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Westminster Abbey Reinforces Choir With OmniLine Array

Just in time for the Royal Wedding later this month, Westminster Abbey recently commissioned the installation of new speech reinforcement, induction loop and CCTV systems, along with ancillary video, audio and data distribution facilities.

The new systems were designed and specified by Audio & Video Systems Consultants, Michael Hyland & Associates, the project needing to be completed ahead of the thanksgiving service which marked the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth granting a Royal Charter to The Abbey in 1560, not to mention the Royal Wedding.

The upgrade and changeover was implemented so there was no impact whatever on the building’s daily services and various other events for which The Abbey is used. Equally, steps were taken to ensure that the work did not infringe on the many visitors who tour The Abbey daily. Furthermore, given the tight timescale, extensive workshop testing of the system racks was

carried out in advance, to minimize site time.

The space has been divided into 47 separate loudspeaker zones. In one of these—the area between The Nave and The Quire—Martin Audio OmniLine micro-line array loudspeakers have been installed. Because of its discreet style and footprint, this unobtrusive system has become particularly popular in historic buildings and places of worship.

It had been noted that since the screen separating The Nave from The Quire acts as a form of acoustic barrier, it can be difficult for those seated in the Nave to hear the sound of the Choir, especially when the organ is being played loudly. By reinforcing the Choir sound with the OmniLines this problem has been solved.

The arrays are mounted at Organ Loft level—at each end of the Quire Screen balustrade. Each hang consists of eight modules—all spray-painted in a custom color so that they blend discreetly into the pillars on which they are mounted.

The suspended microphones above the Quire Stalls provide the input signal to the OmniLines, with the system controlled by the organist.

Modular and scalable, Martin Audio’s award-winning system was purpose-designed for architectural use, where it claims significant advantages over current DSP-steered columns. Intelligent software enables an array to be configured to deliver sound precisely over any vertical angle to fit the venue profile without spilling onto surfaces where sound is not required. It is suitable for high-quality music reproduction as well as speech in large reverberant spaces, such as churches.

The overall routing design for Westminster Abbey is based on a number of DSP units located in a number of racks, strategically positioned in different areas of the building. This was determined by the need to localize the extent of cabling wherever possible, thereby avoiding long runs between areas where routes did not exist and would be difficult to create. The DSPs are linked via the fiber network using HP ProCurve 2510/24 switches.

The core of the system consists of two powerful processors in the user rack connected locally to mic input modules and line outputs. The audio connections to the remote equipment racks are via CobraNet digital audio channels.

There are 32 cabled microphone circuits located in key areas, and a separate page on the touch-screen shows the microphone positions in a mimic of the building. In addition, there are six lapel radio mics along with two stand‑mounted/hand‑held units.

A paging microphone at the user rack enables ‘live’ announcements to be made throughout the building, and the system also includes a number of pre‑recorded announcements, which take account of various emergency situations. Once the announcement is selected, it is automatically fed to all loudspeaker zones.

All seated areas of the building have induction loop coverage, while CCTV coverage has been included with the use of pan/tilt/zoom color cameras. For major events, hired video monitors are temporarily installed to provide those in the side aisles and other areas with a better view of proceedings (these monitors are also used for events which are televised).

Finally, coverage has been provided for ancillary areas such as the Ringing Chamber, where a local loudspeaker enables the bell ringers to listen to the speech and music elements of the services, while a video monitor enables them to see the output of the CCTV cameras; The Cloister, where the equipment provides a relay capability from The Abbey; finally, St Margaret’s Church, which stands between The Abbey and the House of Commons resulting in it being known as ‘the parish church to the House of Commons’. An audio link to the church’s own local sound system permits the relay of Abbey services (such as The Abbey’s hourly prayers) to St Margaret’s.

Since the systems were commissioned, they have been in use for the regular services, as well as concerts, drama performances, lectures and TV broadcast.
The entire project was under the supervision of The Abbey’s Clerk of the Works.

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About Martin Audio®
Founded by audio engineer David Martin in 1971, Martin Audio pioneered the use of all-horn-loaded bass designs in world-class touring loudspeaker systems for groups such as Pink Floyd, ELP and Supertramp. Located outside of London, Martin Audio now embodies a sophisticated mix of acoustic design, research, mathematical modeling and software engineering for a wide range of products in the installation, cinema and touring sound markets.