Seamless Sound at the Linbury Theatre

Theatre Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

The Royal Opera House’s Linbury theatre reopens after 3-year renovation project with EM Acoustics sound system.

The Linbury Theatre has recently reopened, following an ambitious three-year renovation project, with the installation of an EM Acoustics system consisting of a HALO-C line array and EM Series point source loudspeakers.

The Linbury studio theatre was originally created 20 years ago as a rehearsal space during the last major refurbishment of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Central London. In practice, the studio proved to be an enormously popular and flexible performance space and it became increasingly clear that the Linbury had outgrown its original specification. The decision was made to refurbish it completely as part of the Royal Opera House’s ambitious Open Up project, which also saw improvements to the audience experience right the way through the building. Three years later, complete with a brand new, comprehensive, front-to-back EM Acoustics sound system supplied and installed by Stage Electrics, the Linbury opened to the public with its first live performance in January 2019.

Tom Thompson, technical manager of the Linbury Theatre, explains that there were essentially two major issues to be addressed during the refurbishment; firstly, as the original theatre had been designed as a rehearsal space and not a performance venue, the auditorium seating was not suited for watching extended performances, and thus needed to be completely replaced.

Secondly, and for the same reason, the acoustic was extremely dry. The only solution was a complete remodel, so the Linbury was entirely gutted to allow the designers to start again with as much of a blank canvas as possible.

“The aim was to increase the reverb time of the space, but as the hole to fill remained essentially the same size, this was largely achieved through the treatment of the space,” explains Thompson. “Lots of wood for warmth, and plenty of detailed surfaces to move the sound around a bit more.”

For both the house team and the integrators, EM Acoustics was the natural choice for the full PA system. Both Thompson and Martin Adams, the technical manager in charge of the redevelopment project, were already familiar with the open, coherent voicing present in the entire EM range. “When HALO-C was first launched, EM provided a system for our Christmas production of Wind in the Willows and we fell in love with it,” says Thompson. “It was also important that EM Acoustics is a British brand,” he continues. “A flagship British institution should use flagship British products, so EM is also ideal from that point of view.”

Nick Manning, head of sound and video for the Linbury Theatre, is also a long-standing admirer of EM Acoustics, having first come across the brand during his highly successful tenure as head of sound at the Lyric, Hammersmith. “I’ve been a big fan of EM speakers ever since I specified EMS-61s and the fabulous i-12 infra sub on a production of Ghost Stories both at the Lyric and then in the West End. In fact, I ended up buying an EMS-61 system for the Lyric as a permanent surround system.”

Thompson describes the new Linbury installation with deep satisfaction. “It’s a very flexible system that can be used in a number of ways, but the standard setup is two hangs of eight HALO-C boxes left and right with a separate set of ground-stackable HALO-Cs at stage level with two pairs of EMS-118 subs — one at stage level and one up high”

“We’ve then got lots more boxes of different types around the space to fill underneath the circle overhangs and also to provide rear surround. They vary in size from EMS-41s and upwards depending on the use of the space. We also have a row of EMS-41s built into the front of the stage as front fills as well as a number of free-standing EMS-81s for foldback or anything else we might need.”

“The best aspect of the system is simply how smooth it is,” declares Thompson. “Despite the occasional acoustic anomalies that are just part of the building, the way the PA responds to the space is fantastic. Smooth is definitely the word I would use — it’s just even wherever you go and that’s really lovely.”

Manning is in complete agreement, describing overall system performance in similar terms. “What’s so impressive is the fact that although we have a L/R stereo pair of hangs, there is no sense of separation; it’s a completely smooth sound that just fills entire space that speakers are firing at. You can walk from one side of auditorium to the other and there are no lumps or bumps, or areas where you’re getting more of some frequencies than others, it’s just completely flawless. Then when you combine those with the subs and all the other speakers around the space, it’s as though the whole system has come from the same DNA — it’s amazing.

Thompson is particularly impressed with the smallest in the EMS range, the award-winning EMS-41: “Ed [Kinsella, EM Acoustics technical director] demonstrated the boxes with James Earl Jones reading The Raven. Hearing his deep, gravelly tones with so much breadth and richness coming out of this tiny little box was astonishing — they really are fantastic, and they do the job of front fill and balcony fill perfectly. The control they give us over the sound in the auditorium is excellent. We have them on just enough to pull the image into the right place, but you don’t notice any difference between the EMS-41s and the main PA. It’s seamless…”

Nick Manning reports that reactions to the new system have been overwhelmingly positive, including a glowing review from Alex Beard, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House. “Alex came to see and hear the system once it had been fully set up and commissioned. His reaction was pretty direct: ‘It’s great — it sounds great — and that’s all I’ve got to say.’ You can’t ask for more than that really!”