K-array Enhances Intelligibility at Canterbury Cathedral

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Whitwam AVI has installed a K-array loudspeaker system at Canterbury Cathedral, improving intelligibility of the spoken word to levels previously unattainable.

The Cathedral’s earlier sound reinforcement system, installed in the 70s, was starting to fail and was becoming intermittent. Aware that the Lambeth Conference was due to be held in the summer of 2020, the Cathedral had been in talks with AV system consultant Michael Hyland & Associates to identify their requirements for a replacement and plans were laid to upgrade to a new audio system in July, indefinitely delayed due to the COVID pandemic but eventually put out to tender.

Whitwam AVI submitted a winning proposal and, together with Dave Wooster at K-array’s UK distributor 2B Heard, worked on modelling a new system for the Quire using K-Framework software. The key objective was to deliver sound more accurately at the choir stalls, since the previous speaker system was aimed horizontally out at a height of four metres and consequently the sound was flying around the building and developing multiple unwanted reflections.

The solution was to deploy a number of minimally sized Tornado-KT2 speakers on custom brackets between the crenelations of the Eastery Screen, aimed downwards towards the choir stalls. A pair of Rumble-KU44 subs are mounted on custom brackets behind grilles at floor level with a further pair in amongst the stonework up towards the presbytery, lifting the bottom end of the speech vocal range. These are powered by Kommander-KA14 and KA02 amplifiers from the equipment rack located in a loft overlooking the quire.

“Given that we couldn’t fix anything to the fabric of the building we had to design custom brackets for the speakers,” said Whitwam AVI director Andrew Pymm. “Fortunately the Tornados are dimensioned perfectly to fit between the crenelations with all the cabling hidden in a channel behind the wall. Their 90° conical dispersion gave us just the right coverage pattern to be able to focus at the ears of those people sitting in the choir stalls without significant overspill.

“We had a reasonably clear run at the installation process as we were just coming out of the pandemic so as a result public access to the building was limited and the worst of the supply chain issues hadn’t really hit us, and this meant that we could move pretty rapidly in getting the speakers installed and cabled up,” he commented. “We had done a trial with these speakers previously and along with the K-Framework modelling we knew what to reasonably expect, but we were pleasantly surprised at just how good the K-arrays sound in-situ. Despite a near-three second reverberation time, the spoken word is as clear as a bell and the coverage is beyond our expectations.”

Gerardo Calia heads the AV support team at the Cathedral and reflected on the installation of the new K-array components: “It’s been a game changer not only in the quality and clarity of the audio, but also the aesthetic improvement brought about by incorporating modern technology into this beautiful, unique, medieval setting. I was somewhat sceptical that such small units, such discreet drivers, could supply the power required for a fairly vast space and also deliver the quality necessary for an iconic institution that hosts performances by world-renowned musicians. I need not have been concerned. The K-array system performs superbly. Whitwam and Michael Hyland have brought their extraordinary experience, their technical excellence and the very highest quality of systems integration to this wonderful building. Superb!”

Whitwam’s Andrew Pymm concluded: “K-array ticked all the boxes here – I don’t know what other speaker system we could have chosen that would have the power, clarity and projection to do the job.”