Lifting the Sound at Lakewood: HARMAN’s JBL VTX Loudspeakers and Crown I-Tech HD Amplifiers Highlight Overhaul of America’s Largest Church for Pastor Joel Osteen’s Sermons
05 September 2012, HOUSTON, Texas
Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, the largest “megachurch” in the United States, recently received a complete audio upgrade to its 16,800-seat facility. Working with Shawn Mullins and Joe Smart of Houston-based 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 is led by senior pastor Joel Osteen, whose broadcasts reach more than 10 million viewers worldwide every week. The Church features a large stage at the front with floor and tiered seating all around. Lakewood Church moved into its current location (formerly the Compaq Center) in 2005, renovating the facility and sound system. However, as the Ministry grew in scope, over the past year church management including Lakewood Church technical director Reed Hall and senior audio engineers BK Beard and Brad Duryea realized the system needed to be upgraded.
“Pastor Joel Osteen uses a lavalier mic and moves around the stage quite a bit when giving his sermons. He wants to reach and engage every congregant. The audio system needs to be heard loud and clear in every part of the church,” noted Hall. “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 Osteen’s 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 demoed 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, Tour Sound, 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 10 S28 subwoofers and two side arrays with 10 V25 loudspeakers each. The main left-right arrays curve down 90 degrees to cover from front seats all the way up 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 outfill and six deployed as front fill. A total of 73 Crown IT12000HD amplifiers power the entire system.
Hall 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 to be challenging because of the existence of a number of metal-framed sheetrock partitions that have the potential to resonate. The V25’s tightly focused low-frequency output helped solve this issue.
Hall also found the system much easier to setup and configure than what was previously installed, 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 & Duryea went through every cabinet one by one, dialed in each group of speakers and then integrated the entire system, a process made easier by 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 theater.
“For those that haven’t heard the new JBL VTX series they can’t imagine the level of performance these speakers achieve. While JBL VerTec has long been seen as the industry standard, the VTX technology is truly a game-changer for live sound applications,” added Smart.
“Osteen wants the system to sound everywhere the way it sounds in the front row, and with this system we have nailed it,” Hall concluded. “Compared to the old system from the console, Osteen’s voice sounds 50 feet closer than it did before.”