When HOW-TO Sound Workshop’s Chief Instructor, Mike Sokol, started out in church sound, the average house of worship audio system often consisted of a few microphones and a basic console – all typically locked away behind a sign reading ‘DO NOT TOUCH’. While house of worship audio systems have become far more complex, the training available for those running them hasn’t kept pace, he says. The HOW-TO Church Sound Workshops aims to change that, one church at a time.
Lab.Gruppen’s E Series amplifiers are one of the tools they’ve acquired most recently to serve that goal, Sokol says. “We want to showcase technology that wastes less electricity, sounds better and has more headroom. I have a number of Lab’s Contractor Series and they’re fabulous, but for smaller churches the E Series are a better fit in terms of wattage, performance and size.”
Dedicated to providing audio engineers and praise teams across North America with the skills to maximize the worship experience they offer congregations, HOW-TO Sound is a unique and decidedly hands-on ministry. “Imagine a cooking class, where somebody is showing you how to whip up a frosting, or whatever, that’s what I do,” Sokol says. “I have a full FOH system, powered by two Lab.gruppen E 12:2s and one E 8:2. I have a Sony pan-tilt-zoom video camera over the console and up to thirty separate mixers connected by a digital snake. I turn on the camera and students see my hands on one of the [large-format] front-of-house consoles on a six-foot wide video screen. I mix either a full praise band or pre-recorded multi-track musical examples through FOH at full volume and get them to reproduce that mix on their consoles and in their headphones, then I critique their mixes.”
The E Series offer multiple benefits, Sokol says: great sound, ample power and rock solid performance. Additionally, Lab’s IntelliDrive Energy Efficient Amplifier (IDEEA) platform, auto-power down function and temperature controlled fan also save substantial amounts of energy. “The fact that they shut down after 20 minutes of activity and that their parasitic draw is only 1 Watt is fantastic. I’ve haven’t driven them full- tilt boogie for hours yet, but if I did, I’d bet you they’d still run cool. The more efficient the amp, the less power you pay for running them and the less you pay for air conditioning. Plus, the more amps that you can route off of your service without major rewiring.”
The E Series’ compact footprint is also a plus for portable churches. “Lighter is better when you’re moving gear in and out every Sunday morning, and it’s bordering on insanity how light these are. When I first got the boxes I was literally thinking, ‘are there amps in here?’”
The most important factor, however, is sound quality. When Sokol first received the amps, they went right into his truck for a recent workshop in Lima, NY. “I’d done all of the patching ahead of time and didn’t have a chance listen to them until I fired the system up, but when I did, it sounded incredible – like a big hi-fi. Amplifiers may not be the sexiest part of a system, but they’re the weightlifter of your gig and have a lot to do with how your system sounds. It used to be the pastor would shout from the pulpit. Now people expect a very high level of intelligibility and CD-quality music.”
HOW-TO Sound’s approach is very much based on demystifying the details for sound engineers and church volunteers, from helping them establish what equipment they need, to demonstrating outboard gear, such as TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive Rack mic channel and vocal F/X processor that can help make their bands and choirs sound bigger and better. Unsurprisingly, Sokol greatly appreciates it when manufacturers like Lab also pay attention to detail. “I don’t like Phoenix connectors; either the wires pull out of them, or they get stuck, but the E Series have these cool little tabs so you can tie the wires down. It’s little touches like that that show Lab.gruppen really have their act together’.
Mike Sokol has forty years of experience as a live sound/recording/design engineer. Over the past decade he’s hosted over six hundred HOW-TO Sound Workshops, produced by Fits & Starts Productions, LLC, for organizations including AES, the Society of Broadcast Engineers and NARAS [Grammys], and in churches, recording schools and universities all across North America.