The Great Hall in Winchester, built almost 800 years ago, is an impressive building by any standards, having borne witness to some important events in British history, as well as containing the greatest symbol of English medieval mythology, King Arthur’s Round Table.
The Hall is all that remains of Winchester Castle, after Oliver Cromwell ordered the demolition of the Castle, keeping the Great Hall for assemblies and the county Assizes, and it is where Sir Walter Raleigh stood trial in 1603 and where the notorious Judge Jeffreys condemned supporters of the Duke of Monmouth to death as part of the Bloody Assizes of 1685.
The famous Round Table of Arthurian legend hangs on the west wall, attracting thousands of visitors every year to admire not only the table, but also the magnificence of the Great Hall, which has been dubbed one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century.
So it comes as no surprise to learn that the curators, Hampshire County Council, were very keen to ensure that the aesthetics and integrity of the building were maintained when it came to installing a new sound system to cater for the growing number of events held in the hall.
Audio visual solutions provider, Whitwam, was consulted as the company has proven experience in working in historic environments, including Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.
The brief was to design a discreet system to be used for both speech reinforcement for conferences and receptions, and mid ground music reproduction for concerts and product launches. The loudspeakers had to blend into the stonework of the hall whilst not actually being fixed to the walls, at the same time delivering vocal clarity and full range live and recorded music. An additional challenge was the high level of reverberance in the Great Hall, and the requirement for the speakers to be temporarily removed when historic dramas are being filmed on site.
As a Bose Pro Partner, Whitwam has access to the full portfolio of Bose Professional products, and selected Bose Panaray MA12EX column loudspeakers with bass reinforcement from Panaray MB4 subs. Eight MA12EX speakers are double stacked, enabling Whitwam to place them at four discreet points in the hall, delivering clear, even sound to everyone present. The MA12EX is designed to provide outstanding vocal intelligibility in acoustically demanding spaces, and the slim column enclosure blends with almost any decor – particularly when the speakers are spray painted to match the surrounding stone, as in the Great Hall. Within each speaker, twelve full range drivers are mounted in a vertical line array to deliver wide horizontal coverage with a narrow vertical pattern, and stacking the speakers in pairs offers improved throw distance and reduced floor and ceiling reflections. The whole system is powered by a Bose PowerMatch 8500N amplifier, and controlled from a wired Crestron touchscreen.
In addition, Whitwam very cleverly custom designed a stainless steel tubular bracket that is fixed into the flagstone floor and holds the speakers securely in place but away from the historic stonework of the walls. All wiring is hidden within the tube, and the cabling was completed whilst the hall was undergoing a full electrical refit. Whitwam also made soft covers for the speakers, so that they can be safely removed when a film crew is onsite, filming a scene from history.
David Harding of Whitwam said “We selected the MA12EX speakers for several reasons – acoustically they are ideal for the reverberant hall, aesthetically they blend into their surroundings, and we were able to customise them for the specific requirements of the Great Hall. But also Bose offers peace of mind. Their products are reliable, they carry a five year warranty, and we have back-up from Bose when we need it. Although the frequency range, down to 58 Hz, allows full-range speech and light music reinforcement without separate low-frequency loudspeakers, we decided to add the MB4 subs for extended bass when output levels are higher.”