The end of last year saw the new Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House open its doors. Part of the venue’s ambitious Open Up Project, the extensive redesign and refurbishment of Linbury's intimate space saw a new approach to audio design, with the theatre’s in-house team working closely with Stage Electrics to deliver a system that looks firmly to the future. Martin Adams, technical manager of the Open Up Project, spearheaded the project along with Tom Thompson, technical manager of the Linbury theatre.
“We work with some amazing new composers here,” says Adams. “That means we view audio as more than just a sound desk and loudspeakers; it’s a compositional tool, part of the art form, and we wanted to push our boundaries and see where our art form – the audio – was going.
“We wanted to look at audio-over-IP, with a view for everything from the mixing desk to the amps to be digital,” he continues. “While this concept wasn’t completely foreign to us, it was still a bit of a leap of faith, so we wanted to use a company we were completely comfortable collaborating with. We called in Stage Electrics, knowing that we could have an idea about this fanciful thing we wanted to do and not be met with a wall. Knowing that the person you’re speaking with wants to go on that journey with you really helps.”
“Treating everything as data meant less limitations and much more expandability,” explains Stage Electrics audio systems designer, Jamie Gosney, who worked on the project alongside the company’s national sales manager, Paul Roughton. “With an analogue system, it’s not so easy to get audio from one part of the building to another because you have to run so much cable. With a digital system, the chances are that there’s a bit of CAT 6 already there to transport the data, so you’re only limited by your imagination.”
With the audio-over-IP concept confirmed, the team then set about choosing products to kit out the theatre, comprising an SSL L500 Console and associated Stage boxes, a JoeCo Blackbox 64 channel recorder, two Qlab Systems, and an EM Acoustics loudspeaker system that includes Halo-C, EMS 81s, 61s, and 41s (the first to be used in the UK), as well as Dante enabled DQ amplifiers. Microphones are Shure ADX, with Show Link access and Spectrum Manager, body transmitters, and ADX2 handheld transmitters. Completing the audio set up is a Riedel Artist Comms System, which features a Bolero belt pack and headsets.
“Due to the makeup of the Linbury, at the outset of any production it’s always an empty room, so we needed a kit of parts that can be configured any way we wish,” says Adams. “We didn’t want to be restricted, so we got some equipment that isn't necessarily standard for theatre. The sound desk, for example, we chose as it has in-built Dante controllers, giving us the connectivity and flexibility that we wanted.”
“EM loudspeakers were chosen as a discreet solution, particularly the EMS-41s, which will also be perfect for immersive audio and surround loudspeakers,” adds Gosney. “Looking at options that were ideal for standard audio productions, but would work equally well for immersive audio, was a critical part of the decision.”
“And we like to use UK-based companies,” says Thompson. “That was a really big selling point for both EM Acoustics and SSL, which are both relatively small UK companies. A flagship British institution should be using flagship British products. We’ve had a relationship with EM for many years, as we put a Halo-C trial system in the original Linbury for a Christmas production and loved it. I don’t think there’s another manufacturer out there that does what they do for the same cost and high quality.”
“I think people assume that somewhere like this is stuck in the past, but it really isn't," reflects Adams.
Nick Manning, head of sound and video for the Linbury Theatre, is also an EM Acoustics devotee, first coming across the brand during his near 20 year 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 i-12 infra sub on a production of Ghost Stories both at the Lyric and then in the West P43 APRIL 2019 End. I ended up buying an EMS-61 for the Lyric as a permanent surround system.”
Manning also reveals that reactions to the new system have been overwhelmingly positive, including from Alex Beard, the CEO of the ROH. “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.”
The EM Acoustics speaker specification comprises 20 HALO-C (main hangs plus groundstacks), 63 EMS-41s, five EMS-51s, 10 EMS-81Xs, two EMS-61s, and four EMS-118. The amplifier set up consists of a DQ20D, two DQ10Ds and 12 DQ6Ds.
“This system, and the ongoing support from Stage Electrics, allows us to do things in ways that we'd have never been able to do before,” Thompson concludes. “Suddenly, all kinds of new possibilities are emerging. We wanted to have as few restrictions on creativity as possible, so that designers and composers can come to the Linbury and let their imaginations run free."