A venerable learning institution that once boasted as its Professor of Music Sir Edward Elgar
is home to the most prominent UK installation to date of Renkus-Heinz’s Iconyx
digitally steerable array loudspeaker.
, which the Californian manufacturer claims is unique among digitally steerable arrays in being designed specifically for both the spoken word and music, has made a something of name
for itself in its homeland in the 18 months since its official introduction, finding its way on to
specifications from applications as diverse as cruise ships and cathedrals, theme parks and
At the University of Birmingham, backed by distributor beyerdynamic UK and accompanied by
Biamp Audia, Crestron, Kramer, Sanyo, Sennheiser and, indeed, beyerdynamic, it has now found
its way into the heart of academia.
The university resides in the leafy suburb of Edgbaston on the southern side of Britain’s second
city, a short train ride from the centre’s concrete sprawl. Founded in 1825, the university enjoys an
international reputation for music (when Worcester-born Elgar was in charge he was basking in his
Pomp and Circumstance / Land of Hope and Glory success), along with chemistry, space
sciences, cancer research, the development of microwave technology, archaeology and more.
At the elegant red-brick hub of its administrative buildings, facing a broad courtyard and slender
clock tower, is its Senate Building, where a spacious marble floored atrium opens out to a soaringly
ornate Great Hall.
Two floors up from the atrium is the inner sanctum, the gathering place for the University Council
–the plush, restrained opulence of the Senate Chamber. The airy, octagonal, dome-ceilinged room,
besides being the place where the university’s major academic and business decisions are
debated and concluded, is also hired out for high-level corporate meetings and presentations.
Dating back to the turn of the century, its interior was gutted and refurbished in the 1970s with, we
are told, all the style of that era.
In 2004 the decision was made to restore the chamber to its former glory, and to pave the way for
a technological transformation into a fully-fledged, multi-function facility with state-of-the-art AV
DESIGN FOR DISCRETION
Spa-based installation and production company S & P Productions
, headed by
, who several years ago installed a distributed speech PA system in the
aforementioned Great Hall. S & P was asked to tender for the Senate AV design and installation,
based on a fairly straightforward requirement that the room should be capable of hosting high
quality live corporate-style presentations including the use of PowerPoint and DVD sources.
Acoustics in the chamber, which seats 80 in concentric U-shaped rows in front of a top table and
lectern position, are lively under the tall, domed roof and high windows, and delivering high speech
intelligibility in an environment where flutter echoes would be ever-present was the central issue for Myerscough
and his team to consider, requiring very controllable directivity from a loudspeaker
system. Complicating matters further was the requirement that the audio system be fully musicfriendly,
allowing DVD content to be viewed with full-frequency audio (although Myerscough
comments that subwoofers were ruled out for aesthetic reasons).
Combined with the stipulation that all equipment had to be as close to architecturally invisible as
possible, the S & P
team worked on specifying a system that would deliver the goods within a
physically compact form factor. “The main focus of it was to keep everything out of sight as much
as possible,” says Myerscough. “We had to come up with an AV design that would not impinge on
the look of the room, but without compromising intelligibility and audio quality.”
He opted to trial the smallest product in the Iconyx
Series, the IC8
, at the heart of which are eight
individually amplified, individually processed coaxial drivers, under the control of Renkus-Heinz’s
software (according to the company, BeamWare 3 is scheduled for release this
autumn, along with a ‘touring’ version of Iconyx, aimed primarily at the AV presentations market).
“I’d read about the Iconyx system in the trade press and started talking to beyerdynamic about
them in quite some detail – I was curious because to me they seemed like a good solution for the
project,” says Myerscough. “When we analysed the room in EASE, it showed that a pair of IC8s
would cover the whole room very well, with the exception of the Chairman area by the lectern. To
provide foldback into that area we specified a pair of Tannoy i7 loudspeakers, driven by a
Powersoft LD1404 amplifier. Beyerdynamic helped with the setup and then I got my head around
BeamWare pretty quickly.”
The room’s octagonal shape made careful setup of the Iconyx system essential. “We used
BeamWare to set up the Iconyx arrays to focus on the listeners rather than firing up towards the
ceiling, which is where the acoustic problems lie.
“During the rebuild acoustic treatment had been built into the walls, which dampens it a fair bit
compared to its original state, although it's still not acoustically brilliant. But with this system you
can focus the acoustic energy a lot more tightly than with normal loudspeakers. They don't excite
the room too much, which is crucial, and they’re very musical.”