New sound for the Royal Wedding

In April the world’s attention will be on Westminster Abbey as it welcomes dignitaries, politicians and celebrities for the wedding of the future King of England. InAVate takes the opportunity to explore how integrator Whitwam Ltd has replaced AV systems at the iconic London church.

Westminster Abbey, or The Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, is one of London’s most iconic buildings. It was founded in 960, has been the UK’s coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting-place of seventeen monarchs, numerous poets and a host of heroes and statesmen.

King Henry III began the present church in 1245 and in recent months The Abbey has worked with AV systems consultant, Michael Hyland & Associates, integrator Whitwam Ltd and electrical contractor Albert Walker Electrical Ltd to install speech reinforcement, induction loop and CCTV systems along with video, audio and data distribution facilities.

All contractors had to work within a tight timescale whilst also taking account of the many people who visit The Abbey daily. Morning services, 12.30 Eucharist and Evensong further narrowed their working hours to between 8.30 and 12.30 and between 1.00 and 4.30. Evening access to the building was limited by numerous additional activities including organ practice, conducted tours, special interest group visits and rehearsals. On evenings set aside for commissioning, access was sometimes not possible until 9.00pm.

Albert Walker Electrical Ltd installed new cabling, including microphone, line level, loudspeaker video and data circuits throughout the building. Great care was taken to conceal cable and once the new facilities were commissioned, all redundant cabling associated with previous sound systems was removed wherever possible.

Forty-seven zones of loudspeakers, including a number of external sockets by the North and West Doors, cover the entire building. The external sockets enable stand-mounted loudspeakers to be connected to the system. Touchscreens allow users to select a number of pre-sets for regular services.

Eighty RCF CS 6940 line source column loudspeakers, most mounted on pillars of Purbeck stone, cover the majority of The Abbey. The installers had to use a number of painted sample panels to establish the most appropriate colour, which was spray painted on to the speakers. Tannoy Di5T loudspeakers, modified to accommodate an integral volume control, handled local coverage in non-public areas.

Two Martin Audio OmniLines are used to help listeners in the nave hear the sound of the choir. The loudspeakers consist of eight modules, are colour matched to the pillars and powered by a QSC CX902 amplifier.

In the Jericho Chamber, which is used as a vestry, a Canford BAP400 loudspeaker has been floorstand-mounted and connected to the system by means of a plug and socket. This enables the speech and music elements of the service or event taking place to be heard.

All seated areas of the building have induction loop coverage and, in addition to speech input, suspended microphones in areas where the choir sing can be selected and fed to the loop system. Four Ampetronic ILD1000G drive amplifiers cover the main areas of the church. A separate drive amplifier has been used in the Henry VII Chapel.

Thirty-two cabled microphone circuits are located in key areas. A separate page on the touchscreen shows the microphone positions in a mimic of the building. The Audio-Technica ES935/ML cabled microphones can be switched on and off locally by the user or controlled remotely by a verger using any of the touchscreens. Additional Audio-Technica U851R boundary microphones are used on the altars.

All incoming microphone circuits are terminated on a jackfield where they are ‘normalled’ through to the inputs of their respective microphone amplifiers. This enables any circuit to be interrupted so it can be fed to external users, such as outside broadcasters’ own splitters. An output from the splitter is fed back to the microphone amplifier.

A local switch at each microphone enables the user to switch the microphone and its ‘on’ status is confirmed by an LED. If users forget then a duplicated switch for each of the microphones enables them to be remotely switched by a verger via the touchscreens.

Red and green LEDs at each microphone allow speakers to gauge appropriate speech levels. Red and green level indication systems also appear on the microphone page of the touchscreens thereby assisting the vergers in maintaining optimum reproduction levels.

Whitwam also supplied six Sennheiser lapel radio-microphones along with two stand-mounted/hand-held units. Whitwam selected Sennheiser EM2000 range with ME104 capsules fitted to the EK2000 belt-pack transmitters for radio-mic facilities. The handheld microphones are Sennheiser’s SKM2000 and there is also an SKP 2000 plug-in transmitter for use with the Audio-Technica microphones.

Seven JVC TK-C686E colour cameras provide CCTV coverage of key areas, which is used by the vergers and organist. A Bosch MIC400 weather-proofed camera, colour matched to the stonework, is installed beyond the West Door on the roof of the building’s shop.

All of the cameras and functions are accessed via touchscreen control, which can also display a selected camera’s video output. Two JVC TM-A101G monitors in the user rack enable viewing of camera output.

A Panasonic AW-HE50S HD camera located in the organ loft provides coverage of the conductor’s position in the Quire. Its output along with the output of the all the other cameras is viewed on the JVC organ console monitor.

For major events, hired video monitors are temporarily installed to provide those in the side aisles and other areas with a better view of proceedings. The monitors are also used for televised events. In addition to the video circuit at each location, there is an audio and data circuit thereby enabling any combination of signals to be sent to various destinations.

With permanent video, audio and data cabling infrastructure the need for unsightly and potentially dangerous surface mounted cabling is obviated. It also cuts costs; reducing rigging and de-rigging times.

Video and audio patching facilities are provided electronically via a Kramer VS-162 video matrix and a VS-1616A audio matrix.

Racks, linked by a fibre backbone, were installed at six key locations in a bid to reduce the volume of cabling and extent of the runs. Two multi-core fibres were installed between all of the rack locations to form two continuous rings and bolster resilience and flexibility.

The historic floor contains a large number of ledger stones and new cable runs could not be established below it. Furthermore, the age and fragility of many of the stones meant they could not be disturbed. Where routes existed, for example heating ducts, they were re-used and sometimes extended. As heavy access equipment, such as hydraulic platforms and scaffolding towers could not be used vertical cable runs were installed by abseilers.

The system has a number of DSP units located in the racks and are linked to the fibre network with HP ProCurve 2510/24 switches. Each rack has a primary and secondary switch. The core of the system consists of two Yamaha DME64 processors connected locally to AD8HR microphone input modules and DA824 line outputs. The audio connections to the remote equipment racks are via CobraNet digital audio channels sent to a number of Yamaha DME24N and DME8o-C units.

Touchscreens, located in various areas, provide vergers with overall control of the audio, video and related systems. The organist is provided with a dedicated touchscreen, which gives control of specific elements.

A Crestron AV2 processor, located in the user rack, provides control over various audio elements, CCTV cameras, audio and video recording and replay equipment. A Crestron fixed TPS4000L touchscreen at the user rack is complemented by a TPMC-8X wireless touchscreen, which can be used throughout the main areas of the building.

Finding space for racks in limited ground floor space presented further challenges. Two user racks were located on the ground floor between the nave and the quire. Aural and visual monitoring is available at the rack via a Fostex RM2 stereo rack monitor unit. There are also two racks at organ loft level. A single rack is located in the south transept and the nave side aisle, both at triforium level. Smaller racks are located in the Henry VII Chapel and the cloister. All racks are designed and manufactured by Xixin.

Whitwam installed a Marantz PMD 580 solid state recorder, a Tascam CD-RW901 CD recorder and a Datavideo MP-600 DVD recorder. The record and playback functions of all the decks are accessible via the touchscreens. Auxiliary inputs to and outputs from the system are available to enable connection of external equipment.

A CyberView LCD screen and keyboard along with a Fit-PC contains the system program and enables adjustments to be made to the system’s settings by an authorised person. An internet link has also been provided so that the system can be remotely managed and critical aspects are monitored so in the event of a failure the system installer is e-mailed with details.

One of the Organ Loft racks contains the patching facilities associated with video, audio and data. The second rack houses a number of Ashley SRA 2150 amplifiers, which are used to power the Quire Stall loudspeakers. The rack also contains the induction loop amplifiers, various audio and video distribution amplifiers and central equipment associated with the cctv installation.

The Triforium racks house the majority of the QSC CX series power amplifiers, consisting of 8–channel, 4-channel and 2-channel versions.

The rack located in the Henry VII Chapel houses a separate speech reinforcement system, which provides two cabled microphone circuits and two radio microphone channels. The rack also contains the multi-channel power amplifier for the chapel’s loudspeakers and also the drive amplifier for the induction loop system. The fibre network connects this rack with the main system racks thereby enabling Henry VII services to be relayed to The Abbey and vice versa.

In the ringing chamber a local loudspeaker enables the bell ringers to listen to the speech and music elements of the services. In addition, a video monitor enables them to see the output of the cctv cameras. Whilst they can select any of the cameras, they do not have access to the cameras’ pan, tilt and zoom controls.

Equipment in the cloister area provides a relay capability from The Abbey. Stand-mounted loudspeakers are connected to the system and positioned to take account of the cloister area requiring coverage. Cabled microphones and radio-microphone facilities enable cloister-based events to be heard in The Abbey.

The installation also encompassed St Margaret’s Church, a church standing between The Abbey and the House of Commons known as ‘the parish church to the House of Commons’. An audio link to the church’s own local sound system permits the relay of Abbey services to the church. The main use of the link is for the relay of The Abbey’s hourly prayers to St Margaret’s. Although seldom required, reverse usage of the link is also possible.

An AV installation in a building that houses some of the most prestigious events in the UK must be perfect. It must also be largely invisible. From laborious colour matching of speakers through to careful handling of cabling the whole installation team has created a marriage of quality and sensitivity for this iconic building.


Ampetronic ILD1000G drive amplifiers
Ashley SRA 2150 amplifiers, TSP4000L, TPMC-8X touchscreens
Audio-Technica ES935.ML and U851R mics
Canford BAP400 loudspeaker
Crestron AV2 processor
CyberView LCD screen and keyboard
HP ProCurve switches
Kramer VS-1616A audio matrix
Marantz PMD 580 solid state recorder
Martin Audio OmniLines
Tascam CD-RW901 CD recorder
RCF CS 6940 column loudspeakers
Sennheiser receivers, capsules, transmitters, aerials and handheld mics
Tannoy Di5T loudspeakers
QSC CX-series amplifiers
Fostex monitoring unit
Xixin racks
Yamaha DME64 processors, DME24N, DME8o-C units, AD8HR mic input modules, DA824 line inputs

Bosch MIC400 camera
Datavideo MP-600 DVD recorder
JVC TK-C686E cameras, TM-A101G and DT-V20L3G monitors
Kramer VS-162 video matrix
Panasonic AW-HE50S HD camera

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