Willow Creek Community Church Simplifies Audio Routing with Dante Media Networking

Jul 2015

Services at this Chicago-Metro “Giga-Church” feature live musical performances and sermons for close to 20,000 congregants per weekend  

PORTLAND, OR – Audinate’s industry leading networking solution Dante™ helped Willow Creek Community Church, a Chicago metro area house of worship solve the problem of distributing high-quality audio to close to 20,000 congregants each week.  Through a high-capacity, low-latency Dante media network, the South Barrington, Illinois interdenominational church has significantly simplified the process of routing, distributing and managing multiple audio channels across four distinct venues on campus.

In the main auditorium, Willow Creek Community’s congregants enjoy live musical performances, hear inspirational sermons and witness ceremonies like baptisms and weddings.  Incorporating a Dante network ensures high-quality sound can be heard from the main level up to the mezzanine and upper balconies. By installing Dante, Willow Creek Community can leverage a standard IT network and lightweight, low-cost Cat6 cabling throughout this large 7,200-seat amphitheater, thereby vastly reducing the costs and labor associated with building out an audio network. 

“The greatest testament to how vital audio is to our operation and worship experience is first and foremost our Dante media networking infrastructure,” said Matt Wentz, Audio Systems Engineer for Willow Creek Community Church. “We didn’t even look at other networking solutions as I knew immediately that I wanted Dante. No other networking solution provides this much flexibility to route audio from any room to any room. And the fact that so many audio equipment manufacturers have adopted Dante technology opens up a world of possibilities for how we can seamlessly configure our networks.”

Willow Creek’s main auditorium has a 94-foot stage, theatrical lighting and front-of-house mixing via a Yamaha PM1D console, creating a worship experience similar to a concert in a large arena. There are also four other venues at the church, including the Lakeside auditorium, the Activity Center and the Chapel, each of which is its own Dante-enabled Cat-6 audio island with Yamaha digital audio mixing. Dante efficiently and reliably routes audio between the four venues, which are interconnected via a fiber optic network, centralized Cisco SG-300 fiber switches and an Auvitran Audio Toolbox with seven AxCDante cards.

“With Dante, we can be more creative and flexible in the way we use live audio during our services,” said Wentz.  “We no longer have to use cumbersome analog patch bays or run heavy cabling throughout our facility. And when we want to change any network configuration, it can all be done simply and automatically with Dante Controller.”

The high-capacity Dante architecture in the main auditorium ensures that Willow Creek can take advantage of a wide array of audio sources, including 160 audio inputs from the stage; and dozens of wireless microphones and in-ear monitors. The FOH mixer’s output is converted to digital by Dante-enabled BSS London Blu-806 signal processors. The Dante signal is then sent over the Dante network until it reaches the loudspeaker management system. Additional BSS London Blu-806 units decode it back to AES/EBU for use by the public address (PA) system and monitors serving the tri-level auditorium.

The Activity Center—a large multi-purpose space used for worship, meetings, religious instruction and live band performances—includes a 48-channel Yamaha M7CL digital mixing console equipped with Dante cards and a Yamaha QL console, while the Chapel and Lakeside venues utilize Yamaha CL consoles. The Dante cards convert the output of the mixers, enabling a seamless interface with the Dante network.  Wentz adds that these systems can be easily expanded to support higher channel counts by adding more Dante cards.

“Back in the old analog world before Dante, it was really difficult to change the routing and network configurations for each of these individual rooms,” Wentz said. “We’d have to stop and think what that best signal paths would be and then test it out. Now with a single Dante pre-set recall, the room is automatically re-configured to whatever new setting we need. From a consistency standpoint, Dante Controller is very intuitive with its matrix layout.  We patch something and are notified immediately that it’s working. There are multiple places to confirm where audio is going to or coming from, which is a significant benefit. Dante Controller is a huge timesaver through smart features, including presets that memorize preferred set-ups for each of the four worship venues here at our South Barrington facility.  There is incredible flexibility and consistency with Dante.”

Video of the worship services, led by Pastor Bill Hybels, is produced using nine SD video cameras that are operated on tripods or as shoulder-mounted cameras. The video displays on two giant LED screens on-stage and the fully produced program also streams live and on-demand via Willow Creek’s website.  Since broadcast quality audio is also essential for these video programs, another Dante-enabled London Blu-806 was added to streamline the audio production process associated with the live broadcast stream.

Besides the Giga-Church in South Barrington, Willow Creek Community Church has Mega-Churches in Huntley, Crystal Lake, North Shore, Wheaton, and Downtown Chicago. The Wheaton Mega-Church, is the first of the regional campuses to transition to a Dante network, with others to follow.  Moving forward, Wentz will explore adding Audinate’s soon to be released Dante Via software at some of the locations, eliminating some infrastructure in favor of routing audio “from computer to computer and keeping it all in the digital world,” he said.

Willow Creek Community Church 7,200-seat amphitheater