HILLSONG CHURCH TUNE THEIR RADIOS TO SHURE
The recent TV frequency re-stack and associated sell-off of bandwidth by the Australian federal government had wireless microphone and in-ear-monitor users around the country checking their inventory for compliance, and replacing equipment that would no longer reliably function or be legally operable after the changes. For some, this was a simple exercise of a few channels in one location, but for large institutions like Hillsong Church, this was a major project. The multi-site mega church has campuses in three different states, with services being held at more than a dozen locations, all with different spectrum requirements.
Besides the legal obligation to replace their inventory, the spectrum change and transition from the previously used 520-820MHz to the remaining, much narrower 520-694MHz spectrum, was also a great opportunity for Hillsong: They could evaluate the current market offerings in wireless microphone and in-ear-monitoring solutions, and enhance their audio system with the latest technology. Hillsong services are verbally and musically dynamic, with worship leaders, singers and musicians all relying on wireless systems to get their message heard. A microphone used by a pastor must provide excellent clarity to the congregation, while Hillsong’s platinum-selling worship bands feature some of Australia’s finest vocalists and musicians, who test the dynamic range of any radio device.
Steve Le Roux, Facilities Project Manager at Hillsong, oversaw the process of evaluating the equipment throughout the organization and preparing for the looming frequency changeover. “I initially approached all of our campuses and extension services and got a list of all their wireless equipment,” Steve explains. “It wasn’t a wish-list. The project scope was to replace what they had if it wasn’t compliant; they give me an old unit, and I give them a new unit. From the list that we created, we determined that we had to replace the main Baulkham Hills radio devices and all the campuses. Equipment that was still compliant in the 600MHz range was redeployed into our extension services. As a whole, the process took five months.”
As this was a major financial as well as logistical undertaking, the Hillsong team were thorough in their assessment of both technical performance and overall cost. “We wanted the best value for our money, so we had to look at all major players,” Steve continues. “We got demo units and compared apples to apples. Eventually Jands, Shure authorized distributor in Australia, came to the table and presented us a solution and offer that noticeably stood out from all alternatives.”
Across all of Hillsong’s locations, the technical team decided on a combination of Shure UHF-R, ULX-D, and QLX-D wireless microphones, along with PSM300, PSM900, and PSM1000 in-ear monitors. “We switched to ULX-D at all campuses except Baulkham Hills, where we stayed with UHF-R,” Steve elaborates. “Most main campuses run a total of around 26 channels, including 14 channels of IEM, six presenter mics, and six vocal mics. Our 12 satellites usually use about six channels total.”
“I wanted really reliable RF performance,” states Reid Wall from the Brisbane campus, who also oversaw the system assessments. “I need to confidently put all microphones and personal monitors on stage and know they’re not going to drop out. I spend a lot of time mixing monitors, so the reliability of in-ears is a big deal to me. PSM1000 instantly impressed me. Its RF performance is outstanding and I can’t believe how hard it is to make them ‘not work’. On other systems you can hear some intermittent RF interference and everybody just accepts it as part of using wireless. After using PSM1000, I no longer consider what other systems do as ‘to be working’. PSM1000 is a game changer for wireless IEM.”
Complementing the new in-ear systems in Brisbane, Reid added a combination of ULX-D and QLX-D digital wireless microphone systems. “Finding frequencies for them was so easy,” Reid continues. “They use such a narrow amount of spectrum. I can easily sub-hire extra channels when needed and add them without problems. I also love being able to manage everything in Shure’s Wireless Workbench RF management software. Being able to monitor every mic and in-ear system with one piece of software that also functions as coordination and control software is really handy.”
Sonic and RF performance is important, but ongoing operating costs were also taken into account. Hillsong enthusiastically adopted the option of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries across the Shure range, simplifying battery management, reducing environmental impact and saving the organization money in the long-term. “We did a cost analysis on the rechargeable batteries,” reports Steve Le Roux, “and within two years, all batteries and rechargers will have paid off.” Reid concurs “the ability to have all my personal monitors and microphones sitting in chargers at ‘monitor world’ is awesome. The band and singers just pick-up and drop off their gear from the chargers, and I don’t have to worry about batteries.”
Jands provided extensive support to Hillsong during the rollout, including RF engineering to ensure correct frequency allocation per site and region. “Using the Shure Wireless Workbench software, we did scans in each campus,” relates Steve Le Roux. “The scans were sent to Jands’ Technical Managers Jeff MacKenzie, and Peter Twartz, who coordinated each campus’ frequency allocation. We had no issues during the rollout, frequency-wise, even in an RF-heavy environment like Baulkham Hills, where we split into two bands to allow us the flexibility to bring in external hire equipment.”