Berry Center uses iLive flexibility to handle heavy event schedule

Unique multi-venue facility for Texas high school district goes digital with Allen & Heath iLive system.

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in suburban Houston is home to the Berry Center, a unique multi-venue facility that includes a theater, football stadium, arena, and conference center. To accommodate the endless events it hosts, Berry Center technical systems manager Brent Buchanan recently asked the school district to invest in the Allen & Heath iLive mixing system, acquiring two T-112 mixing surfaces, one R-72 rackmount mixer, and a total of five iDR Series MixRacks, including three iDR-32s and two iDR-48s.

“We were looking for a premium product with the versatility to handle a wide variety of uses,” Buchanan states. “Ease of use, portability, reliability, great sound – all these things were of critical importance when we chose our digital mixing platform. I did a lot of research, and Allen & Heath was really miles ahead of everything else on the market.”



While the Berry Center is a school district facility, it is operated as a public facility that generates revenue by hosting outside events as well. With about 108,000 students including 10 high schools, the number and variety of events staged there is daunting. In addition the facility rents to outside clients hosting a steady stream of business conferences, concerts and other activities. Brent Buchanan directs a staff of 15 AV professionals managing a full-service production department that operates all sound, light, video and staging.

“Over the calendar year we do between 2,600 and 3,200 events,” Buchanan relates. “The modular design of the iLive platform lets us design the right system for every venue and configuration. For many events, we just use a laptop or iPad to control the system. That’s why we bought five iDR MixRacks, but only a few of the traditional console surfaces. In essence, we got the equivalent of five complete systems of 32 channels or more for the cost of maybe two or three other digital systems. It’s a huge upgrade for us, and incredibly economical.”



This architecture is the key to the flexibility of iLive. The iDR MixRack contains both the DSP “brains” of the system along with the primary inputs and outputs, and can be controlled either via a Cat-5 cable or through a wireless Wi-Fi connection. By using an iPad tablet or a laptop, it becomes possible to control a fully operational digital mixing system with no physical footprint taking up valuable space. “That can be really important for events where the client needs to squeeze every possible person into the room,” notes Buchanan. “It creates a huge benefit with no loss of functionality.”

Similarly, the Berry Center staff is impressed with the advanced DSP capabilities built into the iLive MixRack system. “The most obvious benefit, of course, is that we don’t have to deal with the racks of outboard gear we had with our analog systems,” says Buchanan. “But what really blew us away is the sheer amount of DSP effects we have available. You can literally put compressors, gates, EQ, and more on every channel, and you don’t have to worry about running out of resources. It allows us to handle any technical requirement that might get thrown at us.”

Other benefits of the iLive system are similar to those found in other digital systems, such as the ability to save snapshots of various console setups, an invaluable tool for reducing setup time. “Many events are kind of standardized, like a business conference or a banquet in our conference center, or doing audio for a football game,” says Brent Buchanan. “Our staff members carry a USB stick with them, so anyone can quickly do room settings. So even if one group of staff sets up the system and another is actually running the event, we don’t miss a beat.”


Berry Center Stadium endzone

Brent Buchanan also appreciates the iLive’s ease of use which has made staff training a far simpler process than has been in the past. “At first, I was handling most of the setups because the system architecture takes some getting used to,” he relates. “But no one really had any problem with jumping on and mixing. Then we did a day of formal training with Allen & Heath, and it was like opening a door. Suddenly everyone had new ideas about how we could deploy the gear we have, like replacing our matrix mixer in the conference center. That’s when we decided to get the R-72 rackmount surface.”

In fact, the Berry Center is planning to acquire even more Allen Heath iLive gear to take full advantage of the five iDR MixRacks they already have. Items like the PL-6 wall-mount mixer and the XDR-16 expansion mixer are on Brent Buchanan’s radar, as he looks for ways to squeeze every bit of value out of the school district’s investment.

“Even though our schools are by far our largest customer, the fact is that the Berry Center acts as a revenue source for the school district,” says Buchanan. “We’ve done Cirque du Soleil and a number of touring music acts. The income we generate through outside rentals goes right back into the general operating fund, which means better programs and facilities for all the kids in the district. The upgrade to the Allen & Heath iLive system has been a great investment for us, for our clients, and ultimately, for our kids. We couldn’t be happier with the decision.”