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Solomon Awards 2019 – York Minster (Design and Installation of Audio System or Sound Reinforcement)

Major audio upgrade at York Minster, England

The Cathedral of Saint Peter in York, more commonly known as York Minster is one of the largest of its kind in northern Europe. The historic Minster building is justifiably seen as a national treasure and unsurprisingly boasts Grade 1 listed status with Heritage England.

The Brief

As part of an ongoing maintenance and refurbishment project, the church leaders commissioned a new audio system for installation throughout the Minster. Understandably the design brief was complex, audio quality and clarity were paramount, both for the spoken word and music. The system had to accommodate the wide variety of services and events that the building is used for, often with two or more taking place simultaneously.

Above all, the priority was for ease of use for the many staff that operate the system.

Wigwam Acoustics was invited to tender for the project, based on its vast wealth of experience working in churches and historic buildings. Its installations portfolio includes Lincoln Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral and Manchester Cathedral.

The Design

Wigwam Sales Manager Phil Goldsworthy worked with the Minster to design a system to meet the exact requirements of the building. He specified d&b audiotechnik column loudspeakers, placed throughout the Minster. The main installation features d&b xC 24C units with a passive extender on each column. The passive extender improves the vertical directivity down to 190 Hz. Additional d&b xC 16C units were added around the altar and in the Quire.

Phil Goldsworthy explained, “The d&b 24C features mechanically steerable high frequency (HF) drivers, which can be adjusted to direct the audio to where it is needed. This allows us to mount the units completely vertical, tight up against the pillar and quite high up, yet still achieve an even audio coverage to the congregation below. The units are narrow enough to fit within one of the grooves within the stone work – all this helps to reduce the visual impact of the installation, which is crucial in a listed building of this type. We further reduced the impact by RAL color matching the speaker to that of the pillar.”

Q-Sys Control

Wigwam opted to run the entire system using the QSC Q-Sys Platform, which controls and distributes the audio over a digital network.

“Q-Sys has become our go-to solution for audio installations,” explained Phil Goldsworthy. We have used it on projects as diverse as a brewery bar and as the backbone of the audio and crowd safety systems at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. We’ve already successfully deployed it at Manchester Cathedral, where the requirements were very similar to that of the Minster.”

While the key element to any audio system is how it sounds, of equal importance in the church sector is the ease of use. The system needs to be operated by staff, both technical and nontechnical. Wigwam developed touch screen interfaces with custom graphics that allow users to access the various audio menus.

From a screen that shows a plan of the Minster, users can select the areas they want the audio to be distributed to. Touch a ‘zone’ on the plan and the status will change color from red to green, making that zone active. Touching it again simply reverses the state, leaving the zone muted. A number of presets are programmed by Wigwam for the most common configurations for the variety of services and events held in the building.

Inputs such as microphones and audio tracks can be selected via the touchscreens and routed to the required zones. The system has equalization settings stored for all the ministry team and these can be assigned to any microphone, ensuring optimum audio clarity at all times. Each lectern microphone has LEDs built in that change color to indicate whether the microphone is live or not. There is also a mute button, allowing the microphone to be turned on or off by the user.

The Q-Sys platform monitors the health of the entire network, logging any faults should they occur. Anything from a blown speaker, a failed amplifier channel or a network data fault can be detected. The results can be displayed locally or accessed remotely by Wigwam. Phil Goldsworthy explained, “If the system develops a fault, it automatically sends us an email notification. We can then access the Q-Sys Core and analyze the issue.

If we can’t resolve the issue remotely then we dispatch an engineer with appropriate parts to site. It’s often the case that the first time a venue knows it has a fault, is the arrival of an engineer!”

Grade 1 Challenges

Working in a Grade 1 listed building presents a unique set of challenges. For York Minster, Wigwam worked extensively with Heritage England throughout the design and implementation of the project. Dave McGuigan, Wigwam Installation Project Manager explained, “The listed status impacts the whole process right down to the smallest detail. You can’t just start drilling holes in stonework that’s hundreds of years old. When it came to the loudspeaker installation, we had to drill into the mortar instead. Cables were glued in place to the stone pillars, rather than clipped. The cables were then RAL color matched to further reduce their impact.”

The installation includes a comprehensive cable infrastructure throughout. At the foot of each pillar is a metal plate which can be lifted to reveal ports for audio, video and data. Additional audio devices, such as microphones can be patched in via XLR inputs. The video infrastructure is broadcast compliant for when services are televised. TV companies can install their cameras, without the need to run unsightly cables around the building.

Phil Goldsworthy is delighted with how the project has turned out. “The sound quality is second to none in a building of this type, and the installation is incredibly sympathetic to the Minster. The system provides huge flexibility for a wide range of uses and is simple to operate.”

At the time of writing, York Minster contained the largest number of d&b audiotechnik columns ever installed.

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