As rockets erupt in the sky and a thundering score fills the air, the last thing on most people’s minds at a major fireworks show is the quality of audio coverage. Yet every year during one of the UK’s most prestigious fireworks displays, Stuart Roberts, Managing Director of regional events specialist SRD Group, can be found paying close attention to everything but the explosions above.
The event in question is the Leeds Castle Fireworks, an annual celebration hosted in the grounds of the castle which, despite its name, is located not in the North of England but deep in the Southern county of Kent. Dubbed “the loveliest castle in the world”, it stands on an historic site to the East of the ancient village of Leeds, where a fort of sorts has stood since 857. In the centuries since, a succession of castles have risen and fallen, with the current, beautiful building having been completed in 1823. Few sites offer such a spectacular or quintessentially British setting for fireworks.
Perhaps not surprisingly, during the course of that history, little thought was given to how the combination of a large moat and uneven topography would affect the positioning of line arrays in years to come.
“The brief with Leeds Castle is always to cover the crowd with a ‘big’ sound,” explains Stuart Roberts. “It’s one of the top firework displays in the whole country in terms of its prestige and attendance, plus for us it’s important to maintain our close relationship with a famous Heritage site. But the only way we can achieve that big impact is to fly the PA next to the castle itself, which in every other sense is the wrong thing to do because it places the system too far from the audience, firing over the moat. The closest audience member is more than 100m away, and then the audience extends a further 300m beyond that.
“Then there’s the ground; the topography naturally rises and falls, sloping up from the moat in some places and down in others, so it’s extremely difficult to cover consistently. Finally, it’s a very wide site, requiring approximately 180-degree coverage.”
Over the course of a number of years, SRD Group has experimented with different solutions. Prior to SRD’s involvement, another company’s subwoofer deployment caused plaster to start falling from the Castle’s ceiling, so every step that SRD takes is carefully considered in advance. “We looked at options to go around the moat, but then you have to have lots of delays, because otherwise you won’t achieve the necessary coverage,” says Roberts. While audio quality has always remained the priority, compromises have been unavoidable.
For the 2018 edition of the event, however, SRD Group turned to a new solution in the shape of the Germany’s TW AUDiO. Having initially invested in and been impressed by the manufacturer’s compact M10 enclosures, Roberts was cautiously receptive when Sim Ludwell, Managing Director of TW AUDiO UK, suggested using the German brand at Leeds Castle.
“I pointed out that it wouldn’t be the best demonstration of TW AUDiO’s sound quality, because we would be over 100m away from the PA at the closest point, but Sim was very confident and now I appreciate why. We worked together on a design that used TW AUDiO boxes throughout.”
Ludwell also remembers the conversation, describing it as a “tough brief! From the main rig at the castle we were throwing 110m over water and the audience started even further back than that. But I was certain we could provide the performance that Stuart was looking for and, ultimately, that’s exactly what we did”.
Forming the main array were 16 VERA36 enclosures with low-end support from 12 S33 subwoofers which were configured in an end-fire array with rear cancellation. “The end-fire array gave us the control we needed to deliver the right impact to the audience without damaging the castle, despite the subs being located right next to it,” says Roberts. A total of seven delay positions were established, the first four of which comprised a T24N enclosure with two B30 subs flown beneath. Delays five and six were made up of six VERA10 with two M10s and dual B18 subs, while delay six featured six VERA10 with two B15 subs. Finally, delay seven comprised two T30i enclosures. With the bulk of the speakers having been sub-hired in from fellow UK production company ASYS Events, SRD Group used its own Powersoft X4 amplifiers to drive the system, the entirety of which was run over Dante using an Allen & Heath dLive console.
“Everything was operated from a front of house position at the side of the moat and the performance was instantly, noticeably better,” Roberts enthuses. “The sound was far punchier. The site can present a number of challenges in terms of timing and coverage, but TW AUDiO did a great job in solving the problems we’d encountered previously. Most importantly, the client was very impressed.”
He continues: “I was pleased with the level of control that we had over the whole system, partly thanks to using Armonia software from Powersoft, and partly because all of the TW AUDiO boxes have such a consistent sound, which is great. In the past when we’ve worked with other brands, as you walked on site from one location to another, you could hear a noticeable change. With the TW AUDiO solution, the location didn’t matter because the performance and coverage was constant.”
With plans already underway for the 2019 event, SRD Group is celebrating having delivered a sonic experience that was every bit as breathtaking as the fireworks above. “I believe we delivered the best sound quality the event has ever had,” he concludes, “I was very impressed.”