With this year's disbandment of the University of London Union (ULU) – historically a favoured circuit venue for emerging bands during the golden age of touring – and its rebranding as 'Student Central', the university's student activities & ents manager, Allan Adams, resolved to bring its live space (known as 'the Venue') into the 21st century with a complete refurbishment. This included a new end-to-end Harman Professional sound reinforcement infrastructure designed by Ed Manwaring of EM Communications.
Manwaring has been servicing the Venue's technical requirements for the past three years, and after he had demonstrated to Adams what he calls "an elegant way" of enabling the union to route either DJ or live signals to the its gallery or bar on two Soundweb BLU-100s, he was soon dismantling the 12-year old house PA system, which had reached end-of-life, and specifying a JBL VRX line array and Soundcraft digital mixing platform.
The work also involved specifying rider-friendly equipment and relocating the main FOH mixing position from the seated upstairs balcony to the main dancefloor as, acoustically, this was "wrong".
Manwaring specified hangs of four JBL VRX932LAs per side to provide even coverage through the 600-capacity Venue and through the concertina doors to the annexe bar/foyer area at the rear, which creates a combined capacity of 1200. Across the front of the stage are eight VRX 918S subs, four ground-stacked in the centre and two blocks of two recessed under the apron, stage left and right, all designed in a cardioid pattern.
12" JBL VTX F12 speakers, capable of swivelling back and functioning as a DJ monitors when taken out of concert mode, are specified onstage as front fills – "Since they use the award-winning D2 dual driver, they sound awesome," says Manwaring – with the whole system driven by a suite of Crown iTech HD amplifiers with BSS OmniDrive processing, and set up and optimised using a combination of Harman's HiQnet Audio Architect and Smaart analysis tools.
Supporting the EM Communications design were Ben Todd and Hugo Burnard from the special projects team at Sound Technology, the UK and Eire distributors for all Harman Professional brands.
Manwaring has also reconfigured 'Monitor World', replacing the old amp rack position so that the foldback engineer now has line of sight to the Soundcraft Vi1 at the FOH position through a newly created hatch. A hybrid Soundcraft Si Performer 3 enables the venue to make use of the desk's DMX universe to run the 30 channels of LED Fresnel lighting when Conference Mode is recalled.
When used in that mode, the desk will also take over FOH duties. "They can come in without an engineer, recall the scene and control everything from their laptop," Manwaring concludes.