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K-array at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford


This time the versatility and design of the K-array speakers have torn down the barriers between past and present. The new K-array audio system installed at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, UK has adapted an age-old space to modern requirements, while respecting the architecture of this architectonic gem.

More than three centuries after its construction (between 1664 and 1669), the building designed by the architect Christopher Wren has returned to its original splendour, thanks to recent and accurate restoration work, which involved upgrading the entire sound system.

The theatre features an arch layout and a large cupola: a special structure, used for degree ceremonies, conferences held by guest speakers, celebrations, but also for chamber music concerts. Its shape allows it to be used in a variety of ways: during degree ceremonies, the protocol requires that the deputy-registrar speaks from one side of the theatre, while during conferences the speakers’ table addresses the audience from the other side, and each time it is decided whether to involve all or part of the seating arranged on the three levels of the theatre.

Consequently, the new sound diffusion system should not have interfered with the internal finishes which had just been restored, and it should have responded to all the variables of use, always maintaining a high standard of quality: K-array, distributed in England by Sennheiser UK, has responded magnificently to both needs.

“We had to design a system which could work in both directions, with various combinations of loudspeakers used at different times. An interesting challenge,” said Brian Hillson, B+H Sound Managing Director, the company appointed to design and install the new audio system at the Sheldonian Theatre.

For this specific job order B+H Sound chose to install twelve KV50W, compact line-array modules comprised of eight 1-inch neodymium transducers (they can be configured horizontally or vertically and in multiple configurations) and two KKS50W, bass line array systems, powered by two KA7 compact amplifiers and one single KA10.

The sound diffusion diagram which characterizes the KV50W, acoustically very narrow vertically and wide horizontally, has allowed an even sound coverage free of harmful reflections, in consideration of the semicircular shape of the space and the three superimposing orders of tribunes.

The twelve speakers have been fixed along the handrail of the stairs which leads to the organ, on the door frames and finally at the sides of the buttresses positioned on the ground floor and third floor: a very discreet installation, thanks also to the reduced size of the chassis, 35mm in width, 17mm in depth, 50cm in length with the modules stacked in columns. The chassis were then painted in the colours of the theatre architecture, which has made them almost invisible. The two KKS50W basses have been hidden in the same structure of the stairs, built into the hollows of the steps.

Hillson added: “With lots of DSP programming at the front end, the speakers could easily be controlled to suit any particular application, dependent upon which orientation the theatre is used in.” Finally, a series of presets have been established so that the theatre’s Custodian can easily select them depending on the uses of the room.

An important work of “technological restoration”, carried out in close contact with the contractor and with the University building surveyor. Brian Hillson told: “One of the Professors, and Chair of Curators who had been involved in the project came in and asked where the speakers were. That to me said everything about the advantages of using K-array.”

Today the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, which has always been one of the major tourist attractions of the city, is once again the striking setting for chamber music concerts, lessons and celebrations: a 343 year old theatre with high quality Made in Italy acoustics which really makes itself heard, while remaining invisible to the eye.

www.k-array.com

 

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