New sounds at the shoreline: d&b at the Esplanade's amphitheatre

'Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay' Singapore has just received its latest enhancement and early reports single it out as a welcome improvement. 'The applause from the audience after last weekend's festival said it all; their response translates into pure delight.' Dino Sairil Sanip, house sound engineer for the three day festival, was just as pleased, 'For me it was easy; in three days we had pop, jazz and acoustic performances; very different musical styles yet all sounded good. The musicians loved it too.'

You'll gather the enhancement is auditory rather than structural. Esplanade's technical director, Robin Shuttleworth, has just had a d&b audiotechnik J-Series system installed at the venue's purpose-built outdoor amphitheatre, but that's not to take anything away from the architecture. Sited right next to the waters of Marine Bay, Esplanade's outdoor theatre is in a superb location with the audience facing the water through the stage. An open roof allows great views of a maritime panorama backed by Singapore's signature waterfront skyline, yet the amphitheatre manages to convey a highly intimate atmosphere.

'Keeping that clear picture through the stage was part of the design brief for the PA,' said Shuttleworth. 'It needed to be relatively compact and all flown, so the stage remains open, clean and uncluttered. I also needed a PA powerful enough to never need to come out. That was a primary influence in deciding upon the J-Series. Yes, we could have used something smaller, much of what will be presented here doesn't require the Wembley Stadium treatment, but there's enough that does, and there is no point spending on an installation system if you're repeatedly having to pull it out and rent in something more powerful.'

The open roof is eyelid shaped; a thoroughly modern arched steel and tensile fabric shell. As you'll see from the photos, the J system comprises a stereo installation of J12 loudspeakers; has J-SUBs flown alongside it; with Q1s off to the sides. 'This is a very wide audience area, but very shallow, and that has always been a difficulty since it was built,' Shuttleworth admitted. 'Originally we tried a point source system based on d&b C7s drawn from our flexible inventory in the main concert building, but with the possibility of spill into other public areas nearby, and precisely because there are restaurants just 20m away, this was not ideal. The acute vertical control of the J-Series line array has addressed those problems, the horizontal control confining the direct sound very precisely to the audience tiers, while horizontally the seamless transition between J and Q sound fields has given us optimal coverage of the wide seating area.'

The system was supplied by d&b audiotechnik SE Asia Pte Ltd; its director, Sebastian Song, bringing out Ralf Zuleeg, head of d&b's education and application support in Germany, to provide the subtle tuning refinements needed. 'The tricky thing was to provide an even coverage in the audience areas and a rapid drop in SPL towards the restaurants,' said Zuleeg. 'The J line array is exactly the right tool for that. Utilising the physical behaviour of a line array, we were able to produce a 10 dB level drop within one metre after the last listener row, maintaining the same frequency response as the rest of the amphitheatre. The FOH position, centre rear of the seating area, is unfortunately exactly there, where the 10 dB drop occurs; so we added a pair of E8s to put the mixer in the same acoustic environment as the audience.'

Shuttleworth revealed he now has a new challenge: 'The system is very powerful and I also have four B2 subwoofers, which we can deploy for heavier acts. We need to always keep in mind that we are to work the system appropriately to the artist; there's always going to be a temptation that if you're at the wheel of a Porsche you're going to want to put your foot down.'

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