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Multi-channel support: Belgian theatre gets tailor-made systems solution

Their first project, the Kursaal in Ostend, went on to win an Installation Europe Award for Excellence in 2006, and has since spawned other MCR systems by the group, in conjunction with Dutch acoustic consultant Cees Mulder, who played a key role in designing the original concept. This new project demonstrated how MCR can be used to adjust auditorium acoustics to suit every performance, in smaller venues than the multi-million-euro Kursaal rebuild.

Located in the town of Hasselt, 86km east of Brussels, the Cultuurcentrum’s new 890-seat theatre features a combination of main proscenium PA and a multi-functional, distributed side and rear system that doubles up as MCR, surround sound, main PA delay and voice announcement system. Acoustic treatment and diffusion panels installed in the refurbishment created an RT of just 1.0-1.1 seconds, an ideal base from which to add precisely tailored reverberation enhancement of up to 1.8 seconds.

Utilising – as in Ostend – Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers throughout, the MCR function sees natural room acoustics picked up by an array of microphones, processed and fed back into the room by a matrix of small loudspeakers of precisely specified Q. The heart of the system is a Peavey Nion hardware platform, running custom MCR software developed by Team Projects in conjunction with Cees Mulder. It’s controlled via a straightforward GUI running on a tablet PC over wireless LAN, enabling remote control from any location.

Ampco Belgium’s project manager Steven Kemland says the precisely tailored dispersion of Renkus-Heinz’s Complex Conic horns, as found in the TRX Series, and uncoloured, low distortion sound were key factors in their choice, adding that Renkus-Heinz’s ability to produce custom versions of standard products was equally important.

“We worked with [Renkus-Heinz VP of R&D] Ralph Heinz to create a special version of the TRX81 and TRX61 two-way loudspeakers,” Kemland comments. These baffle-only versions are designed for flush mounting in the walls, in a similar fashion to car loudspeakers, and only the grilles, coloured to match the dark beech walls, are visible to the audience.

These loudspeakers – 44 in all, spaced around the walls and rear wall of the stalls and balcony – are driven by 11 Powersoft Q 3002 R Series four-channel amplifiers and fed by a network of 36 Audio Technica AT3032 omnidirectional condenser microphones in the ceiling and walls, with eight AT U841A boundary microphones in the balcony faces.

More prominent is the centre cluster of four Renkus-Heinz SR5 full-range loudspeakers, with left and right pairs of STX4 cabinets and four more SR5s for the first 12 rows, with a pair of BPS 15-2 mobile subwoofers on the stage wings. 16 extra TRX 61/81 standard full range speakers provide under-balcony and side delays and frontfills. The FOH system is driven by Crest Pro 200 amplifiers and controlled by the same Nion network, allowing one-point software control of the complete venue in any application.

The MCR system offers reverberation enhancement presets of between 1.1 and 1.8 seconds, divided into three groups – symphonic, opera and chamber or choral music, each of which has a normal, short or long RT setting. For maximum flexibility, the MCR system can remain active while the loudspeaker matrix is in use as main PA delays or for voice announcements – maintaining the natural illusion of space in every mode, and giving this new theatre an operational flexibility the original architects could only have dreamed of.

“A lot was learned from the Kursaal project in Ostend,” adds Kemland, “by ourselves, and also by the theatre world in Belgium and Holland, which had not realised exactly what an MCR system could do and what the commercial benefits could be.

“The old theatre here, being relatively close to Brussels and lacking modern facilities and acoustics, found it very hard to attract classical fans, so the objective was to create an acoustic environment in a medium sized theatre that would rival the big places in the city. With MCR, they now have acoustics as good as anywhere in Brussels and sell out most concerts.”