2021 November tech update

ELCG has reached the limits of its current streaming and sound system equipment, despite our attempts to improve and maintain what we have. There are three areas which can be addressed all together by having a coordinated and future-focused plan.

    1.  Hearing the word in the sanctuary, particularly with our aging ears (!) can be improved
      A. by improved loudspeaker sound, but also
      B. by providing a “hearing assistance” loop which transmits our microphones directly to existing hearing aids.
    2. As we plan to continue “hybrid” live-streaming, alongside physical participation in worship or in case of another shut-down, the streaming installation should be simplified and more aesthetically-integrated into the organ gallery. An additional, more intimate, camera angle could also be included in that plan.
    3. Cables for the microphones are difficult to hide on their way to the gallery. We have installed separate cables for each of our six microphones so that the stream audio is the best we can make it. Altar and lectern plus pulpit and hand-held are also connected to the loudspeaker system. All this cabling is visible after it comes down from the balcony. Yet, with new network audio (and eventually video) technologies, some of these cables might be avoidable.

So the point is this:

Only by encompassing all three of these requirements into our plans and actions might we make each of our steps move us closer to a cost-effective and effort-effective integrated solution. No sense in continuing to patch up our installations using 20th century technologies and old generation thinking when the sound industry has advanced well beyond.

Currently our sound system uses network technology on the inside of the cabinet, but everything else is physical analogue connections requiring separate input wires. Our audio mixing desk in the organ gallery is from the 20th century and works very well, yet again everything needs to be hardwired. Hence, in both cases, all the cables.

At some point in the future, if our finances allow it, there will be renovation work — which could involve finding a new location for the sound system currently housed in the sacristy. Just imagine how easy that will be if all the input connections and its complete control come via a single network cable. This is true if we change the system or even if we just update the existing one. (The current system is becoming unreliable, we know that sooner or later it will fail with the prospect of another long repair time, as we already had twice a few years ago).

So what could the future look like?

Firstly, instead of the current plan to replace any more equipment (mixing desk as an example) with same technology, each item we invest in from now on should be in line with a longer term plan – many small steps each leading to an overall integrated solution.

Of course we are going to listen and gain advice from the experts about all this, but just as a flavor, here is a look at today’s audio installation technology. The turning point is moving from analog to digital – we already did this on the recording side a long time ago since the cassette recorder was thrown away and replaced by our SD card machine as well as 6 & 8 track digital recorders introduced to record our worships, concerts and more.  The new shift to digital is in mixing the microphone channels and – wait for it – in the transmission of audio from one part of the church to another, and in controlling everything from wherever.  No magic, just smart use of the Ethernet.

The ‘magic’ words of the new technology are ‘MADI’ (Multi-Channel Audio Digital Interface) and ‘Dante‘ which is a combination of software, hardware, and network protocols, developed by Audinate, a company based in Australia. Dante technology is available for both audio and video applications. Products are widely available, there are no ‘consumer’ versions as yet, however our regular suppliers such as Digitec and Thomann do provide them.

For those inclined to a good dose of tech update, here is one of many YouTube introductions to the Dante world:

and something a bit more in depth:

Meanwhile, back in our current reality, here are photos of a new hole in the balcony ceiling made by Dave Lyon and me so that the microphone cables could be re-routed to avoid hanging over the balcony and traversing the floor under the feet of choir members. Finding the good position between the balcony supporting beams, locating a drill  long enough, and daring to make a 4cm hole in the plaster ceiling, all went remarkably well thanks to the calm and endurance of Dave!  The hole is now plugged, there is still work to do, but progress is made.