World’s largest rugby stadium elevates fan experience with JBL Pro sound system

Clair Global Integration (CGI) has been chosen to future proof Twickenham Stadium’s new bowl installation using the JBL Professional VLA loudspeaker range.

CGI was called upon to design and install a brand-new bowl sound system installation for the historic 82,000-capacity British sports venue, which is owned by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), England’s national rugby governing body.

Twickenham Stadium has been home to the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and England Rugby since 1907, hosting its first match in 1909. The Stadium has constantly evolved over its long history and has always had a focus on the fan experience. 

The stadium’s 20-year-old system was no longer supporting that aim so the RFU turned to Vanguardia to create a sound system that would offer the high sound pressure levels it required for the entertainment element alongside the intelligibility vital in a life safety PA/VA solution.

“The opening line to the team was that it had to be a compliant PA/VA system,” explained Steven Carver, venue project manager, RFU. “We had to make sure we were achieving British standard recommendations within the stadium bowl. Without the stadium PA system to actually broadcast those emergency messages, obviously the stadium couldn’t function, so it’s one of the key parts of the stadium.”

“Life safety is absolutely critical,” added Mark Lynch, executive director, RFU. “That’s the fundamental part of delivering and running any major stadium. But the fan experience is becoming more and more important. Creating that fan experience through audio is key, and it goes beyond rugby. We do concerts here, we do conferences and events and actually changing this place to make it a really multi-purpose stadium is underpinned by a quality audio system.”

Deploying state-of-the-art audio upgrades, the project was led by the experienced UK-based team, the results of which have catapulted Twickenham Stadium into a new era of concert-grade audio capabilities. Designed by CGI’s UK director, Eddie Thomas, and associate director Tom Williams, the project was delivered by Jake Miller, Steve Watson and John Hardy.

Starting with the original groundwork designed by environmental and technology consultants Vanguardia, a Buro Happold brand, CGI built upon this initial delivery phase by installing 16-line arrays flown from the stadium roof.

“Each hang comprises 12 JBL VLA-C2100 dual 10-inch cabinets and three JBL VLA-C125 flown sub-bass loudspeakers,” explained Williams. “The JBL VLA-C speakers use components shared with the JBL Pro VTX range for maximum sonic quality.”

It goes beyond rugby; we hold concerts, conferences and events.

An total of 336 JBL AWC-Series speakers have been used for the under-balcony areas on levels three and four, amplified by Crown DCi8|600N. Crown DCi-N amplifiers were utilised throughout the entirety of the system, with DCi4|2400N used for the main arrays and subs.

The system recommended for the stadium is based on JBL Professional’s VLA Compact line array solution. This line array benefits from the premium components found in JBL’s renowned touring systems, but in an installation-friendly package that is IP-rated to remove any worries about damage from water ingress or other weather concerns. 

The VLA-C clusters are supported by AWC cabinets, which have been used as the under-balcony fills to ensure maximum coverage throughout the space. Finally, PD6322s have also been supplied to cover the pitch when the stadium is hosting events.

“For us it was about trying to get a quality audio experience for every single fan in every single seat, that is where JBL came in and the product has been absolutely amazing,” said Lynch. “When we heard it for the first time, the smiles on the faces of myself and the entire team were absolutely brilliant. You can see it from the fans, and the feedback we get now from fans about the overall experience led by those JBL speakers is unbelievable.”

Power for the solution is courtesy of Crown Professional’s DCi series amplifiers utilising the DriveCore, which provides high power but very efficient amplification. These have been networked over Dante to provide audio distribution from the centralised DSP solution out into the remote rack rooms. 

One of the major advantages of the Crown amplifiers has been the support they provide to the life safety element of the system. The stadium needed to ensure that it had the ability to monitor the integrity of the loudspeaker circuits, and that is one of the key functionalities of the DCi.

There are six-amp rack locations on the roof and over 50 amplifiers in total. Two Q-SYS Core 510i integrated audio processors have been used in a redundant configuration with IO Frames in each amp rack. This high-fidelity system is capable of LAeq of 105dBA.

“It really is a fantastic system,” noted Joe East, project director, Sound Technology. “I’ve been fortunate enough to come to a couple of games and just listening to comments from other spectators along the stands, it is clear that it has made a really significant improvement to that matchday experience.”

“It’s phenomenal, it has a really punchy sound and clear announcements that lead to a great atmosphere,” said Daryl Prasad, Vanguardia.

“It sounds really good and everyone is happy with it,” added Eddie Thomas, Clair Global Integration Europe.

“To give them that audio experience alongside of everything else that the RFU and Twickenham do so well, it’s fantastic to work alongside them and we’ve very pleased with the end results,” concluded Justin Hankey, sales manager, installed sound EMEA, Harman Professional Solutions.

CGI has also installed a diversely routed and fire-resistant fibre network backbone. It provides essential infrastructure and is ‘Sports Ground Safety Authority Green Guide’ approved, the UK Government-funded guidance on spectator safety at sports grounds. This results in best practices for design, planning, safety, management, and operation.

“Designed specifically for stadia and other large-scale projects, the JBL upgrade at Twickenham is a statement system that offers generous flexibility,” added Williams. “This venue has welcomed spectators since 1907 and these significant upgrades will future proof the evolving needs of its impressive sporting and live events calendar.”

The feedback we get now from fans about the overall experience – led by those JBL speakers – is unbelievable!

The stadium hosts half-time entertainment during rugby matches, as well as high-profile international touring artists seeking large, outdoor venues. The new system therefore was required to reach the ‘Gods’ for live performance needs, offering an innovative ‘construction to production’ solution.

“This iconic venue has welcomed many Clair Global touring artists in the past including Lady Gaga, The Rolling Stones, Rihanna and recently, Depeche Mode,” added Williams. “The new audio system now allows tours to save on additional rental equipment costs while becoming a summer destination of choice for booking agents.”

“The fan experience is becoming more and more important and creating that fan experience through audio is key,” said Lynch. “It goes beyond rugby; we hold concerts, conferences, and events here, so making this a multipurpose stadium is underpinned by a quality audio system. The feedback we get now from fans about the overall experience – led by those JBL speakers – is unbelievable!”

Image Credit: Ellie Mitchell