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Access Hall Areas – Audiologic partners with About Sound to deliver clear audio solution at Cambridge University

Access Hall Areas – Audiologic partners with About Sound to deliver clear audio solution at Cambridge University
Access Hall Areas – Audiologic partners with About Sound to deliver clear audio solution at Cambridge University

The colleges of Cambridge University are home to some of the finest historical buildings in the country. The halls and chapels still sit at the heart of college life, venues for the continuing of traditions upheld by generations of scholars. As meeting places, dining areas and performance spaces, they provide magnificent settings for a host of events that now extend beyond their original purpose. Conferences, presentations, weddings, concerts and banquets are all catered for and offer the colleges valuable revenue streams. With this expansion of their remit comes the requirement for excellence in technical provision for sound reinforcement. Whilst the spaces are undoubtedly spectacular, their acoustics can be challenging – perfect for a choir, these often highly reverberant rooms might be rather less so for a conference. The authorities of two of the finest examples of such multi-use heritage sites in the university, recently took the decision to invest in new audio systems to replace their existing (and wholly inadequate) provision.

The Great Hall at King's College is a splendid Gothic-style building designed by William Wilkins in the 1820s. Replete with oak chairs and tables, much gilding and heraldic carving, it can seat over 300 people for formal banquets and its roll-call of luminaries who have attended such occasions includes no lesser person than The Queen. The Hall now offers facilities for conferencing, fine dining, weddings and a whole range of spectacular events.

The Dining Hall at Jesus College has been at the centre of college life since its establishment in 1496. Another magnificent setting, protected from the noise of the city by its extensive grounds, Jesus offers a stunning facility for events of every kind.

Integrator About Sound was called in by both the colleges to design and install audio systems for the venues. The brief was to put in place systems that could flexibly cater for the different requirements of a wide variety of events. To provide clearly intelligible speech throughout the venues for presentations and conferences was paramount and there was a further requirement for music playback at receptions, parties or ceremonies. A key element in both projects was the need for absolute visual discretion. The brief demanded that equipment be as invisible as humanly possible and that nothing whatsoever could be done to alter the fabric of what are heritage sites of great importance. Finally, it was essential that the system was as easy to operate as possible. Led by Matt Dilley, the About Sound team has a strong track record in such works, having wide experience of classical music production in this kind of setting. Once the college authorities had agreed to the proposals submitted, About Sound turned to Audiologic not only to supply the products they had identified as best fitting the jobs but also to consult in respect of the DSP, an area where they felt Audiologic's expertise would be valuable.

At King's College, the system in-situ occupied three speaker locations (in corners) and the hall's authorities were insistent that these locations should not be changed. This was not an insurmountable problem in itself but meant that the 'top table' area of the hall had to be considered as something of a separate entity. K-Array were the speakers of choice. These cutting edge, slim array speakers have the capacity to solve critical acoustic demands at the same time as placing great importance on design and aesthetics, making them ideal in such a situation. For the main section of the hall, two K-Array Python KP102 speakers were placed in each of the three designated locations, one above the other to make a discreet two-metre column. Easily coping with the 28 metre throw the KP102s brought clear intelligible speech where previously there had been complaint and dissatisfaction. Two smaller KK52 line array speakers were cleverly attached to the rear of the main array to serve the 'top table' area (meaning only one installation point on each side) and four ultra-flat Vyper KV50 speakers were placed almost invisibly into the two balcony areas of the hall which offer additional dining area for the largest events. Two ultra-light KMT18P passive subs were supplied for use at events that required music playback – these could be added and removed easily. K-Array Class D amplifiers (KA84 and KA 24) powered the system. The extent to which aesthetics played a huge role in the installation is indicated by the fact that the main speaker arrays were craftsman-painted by a specialist to match wood panelling in two cases and stone in the other. Four Sennheiser wireless microphone systems – two hand-held (ew 335 G3) and two lavalier (ew332 G3) were purchased and these and any further desired audio sources were controlled by a Xilica A1616 DSP unit with Touch 7-SM wall-mounted touchscreen. This was an area of the project where About Sound consulted closely with Audiologic who sent a member of their own team to assist on site with programming and commissioning.

The Dining Hall at Jesus College faced similar issues. Speeches were difficult to hear and complaints were very much the order of the day. Considering the 'prestige' nature of functions conducted at Jesus, this state of affairs was wholly unsatisfactory. Replacing the existing system was essential. Whereas the speaker locations at King's were not negotiable, the situation at Jesus offered more flexibility and the About Sound team took a different approach. At King's, the speakers needed to throw the audio the length of the hall but here, five pairs of K-Array KK52 speakers were craftsman-painted and placed discretely at intervals down the length of the room offering a more localised provision. Powered by K-Array KA24 amplifiers, the speakers were angled down for optimum coverage and a KMT18P sub was supplied to help reinforce ceremonial music played at weddings or presentations. Two Sennheiser wireless microphone systems, a hand-held (ew335 G3) and a Lavalier (ew312 G3) were added and a Xilica Neutrino A0808 DSP unit with touchscreen controlled the system.

As part of its packages, Jesus also offers the use of a smaller space known as the Upper Hall, which is used either as an overspill to the main hall on some occasions or as a self-contained small venue in its own right on others. This space therefore required audio provision for both uses, the former requiring the relaying of sound from the Dining Hall. The Upper Hall had recently been refurbished without allowance for further modification so the decision was taken to employ a portable system. A pair of Sennheiser LSP 500 portable, wireless, battery powered speakers offered the perfect solution. In the Upper Hall the speakers are mounted on poles with stretch white covers to help them blend. They are wirelessly controlled using an iPad and can act as a relay from the main hall, an independent PA or being fully portable, can be used elsewhere around the college in outdoor spaces for presentations and receptions.

To say that both solutions were warmly received would be an understatement. One member of the King's team described the new system as being "the difference between night and day" and rejoiced at the universally positive response of guests and delegates. Whilst the investment in new sound systems has required a not insignificant outlay, the economic advantages are clear. Any institution offering facilities for events is in competition and sound reinforcement at a conference or presentation is quite as important as beautiful heritage surroundings. Both colleges in the past, aware that their sound systems were inadequate, had on many occasions resorted to hiring in systems – an expensive business. Being in possession of high quality systems of their own dispenses with the need for such action and enables the colleges to confidently advertise their offer as truly state of the art. The combination of a spectacular setting and easy to operate, A-grade sound provision will surely soon recoup the colleges well-judged investments.

Matt Dilley, managing director of About Sound expressed his satisfaction: "We are very much specialists in the field of audio provision for sites such as these, so we've built up a good knowledge of what works and what doesn't. Audiologic's range of brands catered for pretty much everything we needed for both installations and their setup is efficient and customer-focused. Dealing with one supplier for all the main kit makes life a lot easier. The Xilica DSP was something that we weren't that familiar with and so we worked closely with a member of their team to fully acquaint ourselves with its functions. Audiologic's expert gave us a clear understanding of the technology – something that will doubtless assist in future installations – and the clients' delighted reaction to both projects demonstrates the value of that close relationship."

Andy Lewis, Sales and marketing manager at Audiologic echoed the importance of consultancy: "These projects are a good illustration of how the building of close relationships with our customers works to the benefit of everyone involved. About Sound is an installer with a strong pedigree in this area of the market so Matt and his team knew exactly which speakers they wanted and how best to configure them. Where the Xilica DSP was concerned they were on less solid ground so we assigned one of our team to offer some education and insight. This level of consultation is a key part of Audiologic's holistic approach to providing the best solutions possible for our customers and ultimately, their clients."

Access Hall Areas – Audiologic partners with About Sound to deliver clear audio solution at Cambridge UniversityAccess Hall Areas – Audiologic partners with About Sound to deliver clear audio solution at Cambridge University

3rd August 2015

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