Industry Watch: April 2014

N.E.A.R. Returns to the Outdoor Speaker Market

New England Audio Resource (N.E.A.R., which was originally called New England Audio Research) was founded in 1988 by Bill Kieltyka. Interestingly, the company purchased a lot of the transducer tooling from Rudy Bozak, and its line was always based, as with Bozak, on aluminum cone woofers and tweeters. (For a period of time, I designed the networks for the entire N.E.A.R. line of two-channel and home-theater speakers).

The company also originally held the patent for a magnetic fluid technology that replaced the ubiquitous cloth spider to supply compliance to woofers. (Sony is now using this technique in some of its current speaker line ups, following the patent’s expiration.)

Bogen Communications acquired N.E.A.R. in 1997. Bogen kept the name going for a couple of years, but it ultimately closed the company and kept Kieltyka as an employee.

Although the N.E.A.R. name has been absent from the market for more than 14 years, Bogen is bringing it back with a new line of outdoor loudspeaker products.

N.E.A.R.’s first residential lineup in years includes the LB4, the LB5, the LB6, and the LB8, which are all full-range bracket-mount speakers. They will be available in white and black. The lineup also includes the IG 5, the IG 6, and the IG 8, which are full-range speakers designed to be placed on the ground or partially buried. An eighth speaker, the IGS 12 band-pass subwoofer, is also designed to be partially buried. The speakers can be driven by the NEAR 6XL amplifier, which delivers 2 × 600-W output into either 70-V or 8-Ω loads.

In the 8-Ω versions, the bracket-mount LB4, LB5, LB6, and LB8 cost $279, $499, $579, and $679 each, respectively. The 70-V versions for large homes and yards cost $319, $539, $619, and $719 each, respectively. The in- and on-ground IG5, IG6, and IG8 speakers can be used in 8-Ω and 70-V installs and cost $619, $779, and $859, respectively. The partial-buried IGS12 band-pass subwoofer ($1,599) drives either 8-Ω or multi-tap 70-V install. The beehive-shaped IG and IGS models will be available in a terra cotta color.

The speakers and subwoofer can be driven by the 2 × 600-W 6XL amplifier ($1,599) with selectable high- and low-pass crossovers and a low-frequency contour to extend bass performance below 40 Hz. A summing circuit enables stereo material to be combined into both channels.

All four LB speakers feature a patent-pending lever bracket for a tool-free final installation, the company said. The four two-way models use metal-cone spiderless woofers and 1” aluminum inverted-dome tweeters. The coaxial driver arrangement of the LB6 and LB8 and the close proximity of the woofer and tweeter in the LB4 and LB5 provide consistent dispersion for horizontal and vertical placement, according to the company.

The on- and in-ground IG speakers also feature metal cone spiderless drivers, which N.E.A.R. said can operate under water. But the company also adopted a domed woofer design in these models to shed water that may otherwise collect in a cone. The design also improves audio linearity, the company said.

A water-shedding grille prevents moisture from entering “under all but the most extreme conditions,” the company added. The frame of the coaxial-driver assembly also directs away any water that may find its way in, N.E.A.R. added.

The IGS12 subwoofer features a 12” metal cone spiderless driver whose output fires through three horizontal slots about a third of the way from the enclosure’s top. The slots should be located just above ground level when the enclosure is buried. The openings are covered by a stainless grille and hydrophobic fabric.

 


RadioShack Plans Several Store Closings

According to various industry sources and the Wall Street Journal, RadioShack may be about to close about 11% of its stores. The chain is in the midst of a nearly year-long turnaround effort that includes updates of the company’s stores, product assortment, and brand image.

The iconic retailer lost $112 million in the third quarter, its seventh consecutive loss, as it jettisoned unproductive products, and secured $835 million in new financing in December. RadioShack operates about 4,300 stores in the US and 270 in Mexico. Another 1,000 franchised locations are run by independent dealers in the US and franchise operators abroad.

 


B&W Launches New Opening-Price Series

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) recently unveiled a new opening-price series of in-room loudspeakers that incorporate technology from the company’s higher end lines to improve performance. The 600 series, which began shipping in March, includes the floor-standing 683 ($1,650/ pair), the smaller floor-standing 684 ($1,150/ pair), and the 685 ($700/pair), which can be placed on a stand or a bookshelf. The series also includes the 686 bookshelf ($550/pair), which is the most compact speaker in the series. The HTM61 center channel costs $750 each and the HTM62 center channel costs $450 each. All six models will join a trio of 600-series subwoofers, which will be available in black ash finish.

New technology used in the series includes double-dome tweeters derived from the company’s CM10 speaker. The tweeter features two separate aluminum domes, the second with its center portion cut out. The second dome is glued to the first dome’s rear face to deliver lightness and rigidity.

A new tweeter-decoupling design developed for the 600 series uses a gel ring to physically separate the double-dome tweeters from the cabinet. This prevents resonances from transferring between the baffle and tweeter. The design boosts clarity and delivers “outstanding imaging and dispersion,” according to B&W. The company also added the anti-resonance plugs for mid/bass drivers, used in B&W’s PM-1 speaker, which, again according to B&W delivers smoother response and lower distortion when driven hard.

Another new technology developed specifically for the new 600 series is a dual-layer aluminum bass driver, which features an aluminum bass cone reinforced with a second layer of aluminum around its periphery to deliver more effective damping and a higher break-up frequency to reduce distortion. The dual-layer aluminum design appears in the top floor-standing model.

 


The Bluetooth Speaker Craze Continues

The Bluetooth speaker craze shows no end in sight, which means that more people are listening to music on their smartphones. Here are some of the latest product releases in this category.

MB Quart—Car audio brand MB Quart (acquired by Maxxsonics in 2005) is getting into the portable audio market with the launch of four battery-powered Bluetooth speakers that cost $59 to $199. All products in this new line will be available in April in multiple colors. They feature battery lives ranging from 5 to 12 h. All will come with USB-charging capabilities, hands-free speakerphone capabilities, voice confirmation, and Bluetooth AVRCP to control basic music playback functions on Bluetooth-connected mobile devices.

The QUBOne ($59) features a single driver, a built-in microphone for hands-free calling, and two bottoms, to enable the unit to be placed on its side and keep the controls accessible. The rest have dual drivers but are mono.

The QUBTwo ($99) adds Bluetooth’s secure simple pairing profile, noise-canceling microphone, shock-resistant rubber housing, 8-h battery, and an input jack. The QUBThree ($149) includes a 10-h battery and tethering loop.

The QUBFour ($199) includes a 12-h battery and efficient neodymium magnets that, coupled with an amplifier that operates at a higher voltage, delivers louder sound with deeper bass. The QUBFour also contains dual-source Bluetooth technology to enable two mobile devices to be paired simultaneously to one speaker, making it easier to switch between two mobile devices for music playback. The speaker also includes a 110-V adapter. Apple mobile devices display the speaker’s battery status.

Bose—Bose released the SoundLink III, its latest portable Bluetooth speaker. The third-generation SoundLink Bluetooth speaker features longer battery life, higher output, and a new industrial design.

The $299 model extends playback time of its rechargeable lithium-ion battery by 30%, now lasting up to 14 h. The new model lacks its predecessor’s integrated bi-fold nylon cover, which doubled as a stand that angled the speaker. The new model stands upright on a flat surface. An optional $34 accessory cover is available in gray, blue, green, orange, and pink. The Bluetooth LED signal lights are also new and said to make pairing and switching Bluetooth devices easier. The SoundLink III stores the six most recently used Bluetooth devices in its memory making it unnecessary to pair a previously paired device.

The speaker also features a new DSP algorithm and improved electronics to play louder through four neodymium-magnet drivers and dual-opposing passive radiators, according to Bose. The industrial design has a fingerprint-resistant wraparound metal grille, rounded edges, and a silicone button panel on top to protect it against dirt and dust. The SoundLink III retains an auxiliary input, a microUSB for software updates, and an AC wall charger.

This speaker joins a smaller SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker ($199). The first SoundLink was introduced in 2011 and updated in 2012.

bēm wireless—Bluetooth-speaker supplier bēm wireless is launching the Wireless Speaker Band, which is a Bluetooth speaker that’s worn on the wrist and doubles as a hands-free speakerphone. The Speaker Band ($49) incorporates a speaker, a microphone, a spoken audio caller ID, an answer button, and compatibility with most voice-recognition apps. For music playback, it features play, pause, skip, and reverse buttons. Its rechargeable battery delivers up to 6 h of talk time. The device is promoted as a safer alternative to searching through a purse or pocket for a phone, especially if the phone owner is driving. The speaker band is available in six colors: black, white, blue, red, gray, and green. bēm, founded in 2012, manufactures portable Bluetooth speakers, including a boombox-style speaker with an integrated carrying handle.

Pyle Audio—Pyle Audio recently released a shower-friendly portable Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone. The Gator Sound waterproof speaker and speakerphone is a lightweight, waterproof unit with a hook for hanging on a shower head, a built-in microphone for hands-free calling, and a push-button control to connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device. It features a rechargeable lithium battery, a USB charging cable, enhanced bass production, and available in blue, white, or black ($49.99).

 


Majority of Soundbar Sales Below $500

GfK Group, the German market research giant, performed a year-long study of soundbar retail print ads and found advertised prices varied greatly throughout 2013. GfK was founded in 1934 by Professor Wilhelm Vershofen as a Nuremberg, Germany-based scientific institute, “Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung.” It was the birth of institutional market research in Germany.

With its recent study, the research firm noted that 89% of the soundbars advertised were priced around $500; however, as the year progressed, the focus shifted to lower-priced soundbars. In the early part of 2013, 50% of the advertising focused on sub-$300 models. This trend increased with the sub-$300 products comprising 70% of all soundbar advertising, according to GfK.

 


NRF Reports Expect Rise in Retail Sales

Retail sales are projected to rise 4.1% this year, which is somewhat improved over 3.7% gains in 2013. According to a report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF), continued economic growth and an expanding labor market and housing sector will help stoke consumer confidence and expenditures.

NRF’s published data forecasts a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2.6% to 3%, the fastest in three years, and a decrease in the unemployment rate to near 6.5% or lower by December.

In 2014, retailers will be investing in faster fulfillment, mobile payment, in-store mobile marketing, and “name your own price” shopping tools. The sales projection includes most traditional retail categories (e.g., discounters, department stores, grocery stores, specialty stores, auto parts and accessories stores, and non-store categories). The sales projection excludes sales at automotive dealers, gas stations, and restaurants.

Q&A: Craig Bernabeu – Recording Engineer Introduces Innovative Designs

Craig Bernabeu

Craig Bernabeu used his audio knowledge to start his own professional audio company, SBS Designs.

SHANNON BECKER: What compelled you to start your company, SBS Designs, in 2011?

CRAIG BERNABEU: I was not really seeing audio products designed for a variety of applications with different approaches to record or play back music that would suit my needs. So in late 2009/2010, the former head engineer from Summit Audio and I started designing visionary gear. SBS designs makes my vision of US-made high-end designs with a left-field approach available to users.

SHANNON: How did you choose the name SBS Designs?

CRAIG: I have a sound company called SBS that designs custom high-end analog systems for different venues. SBS Designs builds custom speaker cabinets, consoles, and desks for mixing consoles and outboard gear. I had originally planned to call the company SBS Electronics. Due to legal trademark issues I could not use the name so I came up with SBS Designs, which works perfectly. SBS is globally known for the systems I have designed in the past so I wanted to incorporate the name into my new business venture.

SHANNON: Tell us about your company’s first product.

CRAIG: Our first product is the Iso-Q2, which is a three-band program equalizer with infinity cut, 15 dB of boost with five front controllers, three gain controls and two adjustable frequency potentiometers for the low and top end. Its I/O is balanced and unbalanced with a selectable effects loop. The Iso-Q2 is 115 and 230 V ready. It also offers a rear-panel output gain trim for perfect gain matching or it can be used to reduce gain for heavy-handed end users.

The Iso-Q2 is a solid-state three-band isolator/three-band program equalizer with five usable front panel controls (top). The Iso-Q2 can be used in an effects loop insert, mixbus, or main output of any console (bottom).

The Iso-Q2 is a solid-state three-band isolator/three-band program equalizer with five usable front panel controls (top). The Iso-Q2 can be used in an effects loop insert, mixbus, or main output of any console (bottom).

The Iso-Q2 enables the end user to sweep the low frequencies from 50 to 400 Hz with a front panel potentiometer. The high frequency is sweepable with another front panel potentiometer from 3.15 to 12.6 kHz, and it offers a frequency response from as low as 8 Hz to 100 kHz.

It’s primarily used in recording studios, and mastering houses; as live PA for mix engineers, electronic dance music (EDM) performers, and DJs performing in clubs or at festivals; or for sound reinforcement.
This Iso-Q2 can also be used as a performance processor to cut and boost on the fly, cutting out and isolating target frequencies from a song to get an audience excited in a live venue to take the energy to the next level. In the studio, the Iso-Q2 is intended as a program equalizer to sweeten up the source or equalize rough frequencies that need to be smoothed out.

SHANNON: What other products have you developed?

CRAIG: The SP-1 is the company’s first tube processor. The SP-1 is a unique design, offering features and technology that has not been previously developed. It is designed to warm up and improve the dynamic range. The SP-1 is a handmade hi-fi processor that will let you record and add dimension to music in ways never achieved.

The SP-1 tube device has two front-panel controls (top). The SP-1 offers a line level to phono level playback with a reverse phono curve to a line level source (bottom).

The SP-1 tube device has two front-panel controls (top). The SP-1 offers a line level to phono level playback with a reverse phono curve to a line level source (bottom).

With the SP-1, I wanted to put a twist on vacuum tube processing. From the original concept, it took more than five years to get it perfect. We designed a few different concept prototypes and then put the prototypes through years of testing in different applications including live, studio and even home hi-fi applications.

There were a few things with the prototype that I did not like, so I started redesigning it and our engineering experts said I was crazy, and that no company would put this kind of R&D into one product. We spent thousands of hours on the SP-1.

That’s what is different about SBS Designs. The product needs to be right and very unique so it really stands out. So we went back to the drawing board and made multiple changes until it was perfect. Now, the SP-1 is my vision of what it should be.

What is really unique about the SP-1 is its reverse phono curve option, which is a first of its kind of feature with full control with the front panel controls. The SP-1 offers a phono stage to use with turntables for end users who want to get the most from vinyl to sample.

I wanted to include a feature that enables users to put phono curves on line sources to attain digital or analog line sources as close as possible to the sound of turntables. It is really amazing how good you can get line digital sources to sound.

SHANNON: Can you share some of the other challenges involved with the designs?

CRAIG: One major challenge is coming up with unique designs to put a twist on audio by offering features not previously done or different to the last design I have already brought to the market. But the biggest challenge with this philosophy is offering features for the end user but not at the expense of the sound quality.

To ensure this process properly works, I design my products two or three years before they are available to the public. Then I can really test them in a variety of applications so I know they work how I intend them to and sound the way I expect. This is very tricky to do, especially when I need SBS Designs to have perfect synergy with other high-end brands.

I have never approached any SBS Designs product with the idea that it will be like anything else on the market. I have always wondered what I could do differently than others to get the most out of the source and give users innovative options that are fun to use. I want to bring the fun factor back to recording or playing back music.

SHANNON: What makes your amplifiers unique?

CRAIG: The S-series amplifiers, which range from the S1 to the S6, are uniquely designed with a high-end old-school approach. Attention to detail is our first priority. Everything from the board layout and circuit design to all the components on the board, right down to the heatsink and manufacturing, are made to our specifications so the amplifiers sound and reproduce amazingly.

Our head of engineering and I are sticklers about this. If it doesn’t sound and function a certain way, it does not get released no matter how long it takes to get done. I don’t operate with time restrictions just to rush it and get it out the door. If it’s not right, it does not leave the facility.

So I think what makes us different is that we ensure our products are the way we want them to be throughout the entire process. This attention to detail is understood day one.

This especially applies with our ratings. We don’t play the ratings game just to show impressive numbers and have our products fall short of their specifications or go with the 1/8 duty cycle rating like most amplifiers do. Our S1 and S2 amplifiers offer 50% true duty cycle full output loads at full frequency from 10 Hz to 100 kHz and the same goes for the way we specify our larger S3, S4, S5, and S6 amplifiers.

We also decided to offer two high-current amplifiers. The S5 is a pure Class-AB, 2-Ω stable amplifier. The S6 is a Class-AB +B that is 2 Ω stable and designed to work flawlessly with 2-Ω load-driven hard and passive speakers with difficult chokes. In these applications, the S5 and the S6 would work perfectly and sound amazing.

SHANNON: How has the audio community reacted to your products? Is the audio market a difficult one to enter?

CRAIG: The community has been very receptive to SBS Designs. I have received several compliments and our products have been selling globally.

It seems the audio community is really enjoying the twist I have been putting on audio by adding different features to get the most from a mix or a sound system and providing really high-quality sound, which allows the end product to be improved whether it is live or studio recordings.

It’s been great so far with a lot of successful engineers and producers getting behind SBS Designs with great results on a production or in a live application.

The S5 is used in several mastering studios and receiving praise from engineers such as Nick Moon at Tone Proper Mastering in Oregon. Moon is using the S5 on the road to mix and he recently used the S5 to mix Liv Warfield when she performed on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show (http://sbsdesigns.com/liv-warfield-mixed-on-the-jimmy-fallon-show-s5-amp). So the S-series amplifiers are really getting incredible praise and demand is growing as SBS Designs’s reputations spreads.

The audio market, as with any market, can be difficult when you offer a left-field approach so it can take a while to make an impact. But, if you’re determined, you can make it happen, and it will.

SHANNON: Tell us a little about your background. What did you do prior to starting SBS Designs?

CRAIG: I went to school in the 1980s in New York City and got a degree in recording. I worked in a few studios then I started focusing on high-end analog pro sound system designs. They sold globally via word of mouth, and my sound system designs won or were nominated for best sound system times from 2003 to 2011.

I also built studio reference systems and worked closely with many major manufacturers and their engineers to change their products to structure them to meet my needs.

After several years, I noticed some of the great audio components be replaced by cheap products. I decided to design my own high-end products and I came up with a concept for an entire line.

I approached Summit Audio with my concept and they were interested. The first product, a tube processor that took two years to develop, was released in 2002. Next, we developed the amplifiers and then a solid-state equalizer. I also became an investor in Summit Audio in 2004.

After working with Summit Audio, Summit’s former head engineer and I started developing an entire new line. That’s when I started SBS Designs. SBS Designs are now sold in retail outlets in the US and a few countries around the world. It is growing fast and amazing things are happening for SBS Designs in 2014.

SHANNON: What’s next for your company?

The SP-1 PRO includes seven usuable front panel controls (top) and it can be used in any fully balanced or unbalanced circuit without any drive loss (bottom).

The SP-1 PRO includes seven usuable front panel controls (top) and it can be used in any fully balanced or unbalanced circuit without any drive loss (bottom).

CRAIG: I have been working on my 2015 products for the last year and a half. My background is speaker design, and I have completed a full monitor line that I would eventually like to release.

For 2014, SBS Designs has two new designs—the SP-1 PRO and the SX-3. The SP-1 PRO is our second vacuum tube processor. It will feature seven front-panel usable controls, designed to really let the end user improve the dynamic range of any full-range source.

Similar to the SP-1, a carefully designed expansion process will bring out exciting detail that is so often masked by recordings that are compressed and engineered to be mono compatible. The SP-1PRO will also bring back incredible detail to digitally stored/processed recordings that were subject to data reduction processing.

SP-1 PRO also has a sub bass expander and an extended range of top treble expander. These expanders are top quality fully analog that don’t contain any noise or distortion generators. They add dynamic range by controlling the target frequencies with photoresistors.

When bringing a second vacuum tube processor to market, I had to be creative and provide features not previously used to help the end user receive more from the vacuum tube technology. (More information about the tube technology is available at www.sbsdesigns.com.)

In late 2014, we will release the SX-3, a two-way, three-way dual mono stereo analog crossover or a four-way mono. As with my other designs, I put a spin on it that you just don’t see on other crossovers, especially in the analog domain.

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

CRAIG: Learn the importance of the physics of a cabinet design for a loudspeaker. Do not think you can build a speaker just any way and make corrections in the processing. This is a huge misconception in proper loudspeaker design.

Try to learn how to design a speaker so it can naturally reproduce music with as little processing as possible. Overprocessing seems like the norm these days, but the best, most amazing sound is the least processed with as little crossover points possible. A good speaker system effortlessly works with the least amount of gear in the signal chain and provides great results.

Before beginning a loudspeaker design, truly understand an amplifier’s specifications not just the watts per channel. Learn the Thiele-Small (T-S) parameters of a loudspeaker. Knowledge of room acoustics is also ultra important so there are no weak links in the chain. That way the end result will deliver as promised and maybe even more than promised.

Linx Fusion Headphones Receive Best of Innovations Recognition at CES 2014 Design and Engineering Awards.

Linx Fusion HeadphonesThe Linx Fusion is the first multisensory, active noise canceling set of headphones to fuse patented Linx Audio with ViviTouch electroactive polymer (EAP) technology to simultaneously transmit sound through the skin, bone, and ear to enhance comprehension in noisy environments and to address specific tonal sensitivities.

Audiology expert Able Planet Incorporated introduced the Linx Fusion patented multisensory technology in 2013, working with Bayer MaterialScience’s ViviTouch 4D Sound technology to create accurate reproduction and intelligibility. ViviTouch 4D Sound uses EAP technology that enhances the perception of loudness without increasing volume. It also enhances the bass response without overemphasizing annoying, high-frequency acoustic elements. Simultaneously transmitting sound through three distinct and separate audio delivery channels (skin, bone and ear) results in a clear separation of the audio.

www.ableplanet.com

Bose Active Sound Management Software for Noise Cancellation in Cars Now Available on Chip from NXP Semiconductors

Through an engineering collaboration with NXP, vehicles without Bose speakers and amplifiers can now use Bose Active Sound Management technology to cancel unwanted engine and powertrain noise in a car’s cabin. The Bose software solution will operate in any vehicle using a head unit equipped with NXP’s SAF775x car radio integrated circuit, and any sound system that performs in the frequency range necessary for active noise cancellation. The Bose/NXP solution provides an easy, efficient approach for controlling engine and powertrain noise by using existing sound system designs and eliminating the weight and cost of traditional noise management.

Bose developed Active Sound Management technology as an alternate approach to conventional noise-management systems that rely on mechanical solutions, such as acoustic insulation, mass dampers and active exhaust valves. Bose Active Sound Management algorithms target a narrow band of low-frequency engine sounds and where only available in cars with Bose sound system hardware, including models from Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Infiniti. The Bose/NXP solution extends the technology capabilities to a wider range of car-makers and models.

www.bose.com

The December 2013 Edition of audioXpress is Now Available Online

In this month’s issue, you can read our review of the elysia xfilter 500, an extraordinary equalizer “Made in Germany” in a 500-series format that offers a precise stereo image based on computer-selected, stepped potentiometers and low-tolerance film capacitors. In our Standards Review column, we address the new Audiobus and Apple’s Inter-App Audio technologies for iOS platforms. The T&M series offers the second part of the excellent “Designing for Ultra-Low THD+N” article by Bruce Hofer. Read more about reinventing low-frequency devices to fit compact sizes in the Mike Klasco and Steve Tatarunis series, “The Lowdown on Woofers, Subwoofers, and Bass Shakers.” And don’t forget our monthly Sound Control article series in which Richard Honeycutt discusses absorption and why it is considered “The Oldest Tool in the Modern Acoustician’s Toolbox.”

In this issue, Shannon Becker interviews Ken Heng Gin Loo and learns why DIY audio projects appeal to this applications engineer.

In our project-oriented section, you can read about The Cathedrals speaker system designed by Ken Bird and read our second serving on “Tips to Resurrect a Classic Speaker or Design a New System” by Thomas Perazella. Also, find out how to “Build a Sound Level Meter and Spectrum Analyzer” in another great project article by Ron Tipton.

Check it out at www.gotomyxpress.com

Visit audioxpress.com/subscriptions for information on how you can receive a monthly magazine copy wherever you go.

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

Mackie Adds The MRmk3 Series

MackieMRmk3SeriesThe new MRmk3 Series Studio Monitors were among the highlights when Mackie recently refreshed the line. The MRmk3 Series includes three affordable, professional monitors with optimized electronics and custom-matched amplifiers/drivers, complemented by a powerful subwoofer (MR10Smk3). Featuring custom-tuned ports and rugged all-wood MDF cabinets packed with acoustic absorption material, the new Mackie MRmk3 full-range monitors include the 5.25” MR5mk3, the 6.5” MR6mk3, and the 8” MR8mk3.

The Mackie MRmk3 are active monitors specifically designed to reveal the full frequency range in music recording and mixing, optimized with a minimum-diffraction waveguide system and different sized polypropylene woofers together with a 1” silk dome tweeter and Class-A/B amplifiers rated from 50 to 120 WRMS.

All the units feature high- and low-frequency level adjustments with 100-Hz and 3.25-kHz shelving in the rear panels, featuring XLR, TRS, and RCA input connectors.

Mackie
www.mackie.com

Focal Professional Launches Spirit Professional Headphones

Casque_pro_headband“Listen to your music, not to your headphones!” embodies the “spirit” for Focal’s new product entry. The Spirit Professional headphones are the direct result of Focal’s historical expertise in the high-performance transducer design, promising neutrality and transparency for total control. In line with the French manufacturer’s monitoring loudspeakers, the Spirit Professional headphones ensure high-quality control of monitoring activities without exception, freeing professionals from the acoustic constraints related to their workstation’s size.

Focal chose the circumaural design for the Spirit Professional headphones to optimize the acoustic coupling to the ear. This monitoring tool, typically used in professional recording studios, is also suitable for broadcasting or home studios, where the noise level is much higher.

The frequency of use and amount of time used are two of the most important aspects to consider when designing professional headphones. Comfort optimization was essential for Focal. The choice to use memory foam for the ear pieces and the headband ensures a perfect fit regardless of user’s morphology. What’s more, the ear pieces’ dimensions have been increased to reduce the pressure level. The size increase guarantees insulation and prevents fatigue. Finally, the black textured finish gives the headphones a simplistic look and a shock-and-scratch-resistant quality.

FocalSpiritHeaphonesAccording to Focal, the Spirit Professional headphones use mylar/titanium alloy drivers to achieve strong dynamics without distortion and neutrality of tonal balance combined with high definition of audio signals, even at low listening volumes. Finally, work on the acoustical load of the transducers has resulted in articulated bass worthy of open-style headphones, but with the advantages of insulation. The low-impedance OFC coiled cable (13’/4 m) also enhances the sound transparency, an important concept for the brand. Focal also provides a straight cable (4.6’/1.4 m) with a built-in track selector and microphone for receiving calls as an accessory to ensure mobility. The Spirit Professional headphones cost approximately $300.

Focal Professional
www.focal.com

KRK Systems Launches New Rokit Generation 3 Monitors

KRK Systems, now part of the Gibson Pro Audio division, claims it is the leader in the worldwide home studio market when it comes to powered monitors. KRK Systems is certainly one of the world’s most respected studio reference monitor manufacturers. So, when the company decided to refresh its popular Rokits, now in its third generation, there must have been a good reason.

KRKg3-familyWithout dramatic changes, the new Rokit G3 family shows a cleaner more refined look and finishing, with “radiused” edges that help reduce distortion from diffraction. The monitors now offer a new 1” soft dome tweeter and new glass-Aramid composite woofers. The changes expand the Rokit’s frequency response up to 35 kHz, with better vocal clarity and extended bass response from 35 Hz. The proprietary bi-amped, Class-A/B amplifier provides SPL up to 109 dB and the waveguide design helps achieve the detailed imaging, while the front-firing bass port reduces boundary coupling to enable flexible room positioning. One of the key changes is in the back of the monitors, where high-frequency adjustments can be found to tailor the system to the user’s personal taste. The low-frequency adjustments compensate for room acoustics.

KRK Sytems, Inc.
www.krksys.com

Gel-Based Speaker Demonstrates Ionic Conductor Capabilities

Jeong-Yun Sun (left) and Christoph Keplinger (right) demonstrate their transparent ionic speaker, which uses a signal conducted by ions rather than electrons to vibrate a rubber membrane. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Grinnell, SEAS Communications)

Jeong-Yun Sun (left) and Christoph Keplinger (right) demonstrate their transparent ionic speaker, which uses a signal conducted by ions rather than electrons to vibrate a rubber membrane. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Grinnell, SEAS Communications)

Researchers Jeong-Yun Sun and Christoph Keplinger at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated a new type of loudspeaker transducer, which works on a different principle than the conventional moving coil design.

It is made of a thin sheet of transparent rubber sandwiched between two layers of salt-water gel. A modulated high-voltage signal passed across the two outer gel layers exerts pressure on the rubber membrane, causing it to vibrate and produce sound, much like a planar (or flat) speaker. According to the Harvard SEAS report, the prototype speaker has a 20-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response.

The important thing is that the vibration effect is produced by the electrical charges carried by ions and not the movement of electrons. So strictly speaking, this is not an electronic device. And the speaker is clear as a window.

The high-voltage signal that runs across the surfaces and through the layers forces the transparent rubber to rapidly contract and vibrate, producing sound.

Published in Science’s August 30, 2013, issue, this new speaker represents the first demonstration that electrical charges carried by ions, rather than electrons, can be put to meaningful use in fast-moving, high-voltage devices.

“Ionic conductors could replace certain electronic systems; they even offer several advantages,” says co-lead author Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard SEAS.

For example, ionic conductors can be stretched to many times their normal area without an increase in resistivity—a problem common in stretchable electronic devices. Second, they can be transparent, making them well suited for optical applications. Third, the gels used as electrolytes are biocompatible, so it would be relatively easy to incorporate ionic devices (e.g., artificial muscles or skin) into biological systems or wearable devices.

According to Keplinger, who worked on the project as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard SEAS and in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, such systems have great potential as sensors and for actuating automatically on movement, which opens a range of application possibilities.

The audio speaker represents a robust proof of concept for ionic conductors because producing sounds across the entire audible spectrum requires both high voltage (to squeeze hard on the rubber layer) and high-speed actuation (to vibrate quickly)—two criteria that are important for applications but would have ruled out the use of ionic conductors in the past.

The electrical connection to the power source is established outside the device’s active region where it does not need to be transparent. The traditional constraints are well known. High voltages can set off electrochemical reactions in ionic materials, producing gases and burning the materials. Ions are also much larger and heavier than electrons, so physically moving them through a circuit is typically slow.

The system invented at Harvard overcomes these problems. “It must seem counterintuitive to many people that ionic conductors could be used in a system that requires very fast actuation, like our speaker,” says Sun. “Yet by exploiting the rubber layer as an insulator, we’re able to control the voltage at the interfaces where the gel connects to the electrodes, so we don’t have to worry about unwanted chemical reactions. The input signal is an alternating current (AC), and we use the rubber sheet as a capacitor, which blocks the flow of charge carriers through the circuit. As a result, we don’t have to continuously move the ions in one direction, which would be slow. We simply redistribute them, which we can do thousands of times per second.”

According to Keplinger, “Our system doesn’t need a lot of power and you can integrate it anywhere you would need a soft, transparent layer that deforms in response to electrical stimuli (e.g., on the screen of a TV, laptop, or smartphone to generate sound or provide localized haptic feedback). People are even thinking about smart windows. You could potentially place this speaker on a window and achieve active noise cancellation with complete silence inside.”

The Harvard team chose to make its audio speaker out of simple materials. The electrolyte is a polyacrylamide gel swollen with salt water, but the team emphasized that an entire class of ionically conductive materials is available for experimentation. Future work will focus on identifying the best combinations of materials for compatibility, long life, and adhesion between the layers.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
www.seas.harvard.edu