What’s Next in Audio?

audioXpress is deeply rooted in the R&D and DIY audio communities. So is Elektor, our sister publication that originated in Europe. Elektor International Media (EIM) group publishes Elektor, audioXpress, Voice Coil, the Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook, and Circuit Cellar.

For those interested in building electronic things, analog or digital, audio related or not, for a hobby, addiction, or pure passion, we recommend Elektor as a must-read practical electronics magazine. You will not be disappointed. Because audioXpress is part of the EIM group, we share common resources such as our excellent Elektor.LABS service and web community. Projects from around the world can be submitted—and you are immediately rewarded for your submission. Your project’s development can be supported by our team of experts, as well as other members. So, we would like to invite all our audioXpress members to register at www.elektor-labs.com. Check it out! You will see there are already several interesting audio-related projects you can follow and discuss.

We also have exciting things on the horizon for all DIY audio aficionados. You will be the first to hear about them if you are a member of the Elektor.LABS community.

On a similar note, we are approaching the publication date of our Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook (LIS), which this year will include a searchable online version. There is no better way to find a supplier for anything audio-related be it speakers, transducers, amplifier modules, components, or any other part for your projects, from prototype stages to high-volume production.

For this year’s LIS, our team has been compiling and analyzing important trends. It’s clear the audio industry is speaking volumes in completely new areas (e.g., Bluetooth speakers and anything mobile) while “wearable” concepts are about to revolutionize the market. Just like tour-guided systems enable you to receive relevant information in different languages by walking into an exhibit and approaching a display, now personal mobile devices and wireless transmissions will expand the concept to the retail and entertainment markets. Such products already exist for sports events, and soon those collective experiences will be reinforced with “bring-your-own” personal devices. These notions weren’t feasible five years ago, because the technology was not there—or was simply too complicated and expensive.

At the same time, clever ideas without business plans to back them up don’t necessarily equal product success. Nor does it mean all ideas should immediately be converted into crowd-funded campaigns on Kickstarter. Doing so risks turning a valuable resource designed to help finance new start-ups into a site filled with collective deceptions.

We’ve seen examples of many “good-idea” products introduced on Kickstarter that are not viable in the real market. And remember, one product is not a company and not a business by itself. You need a market opportunity larger than one single product idea.

Also, there’s nothing like a good electronics community to find technical solutions and prove the concept in earlier stages. Sometimes, it’s not a good idea to include a powerful lithium battery in a device we are going to use for hours in our ear canals. And 3-D printers are great and will create new business opportunities, but do we really need consumers “printing” speakers? Others simply need to realize we now have powerful computers with touchscreens in our pockets. We don’t need more boxes and remote controls!

The April 2014 Issue of audioXpress is Now Online

AX-2014-04This month’s audioXpress reviews the different approaches in microphone placement techniques for capturing and recording unamplified acoustic music, particularly classical music. A recent study and AES presentation has reignited this issue and our author Gary Galo decided an historical perspective was needed in his article “Stereophonic Recording: What Do Listeners Prefer?”

In our usual review section, we give a listen to the new Focal Spirit Professional Headphones, the first effort of this kind from the prestigious French manufacturer. Miguel Marques tested the Focal Spirit Pros in a quest to discover what this new model brings to an already crowded and very competitive headphone market.

Interested in high-resolution audio? Then you might want to check our Standards Review column, where we examine the recently announced HDMI 2.0 specification. HDMI 2.0 introduces bandwidth support for Ultra HD/4K televisions, adds up to 32 audio channels and 1,536-kHz audio sample frequency with simultaneous delivery of video and audio streams to multiple users.

In this edition, we interview Craig Bernabeu, founder and chief designer of SBS Designs. He created the company with a former colleague to explore “different approaches to record or play back music that would suit my needs” and realize his vision of “US-made high-end designs with a left-field approach available to users,” as he describes it.

Get ready to shake. Mike Klasco’s and Steve Tatarunis’s article discusses structure-borne vibrational energy with “Bass Shakers: Enhancing the Deep Bass Experience with Tactile Energy.”
This month’s Hollow-State Electronics column is dedicated to the “Effects Of Guitar-Amplifier Design On Distortion Sound.” Richard Honeycutt looks closely at one particular amplifier’s design to determine at what stages most of the distortion occurs.

For those interested in DIY projects, you will enjoy a great concept from Michael Rothacher with his LuminAria: A SIT Preamplifier. The author intended this preamplifier to be “compact enough to fit in a suitcase” and a “good-sounding, unusual preamplifier with a spiffy set of performance specifications.” He completed the project in two months, and it was one of the highlights at the Burning Amp Festival in San Francisco.

In our Audio Electronics column, we have Bill Reeve’s take on “An Alternative to Linear Regulators.” In the article, he searches for equivalent power-line ripple rejection with less power dissipation, because no one wants to listen to an audio amplifier that hums.

We also included a book review and this month we share what we can learn from a master by reading The Bruce Swedien Recording Method.

Your new issue of audioXpress is now available at www.gotomyxpress.com

Q&A: Engineer Takes a Chance on Start-Up Audio Venture

SHANNON BECKER: Tell us about your company Tortuga Audio. Can you also share the story behind your sea turtle mascot?

Morten Sissener used his engineering knowledge to open his own audio design boutique, which he named Tortuga Audio.

Morten Sissener used his engineering knowledge to open his own audio design boutique, which he named Tortuga Audio.

MORTEN SISSENER: Tortuga Audio is a boutique audio design, manufacturing, and marketing company located in South Florida. At present we only sell through the Internet via our website although we expect to add channel partners in the future probably starting in Europe.  We’re a little over a year old in terms of coming out with our first products—a line of passive preamplifiers built around light-dependent resistors (LDRs). We actually manufacture here in the US. While it may not hold much sway with customers, there’s something satisfying in being able to say “Made in the USA.” That’s the short and mostly dry of it.

Our mascot is the sea turtle wearing a set of headphones. People who know me wouldn’t describe me as being particularly religious or spiritual, but I’ve come to accept the sea turtle as my totem. A totem is an object or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of an individual, family, or tribe. You don’t pick your totem. Your totem picks you.

I’ve always had a fascination with a place called The Dry Tortugas. It’s a small cluster of islands about 70 miles west of Key West, FL. I first heard of this place in an adventure book I read when I was a young boy. I fell in love with reading, warm blue water, and The Dry Tortugas.

Years later, I bought a boat in South Florida. The first time I took that boat offshore I went out 20 miles, stopped, and turned off the engines. I was out of sight of land. The water was glassy calm. Thirty feet off the starboard beam a sea turtle surfaced and stared at me. I stared back. This lasted for over a minute. Then the turtle dove away. The name I’d already put across the transom of my boat was The “Tortuga Dreamer.” So when it came time to name my audio company you could say it named itself—Tortuga Audio.

SHANNON: What prompted you to start a company that designs and manufactures audio equipment, particularly in 2010 when the economy was so uncertain?

MORTEN: Starting an audio company that caters to a shrinking niche of audio fanatics as the masses continued shifting to low-resolution MP3 audio and inexpensive ear buds was arguably a questionable business decision. However, it was definitely a passionate business decision. Approaching 60, I figured it was time to pursue my passion rather than my resume. And I’ve always been passionate about technology, audio, and music. You could say the rational engineer decided to follow his heart.

SHANNON: What kind of audio products do you build? Can you share some of your design challenges?

As with all Tortuga Audio’s LDR passive preamplifier (LDRx) products, the LDR6 has unity gain passive (no active amplification) volume controllers that employ digitally controlled audio grade light-dependent analog resistors to provide neutral and transparent attenuation.

As with all Tortuga Audio’s LDR passive preamplifier (LDRx) products, the LDR6 has unity gain passive (no active amplification) volume controllers that employ digitally controlled audio grade light-dependent analog resistors to provide neutral and transparent attenuation.

MORTEN: While the business rationale behind the founding of Tortuga Audio may not win first prize in any business plan contest, the decision to pursue our flagship product was, and remains, highly rational and compelling.

Back in 2009, I was building a tube preamplifier mostly as an exercise to see if tubes could really offer more than solid state. I was less than impressed with the results even though I’d used a well recognized kit/design and top-of-the-line components.

At the time I was using a motorized Alps Blue Velvet potentiometer for volume control. Thinking that perhaps I could improve the sound by going to a stepped attenuator, I stumbled across LDRs. I cobbled together a very basic LDR volume control based on bits and snippets of information on the Internet, pulled out the Alps potentiometer and installed the LDR. The result was nothing less than a revelation!

The fact that this tube preamplifier went from disappointing to awesome simply by changing the attenuator made quite an impression on me and frankly I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s what engineers do. Especially this engineer. I can’t stop thinking of ways to do things differently or better. I’ve always hated that old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Can you imagine Steve Jobs saying that?

This led me to ask a simple question. Why do I need a preamplifier? Why preamplify and then amplify? Do I really need the additional gain? In most instances, the answer is no.

I looked at all the complexity of that tube preamplifier and decided to pull out the LDR attenuator, set the preamplifier aside, and use the LDR as a purely passive volume controller. The result? It sounded even better without the tube preamplifier. And not just a little bit better, a lot better! I was so impressed with this LDR attenuator that I couldn’t leave it alone. From that point forward, I dove into the deep end of LDR volume control.

SHANNON: What makes your audio equipment unique?

MORTEN: LDRs are challenging to work with because  they are both nonlinear and variable. Nonlinear means their relationship between control signal applied to an LDR and the resulting resistance level is not a simple fixed ratio. Variable means that this nonlinear relationship can vary from one LDR to the next even with LDRs of the same model, from the same manufacturer, and from the same production run. That’s a lot of variable nonlinear stuff and that makes it very hard to get consistent predictable behavior when using LDRs for volume control. No designer likes to work with audio components that behave like LDRs.

Part of our solution to taming the wild LDR was to design a programmable digital control unit that enables us to control the analog LDR with proprietary software algorithms. We combine digital control with a two-step testing protocol such that each LDR preamplifier we build has a custom set of software-based correction curves that ensures  predictable performance. This is neither simple nor easy, but we’ve put an enormous amount of time and effort into developing the software and hardware tools to do this cost effectively.

The result is a unique and game-changing LDR-based passive preamplifier (volume control) design that we believe rivals not only all other passive preamplifiers out there but also meets or beats even the best high-end active preamplifiers. While I happen to believe this personally, feedback from our customers and reviewers continues to reinforce this view.

SHANNON: Are you currently planning or working on any new product designs?

The Tortuga LDR3x is a preamplifier controller board designed around LDRs that enables DIYers to build a passive or active preamplifier including remote control.

The Tortuga LDR3x is a preamplifier controller board designed around LDRs that enables DIYers to build a passive or active preamplifier including remote control.

MORTEN: Our core focus continues to be advancing the development of our LDR-based volume controller products. In the third quarter of 2012, we came out with our LDR1 and  LDR6 passive preamplifiers, which are finished preamplifier products. In the third quarter of 2013, we introduced the LDR3x passive preamplifier controller board (the LDR3x), which we marketed to the DIY audio community. We plan on continuing to serve the high-end audiophile consumers with finished products and provide DIY products to audio enthusiasts who’d rather build it themselves.

In November of 2013, we introduced the HiZ upgrade to our LDR-based preamplifiers. The HiZ algorithm enabled us to raise the input impedance of our LDRx products resulting in a remarkable improvement to an already fantastic-sounding preamplifier/volume controller. As far as we know, nobody else has done anything like this.

In terms of what’s next, we are working hard on coming out with our new line of LDRx passive preamplifiers including our new LDR3B, which I believe may be the first-ever LDR-based preamplifier for balanced audio. We hope to release the LDR3B before the end of March. Since we are a relatively low-volume business and want to offer distinctive products that are not priced out of reach to most audiophiles, we’ve decided to manufacture our own enclosures in-house going forward. This will keep our costs down while enabling us to offer high-quality products and still retain the flexibility of small-batch production, quick design changes, and the ability to offer custom solutions.

Beyond our next generation line of LDR preamplifiers, we plan to introduce a buffer companion product to our passive preamplifiers that will expand the application of our preamplifier/volume controller to include sources and amplifiers where a pure passive may not be the best fit. We are also considering the introduction of an integrated amplifier product that will allow us to target a broader market. These will be second half of 2014 products.

Longer term, we are quite excited about the prospects for an OEM version of our LDR preamplifier controller product. Every active preamplifier or integrated amplifier sold and marketed to the audiophile community that currently uses a potentiometer for volume control would sound better with a Tortuga Audio LDR volume controller. And along with being the best-sounding attenuator available, it also includes input switching, IR remote control, and a built-in encoder control.

SHANNON: How did you become interested in audio electronics?

This 3-D CAD rendering shows the front (a) and the back (b) view of a prototype enclosure design for Tortuga’s new LDR3B balanced passive preamplifier, a new product line that will be coming out in March.

This 3-D CAD rendering shows the front (a) and the back (b) view of a prototype enclosure design for Tortuga’s new LDR3B balanced passive preamplifier, a new product line that will be coming out in March.

MORTEN: As a newly minted mechanical engineer, I started my professional career in the aerospace sector working with complex electromechanical systems. This segued into energy when the company I was with in California became interested in alternative methods of power production. This eventually led me into industrial construction, large capital project development, project finance, software, sales and marketing, wind, solar and biofuels, as well as several start-ups along the way. An interesting ride but all along I was remained very interested in technology, software development, audio, and music. I decided it was time for my true interests to rule the day rather than the inertia of my resume. Plus I’m just an unapologetic techno-geek with a big creative itch that needed scratching. I also like to run my own show.

SHANNON: Where do you see the audio industry in 10 years?

MORTEN: I believe the high-end audiophile market with many components costing $10,00 or more is going to continue to decline into obscurity. Many have argued that the high-end market may already be in a terminal death spiral of rising prices and shrinking volume. I tend to agree. If true, that’s not a sustainable scenario for high-end audio.

The audio listening paradigm of a big-rig stereo in the living room that the aging baby boomer audiophiles were introduced to in the 1970s is not the central paradigm of contemporary audio. Where only a few years ago you could go into a big box store and see racks of receivers, rows of speakers and even a “high end” listening room, today, most of that is simply gone.

Ironically, we are collectively listening to more music from more sources more of the time than ever before. Access to music is wide if not deep. The Internet has become the new radio. Online streaming is becoming the norm for most consumers while buying and owning music is slowly retreating, This is especially true for physical media such as CDs.

Despite this bounty of access, we’ve also experienced the concurrent dumbing down of audio quality (e.g., low-resolution MP3 files) and listening through lo-fi hardware, most of which has gone mobile. So it’s an interesting mixed bag of good and bad news for us audio nutters.

While the road ahead may be unclear, I believe that a significant percentage of all those 20-to-30-something Millenials and Xers are eventually going to raise the bar on their audio game as they grow older and their incomes rise. But you can forget living rooms filled with big, heavy, and expensive gear as the norm. “Personal audio” will continue to grow and evolve and that means computer centric audio.

For most, that will mean DAC->preamplifier (volume controller)->amplifier->speaker configuration in which the DAC/preamplifier/amplifier separates will trend toward being a single integrated component. Speakers will be smaller, but higher quality near-field units usually located on desks or bookshelves near where people sit and work with their computers. And yes, no doubt a subset of these folks will eventually go with some bigger gear as well. But I believe we’re talking a few thousand dollars of audio gear and not tens of thousands of dollars.

SHANNON: Do you have any advice for audioXpress readers who want to build their own sound systems?

MORTEN: I tend to be a minimalist and a skeptic and try to not get distracted by bright shiny objects.  What I recommend is forget cables, power conditioners, cryogenics, and ceramic outlet face plates. Focus first on what matters the most.

Nothing will affect your audio enjoyment as much as speakers. Poor-quality speakers can make a great rig sound awful. Great speakers can make a low-quality rig sound remarkably good but not great. My personal favorite these days are full-range speakers with alnico magnets. Full-range speakers are point sources with no crossovers or phase-shifting. They offer amazing clarity, articulation, and bass.

Second (self-serving statement alert!) get the best preamplifier/volume control you can. Every note gets squeezed through the bottleneck of your volume control and this is where the most irreparable harm happens to your audio signal, even if everything else you have is really good.

Third, choose the best DAC you can. DACs are evolving rapidly, which is fantastic news.

The last thing I would worry about in terms of main components is your amplifier. Not that amplifiers don’t matter, they just don’t matter that much compared to everything else. And the good news is there’s a huge selection of great amplifiers out there.

To summarize, if you’re deciding on how to prioritize your money, make it speaker->preamplifier (volume control)->DAC->amplifier. Of course, if you’re into vinyl then a good turntable and cartridge is critical, but don’t forget the phono preamplifier. This can get expensive fast. I’d expect to spend a few thousand dollars to get into the land of great vinyl audio. It will cost more for fantastic.

Once you’ve got a decent system you really enjoy listening to, you can begin the madness of tweaking this and that, trying various cables, power conditioners, and so forth. But remember that the purveyors of audio equipment will tell and sell you practically anything you can imagine to get that extra ounce of goodness out of your rig.

Despite all the changes happening in technology and the audio industry, music remains a wonderful art form and audio is still a great hobby. Enjoy!

Q&A: Dan Dugan – Audio Engineer, Inventor, and Nature Sounds Recordist

Dan Dugan

Dan Dugan was the first person in regional theater to be called a “sound designer.” He also developed the first effective automatic microphone mixer—the automixer. He is shown here with his museum rack of Dugan automatic mixers.

SHANNON BECKER: When and how did you first become interested in audio electronics?

DAN DUGAN: As a child! I was most interested in theater lighting. I was raised in San Diego, CA, and when my parents took me to the Old Globe Theatre or the summer musicals in the Ford Bowl, I always wanted to go backstage to see the light board. In grade school, I operated the projectors, the tape recorders (Wollensak and Revere), and the sound systems (Bogen).

SHANNON: When did you attempt your first audio project?

DAN: In grade school, I remember making up a program on tape. Something historical, but I can’t remember what it was about.

SHANNON: Describe some of the jobs you had prior to inventing the automatic microphone mixer.

DAN: After doing all the lighting for four years at the University of San Francisco (USF) College Players and for concerts in the USF Gym, I did sound for the Globe Theatre in 1964 and lighting and sound in 1965, and lighting for the first production of the San Diego Opera in 1965. In 1967, I switched to doing theater sound, working for the San Diego National Shakespeare Festival and the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.
[The title “Sound Designer” was created in 1968 to describe what Dan was doing. He provided sound services for many seasons of the Mondavi Jazz Festival, and engineered several independent record albums, including Kate Wolf’s first two albums which are still in print, now as CDs].

1978 Globe studio

Dugan was raised in San Diego, CA, where his parents took him to the Old Globe Theatre. Here he is pictured editing sound in a dressing room at the Old Globe Theatre in 1978.

SHANNON: Describe what the term “sound designer” means to you.

DAN: In theaters a “sound designer”  supervises the sound from the microphones to the audience’s ears. In motion picture production there are two meanings. The first is the same as in theater, also called supervising sound editor, and the second usage is for a person who creates novel sounds like monsters.

 

SHANNON: How did you come up with the idea for the automatic microphone mixer?

DAN: In 1968, I did sound design for the resident companies of Hair in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Toronto. There were 36 microphones and one operator working rotary-knob mixers in a rack. I thought there had to be a way to help. I experimented for about six years and hit on a solution.

SHANNON: Tell us about some of your other inventions. Which is the most popular? Are any currently in production?

Model Dugan MY16

One of Dugan’s most popular products is the Dugan-MY16, a 16-channel automatic mixing controller that plugs into a slot on Yamaha consoles. The controller enables sound engineers to manage multiple live microphones without continually riding individual faders. The Dugan-MY16 automatically detects the active microphones and makes fast, transparent cross-fades without the distracting sonic artifacts common to noise gates. It tracks unscripted dialogue and maintains consistent system gain for up to 16 open microphones.

DAN: The Dugan Speech System is my most popular invention. It is 40 years old and still finding new applications. There’s also the Dugan Music System, a distant second, and Dugan Gain Limiting. In limited use but with more coming soon is the Dugan Automatic Level Control. Unrealized as of yet but in the wings are Dugan Foldback Limiting and a Dugan Speech Equalizer.

 

SHANNON: Tell us about “A New Music and Sound Effects System for Theatrical Products,” which is the sound design paper you presented to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) at its 37th Convention. Did you realize its future implications when you wrote it?

DAN: In the paper, I described a system in which the signals from three stereo tape players were routed to 10 loudspeaker zones in the theater. Audio mixing boards generally combine a large number of inputs to a small number of outputs—that’s mixing. For playback of theater cues, the opposite was desired, routing a small number of channels over a large number of speakers. As there was nothing like that available, I designed and built a system from scratch. It was the first multi-scene preset board for theatrical cues playback, sending three stereo tape decks to ten speaker channels. And I described my work in that paper. Subsequently, Charles Richmond, of Richmond Sound Design, designed products developing the concept further.

SHANNON: Your patented equipment has been used in thousands of places, including the courtroom where Saddam Hussein’s trial took place and on the David Letterman Show. Can you share other locations where your equipment may be found?

DAN: My equipment is used in corporate meetings everywhere, from ESPN sports to PAC-12 sports to US Presidential debates and on several television set locations including Washington Week and PBS News Hour.

Model E Series

The Dugan Model E-2 automatic mixing controller is used with multiple live microphones. This updated unit replaces the Dugan Model D-2 as the company’s top-of-the-line automatic mixing controller with analog I/O and is useful for users who are working in tight spaces or who need portability in their analog Dugan system.

SHANNON: Your San Francisco, CA-based company Dan Dugan Sound Design (www.dandugan.com) produces automixing solutions. Are you currently developing any new  products?

DAN: We recently added the Model E-2 to complete the E-series (E-1A, E-2, E-3). We are also just about to ship the Dugan-VN16, an option board for Avid live sound mixers.
Next out for our company will be a new physical control panel for Dugan automixers. It can be used when you are working under pressure and real knobs and buttons are better than mouse clicks.

 

SHANNON: To what do your attribute your company’s continuing success?

DAN: Persistence, good luck.

SHANNON: You are known for your use of natural sound recordings. When and why did you first begin capturing the sounds of nature?

DAN: I was the Northern California service shop for Nagra Audio. Around 1987 or 1988 one of the founders of the Nature Sounds Society worked at the Oakland Museum and he brought a Nagra recorder in for service. He mentioned that every summer they had a camp in the Sierras and invited me to come. I started mentoring with the Nature Sounds Society, teaching people how to get the best sound from their equipment. I started recording for myself at the end of 2001 when I took a borrowed MiniDisc recorder for a trip to New Zealand and I recorded an album’s worth of good stuff.

SHANNON: Where do you conduct your outdoor recordings?

 

Dan Dugan recording

Dugan records ice falls at Upper Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Falls National Park, Mariposa, CA.

DAN: One of my favorite locations is Muir Woods [National Monument in Mill Valley, CA] because it’s so accessible. I also enjoy recording in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park because it is sublime and at Joshua Tree National Park [in southeastern California].

SHANNON: What do you see as some of the greatest audio innovations of your time?

DAN: “Of my time” meaning in my career? I think there are several including solid-state electronics, integrated circuits, electret condenser microphones, and digital audio.

SHANNON: Would you recommend any promising technologies to audioXpress readers?

DAN: Audio over Ethernet.

Industry Watch: January 2014

2013 CEA Technology Winners

Charlie Hughes

Photo 1: Charlie Hughes earned the 2013 Consumer Electronics
Association’s (CEA) Technology & Standards Award for his work on CEA-2034.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently announced the winners of the sixth annual Technology & Standards Awards. Nominees were judged on their commitment to excellence as evidenced by the extent and consistency of their overall ongoing contributions to the CEA’s Technology & Standards program.

“This year’s award recipients have demonstrated industry leadership through active participation in the CEA’s Technology & Standards program both over the long term and with recent projects,” according to Brian Markwalter, the CEA’s senior vice president for research and standards. “All of our honorees have dedicated countless hours to creating standards that launch new product categories and make existing products easier to use.”

Charlie Hughes received one of this year’s awards for standards pertaining to loudspeaker development (see Photo 1). Hughes is president of Excelsior Audio Design & Services (www.excelsior-audio.com) and the co-chairman of CEA’s Sound Measurement Working Group. He received this prestigious award for spearheading the publication of CEA-2034, Standard Method of Measurement for In-Home Loudspeakers. Hughes is also a contributing Voice Coil author. Congratulations Charlie!

 


2014 CES Best of Innovations Awardees

The CEA also announced its list of 2014 International Consumer Economic Show (CES) Best of Innovations Design and Engineering award honorees. The CES Innovations Awards honor outstanding design and engineering advancements across 28 consumer electronics product categories, including two new categories this year: 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing and Wearable Technologies.

The Best of Innovations designation is awarded to products with the highest judges’ scores and will be honored during the 2014 International CES, January 7–10, 2014, in Las Vegas, NV. The award winners will be featured in the Innovations Design and Engineering Awards Showcase in the Venetian Hotel. Award winners with products related to the loudspeaker industry include:

  • Headphones: Plantronics, the BackBeat Go 2 + Charging Case
  • High-Performance Home Audio: Bang & Olufsen, BeoLab 18
  • Home Theater Speakers: Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Philips Fidelio E5 Wireless Surround Cinema Speakers

 

 


HTSA 2013 Awards

The Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) presented its 2013 HTSA Vendor Awards to those who have demonstrated commitment to member growth through the development of cutting-edge products and technologies, exemplary business practices, and unyielding service and support for HTSA members. Each year the HTSA Vendor Awards go to industry professionals who have had an overwhelming impact on the success and business growth of HTSA members.

For 2013, HTSA announced the return of its Lifetime Achievement Award, one of its most coveted honors. Sandy Gross, founder and president of GoldenEar Technology, received the 2013 award. Gross’s previous company was Definitive Technology.

Other loudspeaker companies that received awards include:

  • Technology Innovation: Lenbrook Industries, the BlueSound line of wireless loudspeakers
  • Best Audio Product: Paradigm Electronics, Soundtrack home theater system

 

 


Harman Opens First US Store

HARMAN International opened its first US store on November 21, 2013, to demonstrate the company’s home, car, and pro audio products and to sell select home audio gear to consumers. The two-level, 8,500-ft2 store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, NY, also serves as a key showroom and experience center for the company’s channel and technology partners. It will also serve as a space for its automotive OEM customers to receive a full-brand experience. Harman also plans to use the venue to host music performances and DJ sets and offer seminars to educate consumers. HARMAN will leverage its “brand ambassadors” and celebrity friends to help bring unique and memorable events to the store for Manhattan consumers.

This new HARMAN store is only the world’s second.  The first HARMAN store opened in Shanghai in 2010. A third showroom is set to open in Moscow in 2014. HARMAN has tentative plans for future stores in Los Angeles, CA, or Detroit, MI, to be close to its entertainment and auto partners.

The Manhattan store features home-theater and two-channel audio rooms, which the company’s luxury-audio dealers and channel partners can use to demonstrate equipment. The store also contains a professional DJ mixing board and interactive kiosk-style displays customers can use to learn about the company’s OEM car audio and infotainment technologies.

Multiple interactive experience areas include an interactive table display and headphone rack so shoppers can test Harman headphones by listening to provided music or by plugging in their own music players. A soundproof chamber enables customers to compare their existing headphones or select products from competing brands with HARMAN products.

The stage area features HARMAN’s professional concert and music studio equipment and will host musical performances and special events. Customers can experience large-venue premium sound in a store environment.

The store sells products for home audio enthusiasts and audiophiles. However, it does not sell products for professional sound engineers or musicians. Pro products (e.g., studio and stage microphones, headphones, and musician accessories) will occasionally be showcased, but the store won’t be a full-line showroom for pro gear.

The full line of Harman Kardon, JBL, AKG, and Infinity products is available for sale. High-performance products from the Revel and Mark Levinson brands are also displayed, but the store refers consumers to those brands’ retailers for sales. The store also offers shoppers exclusive products available only through the Madison Avenue location.

 


Bang & Olufsen Launches Industry’s First WiSA-Certified Wireless Speakers

Bang & Olufsen (B&O) has launched the loudspeaker industry’s first wireless speakers that were certified by the Wireless Speaker and Audio (WiSA) Association. Additional companies are expected to launch their first WiSA-certified products at the 2014 International CES in January. WiSA technology certification includes the delivery of interference-free, wired-quality wireless audio in the 5.2–5.8 GHz U-NII band to stereo and home-theater speakers within a room up to 29.5’ × 29.5’.

B&O’s three active WiSA-certified speakers include the compact two-way aluminum BeoLab 17 ($3,990 per pair), the 12-sided BeoLab 19 subwoofer ($3,395 per pair), and the BeoLab 18 ($6,590 per pair). The BeoLab 18 speaker features a narrow, cylindrical extruded-aluminum enclosure with a spike-shaped pedestal that appears to balance the speaker on a flat, square base. This speaker can also be wall mounted. (The BeoLab 18 is actually an update of the BeoLab 8000 speaker’s iconic design, which features a tall narrow floor-standing speaker with a spike-type pedestal resting on a flat base. It was first introduced in 1992.)

In addition to the new style base, the BeoLab 18 also adds a top-mounted acoustic lens tweeter, which delivers 180° high-frequency sound to widen the stereo sweet spot. The speaker also has a front grille consisting of narrow horizontal slats arrayed in a way that maintains the speaker’s cylindrical shape. The composite-material slats are available in black or white, and an optional natural-color solid-oak grille is available ($1,350 per pair).

The BeoLab18 delivers up to 7.1 channels of 24-bit/96-kHz uncompressed audio. Using WiSA technology to eliminate cable clutter, it enables a more flexible speaker placement and overcomes sound-quality interference, latency, and cost challenges associated with other wireless technologies designed for multichannel home theaters. B&O’s implementation delivers 24-bit, 48-kHz audio over wireless and it is less prone to interference with the lower throughputs. The company maintains the sound quality is better than CD. Other B&O news includes its recent expansion of the “Play” sub brand into 32 Magnolia Design Centers inside Best Buy stores.

Industry Watch: December 2013

Primax Acquires 70% Share of Tymphany

Primax Electronics, based in Taiwan and founded in 1984, will acquire a 70% share in Tymphany. Hong Kong, China-based Tymphany is an ODM and OEM speaker supplier for home, car, and pro audio brands. The acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of the year following regulatory approvals. Terms weren’t disclosed.

Tymphany has a proven record of success with a healthy margin and balance sheet. The company has been growing at a pace of 40% a year for the past two years. Primax COO Brian Yang said he expects the acquisition to significantly contribute to Primax’s revenues and earnings next year.

Tymphany said it will continue to operate as an independent company but will benefit from the Primax’s technology offerings and manufacturing capabilities. Primax, which is said to be the world’s largest PC peripheral equipment manufacturer, sells products under its own brand name. It is also an ODM and OEM supplier.

Tymphany, with administrative offices in Sausalito, CA, will retain its existing 2,500-employee work force, partner relationships, and management, including Tom Jacoby, chairman and corporate development officer. Tymphany also owns Peerless, an OEM supplier of speaker transducers.

Primax said the acquisition will help expand its presence in the digital audio market, including Bluetooth speakers, digital music players, wireless audio systems, and so forth. “We believe the combined strength of the audio and acoustic technology of Tymphany and the wireless and electronics manufacturing expertise of Primax will put us in the leading position of serving the needs of the digital audio industry,” according to Primax chairman/CEO Raymond Liang.

With the acquisition, Primax also receives a majority stake in several factories and R&D centers in South China. Tymphany’s 2,500 employees are located throughout China, Europe, and the US.

 


AudioXperts Closes Due to Lack of Funding

Luxury-audio startup AudioXperts closed its operations October 11, 2013. However, some of its products may make their way into the consumer electronics (CE) market. Eli Harary, AudioXperts founder and industry veteran, explained that the company’s majority investor, a Taiwan-based company with factories in mainland China, stopped funding AudioXperts after reaching an agreed-upon investment level. The investor decided to discontinue funding even though most of AudioXperts’s delayed product line was coming to market almost a year later than planned.

Unfortunately, AudioXperts reached its investment cap due to design, engineering, and build delays. One product, a TV sound base, was recalled due to quality issues. Other products had to be reworked to meet quality levels. This is not uncommon. coNEXTion Systems, a former CEDIA HT and distributed audio startup, closed for similar reasons (although it did not experience quality control issues).

It seems some Chinese companies that invest in US CE startups don’t understand the way the US does business. This is unfortunate since the potential for success when combining US engineering and marketing with China’s manufacturing can be powerful.

Although Harary explained to the investor’s board that most products were just now coming to market, the board was not willing to continue funding the company. As for the brand’s future, Harary said it is possible, but unlikely, that he will find another investor to operate the company as it was. However, he noted that perhaps the product designs and tooling may be sold to another company that could bring the products to market. AudioXperts attended this year’s CEDIA Expo to promote its new products. Unfortunately, the majority of AudioXperts’ employees have been permanently laid off.

 


Leon Speakers Acquires Media Décor

Founded in 2003, Media Décor manufactures high-end concealment products, including art lifts, moving art, and flat screen TV mounts. Leon Speakers acquisition of Media Décor expands its portfolio of high-end, custom-tailored loudspeakers with TV enhancement solutions and provides new commercial and residential business opportunities.

 


Lenbrook Launches Bluesound Brand

Lenbrook Industries has launched a new brand called Bluesound. The Bluesound designs are the company’s first wireless multi-room audio products, specifically positioned to be a step up from the Sonos brand’s wireless-audio systems in performance and price. Lenbrook, which markets audio components and speakers under the NAD and PSB brands, is pursuing a more limited distribution strategy than Sonos, targeting about 100 A/V specialists. Lenbrook is also exploring an opportunity with Magnolia Home Theater and Magnolia Design Center stores.

Bluesound’s first five products have already been delivered to approximately 40 A/V specialists in the US, primarily current NAD or PSB dealers. After the International CES in January 2014, the company plans to expand distribution to about 100 specialists and possibly Best Buy’s Magnolia Home Theater, which sells NAD and PSB headphones but not NAD or PSB audio components.

An engineering team that included most of Lenbrook’s NAD and PSB engineers developed this new product line, and the company is promoting the new brand’s connection to the NAD and PSB brands’ hi-fi heritage. Bluesound is targeted to music enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with the types of audio components made by companies such as NAD/PSB but who are interested in high-performance audio.

Product development began a little more than three years ago with a mission to create an accurate and musical sounding brand that would attract a broad audience of music enthusiasts, not just audiophiles. The concept was to target music enthusiasts who like the convenience of wireless and are willing to pay more for serious hi-fi performance.

The Bluesound product line includes the $699 Power Node streamer/amplifier, the $449 Node streamer without an amplifier for connection to existing sound systems, the $699 Pulse active biamplified tabletop speaker/streamer, and the $999 Vault streamer/ripper, which also lacks an amplifier. The brand offers the $999 Duo 2.1 speaker system. It can be used with the Power Node, which features an EQ switch to optimize playback through the Duo.

The streaming products, which use Apple and Android mobile devices as system controllers, stream music over a home network via 802.11 b/g/n or via wired Ethernet from a networked PC, Mac, or NAS drive, none of which need to run Bluesound software or use Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology. The devices also stream music from the brand’s Vault, which combines a wired streamer with a CD ripper, and 1TB of storage for music files ripped in the MP3 and lossless FLAC formats.

All the products also incorporate the TuneIn app, which streams music from radio stations worldwide and from the radio music service. Additional music services will be added as the brand progresses. The Vault also streams from a networked computer, similar to the Sonos motif. When a USB-connected Bluetooth dongle is plugged into the Bluesound streamers, users will be able to stream music from a mobile device to the Bluetooth-connected component, which in turn will retransmit the music via Wi-Fi around the house to the other Bluesound streamers.

 


Triad Releases New Behind-Wall Speakers

Photo 1: Triad Speakers’s new DS700se is a behind-wall, two-way speaker designed for larger rooms or theaters requiring more output and highly dynamic sound quality.

Photo 1: Triad Speakers’s new DS700se is a behind-wall, two-way speaker designed for larger rooms or theaters requiring more output and highly dynamic sound quality.

Triad Speakers has released an upgrade to its behind-the-wall Invisible Designer Series Speakers. The new DS700se is Triad Speakers’s first two-way model behind-wall speaker (see Photo 1). It features wider frequency response from 50 Hz to 20 kHz, deeper bass, improved midrange and treble response, and 200-W peak per channel power handling.

The DS700se, which joins seven single-panel models, consists of two separately mounted flat vibrating honeycomb panels per channel, one panel for lows and one for highs.

The other Designer speakers use one full-range panel per channel. As with previous designs, the rigid aluminum-honeycomb panels are cut into the wall, and their paper skins are covered with plaster, drywall compound, or mud skims to completely hide the speakers by blending them into the wall. The DS700se panels fit between the wall studs in typical home construction and require a mounting depth of only 2”.
The flat-panel technology enhances off-axis response when compared with traditional speakers. This is true, in part, because the radiating panels are larger in size than a typical driver, according to Triad engineer David Nelson. Separate placement of low- and high-frequency panels also makes placement more flexible to deliver the best imaging, Nelson added. The high-frequency panel measures 17.7 ” × 13.6” × 1.6” and the low-frequency panel measures 17.7 × 7.9 × 1.6.”

The panel costs $2,250 per channel, which includes a HPF-2 limiter/filter protection unit. For more information, visit www.triadspeakers.com.

 


NTI America Celebrates 10th Anniversary

NTI Americas is marking its 10th anniversary serving North, Central, and South America with NTi Audio products and services. The formation of NTI Americas was announced 10 years ago at the 2003 New York AES convention.

The company provides factory support, sales, parts, service, and ISO calibration for all NTi Audio test equipment in the entire western hemisphere of North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean and other island locations.

Located in Tigard, a suburb of Portland, OR, NTI Americas represents NTi Audio at trade shows and technical conferences each year in the US and Canada. Its Oregon facility includes state-of-the-art calibration, electronic measurement equipment, and parts providing everything from a quick check up on an NTi Audio instrument to a complete overhaul and re-calibration.

During the past decade, NTI Americas has developed clients all over the hemisphere. In addition to the major pro audio, recording, and broadcast companies, other customers include major mobile device and telecommunication manufacturers and software companies, universities, colleges, research labs, production facilities, performance venues, aerospace, scientific, and military clients (e.g., NASA, NOAA, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Embraer, and the armed services).

In recent years, there has been major growth in the environmental, community noise, and life safety/security areas, leading to clients ranging from environmental agencies to the major transit systems. According to Thomas E. Mintner, president and owner of NTI Americas, “We’re grateful that over the last 10 years, NTi Audio has provided us with a continuous and growing portfolio of new high technology audio and acoustical measurement products to serve a wider and wider range of noise, audio and acoustics-oriented users.” For more information, visit www.ntiam.com.

 


CEA Study Shows 38% of Consumers Use Multiple Channels for Purchases

About 38% of brick-and-mortar shoppers end up making their consumer electronics (CE) purchases at retailers’ websites, according to a new CE study. The report, from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), also indicates that just under half (45%) of brick-and-mortar customers use their mobile devices to help them shop while in stores, and 4% will use them to make a purchase.

Still, brick-and-mortar stores retain the bulk of visitor business with 69% of purchases. What’s more, 86% of CE storefront shoppers said they use physical showrooms for product examination and returns, and 84% said they make purchases there.

The study also indicated that 89% of CE buyers use retailers’ websites to compare prices and read product reviews, while 84% compare product features online. Among those using mobile devices while shopping in stores, 54% access them to search for product information, 46% compare in-store prices with e-tailers, 42% compare the retailer’s in-store and online prices, and 42% price shop other physical retailers.

The study concluded that 38% of CE shoppers use a physical retailer’s online channels when looking to buy a CE product.

According to Rhonda Daniel, CEA’s senior manager for market research, it is imperative that physical CE retailers have a well-defined multi-channel strategy. Creating seamless and fluid relationships across channels (websites and showrooms) will enable physical retailers to play an integral and uninterrupted role along the entire path to purchase. The complete study, “Multi-Channel Alignment for CE Retailers with Physical Stores,” is available free to CEA member companies at Members.CE.org. Non-members may purchase the study for $999 at the CEA store.

 


Holiday Sales Predicted to Rise

Holiday sales are expected to increase 3.4% from last year, according to a new retail report by the trade group International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). The ICSC report maintained that its November to December forecast is up slightly from the 2012 holiday season, even though retailers are anticipating more modest sales. Despite the mixed outlook, and the economy’s “mini-cycle slowdown” over the last three quarters, this year’s holiday sales environment is looking up, according the ICSC.

Along with reduced price discounting, ICSC is also projecting a 13% increase in online and other direct sales this holiday season. Additionally, holiday hiring, which directly correlates to holiday spending and can often help forecast a stronger sales performance, is set to grow 0.5% over last year’s holiday hiring.

The ICSC’s 3.4% forecast comes in right between two previous sales projections. Earlier this month, ShopperTrak, a global retail sales consultancy, projected a 2% increase in holiday sales for November and December, while Deloitte, a financial consulting company, forecasted a gain of as much as 4.5% for the November to January period.

 


NEAR Returns to Consumer Products

Photo 2: NEAR’s residential bracket-mounted speakers are designed for outdoor use. (Photo courtesy of NEAR)

Photo 2: NEAR’s residential bracket-mounted speakers are designed for outdoor use. (Photo courtesy of NEAR)

New England Audio Resource (NEAR) returned to the CEDIA Expo (September 25—28, 2013 in Denver, CO) for the first time in 14 years to launch a line of all-environment speakers and a companion amplifier for residential applications. Based in Gardiner, ME, NEAR has been focusing on the commercial speaker products following its acquisition by Bogen Communications in 1999. Based in Ramsey, N.J., Bogen Communications is a commercial audio products supplier. Since its acquisition, NEAR’s lineup had been aimed primarily at commercial applications, though NEAR products did sometimes cross over into residential channels when Bogen distributors sold to residential contractors.

Now, NEAR is reentering the residential market, according to NEAR founder and chief product engineer Bill Kieltyka. With consumers growing interest in outdoor audio, NEAR thought it was time to launch an entirely new line designed specifically for the residential contractor.

Although NEAR has essentially been out of the residential channel for more than a decade, the company has been continually advancing its knowledge of what it takes to produce audiophile-grade speakers that can withstand the most brutal conditions in all environments. Developing outdoor speakers for commercial applications enabled the company to take its spider-less, magnetic-suspension metal-cone drivers to new levels of reliability under the most brutal conditions.

The new NEAR residential products include four full-range bracket-mounted speakers—the LB 4, the LB 5, the LB 6, and the LB 8 (see Photo 2). The lineup also includes three full-range speakers designed to be partially buried in the ground—the IG 5, the IG 6, and the IG 8—and the 12” IGS 12 subwoofer.

The new speakers use NEAR-developed spiderless magnetic-fluid suspension woofers. The full-range models are two-way coaxial models with aluminum-dome drivers. The line also includes a 2 × 600-W 6XL amplifier designed for use with the NEAR speaker systems. It features onboard selectable high- and low-pass filters for use in outdoor systems that include a subwoofer. The 6XL drives both 70-V and 8-Ω speakers, thanks to a transformer-less output topography. The LB models are available in black or white. The IG and IGS models are available in a terra-cotta color.

Cosmetically, NEAR’s new speakers feature designs from Allen Boothroyd’s design studio. The LB models, for example, use an unusual lever-locking system and pre-terminated connection leads to make installation and positioning easier and safer.

The IG and IGS models feature a “bee-hive” shape that provides security when partially buried. However, the design also lends itself to freestanding applications.

 


KEF Releases THX Architectural Speakers

Photo 3: KEF now offers architectural speakers, including the Ci5160RL-THX. (Photo courtesy of KEF)

Photo 3: KEF now offers architectural speakers, including the Ci5160RL-THX. (Photo courtesy of KEF)

KEF officially added its name to the short list of loudspeaker manufacturers that are offering THX-certified architectural speakers (only two other companies—Klipsch and Atlantic Technology—offer THX architectural speakers). KEF’s new products consists of two THX Ultra2 in-wall left, center, or right (LCR) speakers due in January, an Ultra2 round in-ceiling speaker due in December, and an in-wall subwoofer due in January. Two subwoofers used together will qualify for Select2 certification, and four subwoofers will deliver Ultra2 THX performance.

The two three-way LCRs are somewhat unique and use an aluminum front baffle with a perforated-metal bezelless grille. Optional black and white fabric grilles leave a quarter-inch of aluminum exposed around the baffles’ perimeter as an aesthetic option. One of the LCRs, the Ci5160RL-THX, retails for $3,000 each, and the smaller Ci3160RL-THX retails for $1,700 each.

The Ci5160RL-THX contains four 6.5” woofers and a 6.5” midrange with a concentrically mounted tweeter based on KEF’s UniQ design (see Photo 3). The Ci3160RL-THX has two 6.5” woofers and a 6.5” midrange with a concentrically mounted tweeter. The required cutout is 8.2” × 26”. The round in-ceiling speaker is the two-way $800—each Ci1200RR-THX with 8” woofer and concentrically mounted 1.5” dome tweeter. The speaker features a narrow-bezel grille.

The in-wall subwoofer is the Ci3160RLb-THX with three vertically arrayed 6.5” woofers on an aluminum baffle. The $1,000-each subwoofer is matched to a $1,000-each 2 × 250-W KASA500 amplifier that can drive two subwoofers simultaneously. The rack-mountable Class-D amplifier incorporates DSP for active equalization. The amplifier and the subwoofer will be available in January.

 


Artison’s New In-Wall Subwoofers

Photo 4: The RCC 320 PC uses two pairs of 4” × 6” drivers to fit in a standard wall and to provide a reactance-canceling configuration. (Photo courtesy of Artison)

Photo 4: The RCC 320 PC uses two pairs of 4” × 6” drivers to fit in a standard wall and to provide a reactance-canceling configuration. (Photo courtesy of Artison)

Artison recently unveiled four new in-wall active subwoofers, all with dual drivers in a reactance-canceling configuration to prevent cabinet and wall vibrations. Non-mass concealing in-wall subwoofers produce cabinet and wall vibrations that reduce audio output and clarity, not to mention disturb people in adjoining rooms. The subwoofers fit flush in standard 2 × 4 walls.

The four models include the $900 RCC 320 PC (see Photo 4) and $1,500 RCC 640 PC, both for preconstruction installations, and the $900 RCC 320 R and $1,500 RCC 640 R for retrofit applications. Their companion subwoofer amplifier is the $800 RCC 620 SA. The amplifier and the 320 models ship in October, and the 640 models ship in November.

They all feature all-aluminum enclosures, IP 65 waterproof rating for high-moisture environments, high-efficiency drivers with extended throw to produce accurate extended bass, and low-profile decorator grilles. The amplifier can drive multiple subwoofers at a time. However, the enclosures are small to increase application options without sacrificing performance, according to the company, which is owned by Cary Christie, one of Infinity’s original founders.

To reduce the size to fit in a standard wall and to provide a reactance-canceling configuration, the RCC 320 PC and RCC 320 R use two pairs of 4” × 6” drivers, while the other two subwoofers use four pairs of 4” × 6” drivers. Each pair of drivers faces each other inside the cabinet, and sound is vented through a horizontal slot in the baffle.

In the preconstruction models, only a narrow grille that covers the vent is visible to homeowners. The retrofit models use larger grilles. The paired drivers are driven in phase so that cone motion is in unison, but physically out-of-phase, thus canceling each driver’s reactive forces, according to Christie. The configuration also enables the use of smaller, lighter, more accurate drivers that are collectively more efficient and have more power handling capacity than a single larger driver. An all-aluminum enclosure was chosen because of its stiffness and thinness, which maximizes interior volume.

The outboard rack-mount Class-D amplifier delivers 400 WRMS into one subwoofer and 600 WRMS into two subwoofers. It features DSP-based preamplifier, music, and movie modes selectable via amplifier IR codes, 0°-to-180° digital phase-shift adjustment, signal-sensing on/off, 12-V triggers, IR jack, balanced XLR input, and adjustable low-pass crossover from 40 to 160 with 12 and 24-dB/octave cutoff slopes.
Separately, Artison is showing a new custom-installed speaker designated for rear- or side-surround applications.

Photo 5: Artison’s new Mezzanine 8 speaker is designed for in-wall or in-ceiling placement. (Photo courtesy of Artison)

Photo 5: Artison’s new Mezzanine 8 speaker is designed for in-wall or in-ceiling placement. (Photo courtesy of Artison)

The Mezzanine 8 speaker is designed for in-wall or in-ceiling placement (see Photo 5). It is shipping at $600 per pair. It joins a LRSIW in-wall speaker designated for left, right, and surround applications.
The Mezzanine’s four drivers consist of two mid-woofers and two silk-dome tweeters in a sealed enclosure. The tweeters are mounted at a 60° angle to one another and are wired out of phase to create a nondirectional acoustic pattern above 3 kHz, enveloping listeners “in three-dimensional space,” the company said.

The dual mid-woofers are wired in-phase to generate a point source to provide precise locations for action and reality scenes. The enclosure is molded in ABS plastic with glass fiber for strength and durability. Mounting depth is only 3.5”. It ships with a round, paintable grille for in-ceiling use and an optional square grille for wall placement.

From Broadcast to Home Recording to Digital Networks—Where the New audioXpress is Going

AXCover_122013Dec_120pxFor readers seeing this “second” issue of audioXpress since we introduced our new format and layout last month, I feel I should explain the concept a little more. Our target deadline for this relaunch was decided some time ago and I couldn’t think of a better place to introduce our “new” magazine than the AES convention in New York City!

I can summarize our concept in a few words: more (of what our readers expect), electronics (our roots), and audio innovation (our focus).

We are proud of our heritage as Audio Amateur, Audio Electronics, Glass Audio, and Speaker Builder magazines. Those titles were born in a time when amateur radio was still developing hand-in-hand with electronics and radio technology. And that is precisely why audioXpress is a part of the electronics publication portfolio of Elektor International Media (EIM).

But you may be wondering about audioXpress’s evolution and what to expect in the future.

It’s important to clarify that we will not continue to be a “home electronics” or consumer application-focused publication. We believe we should share the most interesting audio stories in the industry, independent of their application areas—consumer or professional, music or broadcast oriented. Hence, the innovation focus.

The most important consumer technologies often start with those developed for professionals. So, we will follow audio electronics innovations, together with the all-important disciplines of electroacoustics (and, needless to say, software, digital audio, networking protocols, and audio synthesis).

We believe that a publication such as audioXpress cannot focus only on the “home approach,” which still appeals to many enthusiasts and hobbyists. Some of us clearly remember the 1960s, when live concerts used “consumer” amps and speakers, before there were guitar amps and large speakers. At Woodstock, there were McIntosh amps (now a purely home audio brand) and the PAs were early versions of the JBL speakers (today both a pro and a consumer brand). Five years later, all the big “pro audio” brands in live sound, such as Electro-Voice and JBL, dominated that market (in the US at least). During this time, things were different in the recording studios. There, technology was first “borrowed” from radio and TV broadcasting. This is long before we had “home studios” using computers. And where exactly did that come from?

In the era of the Internet, blogs, and social networks, many magazines have disappeared. But we know a magazine can flourish. In addition to its content and its readers, a magazine must also have a purpose. It must provide a sense of community. More importantly, it needs to offer readers content they can’t find elsewhere. It does not matter if our readers are professionals, students, or enthusiasts. Our common interest unites us, whatever the platform: print, online, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail newsletters, or mobile apps.

We want to build a better audioXpress with more content, representing the common interests of the audio community while also reflecting the industry.

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief

New Intelligent Amplifiers for the Install Market

Lab.gruppen, a pioneer in the DSP integration concept and amplifier control, recently introduced the new localized utility compact intelligent amplification (LUCIA) decentralized installation amplifier range.

Putting power and audio processing where it is required, Lab.gruppen’s LUCIA is a compact, two-channel, Energy-Star compliant, Class-D amplifier platform. Designed with installation speed and easy configuration in mind, LUCIA combines cutting edge low-impedance amplifier electronics with advanced DSP into the smallest amplifier the company has produced.

LabGruppenRS7866_LUCIALUCIA is designed for small-scale AV applications where high-quality audio is required, without the complication and additional cost of a distributed system with centralized rack-mounted amplification, matrixing, and processing. LUCIA also offers system designers a logical and cost-efficient solution that is ideally suited for corporate boardrooms, classrooms, small lecture theaters, museum multimedia areas, and retail units.

The company offers four models with two power configurations—2 × 60 W and 2 × 120 W—each available with either a four-in, four-out matrix-mixer and configurable DSP features (LUCIA 120/2M, LUCIA 240/2M) or in a basic two-in, two-out configuration (LUCIA 120/2 and LUCIA 240/2). While all the models are equipped with DSP pre-configured “out of the box” for operation in typical applications, the Matrix variants also facilitate easy setup via USB connection (with Windows and Mac LUCIA configuration software) to meet specific system requirements.

Its new Enhanced Bass Profile, a DSP feature, delivers improved low-frequency performance from standard full-range in-ceiling or surface-mount loudspeakers, which may negate the need for a separate subwoofer.

These amplifiers also offer an Auto Load Sense feature, in which the device automatically measures a connected loudspeaker load’s impedance and adjusts itself to deliver full power at all impedances (2 to 8 Ω).

All LUCIA models also come with intelligent fan control for silent operation at low volumes and low noise even at high output when the fan is operational.

Each LUCIA model could conceivably drive up to 16 speakers on a localized low-impedance system (eight per channel if the loudspeakers were 16 Ω).

Lab.gruppen
www.labgruppen.com

Industry Watch: November 2013

Ray Dolby

Ray Dolby

Ray Dolby (1933–2013)

Ray Dolby passed away on September 8, 2013 at the age of 80 died after battling with Alzheimer’s and leukemia. While Dolby was mostly known for his work in noise reduction and electronics, his surround-sound invention had an enormous impact on the loudspeaker industry (see Photo 1).

Born in 1933 in Portland, OR, Dolby was raised in San Francisco, CA, and attended Sequoia High School (class of 1951) in Redwood City, CA. As a teenager in the decade following World War II, he held part-time and summer jobs at Ampex in Redwood City, working with the company’s first audio tape recorder in 1949.

While at San Jose State College and later at Stanford University (interrupted by two years of Army service), he worked on early video tape recorder prototype technologies for Alexander M. Poniatoff and Charlie Ginsburg. As a non-degree-holding “consultant,” Dolby played a key role in the effort that led Ampex to unveil its prototype Quadruplex videotape recorder in April 1956, which soon entered production.

In 1957, Dolby received his BS in electrical engineering from Stanford. He subsequently won a Marshall Scholarship for a PhD (1961) in physics from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Research Fellow at Pembroke College. After Cambridge, Dolby acted as a technical advisor to the United Nations in India. In 1965, he returned to England, where he founded Dolby Laboratories in London with a staff of four. In that same year, he officially founded the London-based Dolby Laboratories and invented the Dolby Sound System, a form of electronic filter. However, his first US patent was not filed until 1969, four years later. UK-based Decca Records first used the filter.

Probably his most famous invention was the surround-sound technology now used in movies, cinemas, PCs, and home theater equipment. Dolby Surround became well-known when two 1977 blockbuster films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, used Dolby stereo technology as an essential part of the films’ appeal. Today, the bulk Dolby Laboratories’s revenue comes from technology licensing. Ray Dolby was #190 on the Forbes Fortune 400 list in 2012, the fruits of an amazing career.

 


Bob Diamond

Bob Diamond

Bob Diamond (1956–2013)

It is with great regret that I announce the passing of Bob Diamond, another outstanding member of the loudspeaker engineering community. Born in 1956, Diamond received his BSEE at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

He began his career as an Acoustical Engineer at International Jensen (1987). He joined JBL Professional 1987–1993 as a Senior Loudspeaker Engineer. Diamond then became the Chief Loudspeaker Engineer at Aura Systems/Aurasound from 1993–1995. He left Aurasound and formed Diamond Audio Technology, a company that bore his name, as president from 1995–2000. Diamond became the Director of Product Development at M&K Sound from 2000–2003, moving to Cerwin-Vega as a Senior Transducer Engineer from 2003–2005. From 2005–2007, Diamond again served as a Senior Transducer Engineer, this time at Nuventix.

From 2008–2011, Diamond held positions as Director of Acoustical Engineering, VP of Engineering, and President of Zylux America. He spent the last two years of his life caring for his grandson Corbin, for whom he was putting together a college education fund. His untimely death prevented this, but a group of friends and family have established the Bob Diamond Memorial Fund. To contribute, visit www.wepay.com/donations/bob-diamond-memorial-fund.

I personally knew Bob Diamond. Our paths crossed on numerous occasions over the years at Aurasound, M&K, and Diamond Audio. He had a great sense of humor and was an excellent loudspeaker engineer.

 


THIEL Audio Hires Mark Mason

THIEL Audio, winner of more than 60 prestigious awards for loudspeaker design and performance since 1978, has appointed Mark Mason as the company’s new Director of Product Development. Mason represents the first in-house engineering presence for the brand since Jim Thiel’s passing in 2009.

Mason brings a depth of engineering experience combined with a range of technical capabilities to THIEL after nearly a decade as Design Team Manager at PSB. Mason’s expertise includes critical applications (e.g., driver design), Class-D amplifier design, and high-performance acoustic systems design. Mason said he was familiar with THIEL and he has tremendous respect for what the brand has achieved in the three-plus decades since it was founded.

Most recently, Mason was Director of Product Development for Specialty Technologies (SVS), where he was responsible for the company’s product management strategy and execution. Mason’s designs have garnered numerous prestigious awards including: The Absolute Sound Editor’s Choice, Sound & Vision Certified and Recommended, Best Home Cinema Room (S&V Bristol Show), Audioholics Consumer Excellence, Stereophile Recommended Components, and Electronic House Product of the Year.

 


Consumer Confidence Grows

Consumer confidence in technology spending reached the highest level in 2013, while sentiment toward the overall economy dipped in August, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The CEA Index of Consumer Technology Expectations (ICTE), which measures consumer expectations about technology spending, increased by 1 point in August to 87.2. The ICTE edged past July’s level to reach the highest point so far in 2013. The CEA Index of Consumer Expectations (ICE), which measures consumer expectations about the broader economy, decreased 5.2 points in August to 162.6. The ICE remains 6.1 points lower than August of 2012.

The CEA Indexes comprise the ICE and ICTE and are updated monthly through consumer surveys. New data is released on the fourth Tuesday of each month. The CEA has been tracking index data since January 2007. For more information, visit CEAindexes.org.

Expanding horizons. Expanding a common passion.

AXCover_112013Nov_120xWelcome to a new audioXpress.

Having followed the audio market and visited the world’s major trade shows for the last 20 years or more, I gained a broad perspective about how exciting and innovative the audio industry is. In particular, I recall the enlightening perspective you can receive from any Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention. The convention provides a place where industry veterans can share their experiences in engineering and communications. We chose to unveil the redesign of audioXpress at the 135th AES Convention.

In the early 1990s, I was fortunate enough to be responsible for a licensed electronics magazine. I quickly learned that the audience of such practical and project-oriented publications was a combination of students, enthusiasts, and industry professionals. They all share a passion for that field, are involved in many different areas, and use their spare time to pursue electronics-related hobbies—the most popular of which is audio electronics.

Since then, I have started several publications addressing the informational needs of professionals in the broadcasting, professional audio, and installation/systems integration markets. I also learned how the evolution of technology from analog to digital and the convergence with IT platforms and IP infrastructure was changing the market landscape at an exponential pace.

During this time, Edward T. Dell, Jr. (1923–2013) was devoting his life to people with a passion for audio electronics and creating magazines including Audio Amateur (rebranded as Audio Electronics in 1996), Glass Audio, Speaker Builder, and later, in 2000, audioXpress. In 2011, Ed Dell sold his company to Elektor International Media (EIM) and retired.

Much in the same spirit of the original Audio Amateur—and with the support of a worldwide organization deeply involved in the electronics industry—we believe that audioXpress will blossom into a fascinating publication that follows the latest audio innovation trends, independent of the application field, and shares a common audience of engineers, consultants, and enthusiasts in the electronics and audio fields, most of whom are involved in R&D.

Although it was deeply rooted in the US, audioXpress—together with its sister publications Voice Coil and the Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook—reached professionals around the world (e.g., Europe, China, India, and Brazil). It has gained more of a global presence since its acquisition by EIM, which also publishes some of the best technical books in the electronics industry.

I am really excited to bring the “new” audioXpress to a wider global audience, knowing that we can build on the tradition of the original publication and its diversified audience. We are working to create a magazine you will enjoy and anticipate reading every month.

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief