Quite the Hall
Williamstown Town Hall has spent 100 or so years adapting to public demand. Now it has a loudspeaker system to meet the current challenge.
It’s a familiar story: a civic hall that has undergone a design-death by a thousand cuts. No one’s to blame — a space like the Williamstown Town Hall’s 1100-cap ballroom needs to be fit for purpose, and the purpose has changed over the decades.
Ten years ago a major renovation returned the hall to something like its original 1920s glory. Then, more recently, to ensure the space was again ‘fit for purpose’ it was the turn of the AV and production technology to enjoy some additional investment.
“The type of work we do has changed markedly over the last 10 years,” confirms Venue Operations Officer, Garth Sheridan. “We’ve gone from high school graduations to high-production catwalk fashion shows, expos and an arts program throughout the year. The level of sophistication has increased considerably.”
The staging infrastructure was given an upgrade prior to Covid, then it was the turn of the loudspeaker system, which hadn’t enjoyed any love since the early ’90s when the ubiquitous Bose 802s were installed.
Garth Sheridan’s instructions to the integrator, Light & Sound Solutions, comprised three main priorities — evenness of acoustic coverage, reduced spill/bleed to a neighbouring property and superior aesthetics.
Some 50 metres of new walkways in the roof allowed for the two new PA hang points.
There was a PA shootout. Three distributors competed, with a d&b audiotechnik system winning the day.
“Prior to the shootout, I had a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the three competing systems, which were largely confirmed on the day,” describes Garth. “They were all great solutions. That said, the d&b T Series ticked more boxes: it met our aesthetic requirements — it’s a slender PA and it allows us to fly the subs; its coverage is excellent — with the models demonstrating it would happily reach the balcony without a delay system; but it was probably the promise of what Array Processing could do for us that got d&b over the line.”
Array Processing requires a dedicated amp channel to each speaker cab (necessitating two additional four-channel 30D power amps to deploy the Array Processing audio design) but allows more granular pattern control as well as giving the venue a selection of custom presets from the R1 control software. “It means we can turn off the top two boxes and not activate the balcony, or we can avoid a predefined area in front of the stage that we use for catwalk fashion shows and pageants. More recently, we’ve integrated Q-SYS control, which allows our ops staff to change those PA presets from a touchpad — no need to log into the R1 software. This sort of control is very powerful for us as a venue.
“The other nice spin-off of the amp-per-speaker Array Processing is you have headroom for days!”
The two main loudspeaker hangs comprise 9 x T10 mid/high boxes and 3 x T-series subs. Four compact d&b S55 loudspeakers make up the front fill. The system is powered by six d&b 30D amplifiers for a full 24 channels of amplification plus a further 10D power amp to drive the frontfill.
Having the subs flown certainly met the aesthetic component of the brief but it does mean Garth and his team occasionally hire in some extra ‘ground support’.
“Obviously having subs 15 metres off the ground is not going to give you that kinaesthetic response to the PA you sometimes need. We made a decision that for bigger shows we’d wheel in some ground-stacked subs and we’ve found that to integrate really well — the imaging aligns really nicely and the subs fill out and hit together. That sort of extra firepower is not required for every show. In fact, the design looks right and sounds right for 95% of the work we do, and then we reinforce some ground stacked subs for bigger shows.”
The other nice spin-off of the amp-per-speaker Array Processing is you have headroom for days!
Positioning the two proposed arrays was always going to require a delicate touch. The Heritage consultants were at pains to ensure the loudspeakers didn’t obstruct any sightlines to the beautiful proscenium arch. From a load bearing perspective, there was lots to consider. On the other side of the ceiling (where the acoustic models ideally position the ceiling penetrations) is, effectively, fresh air and some ancient timber framing. Light & Sound Solutions’ AV Sales Manager, Andrew Moore, picks up the story:
“The position of the structure in the roof certainly went a long way to dictating exactly where we could hang the PA. We ended up with a few new pieces of steel.”
A ‘few new pieces of steel’ is a definite understatement. There’s now close to 50 metres of new walkways in the Williamstown Town Hall roof.
Andrew: “In order to handle the weight of the PA, we had to get that extra steel and extra certification, to put the extra motors in place to service the line arrays in the future. We worked with the team to get that new steel structure in the right spot. It just so happened that the venue was updating some other systems in the ceiling. So that all worked when it came to installing our winches and motors.”
Garth: “We worked with a specialist heritage structural engineer. There aren’t many people who are happy to look at 100-year-old woodwork and tell you what the loading is. It’s all-original timber framework in the ceiling, so there are parts where we’ve put steel pipe over the original structure, reinforced some of the joists in the ceiling, and then there’s crane work built up from there — all those winch motors are hanging on freestanding craning within the roof rather than being attached to something convenient, like a steel beam.
BEEN A LONG HALL
The new electro-acoustics package has been a ‘night and day’ transformational experience for Garth and his team. “The acoustic coverage is even; the audio image is crisp; and the fact we can switch the balcony off and on really cleans things up. In an ideal world, I’d like to have subs installed under the stage but we have air conditioning ducts under there and can’t be moved. But overall I’m super-happy with the install and working with the Light & Sound Solutions team has been a great experience.”