London’s Royal Albert Hall has commissioned its new d&b audiotechnik audio system –the world’s largest single room audio system, using more than 450 individual loudspeakers installed by audiovisual production supplier SFL from the d&b audiotechnik catalogue.

Royal Albert Hall The Olivier Awards provided the system’s debut, demonstrating both its coverage and flexibility, and making a significant improvement to the overall listening experience inside the RAH auditorium.

‘Previously our control over the audio experience was limited and often didn’t meet our high standards,’ explains RAH HoD for Production & Technical, Ollie Jeffery. ‘What we wanted was to bring sound in-house with a properly implemented system and make it so good that the majority of productions would feel comfortable using it. Naturally everyone who has ever played here wants to get it right – some audio teams would spend five or six hours on the day taking speakers up and down, up and down, trying to achieve that end, but it was always a compromise. It wasn’t that our service providers were doing anything wrong, but we felt the difficult challenge of delivering world class audio within the extremely demanding geometry of the room, could only be met with a different approach to the goal.’

‘The basic premise is that the room and system are split vertically into three levels,’ explains d&b Application Support team member, Steve Jones. ‘You could just put in a very long line array and cover the whole thing vertically, but you suffer, as many have discovered in the past, from overexciting parts of the room you don’t want to.

‘Instead, through rigorous modelling and many rounds of finding out what was physically possible, we managed to secure the loudspeaker locations for all three sets; that allowed for coverage, imaging, level and control – to find a balance in the midst of what is a pretty intricate sound system. The separation of the three levels has worked so well that you can sit in the stalls mixing a show and barely notice if you mute the gallery and circle when the system is balanced in terms of level. Then to add the icing on the cake we use the d&b DS100 Signal Engine, with its cross point delay ability, to separately matrix off the left, right and vocal channels to the front fills, circle and gallery, to give really incredible timing and clarity to all areas of the hall.’

The audio network runs over a DiGiCo/Optocore fibre loop with a redundant Dante network over Ethernet. Amplifier control is via the DS100; all amplifiers are d&b installation specific 10D and 30D, with D20 and D80 touring amps for the V-Series and subwoofers. Monitors include M4 wedges, with E6 and E5 loudspeakers. While custom coloured 4S loudspeakers, deliver sound discreetly to all 140 boxes around the auditorium.

‘The multiple aspects of the final design solution, the way the vertical separation of the audience areas are properly addressed, and the way all the boxes have been included in that plan, means that since the system has been commissioned, and whatever the demand of programme material placed upon it, we have been able to tailor to every differing need. The DS100 matrix is a critical tool and the multiple scenarios Steve Jones has anticipated and programmed into it is a key factor,’ says venue Audio Manager, Borneo Brown

For touring production managers and sound crews, the logistical issues of reconfiguring touring audio arena systems for the idiosyncrasies of the RAH is now a thing of the past: ‘This is the biggest improvement to what our audiences hear since the mushrooms went in in the 1960s,’ Jeffery concludes. ‘Everyone is using it, orchestral, pop, rock and roll. And we expect that uptake to increase; we already have things in place to carry this system into the future as that demand and expectation arises.’

The installation and integration of the complete system was carried out by UK-based sound production and integration company, SFL. ‘The RAH is an incredible building and it is a privilege to work in, but it is also constantly throwing new challenges at you, so we had to adapt and respond flexibly throughout the project,’ says SFL Project Manager Pat Smith, who oversaw the project and ensured that the largest ever single-room speaker installation was completed on time, despite its many challenges and heritage considerations.

‘It’s a product of a different architectural era: beams that go one way on the original architectural drawings go another way in real life; there isn’t always a lot consistency throughout the building, so you never quite know what you’re going to find. For the speakers in the boxes we had to lift floorboards in every box on the Grand and Second tiers, lifting ornate and delicate carpet with the knowledge that, if it was damaged, we would have to replace the whole lot. We’re pretty sure that at times we were working in areas that haven’t been disturbed since the venue was first built. That was a profound realisation and a lot of responsibility; at one stage we even discovered an antique beer bottle [now in the RAH archive] that must have been left by the original construction workers.’

‘Kylie Minogue, Take That and Frank Sinatra are just some of the incredible artists who have played the hall and, like them, the it constantly has to challenge perceptions and reinvent itself for modern audiences,’ says Craig Hassall, Chief Executive of the RAH. ‘This investment is about more than updating the sound system. It’s about future-proofing the building as we approach our 150th anniversary in 2021, so that its fit for another 150 years.’

‘The Royal Albert Hall is more than a venue,’ says d&b audiotechnik CEO, Amnon Harman. ‘It is an iconic destination that has played a significant role in producing cultural enlightenment for its audiences since 1871. Be the programme classical, contemporary or sports, the RAH is an inspirational stage for the world’s most influential artists and their audiences. d&b is honoured to have been chosen by the Royal Albert Hall to provide a compete sound solution to elevate their customer experience to the highest level and empower their business forward.’

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