HISTORIC UNION CHAPEL INSTALLS SOUNDCRAFT Vi3000
London’s Grade 1-listed Union Chapel, is unique in combining the activities of a working church with that of a concert venue. The magnificent architectural space is a haven for promoters and bands, happy to take advantage of the building’s enviable acoustic by adapting their sets to the restricted 88db(A) threshold (over 15 minutes) that is imposed.
Over the years this has led to some classic ‘unplugged’ sets in the 900-capacity venue.
“The artists know they have to listen to the room — we ask them to play to the space and many produce shows that they wouldn’t normally do,” says head technician, Les Mommsen. “The pay-off is that we need to provide the best equipment that will enable them to achieve these lower levels, keeping the performance intimate, and at the same time enhancing the audience experience.”
With a sympathetic board of directors, Mommsen recently petitioned for a Soundcraft Vi3000 digital console, the latest acquisition in a carefully planned three phase upgrade of the technical infrastructure.
One of the directors is Charlie Barrett, who has been running Terminal rehearsal studios for many years, and he and Mommsen have masterminded the refit. Barrett, whose familiarity with Soundcraft dates back to the early Mk1 analogue versions, said that brand pedigree had been one of the key drivers.
The Soundcraft console, distributed in the UK and Ireland by Sound Technology Ltd, was supplied by Crystal Pro Audio, with whom Barrett has a long relationship, and the house technicians carried out the installation themselves.
Union Chapel had already invested in an earlier digital desk with different characteristics, but wanted to give incoming production teams a choice of tonality, flexibility and feature set — and so the Vi3000 began life in the monitor position (where Beth Hart’s sound engineer, Sebastiano Nacca, had insisted on using it) before relocating to front-of-house.
In outlining the requirement, Mommsen says, “We set a number of criteria; the new desk had to have rider compatibility; be future-proof; give us flexibility for later expansion and meet the budget. Soundcraft ticked all those boxes.”
Having regularly used a Soundcraft Vi6 and Vi1, the company’s first generation of digital mixers, he was instinctively comfortable with the platform. “The sound quality is excellent and by using the built-in Dante interface and additional card slots we are providing recording engineers with digital options.”
In fact, combining its analogue and digital capabilities, the Vi3000 allows a total of 254 input and output paths.
Picture credit: Les Mommsen and Charlie Barrett
The aim is to provide a large number of analogue and digital channel splits. With increasing Dante applications and with the industry moving towards bringing the studio into the live format, Mommsen continues, “It’s geared up to provide a live stream, or provide a feed anywhere in the building and the next phase is to have the desk talking to broadcast trucks.
“With four Lexicon FX engines, UAD plugins via Soundcraft’s Realtime Rack and access to Waves SoundGrid via Dante or MADI we are well set for the future.”
The Vi3000 provides excellent value for money, offering more input channels, more busses, more faders, and a better user interface than any other in its class, with 36 faders and 24 mono/stereo busses. Any of the busses can be either mono or stereo, whilst keeping the total number of busses at 24. This can be done on the fly during a gig without skipping audio or having to rebuild a showfile.
“In the chapel the acoustics are wonderful, so we already have 120 years of fantastic reverb in the room itself. With the Vi3000 you can get a clear acoustic mix and it does sound fantastic with the compressors on the console.
“Hosting high quality acoustic concerts, often including string or choir ensembles, is what we do well, and the Vi3000 provides us with everything we need to deliver the highest fidelity possible. The preamps sound great as is the precision and clarity of the console. In addition, it’s a very intuitive console and there are multiple ways of doing everything to fit everyone’s workflow.”
Picture credit: Les Mommsen
The head technician also highlights some of the improvements in evidence on the Vi3000 over its Vi predecessors, “Sonically and from the DSP perspective, it’s much better, as is the way the engine works and the general reliability. Everything is quick and there is minimal fader drag when you swap over the layers. Having 24 faders open up makes everything more immediate.”
He also praised the support of Sound Technology Ltd. “Stuart Strachan [Sound Technology’s Live Sound Project Engineer] was extremely helpful and they have provided training for the sound crew and will undertake further onsite training.”
In summary he says, “We have put ourselves in a good place where expansion is easy — there’s now flexibility without swopping out the entire system, which was one of the key advantages of the Vi3000.
“The aim is to leave the audience with a feeling that they will want to come back and at the same time having a first class technical infrastructure will encourage promoters to put more acts on here.”