the McCune system, for an investment of only $90,000.00." It is "guess-timated" that within the first four years of the Cathedral's history, approximately 2 million dollars was invested on both the Pew Back and Crystal Cluster sound systems.

Still, for the two large Christmas and Easter productions, the Cathedral continued to rent stereo left and right speaker clusters as well as rear speaker clusters. In 1989, after almost six years of renting, it was decided to install additional front-of-house stereo left and right Meyer MSL-3 clusters. The additional rear clusters of Meyer UPAs were installed shortly thereafter, in late 1989. "Obviously, when you have these additional speakers that were originally purchased for the major productions at your disposal every day, you immediately integrate them into everything you do." States Mr. Conrad. "The new center cluster, left and right stereo clusters and the rear clusters suddenly became a very integral part of the morning services."

Mr. Conrad relates, "When I joined the staff of the Crystal Cathedral in 1992, I was required to do the research and have a new sound system installed within one year's time. It wasn't that the existing McCune sound system was inadequate, it was just an old design. Time marches on, things have gotten better. The McCune system served the Cathedral for almost ten years. Any contractor that can install a system that can function as well as the McCune system did for a decade deserves a great deal of credit."

Due to the fact that so many audio system changes had taken place in the Crystal Cathedral since 1980, by 1992 the Crystal Cathedral was also left with a mixed system. The amplifiers and other out board gear were bits and pieces of equipment that was originally purchased for each new sound system. "There were McCune modified Hafler amps, as well as many amps from QSC, Crest and Yamaha. There were also four Yamaha mixing console upgrades between 1980 and 1992, as well." Mr. Conrad states while shaking his head.

For the fourth sound system, the Cathedral required something that would stay in place for the next twenty years. Mr. Conrad choose to stay away from the high priced, custom engineered sound systems and decided to call on speaker manufacturers that specialize in live concert sound. "The theory for going with a speaker manufacturer who specializes in concert sound is that their livelihood is based upon making highly reverberant concert halls sound acoustically great in only a few hours. These sound systems undergo a tremendous amount of abuse and go in and out of massive concert halls day after day. A sound system gets moved into a stadium or large hall first thing in the morning, it's flown, the stage is set and a sound check is done by five or six p.m. In these situations, there is no other choice but to make it sound great to the paying crowd of 3,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people by 7:30 p.m. If they don't, they're out of business. I really can't think of better method for choosing a sound system for a church."

The Crystal Cathedral management required all listening tests for the new speaker system be done in the Cathedral. Several well-known manufactures were tested and Eastern Acoustic Works came shining through. According to Mr. Conrad, "Eastern Acoustic Works won flat out because they sounded great compared to everything else we heard in our environment. Having worked with EAW in the past, I've always known their speakers to work consistently well in very hostile environments."

"The Crystal Cathedral is a very unique large building that's close to 1,000,000 cubic feet of space," notes Mr. Conrad. "It spans a full 415 feet in length, 207 feet wide and 128 feet high. The size of the Cathedral is enhanced by its all-glass covering that encloses the entire building. More than 10,000 windows of tempered silver colored glass, covering almost 25,000 square feet, are held in place by a lace-like frame of 16,000 white steel trusses. It is a very reverberant hall and there is no place to install acoustic baffling."

The sanctuary seats 2,890 persons including 1,778 seats on the main floor, 403 seats in the east and west balconies, and 306 in the south balconies. Over 1,000 singers and instrumentalists can perform in the 185-foot long chancel area for the major holiday productions, but the choir normally consists of 100 people and a 12 or 22 piece band for Sunday services.

Two 90-foot tall doors open electronically behind the pulpit to allow the morning sunlight and warm breezes to enhance the worship services held at 9:30, and 11 a.m. Mr. Conrad points out, "There is no air conditioning. Depending upon how wide those doors are opened and the weather conditions, sometimes the service is essentially an outdoor ceremony. When I come into the sanctuary early in the morning, sometimes I can see my breath it's so cold. By 11 a.m., after the sun has been up for a few hours, the temperatures at the peak of the building, up where the speakers are, will reach 110 to 120ˇ temperatures because of the greenhouse effect of the building. We needed a sound system that was going to endure these temperature and atmospheric changes and sound great day after day!"

"There can be a lot going on on-stage," Mr. Conrad offers, "And Dr. Schuller wants everyone, no matter where they are sitting in the Cathedral, to hear every word and note clearly, regardless of the conditions of the room, temperature, atmosphere, moisture content, whatever. The Eastern Acoustic Works loudspeakers do the job better then I could have hoped for."

Mr. Conrad soon discovered that EAW was also very easy to work with during the design and installation process. "EAW's product line is really wide and they offer installation versions of all of their road or touring speaker models. I believe that by utilizing a sound system that was originally designed for the rigors of touring, we should have this system for a good, long time. Even in spite of the day-to-day drastic climatic and atmospheric changes."

The complete EAW sound system was installed by Audio West of Yorba Linda, California. It was a very hands-off installation for the Cathedral's audio staff. Audio West transmitted their needs clearly and concisely to the engineering department at EAW. "Customizing was very straight forward so the first three stages of the four stage EAW installation came off without a hitch or delay," notes Mr. Conrad. "We wanted white cabinets for the front-of-house speakers and that was an EAW standard. We needed some eccentric hang points to suspend the cabinets correctly and EAW was able to work with us every step of the way."

The first stage of the three year, four stage EAW sound system installation came in June of 1993. It involved stereo left and right clusters of three KF-850 Stadium Arrayœ Loudspeakers which provide the music reproduction for the main floor area. "I chose EAW's KF-850s because they just sounded prettier compared to everything else," says Mr. Conrad. "The KF-850 is very transparent; Very crisp and clear." The KF-850 stereo clusters were augmented in February through April 1994, stages two and three of the installation, by the addition of a delay ring consisting of seven KF-650i Virtual Array¨ System loudspeakers. The KF-650s provide delay music reinforcement that covers the three balcony areas.

Also installed in stages two and three were the Cathedral's new EAW center speaker cluster consisting of two MH662TD3 Mid/High loudspeakers and one BH862 low frequency loudspeaker. Each MH662TD3 flanks the center BH862. Mr. Conrad states, "The 662 loudspeaker's pattern cutoff is really tight. Two of these cabinets cover the main floor and their cutoff goes perfectly right down the aisle. If you move out of the pews into the aisle, you notice a significant sound cutoff. This center system gives us great voice intelligibility on the floor. It puts sound where we want it and keeps it off where we don't want it." Additionally, to augment voice reproduction to the balconies, two CH461Mid/High frequency Speech-optimized Array Modules have also been installed.

Twenty-five Crown amplifiers powering the EAW loudspeakers are located in two areas. Twenty-one amplifiers are rack-mounted in a lower-level room, with the other four housed in an organ chamber adjacent to the sanctuary. The Crystal Cathedral represents the largest single installation of Crown Macro Reference amplifiers in the world. Recognized in the professional marketplace for their sound quality, the 14 Macro References installed in the Crystal Cathedral provide exceptional fidelity, especially nice for reinforcement of full-range music productions. Each Macro Reference amp is rated at 750 watts per side, 1,500 total watts per unit. The amplifier roster is filled out by 10 Crown Macro-Tech MA-1200s that power the delay speaker ring. Each MA-1200 is rated at 1200 watts total per unit. One Crown Com-Tech CT-200, rated at 105 watts per channel or 280 watts maximum, rounds out the power supply.

In 1987, Crown became the first amplifier manufacturer to take advantage of an obvious marriage of technologies: Computer control of sound systems. With the introduction of the IQ System, the company was able to provide first viable, truly useful computer-based tool that helps achieve optimum sound quality, along with convenience and flexibility not possible before. A 486 personal computer at the house mix position helps facilitate the IQ System. The computer, linked to each power amplifier with an interface, is located with IQ Turbo software. Because the amplifiers are remotely located, this is especially advantageous.

Turbo software provides the sound engineer at the mix position with graphic-oriented, Windows-type control that is simple and convenient to use. With Turbo, the engineer can create objects on the computer screen that directly correspond to the audio system components. Simple mouse clicks then allow activation and adjustment of components.

Besides saving a lot of walking between the mix position and the amplifier locations, the IQ System provides superior control and monitoring of the system. The engineer can make system changes, in real time, and hear the results of those changes instantaneously. The engineer can also program specific sound system configurations in the IQ System, which can also then be recalled at any time.

For example, when on the main floor of the sanctuary is in use, the balcony loudspeakers might not be needed and, in fact, could produce unwanted, detrimental sound wave reflections. The engineer with only a few mouse clicks or key strokes on the computer, can turn off the unnecessary loudspeakers.

At the same time, the portion of the sound system in use can be monitored and necessary adjustments, such as level control, can be made quickly without detracting from the event taking place. All of this information can then be stored and recalled quickly any time the sanctuary is being used for similar purposes.

The 35,000 watt EAW system is mixed through a 40 channel Yamaha PM-3000 mixing console with a 16 channel Yamaha PM-1200 add-on console expander unit. Additional outboard gear consists of 4 Yuri LI-4 limiters, 3 Alesis Stereo limiters, 2 dbx 166 limiters, an Aphex Compellor, a Sony R-7 reverb, 1 Yamaha 990 and 2 Yamaha SBX-90 reverb units. We also have 8 channels of TC Electronics 1128 EQs with a 6830 Moving Fader Controller.

"Our house mixer, Peter Beard, does a wonderful job of providing the congregation with a clean, crisp, uniform sound throughout the Cathedral for each and every service. Because it's such a difficult environment, Peter winds up playing a lot of games to get the mix right every time. Depending upon the weather conditions, sometimes he'll wind up running the system almost to the edge of feedback in order to do that. Part of our speaker system improvement was installing TC Electronics programmable equalizers to take a major burden off the mixer. The operator can quickly and independently adjust left, center, right, surrounds and lavaliere EQs. We're usually generating 95 to 98 dB for the Hour of Power, but the Glory productions can get up to 105 dB at the mix position." Notes Mr. Conrad proudly.

Microphone requirements for a Sunday service will usually involve only two wireless lavalieres systems. For the Glory productions, as many as twenty-seven wireless lavalieres will be used in the course of the performance. Mr. Conrad relies on Sony and Vega wireless lavaliere systems. "With twenty-seven individual wireless units on stage, I need something I can always depend on. The Sonys and Vegas have always worked out very well," notes Mr. Conrad. The 100 voice choir is MICed from overhead with AKG 451s.

New rear stereo clusters and stage monitoring will make-up the fourth and final stage of the installation. "Hopefully, within the next 12 months," states Mr. Conrad. "Right now we use six monitoring sends and the whole stage is a series of hot spots. Peter and I refer to the stage as 'Spot Monitoring Deluxe.' You can walk across the stage and be in and out of sound every few steps. We self-limit ourselves in this area since improper monitoring will have sound bouncing off of the many reflective surfaces on stage. That happened with one of the earlier sound systems. Large foldback cabinets or sidefill speakers just wreak havoc on the television audio and adversely effect the house sound. We're using about twenty dual 5", low profile hot spot monitors powered by Yamaha 2150 power amps. The monitors have been here forever and I'm looking forward to installing four or six new EAW low profile floor monitors. I haven't decided upon the model yet, but it has to have a tight dispersion pattern, be very accurate and very low profile. Television is also a very strong driving force for what gets purchased here. It has to look very clean on-stage. Big, bulky equipment does not even get considered. Dr. Schuller is watched by over 20 million people every Sunday. It's got to look and sound great every time."

"There are a lot of 'ifs' involved in mixing sound here in the Crystal Cathedral." States Mr. Conrad quite casually. "It's very easy to have a 50ű shift in temperature from when Peter and I come in in the morning at 7:30 a.m., to the beginning of the last service at 11 a.m. Since there is no air-conditioning in the Crystal Cathedral to keep the climate consistent, the air density is rapidly changing during the course of the service. We have to stay on our toes to keep everything sounding just right. If it's clouded over or raining, then the temperature remains pretty even and the mixing is very straight forward. If the Santa Ana winds pick-up, and they only pick-up when it gets real hot, then those 90 foot windows have to be closed. With no ventilation, that's when you really feel the greenhouse effect. We're either working with or against mother nature everyday. That's what makes the job so much fun! Our new EAW sound system has met all of our expectations, every time we've turned it on. This EAW sound system has given me a very easy job compared to the poor organ curators. I'm glad I don't have to tune and repair 16,000 pipes on the world's largest church pipe organ after a few days of drastic temperature changes. I can fix all of my problems with practically the press of a button now."

Steve is quick to point, out as he concludes, "Every time we install part of this evolving sound system, we are investing what a regular community church would spend on complete sound system. The uniqueness of the Cathedral's design, atmospheric conditions and the fact that the services are broadcast worldwide demands the very best technology. Everything that is going into this new sound system is coming in from private donations. We're extremely grateful to have such wonderful people who believe in Dr. Schuller's work and support him in a way so we may acquire the very best technology has to offer."

Written by Christopher Buttner. Christopher Buttner is the President and owner of Aarvak Marketing Communications. Mr. Buttner's company, based in Petaluma, California, specializes in public relations and marketing communications for the professional music, film, video and audio industries.