Sound and Light Concepts has upgraded the sound system at the Theatre Royal in West Yorkshire’s cathedral city of Wakefield. With origins dating back to the 1770s, the grade II* listed traditional proscenium arch theatre is one of the last remaining examples designed by famous British architect, Frank Matcham. Facing stiff competition from cinemas in the 1920s with the growing enthusiasm for moving pictures, the theatre became a picture house and later a bingo hall, and was revitalised following reopening in 1981 and is now a vibrant producing and receiving house.

With the increasing demands of a new and diverse range of performances staged at the Theatre Royal came the need for an improved sound system capable of providing high quality audio and better coverage across all the seats in the auditorium. In the search for a local systems integrator, Di Clough, technical manager at the Theatre Royal, got in touch with Sound and Light Concepts Ltd and asked for a demonstration of potential loudspeaker systems.

The Challenge

The Theatre Royal’s outdated PA system needed significant improvements in order to cater for the modernised programme of music, drama and comedy. The 499-seat capacity theatre is divided over three levels, previously addressed by loudspeakers directed at each level and mounted on floor-to-ceiling booms running up the front of each proscenium arch.

Coverage of the room was less than optimal, with balcony fronts causing undesirable reflections and a loss of intelligibility. Some seats in the stalls did not receive direct sound at all, previously tackled by a delay ring of under-balcony speakers which unfortunately obstructed sightlines.

The building’s ornate plaster work further limited possibilities for speaker placement, so the goal to optimise coverage of all seats with a reduced number of discrete sources placed the bar high in terms of loudspeaker selection. A modern, high-quality system with excellent intelligibility and sufficient reserve power was called for to meet the wide range and styles of performance the theatre presents, and had to meet a tightly limited budget.

The Solution

A demonstration of EM Acoustics HALO-C series line arrays resulted in a unanimous positive verdict from a sonic perspective. “We were looking for a high quality system with excellent intelligibility and sufficient reserve power to meet the wide range and styles of performance we have here,” said Ms Clough. “Of all the systems we heard over several months, HALO-C was by far our favourite with an impressive throw to the rear stalls.”

Project manager Tony Bottomley decided to take advantage of the HALO-C’s longer throw and focused directivity to design a three-tier system that would direct sound accurately into all areas of the theatre and particularly the stalls, aiming to eliminate the under-circle fill speakers as well as removing any time alignment issues.

“Finding a suitable place to install the speakers was a major challenge, especially as there were three levels to deal with,” said Bottomley. “The old system had a box for each level, but a pair of HALO-Cs at each tier was small enough and light enough to directly replace those, mounting them on a horizontal boom arm off the vertical boom. This gave us a very discreet installation that didn’t impact the cosmetics of the theatre.”

The very accurate and controlled vertical dispersion of the HALO-C enabled good projection into the stalls, circle and upper circle whilst minimising any spill and hence unwanted reflections onto the circle and upper circle fronts. The resulting full seat coverage on each level also allowed the under-circle fill speakers to be eliminated, thereby solving any time alignment or voicing inconsistencies.”

A third box was added to each stack for the stalls to give a little more headroom, and the system was completed with a pair of EMS-118 subs at the base of the vertical booms.

The Result

The technical team at the Theatre Royal are delighted with the outcome, Ms Clough noting that “any incoming shows have since chosen to use the new PA rather than loading in their own once they have been notified or seen what it is for themselves, and many have commented on its excellent performance.

“The local hire company now uses our system instead of their own when they are involved in productions here and are very happy with it. It’s made all the difference to the quality of experience we can provide to audiences and production companies alike.”

Sound designer John Trenouth said “We’re very impressed with the system. After some initial tweaks, including adding slight upper-mid lift which suited our auditorium and final adjustment of speaker alignment, the results have been fantastic. The new system is very clean and effortless with loud transients.”