The Albany, a multidisciplinary arts centre in the heart of Lewisham in south-east London, has been serving its community for over 100 years. The original Albany Institute opened in 1899 with the aim of improving the lives of local people. It became the Albany Empire in the 1970s and gained a reputation for its pioneering work in radical community arts. Sadly the building was destroyed by fire in 1978 but was rebuilt, and today the Albany is a theatre in the round that hosts an enormously diverse range of disciplines, from music of all types to theatre, childrens shows, workshops, lectures and more. The venue has recently replaced its ageing PA with a new Reference Series system from EM Acoustics supplied by Stage Electrics.
Head of Production at the Albany, Ben Stephen, explains that the prime requirement when specifying their new system was flexibility and ease of use. “We looked at a lot of different options, but the Eureka moment came when EM’s Ed Kinsella visited us with the R10s and some EMS Series. Being able to talk to the person that actually designed the loudspeakers in the context of what we have to achieve every day was amazing. It was like the most fantastic play date! We looked at all the speaker placements and tried out all sorts of combinations and configurations – the technical team were like kids in a sweet shop!”
In consultation with Kinsella, it was decided at an early stage that a point source solution would be the most appropriate for the space. After a variety of tests it became clear that the Reference Series R10 was easily the first choice for the main system as it offered so much flexibility. The full system comprises four R10s, two S-15 compact reflex subwoofers, two S-215 high power compact subwoofers, four EMS-61 fills and eight M-C12 stage monitors. Power is supplied courtesy of a DQ20, a DQ10 and three DQ6 advanced system amplifiers.
“Acoustically, the space is extremely demanding,” explains Stephen. “Sonically it’s like an 18-sided mirror ball – or theatre in-the-round with angles if you prefer. Our previous system was large and heavy and difficult to reconfigure, but the new one is wonderfully agile. We treat it a bit like a touring system, and we can reconfigure it at the drop of a hat. The interchangeable waveguides of the R10s are a real bonus; they are quick to change over, and effectively give us four systems in one. When you’re switching from a full-on music gig in the round or club night on a Friday to end-on children’s theatre on Saturday morning, you really appreciate a versatile system.”
“We used to run six main top boxes but we can do the same job with just four R10s; fewer sources means fewer reflections so we have gained enormously in clarity and punch, not to mention space and weight,” he continues. “We have also moved to much physically smaller subs, and have gained an extra 1.5 sq m of stage space as a result. Previously our subs quite often only served as very expensive speaker stands for our top boxes; in fact, they were so obtrusive, we could only put them in one place, which used to result in a lot of sub traps and of course took up space on the stage. Now, we can place the subs wherever we like according to the application – for example, they can go under the seating rake for a theatrical system that might require effects like a rumble of thunder or an explosion.”
“The sound quality with the new system has improved beyond all measure,” says Stephen in conclusion. “For end-on work, the R10s can stay in place and are another 1.5m off the floor which sounds much better than previously. The sound is much more consistent between the balcony and the stalls and because we have so many more options we can adapt the system to whatever we are doing. There’s also a lot more headroom. The system is just purring rather than straining so it’s really easy on the ears with such a big, rich sound, loudness has almost become irrelevant. Our technical and production team absolutely love the new equipment, especially the R10s – we literally took them out of the box, hung them up, turned them on and they sounded phenomenal. Heading into a really high profile music season for Lewisham, London Borough of Culture we can put on gigs with huge smiles on our faces. Plus the team at EM have been brilliant. We simply couldn’t have asked for more.”