Thursford welcomes in a new era of sound with d&b Soundscape

The Norfolk village of Thursford, known for its steam engines, musical organs, fairground rides, and spectacular theatrical shows, will be delivering a new, immersive sound experience with its Thursford Christmas Spectacular this year, thanks to d&b Soundscape technology from d&b audiotechnik.

Designed and installed by Southby Productions, the system features 143 loudspeakers covering the 40m wide performance stage and is – as of the end of 2023 – the highest-resolution d&b Soundscape system installed anywhere in the world.

Having been impressing audiences with its shows for 45 years, Thursford takes great pride in its high production standards – and for 2023, it was time for a sound system upgrade.

Sound designer Mark Rogers explained, “Because our room is very wide and not very high, we’ve never been able to use line arrays, so we had a distributed point source system with over 50 boxes. This meant that pretty much every audience member heard most of their sound from the speaker nearest them.”

Rogers, who had long been aware of d&b Soundscape, partly through working alongside sound designer Sebastian Frost, an early pioneer of the system, recalled a discussion with colleagues after working closely with Southby Productions and d&b Soundscape on an opera season: “We asked, ‘How could we ever go back to mono after this?’”

With Jack Page from d&b audiotechnik as design lead, the team from Southby Productions, including Carys Thomas Steer, Digby Shaw and project manager James Southby, then began working with Thursford’s sound team on a design that worked for the unusual space.

The result, based on d&b ArrayCalc iterations, includes two adjacent 360˚ Soundscape systems. It was installed by Southby’s crew in just two weeks, and handed over – on-time and on budget – to a grateful Thursford team.

The system has 17 d&b Y10P point source speakers, along with 18 44S cabinets as front-fills, covering the main stage. The Y10Ps are at 2.35m intervals along the stage’s full width, making this the highest-resolution Soundscape system yet. Its two 360˚ surround fields include 22 T10 cabinets and three 4S speakers, along with a series of T10 and 44S delays.

The sub array consists of 10 V-SUBs, plus four SL-SUBs (in INFRA mode) in the centre of the array. Two DS100 processors provide the power of the d&b Soundscape system.

A TiMax tracking package with 34 tags is deployed among the huge cast on this vast stage, with the ensuing complexity elegantly managed by Atlas, a new interface solution from Flamingo Software.

Atlas, Rogers commented, is “fantastic for controlling spatial audio in theatres” while Southby’s Head of Soundscape, Aaron Holloway-Nahum, called it “an absolute game-changer for Soundscape.”

The master control is QLab, and the show file contains over 900 cues. Atlas also receives tracking data from TiMax and then sends the necessary OSC commands to the d&b DS100s to control object positioning, En-Space reverb sends, and other settings.

The new system has also had a positive effect on collaboration. “We work more closely and earlier than ever before with choreography, and we anticipate working more closely with lighting on sharing tracking data for automated effects, and with the music team on issues such as realism versus illusion,” stated Rogers.

Thursford’s Head of Sound Kieran Lowe gave the viewpoint from a mix position: “The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that it’s now such a realistic listening experience. It’s almost as if the PA isn’t there at all; when we push the faders up it’s as if the orchestra simply becomes louder, with the sound emerging from its original sources – the instruments.”

“The detail has also hugely improved, especially with the orchestra’s more subtle instruments. Also, it no longer feels like you’re trying to shoehorn 150 channels through a single loudspeaker – it’s now a pleasure to mix,” he continued.

And for the audience? “It gives us the chance to engage our audience more fully,” concluded Rogers. “We can now tell stories in ways that enhance their experience, without them being distracted by technology.”