d&b's J-Series rejuvenates Sydney's late Victorian Centennial Hall

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Loading equipment nine days before an opening show may be grist to the mill for a touring production, but when it's a major new PA installation to Sydney's second most prestigious concert venue, the Centennial Hall on George Street, then that breath-taking compression of time scale indicates just how busy this popular venue is. Scott Willsallen, the man charged with the audio design for the 2004 Athens Olympics was responsible for the design here, with, not unnaturally, a somewhat different set of criteria to fulfil. "The key elements of the design brief were a zoned coverage of the audience area with a focus on speech intelligibility. The system was to consist of a single flown array with under-balcony fill and a separate bass array."

Centennial Hall is a classic late Victorian civic function room that also serves as a one thousand six hundred capacity concert hall. Elaborate stucco panels on the walls and its high ceiling make for a fairly audio unfriendly reverberant space (around 3 seconds RT60) though it's well suited to an exquisite monumental pipe organ that resides above the stage. Until the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 this was the city's only major performance hall. Its refurbishment into the realms of modern sound reinforcement was long overdue.

Auditoria, the name of Willsallen's audio consultancy, is renowned for system design in performance installations, as well its outstanding work on major events such as the already mentioned Athens Olympics 2004, as well as the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Eurovision Song Contest all in 2006. "We were first contacted by Chris Dodds at The PA People, the eventual successful contractor. I was engaged to work with them to design a few options for inclusion in their tender submission. The focus was to achieve excellent speech intelligibility as I said, and controlled full bandwidth for music replay and bands. The most significant challenge was to maintain coverage of the balconies without directing too much energy on the rear and side walls of the room." As is typical of civic buildings from this era, Centennial Hall sports long narrow balconies running the length of the hall down each side. Willsallen conceived a system using six d&b audiotechnik J8 line array loudspeakers with a further three J12 loudspeakers below. "This configuration achieved the best compromise in coverage while avoiding unwanted reflections."

That Willsallen chose to specify d&b audiotechnik's flagship J-Series loudspeaker system is in itself significant; fundamentally this is a touring system and this was its first installation. "But that's part of what made the short installation schedule possible," said Shane Bailey of National Audio Systems (NAS), who represent d&b in Australia and supplied the system to The PA People. "A quick and easy rigging system that marries accurately in terms of curvature and coverage to the predictions and exacting requirements of the EASE model Scott effected."

Willsallen has provided d&b E0s for under balcony fills, and low-end performance can be enhanced with an array of d&b Q subwoofers. "The Q-SUBs provide additive bass reinforcement for events that require it. The main J-Series array is of adequate bandwidth for most events, however the subwoofers are there for use as required." The installation was led by Brett Steele for PA People whom Willsallen was delighted to praise, "I understand the client is very happy with the quality of work and The PA People have maintained compliance with the schedule." No mean achievement under the circumstances.

But performance is key. "Initially it outperformed my expectations in terms of coverage of the balcony at the rear of the room," said Willsallen. "However in doing so it caused a late arrival on the side balconies which meant a compromise had to be made between coverage of the rear balcony and reflections off the back wall. I found the preset system tuning to be significantly bass-heavy and not an appropriate sound for the space. Once the bass was attenuated the system performed to expectations." And these changes were easy to make? "I found the d&b ROPE C remote control software to be very good, very intuitive, easy to use and provided the information and tools to create really impressive user feedback and configuration pages for the venue. All of the products perform very well, the amplifiers are great as was the support from Shane Bailey at National Audio Systems and also Jay van Lieshout from IJS Logistics."

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