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Perfect fit for digital Trinity in Tunbridge Wells

A popular arts venue with a distinguished history, The Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, has just taken a decisive step into the future by becoming the UK's first digital cinema to employ the K-array system. David Robinson reports on a landmark project for supplier/installer Stage Electrics.

Located in the heart of one of south-east England’s most elegant towns is a venue whose long history is matched by the enthusiasm of its management for contemporary technology, writes Dave Robinson.

Built in the mid 19th century as the railway revolution brought prosperity, a burgeoning population and a building boom across the Home Counties, the Holy Trinity was Tunbridge Wells’ first parish church. After its final religious service in 1972 its Grade 1 listed status ensured safety from demolition, and by 1975 a public petition had secured permission from the Church Commissioners to produce a plan for community or public use. An appeal committee raised £50,000 (€58,000) and five years later it reopened as The Trinity Theatre arts centre complete with a raked-seating auditorium: growing popularity soon saw an art gallery, licensed bar and computerised box office added.

Its latest upgrade sees the venerable space take on the very modern mantle of digital cinema, although a cursory gaze at the vaulted balconies, plush stage tabs and comfy seats reveals little. Only on closer inspection does it turn out to be the UK’s first digital cinema to employ the unique K-array system, its mid/high hangs barely visible against the tabs, complemented by minuscule surround sound satellite loudspeakers discretely located around the auditorium. Supplied and installed by Stage Electrics, the system, powered by bespoke K-array Class D high power density amplifiers with integral DSP, is controlled direct from a DiGiCo SD9 console.

“This was my first project after I joined Stage Electrics,” observes business development manager for audio James Gosney. “Stage Electrics is doing bigger and bigger sound installations including the installation and supply of equipment to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year. As a consequence of being asked to design and supply high-end audio systems, they have been expanding their audio team with people experienced in sound system design and installation, which is precisely my background.” Coming from a family also deeply immersed in theatre, he says: “I immediately fell in love with the building. For the past 20 years I’ve been mostly involved in designing systems for big churches, so for me it was a perfect combination of the two: a theatre in a church… with a bar; it doesn’t get much better.”

K-array’s inclusion, as Gosney tells it, was pure serendipity. “The brief was for a multipurpose theatre system, one that would work for all the types of events that go on here, like jazz evenings, musical theatre, straight plays, opera, local amateur dramatic groups, pretty much everything – and on top of that, 7.1 digital cinema, with its specific Dolby processing requirements.”

He adds: “I’d started with a conventional theatre system design using 12-inch-and-horn type boxes with subs, and smaller surround boxes. A few days before this was due to be signed off I heard K-array for the first time and was utterly blown away by their sound and by how compact and discreet they were, and fascinated by the technology itself – it struck me how good a fit they would be for the Trinity.

“The original system design still involved black boxes in a beautiful building and I’d been trying to think whether we could do this with much smaller loudspeakers – and I’d just heard the answer. Sennheiser agreed to demo a system at the theatre immediately and it performed beautifully. Dave Wooster, who has been FOH operator for such names as Gary Moore and Leona Lewis, but who now works for Sennheiser, and I then redesigned the Trinity system around K-array.”

The system comprises KK200 main arrays coupled with single 18” subwoofer either side, along with four KT20 ‘Tornadoes’ – small 2” single drivers in little bullet-shaped loudspeakers – along each side wall coupled with KU36 compact surround subbass speakers. A pair of KK100 metre-long line source arrays provide the rear surround component. The final touch is a separate, portable K-array system, half of which can be configured in a 2m-high column plus subwoofer as the centre speech speaker for digital cinema. It can also be used as a portable system for comedy evenings or jazz events in the foyer. The main system’s K-array Class D amp modules are located in the control room drive rack, the networkable units incorporating full DSP for remote monitoring.

The Stage Electrics commissioning team set up the DiGiCo’s system alignment and output processing with presets for cinema, musical theatre, straight plays, jazz and other types of events. Gosney adds: “We had shown our demo SD9 to [Trinity Theatre head technician] Simon Diaper who loved it, partly because it’s so easy to use and so logically set out, but particularly because of the sound quality, which is noiseless really, it’s beautiful. And that’s the system: a DiGiCo going into the K-array amps into the K-array speakers, and it’s that simple. I’m all for keeping sound systems as simple as possible. Keep the signal path as clean as you can and don’t complicate it with too much nonsense in between.”