Lakewood Church

The largest US ‘megachurch’, the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas recently completed upgrading the audio facilities in its massive 16,800-seat sanctuary.

Having moved to its current location in 2005, Lakewood Church technical director Reed Hall and senior audio engineers BK Beard and Brad Duryea realised that the system needed to be upgraded to keep pace with the scale of its services. The sanctuary features a large stage at the front with floor and tiered seating all around.

Working with Shawn Mullins and Joe Smart of local sound contractor Covenant Communications, the team designed and installed a Harman audio system featuring JBL’s new VTX Series line arrays and subwoofers, along with Crown Audio I-Tech HD Series amplifiers and BSS Audio Blu-800 signal processors.

Lakewood Church‘Pastor Joel Osteen uses a lavalier mic and moves around the stage quite a bit when giving his sermons,’ Hall says. ‘He wants to reach and engage with every congregant.

‘The audio system needs to be heard loud and clear in every part of the church. However, the existing system was a bit deficient in headroom and because lavaliers don’t have the output (gain before feedback) of handheld mics, it was sometimes a challenge to get a loud enough level from a lapel mic. Management also felt that the coverage from the older system’s front fills was inadequate, and that the system was deficient in upper midrange and high-frequency clarity.’

Covenant first demonstrated Crown IT12000HD amplifiers on a section of the existing system. It made a ‘huge improvement’ in headroom and clarity according to Smart, but didn’t solve all of the existing problems. Subsequently Hall, Beard, Duryea and Smart tested various line array loudspeaker systems. ‘Nine months ago I knew nothing about JBL VTX line arrays,’ said Hall, ‘but once we found out VTX was on its way we told each other we really needed to hear it.’

For initial evaluation purposes, Hall and key members of his audio team attended a VTX demonstration at the Forum in Los Angeles conducted by Paul Bauman, Senior Manager for Tour Sound at JBL Professional. Next they brought VTX V25 line array loudspeakers and competitors’ models into Lakewood Church to perform side-by-side comparisons, and chose the V25 after extensive auditioning. All were impressed by the high-frequency smoothness, clarity and extension of the V25 and its D2 dual-diaphragm, dual-voice-coil compression driver, as well as the massive amount of low-end the V25 provides, which enabled them to ultimately reduce the number of subwoofers they had planned to deploy and allowed them to select a 60Hz crossover point for the V25’s to achieve a better blend between the main speakers and the subwoofers.

The speaker complement selected for Lakewood Church includes 60 JBL VTX V25 line array cabinets and 20 VTX S28 subwoofers, flown in four arrays: main left-right V25 arrays of 20 enclosures each, two suspended arrays of ten S28 subwoofers and two side arrays with ten V25 loudspeakers each. The main left-right arrays curve down 90° to cover from front seats to the back bowl of the church. In addition, 26 JBL VerTec VT4886 subcompact line array elements are employed – eight for sound reinforcement for the choir, 12 used as out fill and six as front fill. A total of 73 Crown IT12000HD amplifiers power the entire system.

JBL VTX elementHall feels that Lakewood Church is the best-sounding arena in the country because of its padded seats, sloping floor and carpeting. However, the room has some hard surfaces surrounding the seats and achieving a tight low end proved challenging as a number of metal-framed sheetrock partitions have the potential to resonate. The V25’s tightly focused low-frequency output helped resolve the issue.

He also found the system easier to set up and configure than the previously installed system, thanks to the synergy between the JBL VTX loudspeakers, Crown amplifiers and Harman’s HiQnet System Architect and BSS London Architect programming software and communications protocol. When setting up the system Beard and Duryea went through each cabinet, dialled in each group of speakers and then integrated the entire system using System Architect.

Additional onsite support was provided by Allan Devantier, Manager, Objective Evaluation, Harman International, and Paul Bauman, and the Harman Audio Test System (HATS) was employed to calibrate and tune the Lakewood Church installation. With the improvements to the Lakewood Church audio system, Hall feels that the large facility now offers the acoustic experience of a 4,500-seat theatre.

‘Those who haven’t heard the new JBL VTX series can’t imagine the level of performance these speakers achieve,’ Smart says. ‘While JBL VerTec has long been seen as the industry standard, the VTX technology is truly a game-changer for live sound applications.’

‘Osteen wants the system to sound everywhere the way it sounds in the front row, and with this system we have nailed it,’ Hall concludes. ‘Compared to the old system from the console, Osteen’s voice sounds 50 feet closer than it did before.’

The church is led by senior pastor Joel Osteen, whose broadcasts reach more than 10 million viewers worldwide every week.

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