Costing £48m to develop, the new 3,500-capacity Swansea Arena forms a central part of the new £135m Copr Bay regeneration programme in the Welsh city – the crowning jewel within a 1.1-acre coastal park.
The latest of Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG’s) 58 operator run venues, it has been equipped with a versatile JBL VTX A8 line array, installed by Glantre Engineering following a competitive tender issued by main contractors, Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd. Consultant on the project was Neill Woodger Acoustics and Theatre Design. Glantre’s contract as system integrator was a turnkey, covering rigging, drapes, full AV (including IPTV) and lighting, as well as the audio component – not only in the main event rooms but also the meeting rooms.
However, the recommendation for JBL’s compact line array had come from ATG’s head of technical operations, Stuart Graham, who had been involved in the project from the outset four years ago.
“We were able to have some influence on the design and I was able to shape the technical requirement,” he said, noting that the transition to JBL came after another premium system had originally been specified. “What had been proposed was a ‘safe’, medium sized system typically found in a theatre.
“But I wanted to challenge it [with this installation], I just didn’t want to keep going down the same route. This was our first UK arena and I thought we should reach and test new products. There was a more ample budget available for the system’s design and implementation, and we wanted to focus on the scalability of the system and that it would work within every conceivable application. With that in mind, we opted for something tailored very much towards versatility and broader functionality.”
At the same time Graham was mindful that the venue had been designed not only as a multipurpose space, but with a modular auditorium, that would host a wide range of events – from theatre productions, comedy, conferences and exhibitions – some of them simultaneously. He envisaged it more than a place for different production companies to plug into, and worked closely alongside Neill Woodger to fulfil this.
It had been Woodger who had first directed Graham to Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre in order to demo the VTX A8, a venue where he and fellow consultant Sam Wise had overseen the successful JBL sound system installation in 2019. He had wanted to hear the system not only with Swansea in mind but also other venues requiring a comprehensive system.
Stuart Graham’s verdict on first hearing the system was unequivocal. “I absolutely loved the sound of the A8 and B18 sub, and was blown away by the quality of the box. They had much more grunt and as for the usability of the system … it was easy to put up and take down.”
Graham subsequently heard the system again on the touring version of Carole King’s Beautiful, before auditioning it thoroughly at the HQ of British and Ireland distributors, Sound Technology Ltd, in Hertfordshire. But he said it was hearing the system again on Beautiful – the Carole King Musical “that signed, sealed and delivered the deal.”
Neill Woodger was happy to sign-off on the JBL solution given the technical proposals supplied and his previous experience with JBL at Congress Theatre, and in total 38x JBL VTX A8 have been rigged in their own flying frames at the Arena.
The set-up needed to be flexible as, thanks to a partition wall which closes the balcony, multiple events can be hosted simultaneously; for example, a banquet for 750 on the auditorium floor can be complemented by a seminar ongoing within the Circle, with no risk of interference or distraction. It was vital therefore that the sound system needed to be quickly reconfigurable and effective across the board.
The standard ‘full arena’ set-up is therefore two hangs each comprising 12 x A8 and 6 x B18 subs in cardioid configuration forming a conventional pros arch system. An additional 6 x B18 subs are available for ground-stacking as required. Two delay hangs each comprise of 5 x VTX A8 and 1 x VTX B18, plus four further VTX A8 as front fills, and a VTX M20 stage monitor package.
Powering the system are 15 Crown 4x3500HD amplifiers, while routing and processing is via BSS Soundweb BLU-806 and BLU-100.
The room can then be configured into conference mode, when the front rake goes in and the box angles change and reduce to eight a side; extra enclosures are then added to the delay arrays which are lowered and angled up slightly when the acoustic partition drops to divide the hall.
Matt Watt, head of Sound Technology’s Application Team worked with ATG and Glantre on the design proposal and acoustic modelling.
“We modelled several alternative solutions before settling on the flexible A8 design.” he said. “We were limited by the curtain as to where the speakers could be positioned, and the system still needed to work as delay for front of house and as the independent conference system. A8’s ease of rigging makes the reconfiguration of these areas possible as it’s so quick and easy!”
Glantre set up and optimised the entire system using JBL LAC (Line Array Calculator) and Performance Manager software, with BSS and amp config, working closely with Matt and Danny at Sound Technology’s Applications team, who were responsible for final commissioning. Glantre’s project manager and senior engineer, Tim Davies, explained, “There are a number of operating modes, both standing and seating and set up various presets as a base, with three or four different configurations.
“Essentially it’s a converged network and runs on the IT hardware, apart from the lighting.”
In addition, Glantre dipped further into the Harman portfolio, specifying AMX video switchers to manage conference events and video distribution for 4K capability projection, as well as touch screen control in other areas, including the VIP lounge.
Keith Powles technical and building manager of Swansea Arena, also added favourable comment. “Now that the arena is fully operational, I have had many different opportunities to use the system in various setups and configurations within the space.
“The first thing that was apparent when using the system was just how flexible and intuitive it was for the user to set up, in a broad range of different scenarios—everything from conference, comedy all the way to large scale music events.
“Sonically the system has completely blown me away. The overall quality is outstanding and a particularly surprising element for me was just how well this system performs with spoken word style performances. The clarity and precision of vocals through the system is by far one of the best I have ever used. The system alongside the venue itself seems to be a perfect combination.“
In conclusion, Graham has no doubts about the wisdom of his preference for the JBL rig, particularly noting the speed of speaker reconfiguration during fast moving event changeovers. “JBL has a rich history and I know this was the right time and place for us to make a shift over to the brand. Longer term, once the reputation of the system comes more into play, we want to be able to offer the system competitively to certain size productions who don’t need all the investment of bringing equipment in.”