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Apollo mission and control: At the Eventim Apollo for SSE’s first contract rental for AEG

Technical manager Alastair Parley and SSE MD John Penn tell Dave Robinson the story of the installation

The Eventim Apollo underwent a major upgrade of its entire house PA system earlier this year. Not only was it a big commitment from AEG Live, it marked a new paradigm for SSE Audio Group as the audio specialist chalked up its first ‘contract rental’ with the promoter. Apollo technical manager Alastair Parley and SSE MD John Penn tell Dave Robinson, in their own words, the story of the installation…

Alastair Parley: Several years ago, the owners of the Eventim Apollo, AEG and Eventim, decided to investigate the feasibility of installing a ‘house system’ at the Hammersmith venue. The main purpose of this installation was to ensure that visitors were given the highest standard of audio reproduction anywhere in auditorium.

John Penn: Eventim owners AEG Live had attended various shows at the Apollo and were concerned that while some shows sounded great, others were not so, and that reflected badly on them.

AP: Exhaustive research was carried out to establish the manufacturer and supplier of all the audio systems used for every event at Eventim Apollo since May 2010, together with in-depth discussions with our clients, leading production managers, engineers and event promoters. At the end of this process it was clear that an installed house system would not only be practical, it was in fact the only way we could ensure consistent provision of the highest possible audio quality with even coverage throughout the venue.

JP: The proposal was that the system would be used by as many visiting acts as possible; also, something that would deliver the spoken word well, given the amount of comedy presented at the venue.

AP: It became clear that the system capable of providing the highest possible standards and likely to be accepted by the majority of visiting productions was manufactured by L-Acoustics.

JP: At this time SSE Audio Group was completing beta-testing of the L-Acoustics K2 and it seemed that this would be an obvious choice for a venue the size of the Apollo. Subsequently, SSE Hire were at the venue for two shows, both using K2, so we were able to provide instant demonstrations.

AP: Our next step was to identify the company who could supply, install and operate the system on our behalf. Our choice was driven by a range of factors. We required a company with the stock levels and range of equipment available to support [a] wide variety of events; a knowledgeable and friendly team of technicians to operate and maintain the system; and a dedicated management team who would supervise the operation. Also the firm had to have the skills and resources and proven record in order to assist with the design and installation of the system.

JP: A number of installation companies were invited to bid for the work – I think they obtained six quotes.

AP: We carried out a full auditorium spectrum analysis using our audio consultants, Vanguardia, to obtain data which we could use to show the quality and consistency of coverage was of the highest possible standard.

JP: To carry out the tests, existing flying points were used, although SSE recommended that for the final installation new flying points were needed, wider than the existing points, and also new balcony flying points.

AP: The organisation that best fulfilled [our] requirements was SSE Audio Group.

JP: We are not sure how the Vanguardia report influenced the client, but the contract for the installation was subsequently awarded to [us] using L-Acoustics K2.

AP: A finalised design and specification was then drawn up and agreed upon. The manufacture of components for the system began.

JP: The installation would cover the full PA, but not monitors or a front of house desk – although a small house console (DiGiCo SD11) would be provided. It was therefore important that facilities would be provided enabling tours to plug their own mixing console and monitors, whatever protocols they used.

AP: A major factor in choosing SSE Audio Group was that they offered a complete design, manufacture and installation service to us.

This included every aspect of the install, from custom lifting and lifting control gear, the manufacture of many bespoke elements such as the stage box and patch panels, the mounting systems for the infills and delays, as well as finishing of many of the cabinets in the correct colours to match the auditorium deco. SSE even designed transport and storage solutions for the system, for the rare occasion when it does have to be removed.

JP: The main PA comprises 12 K2 per side, installed from new points. By positioning these points further out from the stage, not only could optimum coverage of the stalls be achieved, but sight lines of the stage could be improved. The new points are also clear of any PA brought in for a specific performance.

Six L-Acoustics SB28 subs are installed on each side of the stage. ARCS Wide and Focus (WiFo) and 8XT cabinets supply nearfield coverage.

Five further ARCS WiFo colour matched to the surrounding décor have been installed under the balcony, an area often neglected with normal PA coverage.

ARCS WiFo was chosen both because of its physical profile and its acoustic qualities. Since these deliver sound to seats that include the FOH position, it is important that the mix engineer hears the same tonal quality as from the main PA. ARCS WiFo uses the same 12” driver and HF driver as the K2 and the HF driver is mounted on a DOSC waveguide, the same as K2. Tonally it is as close as it can be to K2.

[Additional] 8XT speakers have been installed in the foyer and bar. Amplifier racks have been strategically positioned in the venue so they are both close to the speakers they drive and interfere with working space as little as possible.

A discreet custom-built drive rack, accommodating everything required to control the system, has been positioned at FOH. The drive rack is equipped with three Lake controller/processors; output is via a Cisco switch with Dante and Focusrite RedNet.

AP: The system installation [took place] during January 2015. There was no flexibility in completion date: it had to be operating for our first event booking of the year. Thanks to the hard work, knowledge and ingenuity of all the team involved, the installation was completed in time.

JP: Ahead of this] during Autumn 2014, SSE proposed to the Eventim Apollo the option to finance the installation on a contract hire basis, instead of outright purchase.

As an audio rental company, this is something that often makes sense both to SSE and the client. The venue pays upfront for the costs of the installation, as well as the permanent infrastructure, such as cabling and bespoke cabinets, etc. The client then pays for the equipment over a number of years on a contract rental basis. Not only does this avoid a high capital outlay, but it means that SSE treats the equipment the same as the rest of its rental stock, ensuring it operates at its optimum and if any equipment fails, replacing it at short notice.

AP: When the audio system was first run up it was clear straight away that the quality and coverage far surpassed anything that had previously been heard in the venue.

JP: The Apollo made the decision to specify a small but fully featured DiGiCo SD11 console that can be used to mix voice-only shows (such as stand-up comedy). This is patched via the drive rack using dedicated ports, so it remains connected when ‘visiting’ consoles are brought in.

AP: Another significant aspect of the installation is the high quality and flexibility of the multicore systems that were designed and installed by SSE Audio. These allow visiting productions to tie into the house systems with the minimum of fuss and without having to run out their own snakes. This saves vital time and crew workload during load in and load out.

JP: There is a full multicore system between stage and FOH with a choice of two fibre systems, each with a full back-up, plus a conventional 2 x 32-pair multicore.

AP: In the first few months of operation the feedback we have received from both customers and visiting production teams has been very positive. The uptake on usage has risen to a point where there are very few events that will choose not to use the in-house system.

JP: For each show, SSE provides a PA system tech, who is able to operate from the FOH drive rack position.

AP: There is no point in having the best of systems if visiting productions are not looked after well by the house techs!