Whitworth Hall is the University of Manchester’s premier events venue, its classic Grade II architecture creating an impressive home for awards, graduations and community events. The Hall is a large, open space with balcony areas and high ceilings, there is also a listed organ, which provides a dramatic centrepiece at one end of the room.
In recent times, the variety and technical complexity of events held at the venue has increased and as a result the University decided it was time to upgrade the audio system.
Faced with a challenging acoustic environment, the University turned to Pure AV to help design and install a solution that would cope with the live acoustics of the space, fit in with the aesthetics of the hall and deliver the flexibility to support a wide variety of event types.
Trevor Byrne, media services manager, University of Manchester, explained: “We had an ancient sound system in need of an upgrade. We engaged Pure AV to look at a powerful, flexible solution for all of our needs. For voice amplification, music, choirs, bands, and one calibrated to the unique acoustic properties of the hall.”
The design of the solution is further complicated by the Grade II listed status of the hall. Any solution had to be unobtrusive and sympathetic to the environment and where possible utilise existing fixings.
Pure AV completed an acoustic survey of the room and researched various options for the space. With the structural acoustics within the room geared towards the amplification of organ music, the solution needed to compensate to ensure full and even coverage and clear voice reproduction.
JBL by Harman CBT passive column arrays were selected as they offered superior technical and audio performance in a format that would blend in with the environment and meet the available budget. The speakers were also custom sprayed with sandstone textured paint to minimise the visual impact on the space. A new BSS Blu 100 audio processor and Crown digital amplifiers were integrated with an existing mixing desk to complete the system.
Before specification, Pure AV worked with Harman audio specialists to model the audio, and even allowing for the requirement to use existing fixings where possible, designed a layout to significantly improve the coverage of the space with far fewer units than used by the former system.
The calibration of the system post-installation by Pure AV audio specialist Colin Hasted ensured that settings were optimised to respond to the specific acoustic quirks of the venue and extract the best possible performance from the equipment.
The new system has transformed the audio experience for visitors to the venue who now experience full and rich sound quality wherever they are positioned in the Hall. There is coverage even in previously challenging spaces such as the balconies and far corners. “We used to struggle to obtain uniform coverage throughout the hall, with the new system we can reach every corner of the hall at a fantastic level there’s no echoing, there’s no slap back, so that’s fantastic,” explained Byrne.
“The experience of my technical staff has been transformed as well,” added Byrne. “For large events we’d have to bring in additional audio equipment, now from the sound side of things its simple, it’s all pre-calibrated, so it’s great for both the user and the support staff.”
And, with the need to bring in external audio systems virtually eliminated, the new system has brought savings in third-party hire costs, along with a reduction to the resource and rigging required to set-up for events.