Measuring the acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall

We took our year 2 and 3 Acoustics and Audio Engineering students to the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester yesterday. Finished in 1996, the hall is home to three orchestras: the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata.


Firing a starting pistol to measure a concert hall

When acoustic engineers want to characterise a hall they measure the room impulse response, which is what is picked up on a microphone when a short sharp sound is made. For a big venue you need a loud source, hence why I’m firing a starting pistol.

Measured impulse response in the auditorium

Measured impulse response in the auditorium

This is what an impulse response looks like. The first vertical line (at time=0) is caused by the pistol shot after it has travelled directly from the gun to the microphone in the stalls. Everything else to the right is reflections from the walls, floor and ceiling that arrive later because they have to travel further.

The impulse response captures what the room adds to music played on the stage, It is the starting point for acoustic analysis. One of the key parameters to calculate from the impulse response is the reverberation time. This measures how long sound reverberates around the hall before becoming inaudible.

Empty Reverberation Time in the Concert Hall

Empty Reverberation Time in the Concert Hall

In the empty hall, the reverberation time in the Bridgewater Hall was measured to be about 2.3 seconds for most frequencies. If the reverberation time in an auditorium is too short, then any music would sound dry and insubstantial. If it is too long, then the notes run into each other and become a mush during fast passages of music. A value of just over 2 seconds when the hall is empty, is a typical design value for a good quality concert hall for classical music.

One of the features of the Bridgewater Hall is it has a very powerful bass response. This is reflected in the reverberation time which rises to 3 seconds at low frequency. As an ex-double bass player, I like to hear lots of bass so love this. I have heard others say there is too much bass in the hall. As with types of music, we can have individual tastes for the acoustic properties of concert halls.

Downloads of Impulse responses

Middle of row G in the stalls. 1/2″ measurement microphone recorded on an Edirol R44. Three shots. 1, 2, 3

Seat k5, RION slm today. Two measurements: 1,2

Seat G10, RION slm today. Two measurements: 1,2


Thanks to Rob Harris from Arup Acoustics and the Bridgewater Hall for their help with the visit.


13 responses to “Measuring the acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall

  1. Interesting approach. May be the Concert Gebouw Amsterdam needs a test?

  2. Simple and concise. I see people covering their ears in the photo. Did you take readings of the noise levels while firing the pistol?

    • We didn’t calibrate the mics I’m afraid. All the people are towards the back of the stalls at a sufficient distance the gun shots did not pose a risk to hearing. We require people to be at least 10m from the pistol.

  3. The Rion measured an Lmax of 108 dB(A).

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  6. Thanks very useful blog. Hope to witness one like this in the future.

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  9. chrisperry211

    Reblogged this on CPerry Acoustics and commented:
    I was part of the group of 2nd year students who took part in this trip. We did a project on the acoustics of the hall based on the impulse responses we measured.
    We found the reverberation time of the room empty and we also tried to predict the reverberation time of the room when it is full using approximate values for the absorption of the different materials of the room. We also calculated the clarity and RASTI of the hall and looked into how adding a PA system to the hall would affect the reverberant sound field and what the uses of that would be.
    I have to say it was a very interesting project and certainly one of the highlights of my 2nd year at Salford University.

  10. Reblogged this on DomJohnAttwell – Acoustics and commented:
    As referenced in “To Silence All The Gun Nuts”: Prof. Trevor Cox describes the processes of measuring the reverberation time (RT) of Bridgewater Hall and why this value is so useful. (10/10/13)

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