When international auctioneers, Phillips, recently relocated their European HQ to a luxurious 31,000 sq ft facility in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, its main galleries/exhibition spaces on the double-height ground and lower ground floors (with high vaulted ceilings), while creating an austere environment for contemporary art aficionados, could have proved an acoustic nightmare.
SSE Audio Group’s London based operation, headed by Emma Bigg, had already provided a temporary, but highly intelligible sound system for the company at their previous Victorian building in Howick Place. So when the auctioneers announced their move to the new building, the technology specialists were again contacted to provide the sound infrastructure in these two galleries, while networking the whole building as part of an integrated multimedia package, with relay screens and recording/web-streaming options.
The loudspeakers specified, were JBL’s unobtrusive Intellivox DSX280 active beam shaping columns and JBL AXYS Flex U14 G2 speakers, supplied by UK and Eire distributors, Sound Technology Ltd. It is a solution they have adopted many times in the past.
“Right from the get-go it was clear that this would be the solution we would use,” said Emma, “and we carried out a demo for the client where the manufacturers were represented. With windows down the length of the room, it was just obvious that this would offer the best solution in terms of getting the coverage and intelligibility.” She noted that the Intellivox may be 2.8m long but it is an extremely narrow and discreet column speaker, which would also meet the stringent aesthetic requirement.
“As for the U14s, the great thing is that they have the throw, coverage and intelligibility and they have some onboard DSP so they can be tuned within reason. It’s great when you need the characteristics of beam steering and are able to do it within the same product group without having to mix brands.”
The DSX280 is capable of providing a constant SPL over a minimum distance of up to 35m, and is ideal for demanding acoustical conditions. The 14 custom designed, 4” loudspeakers and four 1" dome tweeters are driven by an eight channel class-D amplifier, powered by a switched mode power supply.
The self-powered powered, compact Flex U-14G2 likewise delivers high SPL and accurate dispersion, from two 6.5” drivers and a soft dome tweeter, with the added advantages of the AXYS proprietary network and onboard DSP.
But Emma added that the acoustic environment at Berkeley Square had been more forgiving than its predecessor, which had been an inherently live environment. “Galleries are traditionally big wide spaces, with high ceilings and reflective surfaces which create a lot of reverberation time, which is why they had been experiencing intelligibility problems with their sound system at Howick Place.
“However, at Berkeley Square serious thought has been given to the acoustics, and they have put in acoustic ceiling panels.”
The two JBL Intellivox speakers are placed discreetly either side of the auctioneer in the lower ground room, but can easily be relocated upstairs when the two rooms flip. One of the Flex speakers acts as a delay downstairs while he remaining six are distributed in the double-height ground floor.
The lower ground gallery also includes glass fronted ‘skyboxes’ at mezzanine level and delay screens, all set within a non-rectangular space; thus the DSP enabling the beam shaping of the sound was critical.
The SSE director had brought in a top team of company specialists to carry out the implementation, including Eddie Thomas, who has vast Intellivox experience, and coder Paul Todd, whose programming skills have enabled all audio and video signals to be triggered from a single interface. Emma Bigg herself was involved in video switching protocols while Richard Watts had established the relationship with the client.
Prior to commissioning the system, SSE Audio Group also generously equipped the building with 1.5km of fibre optic cable to allow for future expansion, as well as providing an additional wireless speaker system for the gallery on the 6th floor.
The integration has certainly met the approval of Phillips Gallery Manager, Ian Bell, who says JBL Intellivox meets the remit for versatility, with its built-in compression. “No-one needs to be in attendance and the system does exactly what we want it to on both floors. We used it as a ‘Voice of God’ like address system — everyone can hear what’s being said and it is infinitely better than what we had before.
“We knew this was going to be an acoustically challenging space but were not aware just how good SSE could make the sound, with the combination of the Intellivox and the acoustic panels.”
JBL Intellivox and JBL Axys are distributed in the UK by Sound Technology Ltd. For more information please call Sound Technology Ltd on 01462 480000 or visit www.soundtech.co.uk/installed-audio