Burlington Arcade

Established in 1818, the 196-yard-long covered shopping Arcade runs from Piccadilly through to Burlington Gardens in the heart of London, and houses an unmatchable selection of luxury boutiques much favoured by London’s well-heeled patrons. When the Reuben Brothers bought the Arcade, the new owners decided that they wanted to create considerably more atmosphere in the naturally lit, galleried Georgian space to provide a more welcoming ambience for shoppers.

Claire Munnelly, Project Audio’s Director and Project Manager, takes up the story: “The challenge for us was to design a sound system that was not in any way intrusive either sonically or visually, which meant it had to be to all intents and purposes invisible. Additionally, because the system had to be plug-and-play and essentially maintenance-free, it had to be electronically bullet-proof."

“We knew that Italian speaker manufacturer K-array offered a good range of solutions for this kind of application, and so we got in touch with K-array’s UK distributor 2B Heard who helped us to define the specification with an unobtrusive compact line array.”

Due to the relative inaccessibility of the hardware once installed, the Project Audio design team decided to implement a uniquely innovative solution to distributing the audio through the Arcade, and that was a closed WiFi MESH network, a group of connectivity devices acting as a single network that provides multiple, dedicated and super-stable connections along the whole length of the Arcade. “It’s highly encrypted and can’t be infiltrated,” explained Munnelly, “and that means no taxi communications traffic breaking through the audio! We believe it’s the first of its kind in an application like this, developed by our internal R&D team and requiring hours of software programming.”

Options for speaker locations were limited to the spaces above the store fronts on both sides of the Arcade, and that led to the selection of K-array Vyper line arrays which, thanks to their narrow vertical dispersion coupled with wide horizontal dispersion, allowed directivity to be focused accurately into the concourse while avoiding reflections from the opposite side. The compact line arrays are evenly spaced along the length of the Arcade, nine on each side, and are supplemented by a pair of Rumble-KU44 subwoofers.

The Vyper-KV52 I slim arrays contain eight 1” neodymium drive units in a half-metre high, white painted aluminium chassis, which blend imperceptibly into the interior so that they are barely visible. IP65 ingress protection rating was also a critical requirement in this application because the entirety of the arcade, including the speakers, is routinely cleaned by high pressure water jet.

Central control for the audio system is located above a shop in the centre of the Arcade where the playback device connects to the start of the MESH network, repeating all the way down to the two ends of the Arcade to the 18 separate speaker locations.

Installed out of hours when the Arcade closed at 10pm and working overnight, Project Audio completed the job in just under three and a half weeks, a large chunk of that time being allocated to programming the network while the speakers were up and running in a couple of days with no major obstacles.

A representative of Burlington’s technical management team commented: “We’d heard of work that Project Audio had done previously and invited them to present a solution for the improved ambience that we were looking for. They brought in some really innovative ideas for making sure the speaker systems were discreet – we didn’t want prominently visible black speaker boxes in there – so we spent some time in choosing the right speaker systems with the right aesthetics and they made sure it all matched beautifully. It was a very consultative process."

“We’re very happy with the sound of the speakers and that the system essentially operates ‘hands-off’ – it starts up on an automatic timer in the morning and really doesn’t need any intervention, it’s truly set-and-forget. The background music is controlled from a tablet and certainly creates a more relaxed atmosphere in the Arcade which seems to go down well with shoppers. We’re really pleased with the outcome.”