Renkus-Heinz PNX102/LA Line Array & EASE Completes $1.5 Million Renovation At First Baptist of Poplar Bluff, Missouri

Poplar Bluff, MO | December, 2008 - First Baptist Church is engaged in active outreach to the community of Poplar Bluff, Missouri through media, pre-school, student and senior adult ministries as well as through regular worship services. Senior Pastor Bill Vail and his team present both traditional and contemporary styles of worship: on any given Sunday, this requires re-configuring the sound system from a basic two-fader setup with choir and pastor microphones into a complex multi-channel mix with a full live band.

To modernize both its sanctuary and it range of worship services, First Baptist recently undertook a $1.5 million renovation. Unity Pro AV of Jackson, Missouri was contracted to design and install a new $105,000 sound system. The church opted to retain its 24-foot video screen, projector with long throw lens and multi-camera setup. "We have been working with First Baptist on small upgrades and maintenance issues for several years," Unity Pro AV’s Matt Schwartz explains. "We knew this project was coming up in 2008." What Matt didn’t know was how fast this church wanted to move. "We gave them an estimate on January," he recalls, "they made the initial payment in March, and we commissioned the system in July."

In four short months, Matt designed both a new loudspeaker system and acoustical treatment using EASE, he gently persuaded the church that wall treatments were the right way to go ("I told them I couldn’t guarantee the quality of the result without the acoustical treatment," he says.) and installed the complete solution. "I use EASE an all my larger projects," he explains. "I started as a consultant, so it was natural to invest in EASE rather than offering some kind of guess-timation on what would work for a particular facility." Later on, Matt converted his business to a design/build acoustical contracting firm. "I was a little nervous the first time I had to install a design that I had modeled in EASE," he admits. "After all, I was the one who had given a written guarantee of performance. But it worked exactly as predicted. Now I rely on EASE for all my larger projects."

When Matt first visited First Baptist, the long, narrow sanctuary had a distributed system with four separate ceiling-mounted clusters on delay lines. "The speakers were coupling to the building, which caused problems," he says. "It’s 157 feet from the stage to the back wall, but by the time you got three-quarters of the way there, the sound was just raining down on your head. One of our main goals was to give the contemporary services more of a concert feel, with a single point source that was up front instead of a wash of sound from everywhere and nowhere."

EASE modeling led Matt to a simple solution: a single line array of six PNX102/LA loudspeakers from Renkus-Heinz, with two PNX212S subwoofers flown behind the array. Crown XTi and MicroTech amplifiers drive the loudspeakers, with a dbx DriveRack 4800. Unity ProAV received system tuning presets from Renkus-Heinz and programmed them into the dbx unit, which also handles room EQ chores.

"EASE showed me we could get even coverage throughout the main floor and the balcony from the one array," Schwartz says. EASE also showed that without acoustical treatment, intelligibility would continue to be an issue. But, as with most churches, it took some time to convince First Baptist to change its appearance. "We just had to give them some time to look at the custom panels we were proposing," he says, "and to get comfortable with the idea."

When Unity Pro AV finally got the green light, it was "wait and hurry up." "The church asked us to meet some pretty ambitious timelines," Matt says. "I called Renkus-Heinz — they said the system would be at the job site 15 days after I placed my order, in a custom color that would match the church interior. So I did, and it actually arrived 10 days later." Matt was impressed by the speed with which the factory in California responded, and the care they took in packaging his order. "Shipping is a big cost for us," he points out, "especially when you’re on a tight timeline like this project. It can really be a headache if a key piece of equipment arrives in damaged condition: the speaker system not only has to be functional, but it has to look good. Renkus-Heinz packages their loudspeakers with shot-in foam: short of total destruction of the shipping carton, nothing is going to damage those enclosures."

Unity ProAV performed a meticulous installation of the new loudspeaker system, removing all the old wiring from the church roof before hanging the PNX102/LA array and subwoofers and aiming the array. The 93 custom acoustic panels required extra care, since they match the church’s white walls. "White is tough to work with," Schwartz says. "But the end result looks like a million bucks."

First Baptist’s new sound system is comfortable with both traditional and contemporary worship services. But what about that half-hour changeover from one mode to the other? Matt Schwartz specified a Yamaha M7CL-48 digital console to make reconfiguring the audio signal path aseasy as possible. "We would never have dreamed of putting this kind of technology into a church 10 years ago," he says. "But the volunteers are much more savvy now. I do training as part of the installation and commissioning process, and I think I’m pretty good at it. With several months of services produced on the new system, First Baptist Church is past the shakedown phase. Was it all worth the wait — and the hurry? "They’re very happy," says Matt Schwartz.

Minister of Music Steve Francis confirms that. "Matt and his crew designed a system that helps us do what we do better," he says. "After it was installed, we were just absolutely amazed: it doesn’t sound like the same choir. After our first service with the new system, an older gentleman came to me. He usually sits near the front, but on this particular Sunday he was near the back. ‘I’ve been coming to this church for 14 years’ he told me, ‘and this was the first time I was able to hear every word that was spoken by the pastor.’ All of us are hearing things we’ve never heard before."