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d&b Soundscape At Leeds Playhouse With Autograph
In late 2019, the Leeds Playhouse completed a major £15.8 million redevelopment that included all-new d&b audiotechnik audio systems for the two main theatres, supplied by Autograph Sales & Installations.
The award-winning Leeds Playhouse is the largest regional repertory theatre in the UK outside London and Stratford and has earned an international reputation as one of Britain's most exciting producing theatres. Originally opened as the West Yorkshire Playhouse at its present Quarry Hill site in 1990, the facility recently underwent an extensive 16-month renovation that included the creation of several new spaces.
The performance spaces at the heart of the theatre have been significantly redesigned and improved, including the main 750-seat Quarry Theatre, and the smaller 420-seat Courtyard Theatre. Additionally, a completely new and flexible multi-purpose space, the Rock Void, has been created out of a previously unused basement.
Autograph Sales & Installations assisted in the design of the installed audio systems in the Quarry and Courtyard theatres, then supplied, tested, and commissioned both. Autograph's Adam Broom worked closely with the house technical team led by Head of Sound, Martin Pickersgill, his deputy Tom Cuthbertson, and technician Rob Landels, who handled the physical installation of the systems.
The team engineered a distributed system solution featuring a range of d&b audotechnik technologies, including the remarkable d&b Soundscape sound object positioning tool, which accurately depicts stage scenarios so that each sound object (up to a total of 64) corresponds both visually and acoustically. Already specified in some West End productions, notably the recently-opened Mary Poppins, Soundscape’s capabilities are proven in numerous different applications globally, but the Leeds Playhouse is the first regional theatre in the UK to include it as part of a permanently-installed house system.
Previously, the audio setup in the Quarry Theatre was a small d&b audiotechnik system that had done sterling service for many years, and the team's satisfaction with the brand led them to select d&b again. The Quarry Theatre is a contemporary theatre design, very similar to the Olivier Theatre at the National in London. The physical similarities are also echoed in the challenges encountered when implementing a sound system capable of dealing with the very broad portfolio of productions presented by a leading regional theatre.
"The d&b C-Series system did an amazing job covering plays and never skipped a beat," said Cuthbertson. "But for larger musicals, we would need to hire in larger rigs, whereas now it’s a different story." Cuthbertson explained that the sound system design is now divided into five principal zones: the main array over and around the forestage comprises seven d&b Y10P units and four Vi-SUB subwoofers. Five 10S-Ds make up the first row of delays, located on Bridge 1, while ten 8S units on Bridge 2 comprise the second row of delay speakers. A further 14 d&b 8S units are located as surround speakers, while six compact E6s are used as front fills.
All the processing and amplification for the Quarry system is handled by a single d&b DS100 Signal Engine (the Soundscape processor/matrix device), three DS10 Audio Network Bridges, three 30D, and eight 10D installation amplifiers, plus six Cisco SG300-Series switches.
"We are very excited that the Quarry’s in-house rig is the beast that it is. It’s great to have larger first bridge delays and an additional ring of delays on bridge two," explained Cuthbertson. "The central sub-array gives us vastly more even coverage, and the En-Scene processing eliminates differences in the audience's experience regardless of their seat position. The sound comes from the source with full 360-degree object positioning, and En-Space reverbs; The potential for creativity and audience immersion is huge."
The more conventionally-shaped Courtyard Theatre is also entirely d&b equipped, again using a number of different products to cover the three levels of seating, including a mix of d&b 10S-Ds, 21S subwoofers, and E4s and E5s located as front fills and delays respectively. Only three additional d&b amplifiers were needed (one 30D and two 10Ds, in addition to an existing D6) to power the entire system, alongside a single DS10 Audio Network Bridge and two more Cisco SG300-Series switches.
The quality and capabilities of the theatre's new audio infrastructures match the ambitious and forward-thinking redevelopment of Leeds Playhouse into a magnificent modern theatre complex. It is now one of the best-equipped regional theatres in the UK (and, in fact, comparable with many West End venues), well able to deal with even the most demanding productions and sound designs. The addition of d&b’s Soundscape, and the range of extra possibilities that it affords sound designers, takes an already superlative facility to the next level.