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Royal Academy Music

A dramatic transformation has just taken place on London’s Marylebone Road.

The entire original auditorium was stripped back to the concrete and completely reinvented with the creation of a taller fly tower and a new recital hall, sitting on top of the theatre - but acoustically isolated from it.

There was a concern that the noise of the tube trains that pass below the site would become more obvious as they would be no longer masked by air conditioning and other sounds. This has been avoided through careful design. The end result of all of work seems to be an acoustic that everyone involved, is delighted with.

For advice on sound, RAM turned to Mike Walker, who has been involved as sound designer for the Academy’s summer musicals for many years and who also specified the comprehensive sound infrastructure in the old theatre. The challenge here was finding the right balance of enough equipment to serve the needs of a theatre that often performs opera or concert products not requiring audio reinforcement, but also houses occasional events or musical theatre productions that do. As before, a comprehensive audio and video infrastructure has been installed, allowing systems to be set up quickly and neatly. But there is also now a permanent base sound system, with a Cadac Live 1 mixing console feeding a system of OPUS Audio Loudspeakers - T925 units on the pros and centre cluster, with T118 subs and T300 foldback loudspeakers, all driven by OPUS HD amplification. The proscenium loudspeakers normally live hidden behind gauze panels but these panels can be hinged open for amplified productions where the loudspeakers are better unobstructed.

Upstairs, nestled on the roof of the theatre, the new Angela Burgess Recital Hall is another elegant space, an adaptable room sized to match the size of the main theatre stage. This allows it to be used as a rehearsal room for productions for the theatre, but really is intended to be an instrumental performance space for an audience of up to 100, plus a recording space.

To isolate the buildings from each other, the Recital Hall and the roof-level plant rooms are sound-proofed, with the Recital Hall’s concrete slab resting on 300 rubber bearings and with a dense roof structure to reduce noise from in and above . There is also a more modest sound setup, with OPUS Audio T-Iso6.3 speakers with OPUS HD amplification,

The Susie Sainsbury Theatre opened triumphantly in early March,

“We had a feeling we had succeeded,” comments Ritchie, “however, until the first performance in the theatre with a full audience took place, its real success, aesthetically and, most critically, acoustically, could not be measured. The fact that the client, design team and contractors have achieved a brilliant outcome at every level in both performance spaces has given everyone, including the generous patrons and donors, a genuine sense of unbridled joy and pride. On opening night, everyone was smiling and seemed to be floating a foot off the ground.” The principal, Jonathan Freeman Attwood, said: “The spaces are stunningly beautiful and inspiring. They will raise the bar and challenge the students and staff in every possible form of music to reach higher and search further.”

Jake Wiltshire just smiles. He knows what was there before and what’s there now. He knows the battles to get from one to the other will fade to distant memories, but what will remain is a beautiful auditorium attached to a versatile stage, now comprehensively equipped and able to achieve things that just would not have been possible before. It’s quite a transformation and one which all involved should be deeply proud of.