A collegiate education along with d&b

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Successful, sympathetic installations of sound reinforcement systems can be a hard trick to pull off when you are faced with ancient buildings of sometimes legendary architectural and historical value. Being the custodian of such a national treasure can be, in equal measure, a cultural delight and a frustrating headache; a need to preserve a delicate infrastructure coupled with an equal need to generate revenue. Two of the UK’s most prestigious centres of education found themselves in exactly that situation and, quite independently of each other, arrived at the same solution.

The Dining Hall in Exeter College at Oxford University dates from 1618 and is a Jacobean masterpiece of vaulted oak beams and tiered stained glass windows while in London, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has been located at Lincoln’s Inn Fields since 1797; most of the present building is a mere one hundred and eighty years old. Like many similar institutions around the country, venue hire for conferences, seminars, debates, product launches and weddings have become a vital revenue stream in, what can often be, an extremely competitive market. Providing the right audio equipment for a customer as well as maintaining a top of the range educational facility, is an important factor.

The White range of loudspeakers from d&b audiotechnik are designed specifically for permanent installations, particularly those that have words like unobtrusive, inconspicuous and discreet prominently highlighted on their shopping list. It was perhaps, no surprise then that both Exeter College and the RCS were attracted to the White range when they were looking to improve and upgrade their existing systems. Orbital Sound from Brixton in South London took on the RCS project while Lancashire based company, Wigwam Acoustics Ltd were approached by Exeter College’s Steward, Phillip Munday.

Wigwam’s Installation Manager, Tim Mortimer fills in the details, “Phillip came to us with quite a clear brief of what was required. Assured quality was high on the agenda as they’d had some systems installed previously that had not been up to par. The Dining Hall is a fairly large room to cover but loudspeakers had to remain as discreet as possible so not to clash with the architecture of the space. Phillip knew the system had to work for both music and speech but he wanted any emphasis to be on the spoken word as that forms the main requirement of the PA. After that, he left the choice and design of the system up to us.”

Following their usual pre-installation site survey, Wigwam chose to install a loudspeaker system of 4S cabinets from the d&b xS-Series. At just under six inches in height and weighing only 2 lbs, these 2-way loudspeakers can be mounted in either orientation making them, if not completely invisible then just ultra, ultra compact. But, as Mortimer says, this doesn’t mean they can’t deliver, “Clients are always amazed at the power hiding inside such a tiny frame. With an SPL of 114 / 115 dB, these little chaps more than do the job in the Dining Hall. Since completing this job for the College, we have been asked to look at providing a system in the College Chapel, another very sensitive location from an architectural point of view. Mind you, it was only built in 1859 so compared to the Dining Hall it is positively modern!”

About sixty miles to the south east and nestling in the rarefied environment of London’s legal centre stands the proud portico of the Royal College of Surgeons. Although the building behind has been modified over the years it remains a listed building and the quiet setting overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields coupled with the prestige of the location make it one of London’s most sought after venues for conferences, exhibitions, receptions and weddings. The college is able to offer four venues for hire, the largest of which is the Edward Lumley Hall, a rectangular room with a ceiling height of seven metres, polished wood flooring and magnificent oak panelling on all the walls in the Neo-Classical style.

Tom Byrne, Orbital Sound’s Sales Director was the RCS’s contact. “The RCS originally approached us because we are relatively local and they knew we used d&b audiotechnik products. They had done their research and knew it was d&b they were after but were concerned about the cost. Like a lot of first time d&b clients, the College specified a loudspeaker system that was way, way bigger than they needed and the final system that we designed for them came well within budget; for example, the amplifiers with built in delay helped save on extra outboard equipment costings.”

Just as up the road in Oxford, the aesthetics were an important factor but being able to colour match the speakers with the wood panelling kept everything unobtrusive and inconspicuous. Just as requested, these were loudspeakers that might not be seen but could definitely be heard, as Byrne explains, “They were more than happy with the diminutive size of White range loudspeakers but even more surprised at the way they delivered in the face of the very reverberant acoustics in the room. All that wood looks great but causes all sorts of problems, especially with amplified speech. They use lectern mics and have had serious feedback problems in the past. If that happens too often, you are likely to lose a client so the loudspeakers have to be well behaved at all times. Like the whole d&b range, the E4 and E5 loudspeakers have great off access response; a huge advantage when you have a room that can have seating laid out in so many different ways. Sometimes seating can be set for a regular audience, other times often set in long dining tables or small circular ones so you have a lot of people not even facing the loudspeaker. Clear, consistent coverage is a must in these circumstances and the College is very, very happy with what they’ve got with d&b.”

Both these installations, from different suppliers in different parts of the UK came in on time and on budget but faced with the inevitable question of ‘Were there any problems to overcome?’ Wigwam’s Mortimer had the final word. “It took us a while to explain that, although the loudspeakers were called the White range, they didn’t in fact have to be white. They could be almost any colour they wanted.”

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