K-array speaker system chosen by Whitwam AV Integration for comprehensive audio refurbishment of the Royal Society’s multi-purpose lecture theatre in St James’s, London

London, UK – January 2020… A K-array loudspeaker solution has been deployed at London’s Royal Society as part of a major upgrade of its AV systems. Supplied by UK distributor 2B Heard and installed by Whitwam AV Integration, the loudspeaker system provides uniform audio coverage of the Society’s multi-purpose lecture theatre while blending discreetly into the venue’s environment.

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest independent scientific academy, dedicated to promoting excellence in science. Founded in 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II and  today fulfils a number of key roles: promoting science and its benefits, providing scientific advice for policy, and fostering international and global co-operation.

Many of the Society’s events take place in the main lecture theatre, a 180 square metre multi-use space which they felt was in need of modernisation. The existing sound system of on-wall passive speakers reinforced by a grid of ceiling speakers was outdated, and lacked the articulation to be properly intelligible in all areas of the room, so resulting in several dead spots.

Having made a decision to overhaul many aspects of the building’s technology, the Royal Society’s technical team turned to Winchester-based Whitwam AV Integration, established in 1909 and providing bespoke technology solutions for over 35 years, and with whom the Royal Society has had a long-standing working relationship. Whitwam proposed an integrated audio system centred around K-array loudspeakers and amplification.

The Society’s introduction to the innovative Italian loudspeaker manufacturer’s products came previously when an external client had brought in a K-array system and deployed it on speaker stands around the building. According to Whitwam Director, Andrew Pymm, they liked what they saw and heard: “They were impressed with the sound quality and the sleek looks, and asked for a demonstration to assess individual products in more detail.

“At this stage I brought in Dave Wooster of K-array’s UK distributor 2B Heard. I invited him to come and look at the site, take some measurements and prepare some EASE simulations. We then went up to Carlton House Terrace with a selection of speaker products he felt would be suitable, and arranged a live demonstration.”

Having identified a seven or eight week summer period when the building was effectively quiet as a result of other facilities refurbishment, Pymm and the Whitwam team set about preparing the bigger project plan which extended to a comprehensive audio and video overhaul – including speaker systems, new 4K laser projection, a new curved Cyclorama screen, 4K high definition cameras, and fibre infrastructure.

“As well as being the focus of the UK’s scientific community, they are also well aware that they are able to offer a premier London hospitality venue, and that their external clients expect the highest quality in technology,” said Pymm. “So our brief was to deliver a completely integrated system that would cater for the multiple uses of the space – such as conferences, lectures, live Skype events, presentations, cabaret events, awards ceremonies and dinners – and essentially create a blank canvas in which these many activities can take place.”

Because the room is used for so many different types of event, the sound system was designed to provide separate zones which can be operated independently or in combination, and various configurations can be recalled instantly from a touch screen. Main program audio is delivered via a pair of Domino-KF210 full range speakers mounted on the wall at left and right behind the cyclorama screen which, in combination with custom acoustic panelling to control the stage acoustics, provide a clear focus and directionality of the program sound.

A couple of metres in front of the stage, double-stacked Viper-KV52 columns reproducing speech only are wall mounted left and right on custom fabricated CNC-routed wedges, designed to give a subtle inward angle and be virtually invisible against the décor.

Further down the room there are two sets of Kobra-KK102 one-metre-long line arrays on each side of the building, and for low frequencies there are Rumble-KU210 dual 10-inch subwoofers and Rumble-KU26 dual 6-inch subwoofers concealed in wall recesses beneath them.

Underneath the overhanging control booth, which previously was a difficult to reach sonic dead spot, a pair of ceiling mounted Viper-KV25 sub-miniature speakers provide improved clarity for those at the back of the room.

The system is augmented in part by the existing ceiling speakers so that when the room is arranged for dinner events, background music can create the ambience while a video presentation can provide the primary audio focus. For Q&A sessions the processing allows for hand-held microphones to be routed to the Dominos so that the speakers on stage can hear the questions clearly. The speaker system is zoned to allow individual speakers to be attenuated or muted if necessary, and specific configurations can be recalled via presets for particular room applications.

“When we fired it all up it sounded great,” said Pymm. “The EASE calculations worked out well, and once our colleague Dan Draper had carried out final measurements and alignment it sounded amazing – there’s a crispness and directness to it, you could almost cut the sound with a knife. It’s really clean and clear, while visually the space is still preserved as a clean white canvas.”

Liam Helm is the AV manager at the Royal Society, and is delighted at the evidently considerable improvement in sound quality. “It’s night and day, it’s a totally different environment now,” he asserted. “There is so much headroom on tap that we never have to worry about people who don’t naturally project well, or not being able to hear people in the room. The technicians are getting used to the idea that you don’t have to run the audio so hard – and in fact it works better when you don’t.

Given the relatively high density of speakers in the room, the K-array system was specifically designed to cope with all eventualities, and as such to be capable of substantial sound level. For a recent investment company’s panel debate on the subject of designer humans, the client had selected Human by the Killers as a music intro. “When they came for a site visit and wanted to hear the track played through the K-array speaker system, they didn’t need any convincing that they were going to get the impact they wanted,” said Helm.

“Intelligibility is really, really good,” Helm observed. “There’s a crispness to the KK102s which we never had before. We still have the existing ceiling speakers in place for background sound, and when you hear the difference it’s astonishing. It makes you think ‘how did we actually get by for so long?’ The K-array speakers are very unobtrusive, and the subs fit nicely into the wall spaces where they’re discreetly hidden behind custom-made grilles.

“The support from Whitwam has been fantastic, they’ve done a great job. I’ve worked with them before so we knew what to expect, and while the timeline was admittedly tight – only seven weeks to install all the video and networking infrastructure in addition to the audio – everything came in on time, and on budget. The usual small snagging issues were dealt with very easily even though access to the room between events was scarce, and we haven’t had to tweak anything with the K-arrays – that’s one area that hasn’t required any kind of work.”

“K-array seems to be our speaker of choice at present,” concluded Pymm, “because when you want something really nice and elegant and sleek that fits into these modern environments, K-array just ticks all the boxes. While we are continually learning about the systems ourselves, it’s great to have Dave’s help and support because nobody knows the products better than he does.”

About 2B Heard

2B Heard is a leading UK-based distributor of premium audio brands and is the sole authorised representative of K-array in the UK and Ireland. Led by respected industry figures Dave Wooster and Sam Nankivell, the company delivers exceptional service and support based on real world experience within the UK’s entertainment technology, professional AV and home audio markets. For more information please visit www.2b-heard.com