New Audio System For Chelmsford Theatre


Located in the heart of Essex, Chelmsford Theatre is a perfect example of a busy regional performance venue. It hosts a dazzling variety of entertainment including drama, comedy, live pop and classical music, pantomime, family favourites, and community productions within their main house and studio spaces.

In common with many such venues up and down the UK, the diversity of shows presents ongoing challenges to the technical team and of course to the equipment infrastructures vital to meeting the expectations of contemporary audiences. That expectation is now particularly acute in terms of audio quality, and so the theatre has recently undertaken a complete refit of its installed sound systems.

Having hired in various loudspeaker systems for certain acts (notably live music which requires a system capable of producing sound pressure levels appropriate for the material), and also having had a number of demos, the tech team were budgeting for the cost of installing flying points for the line-array they expected to purchase. At that point they approached Autograph to produce some alternative ideas and appropriate costings Autograph’s Adam Broom duly met with their Head of Sound and their Technical Manager and, having seen the venue and understood their requirements, suggested an alternative plan. 

Adam takes up the story:

“While line-array designs certainly have their place, we’ve had a lot of success with distributed point-source systems, in both our projects and hire divisions. In a space like Chelmsford Theatre, we’ve found for example that modern point-source loudspeakers correctly situated can comfortably cover the space with full intelligibility and plentiful SPL throughout. They can also eliminate under-balcony ‘shadowing’ and they are often a more flexible and cost-effective solution, not least because (as at Chelmsford) they don’t require high-load capacity rigging points.”

Autograph duly supplied detailed quotes using equipment from two manufacturers and then set up a demo, using EM Acoustics R-Series loudspeakers arranged as closely as possible to Adam’s proposed design, which was used on two shows across a weekend. This was very successful, as the sound team (and audience) enjoyed the capabilities of a sound system that was equally adept at theatre as live music. Autograph were invited to tender for the supply and in due course it was awarded to them.

The new loudspeakers are all from EM Acoustics and include several models from their range. A L/R pair of R10s cover the stalls while a pair of R8s are mounted slightly further into the room and from the auditorium ceiling to handle the balcony. Four EMS-61s are mounted under the balcony as delays while eight EMS-41s are built into the forestage for front fills.

The centre cluster comprises two more R8s, but due to limited rigging options they are flown in two positions line astern, one upstage and the other closer to the stage lip Adam explains, “This is unusual for a venue of this size, but it works extremely well once everything is time-aligned and properly trimmed. The downstage speaker covers mid-stalls to balcony and the other from mid-stalls to the front rows, so they easily fill the ‘delta’ between the main L/R speakers. This gives perfect coverage for theatre where it can be used as a predominantly vocal system in tandem with the front fills, but then for live music when content is louder it has enough headroom and reach to keep up with the main PA.”

Four S-18 subwoofers provide the low-frequency energy when required, although the rest of the system (in particular the R10s) have enough low frequency extension to make the subs unnecessary for numerous productions. The S-18s are deployed in one of two configurations, either L/R or as a sub-array in the orchestra pit, which works particularly well for live music as it delivers a more even LF coverage. Adam again: “That’s a total of just 22 Dante-enabled loudspeakers to provide perfect intelligibility and serious SPL horsepower across a room with a capacity of over five hundred. Not only that, but the entire FOH system is powered by just three EM Acoustics amplifiers: a DQ20D for the R10s and the subs, plus a Di20D and a Di10D (both from their new installation range) for all the other FOH enclosures and stage monitors respectively.”

More EM Acoustics products were supplied for stage monitoring following demos of various models (six M-C12s plus four EMS-81s for onstage fills) and the 165-capacity Studio Theatre was revamped with a suite of EMS-101x enclosures. A new Yamaha CL5 digital mixing console with three Rio 1608-D2 stageboxes was also supplied, normally used for bigger shows and joining their existing Yamaha QL1.

Overall system control is via a QSC Q-Sys CORE processor, accessed from a tablet custom-configured by Autograph for the theatre’s crew. ”Using Q-Sys allowed us to create three system presets, one for each configuration, so whoever is on duty can easily select the loudspeaker setup that’s correct for whatever they’re doing, including the position of the subs and input sources” adds Adam.

”It also allows full access to all the system parameters if needed, and it permits plug-in access to parts of the system if a visiting show wants to supplement their own gear. That said, one of the main advantages of the new installation is that a larger number of visiting shows are now perfectly happy to use the house system, which obviously makes life a lot easier for everyone. It’s also removed the ongoing costs of hiring equipment in for events that were beyond the scope of the old installation.”

He concludes, “What we’ve accomplished here is a true multi-purpose, installed audio system for a busy working venue hosting lots of different shows. In one configuration it is a correctly-imaged and time-aligned setup that is perfect for theatre productions, comedy and similar events in another, it is a powerful and punchy rig that has more than enough horsepower for all sorts of live music, but neither application is compromised in any way.”

Paul Richard, Technical Manager at Chelmsford Theatre adds “We are delighted to partner with Autograph, utilising their vast experience to meet the varied needs of our busy regional theatre. The installed system manages to be discreet whilst having the power required for any production, the theatre technical team rebuilt the front edge of the stage to accommodate the EMS-41s, greatly improving sightlines. Whilst replacing the PA we were keen to update the facility panels and patching abilities throughout the space, the previous infrastructure was designed for analogue consoles, so was due a refresh. The new facility and patch panels allow for much needed flexibility to cater for all needs. We look forward to working with Autograph again in future.”

Click on photos to enlarge. Photo credit: Graham Chrimes

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