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.

Feeling Too Old?

With the year’s first audio shows behind us, we have seen several technical breakthroughs and innovations that give us reason to be excited. Thus far, we have attended the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) 2014, and the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE)!

The 2014 International CES was marked by the emergence of ultra-high definition (UHD) TV. Audio professionals need to be aware of the sound implications that accompany those stunning images. Most (giant) LCD panels are so thin there’s no space for high-quality speakers. The TVs may sound fine at home for sports, talk shows, and news, but there is a market for new speaker systems to complement these 4K TVs. And (sorry) I don’t think consumers will opt for multichannel unless we see new speaker designs that combine great quality with convenience.

In the majority of homes, the key will be perceptual audio algorithms and a better consumer experience with less hassle. That also means wireless solutions, especially for surround sound. At the 2014 International CES, we particularly liked the Philips Fidelio E5 wireless surround cinema speakers, a “Best of Innovations” in the Home Theater category.

Also, it is critical to understand that 4K content will not arrive at homes as physical media. As we saw at the 2014 International CES, Sony’s vision for 4K includes new cloud/online services, where hi-res audio and interactive gaming are also considerations. In my opinion, this means speaker and audio systems designers have good reason to work hard on new designs.

Another major trend at the 2014 International CES was wearable electronics, which will provide new opportunities, related to headsets, wireless audio, and maybe immersive/awareness experiences.
The NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA, was also a vibrant event, complete with several major announcements for the studio and stage environments and, increasingly, many incredible options for iPad and portable devices. Apps for iPad (e.g., Korg’s Gadget featuring 15 virtual synths and instruments or Cakewalk’s Z3TA+ iOS) sound and look amazing.

There was also a new trend that combined portable wireless speakers with guitar rehearsal amplifiers. Take a look at the VOX SoundBox Mini and IK Multimedia iLoud portable speaker and you will understand. An outstanding example came from Line 6, after its recent acquisition by Yamaha. The new Line 6 AMPLIFi combines a high-performance guitar amplifier, a streaming Bluetooth speaker, and an iOS app in one powerful solution.

The NAMM Show also saw several new studio monitors and many Thunderbolt recording interface announcements, with Zoom making a grand entrance in that category. Our favorite recording solution was the new Universal Audio Apollo Twin, a desktop 2 × 6 Thunderbolt audio interface, which enables real-time universal audio digital (UAD) processing of its high-quality plug-ins.

The greatest NAMM surprise came from QSC Audio, which revealed its first digital mixer line, the TouchMix series. Behringer also announced a new Dante network option for its X32 range of digital consoles, adding that more than 100,000 units have been sold worldwide. Perhaps inspired by that incredible success, the Music Group also announced a new 40-input Midas digital console, the M32, which is available for less than $5,000.

If you don’t feel excited by these announcements, the music is probably too loud and you may be a tad too old.

Industry Watch: March 2014

Harman Prelaunches New Infinity Home Audio Speakers, Teams With Linkin Park

HARMAN International prelaunched its new Infinity One Bluetooth speaker at the 2014 CES International.

HARMAN International prelaunched its new Infinity One Bluetooth speaker at the 2014 CES International.

At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), HARMAN International announced that the Grammy award-winning, multi-platinum alternative rock band Linkin Park will be Infinity brand’s new ambassadors. Suggesting a common history of pushing boundaries, challenging convention, and producing cutting-edge sound, the exclusive five-year partnership between Linkin Park and Infinity will go beyond advertising to include product design collaborations.

To mark the new relationship, Linkin Park helped unveil a CES preview of two all-new Infinity product lines—the Infinity Reference Loudspeakers Series and the Infinity One, the brand’s first portable wireless sound system. The Infinity One will feature wireless streaming and a built-in rechargeable battery with up to 10 h of playtime and offer consumers premium quality sound and the utmost in mobility (see Photo 1).

The Infinity Linkin Park gold-edition reference tower speakers were unveiled at the 2014 CES International.

The Infinity Linkin Park gold-edition reference tower speakers were unveiled at the 2014 CES International.

Linkin Park is working closely with new Infinity product portfolio’s design and engineering teams on development, voicing, and industrial design. For the launch of the new Infinity Reference Loudspeakers Series, the band collaborated with Infinity to create “gold-dipped” special edition floor-standing loudspeakers (see Photo 2).

The Infinity Reference Loudspeakers series features nine models with clean, contemporary looks, tapered side panels, and a black premium finish. The series will include two bookshelf models, two floor-standing models, two center-channel models, one surround model, and two powered subwoofer models. The series will utilize the latest HARMAN proprietary technologies to deliver amazing audio performance at accessible price points.

Although Infinity gradually morphed into a strictly car audio brand for the past several years, Infinity’s new Reference Series should re-establish its credibility in the living room. The home speakers all use a ceramic metal matrix diaphragm (CMMD) dome tweeter with a waveguide design borrowed from Revel’s great Performa3 series speakers. The three-way models also have a 3.25” flat-piston CMMD midrange driver, plus 6.5” woofers for the R263 tower ($1,099/pair) and 5.25” woofers for the R253 tower ($899/pair).

 


 

Klippel Presents Three-Day Lecture

Professor Wolfgang Klippel (Institute of Acoustics and Speech Communication, Dresden University of Technology, Dresden Germany) will present a three-day lecture (as a block seminar) from March 17–19, 2014 at the Dresden University of Technology.

On day one and day two, Klippel will lecture about audio systems—modeling, measurement, and control. On day three, attendees can choose from two different lectures—control theory or hands on training. For more information or to register, visit www.klippel.de.

 


 

Alma’s Hires New Association Manager

The Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing and Acoustics (ALMA) International recently hired Barry Vogel as ALMA manager (see Photo 3). He will succeed Carol Bousquet.

ALMA International selected Barry Vogel as its next manager.

ALMA International selected Barry Vogel as its next manager.

Vogel began his career in the consumer electronics industry in 1976 when he opened a CB radio and accessories store in Central Square, NY. Eventually transitioning into car audio, his store experienced strong growth for many years. He expanded his business from a 400-ft2 leased department in a larger store to a 2,000-ft2 free-standing building. He eventually bought a 6,500-ft2 building with eight installation bays and 3,000 ft2 of display space.

In 1993, Vogel became a founding member of Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA). He initially served as the Education chairman, later advancing to become President and Executive Director. Vogel is an active member of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). He is also involved with writing mobile electronics certified professionals (MECP) training and reference guides. In addition to his new duties as ALMA’s manager, Vogel maintains a consulting business that helps independent retailers remain growth oriented and relevant in today’s Internet world.

 


 

CE Revenues Reach Record High In 2014

Revenues for the consumer electronics (CE) industry are projected to grow 2.4% in 2014, reaching a new record high of $208 billion, according to “The US Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecasts,” the semi-annual industry report released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The forecast projects that new, emerging product categories will grow by 107% year-over-year in 2014.

These new technology categories, including 3-D printers, Bluetooth wireless speakers, convertible PCs, health and fitness devices, smart watches and Ultra-HD television displays, are cumulatively expected to contribute more than $6 billion to the overall CE industry in 2014. While these emerging product categories represent less than 3% of the entire CE industry, they drive 65% of the total industry revenue growth.

Sales of mobile-connected devices, specifically smartphones and tablets, will continue to contribute significant unit sales and revenue to the total CE bottom line in 2014. Although revenue growth has slowed, unit sales will continue to see steady increases.

Smartphones are expected to maintain their position as the industry’s sales leader in 2014, with unit shipments projected to reach 152 million, up from 138 million units sold in 2013. Additionally, smartphone revenues are expected to generate $41 billion in 2014, a 4.6% increase from $39 billion in 2013.

Unit sales of tablets are projected to reach 89.3 million this year, up from 77.4 million in 2013. Revenues for tablets will reach $27.3 billion this year, up by 3%.

Bright spots within the television category will help drive revenue growth this year, as larger screen sizes and innovative display features have consumers upgrading their video experience. Although total unit sales of displays are predicted to remain even with 2013 levels, total TV sets and display sales are projected to reach $21.3 billion in 2014, up 2% from 2013’s better than expected $21 billion revenue level.
LCD flat-panels continue to dominate the total number of sets sold each year. Both unit sales and revenues for LCDs are projected to increase slightly, with 39 million LCD TVs expected to ship to dealers in 2014, resulting in $19 billion in revenue.

Innovative features such as Ultra HD and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) within the display category are beginning to gain awareness. Unit shipments of ultra-HD displays are expected to surpass $1 billion for the first time this year, while OLED displays will reach $836 million.

Elsewhere in the industry, several other categories are expected to see positive growth in 2014. For the audio industry, soundbars, headphones, and Bluetooth wireless speakers remain the standout products. Soundbar shipments are projected to increase 22% to 3.5 million units and reach $676 million in revenue. Headphones are expected to sell 71 million units, earning $1.5 billion in revenue; while Bluetooth wireless speakers are expected to generate $430 million in total revenue in 2014, a 12% increase year-over-year.

For automotive electronics, the growth of new vehicle sales in 2014 will drive factory-installed systems to reach $11 billion in revenues, an increase of 20%.

For electronic gaming, the release of next-generation gaming consoles is projected to propel unit shipment growth, up 42% year-over-year, to reach revenues of $5.7 billion in 2014.

 


 

Bluetooth Speakers Dominate New Loudspeaker Product Releases

The consumer electronics (CE) market currently has a seemingly insatiable appetite for small Bluetooth-connected speakers, or at least that is the indication from several loudspeaker manufacturers. Several manufacturers released products within the last few months, including:

Boston Acoustics—Boston Acoustics launched its first Bluetooth speaker, the MC100Blue ($149 suggested). The MC100Blue is an AC-only single-chassis tabletop speaker that streams AptX over Bluetooth. It features NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, dual-ported 3.5” drivers, and BassTrac technology to maintain bass output at low listening levels.

The gloss-black speaker also features analog auxiliary input and headphone output. The 6” × 15.8” × 5.3” speaker is said to deliver a 70-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response. The wall-mountable speaker comes with a remote and it is available from the company’s website (www.bostonacoustics.com).

The speaker joins the MC200Air ($199), which is also a tabletop speaker. The MC200Air includes Apple AirPlay to wirelessly stream music via home Wi-Fi networks from Apple’s mobile devices and iTunes-equipped computers. The speaker system also incorporates embedded Wi-Fi, DLNA networking with PCs and smartphones, and an Apple-certified iPod/iPhone/iPad USB port to change Apple devices and play music when it is connected.

Harman Kardon—HARMAN International launched its first Harman Kardon brand AC-only Bluetooth speaker system. It joins two Harman Kardon-brand AC/DC Bluetooth speakers unveiled in September 2013.
The new Nova Wireless speaker system ($299) consists of two left-right two-way speakers with transparent spherical enclosures. The system doubles as a speaker system for TVs, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, and so forth via its analog and optical digital inputs. The Bluetooth pair features NFC, 2 × 20-W amplification, biamplification, a 1.25” tweeter, a 2.5” midrange/woofer, and a passive radiator to extend bass response.

The system delivers a 70-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response and uses HARMAN DSP to improve imaging and sound-stage depth. The brand’s AC/DC Bluetooth speakers include the flat, square Esquire with NFC ($249). Its targeted to business travelers and doubles as a phone-conference speaker with an omnidirectional microphone. The brand’s other AC/DC Bluetooth speaker, the Onyx ($499), is a spherical tabletop speaker that also incorporates Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, DLNA, and NFC.

Infinity—The Infinity One wireless speaker is part of the relaunch of the Infinity brand name, which also includes nine new home theater and stereo speakers. The Infinity One looks and feels like a Bluetooth speaker designed by the military industrial complex! Its aluminum body contains four 45-mm drivers plus a passive radiator at each end to reinforce the bass. The speaker’s internal rechargeable battery is rated at 10 A and provides 10 h of run time. The Inifinity One will be available in June, along with some “luxury type” accessories.

Kicker—Kicker, a division of Stillwater Designs and Audio is shipping its latest tabletop Bluetooth speaker as part of its 2014 plan to add more Bluetooth speakers in broader price range.

The Amphitheater Bluetooth BT2 ($299) joins three other tabletop audio products, including the Amphitheater BT ($249) with Bluetooth and a 30-pin connector made for iPod/iPhone/iPad docking speakers.

The other two models lack Bluetooth. They are the Amphitheater ($249) and the iK501 ($149), which both feature a 30-pin connector made for iPod/iPhone/iPad docking speakers.

The 2014 additions will include more Bluetooth-only speakers as well as Apple-docking speakers equipped with Bluetooth. All Amphitheaters are 50-W models with 5” woofers, 0.75” tweeters, and a square 6” × 6” passive radiator to deliver a 24-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response and ±3 dB. They also feature DSP to optimize sound performance. The Amphitheaters come with USB ports to charge external devices and an auxiliary input jack to connect non-Bluetooth devices.

With a free KickStart app for Android and iOS devices, users can adjust the speakers’ responses via the app’s eight-band equalization, bass and treble sliders, and wide or tight imaging. The app also offers the option to load and save sound presets for specific music genres or for different music sources.

Klipsch Group—Klipsch Group is expanding its Klipsch Music Center speaker selection with its lowest-priced model to date, the Klipsch Music Center Gig ($199). The new model, which arrived in stores in November 2013, is a Bluetooth-only portable AC/DC model that joins two other AC/DC Bluetooth-only models in the series: the Klipsch Music Center KMC1 ($299) and the Klipsch Music Center KMC3 ($399). Bluetooth is also a feature of the AC-only Klipsch Music Center Stadium ($1,999), a triamplified stereo speaker with Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Apple AirPlay, DLNA, USB compatibility with Apple mobile devices, and optical digital input.

The Klipsch Gig is the smallest of the speakers. It measures 3.6” × 7” × 2.1” and weighs 1.4 lb. The system features dual 1” full-range drivers, dual 2” passive radiators, DSP-based equalization, AptX audio decoding, NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5-mm auxiliary in, hands-free speakerphone capability, and international power adapters for AC operation.

Its built-in, rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers 12-h playback time with default volume and 4-h playback time at maximum volume.

Performance specifications include a 77-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response with “usable” bass down to 64 Hz, 96 dB SPL at 0.5 m, and 2× 5-WRMS amplification with 20-W total peak power. The speaker features a silicone chassis in black or white and a perforated metal grille.

Panasonic—Panasonic expanded its portable Bluetooth speaker selection with the SC-NA10 ($199) and the SC-NA30 ($299). The compact speakers offer 20 h of playback time on their rechargeable batteries.
The two stereo models join the brand’s other Bluetooth-only speakers, including the portable AC/DC SC-NT10D ($99), the AC-only SC-NP10 with a tablet stand ($199), and the AC-only SC-NE1 ($199). Both models feature NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5-mm auxiliary in, and XBS master sound processing, which is said to improve clarity and accuracy. The SC-NA30 features two front 2” full-range drivers and two passive bass radiators. The SC-NA10 features two 1.6” front speakers and one passive bass radiator.

Yamaha—Yamaha expanded its portable Bluetooth speaker lineup with the NX-P100 ($199). The NX-P100 is a moisture-proof model that features NFC pairing and streams the AAC and AptX codecs.
It joins the brand’s PDX-B11 ($179), which lacks NFC and AptX streaming. The metal-body NX-P100 has a rectangular shape. Other features include a hands-free speakerphone capability, an internal rechargeable battery with 8 h of playback time, and a USB port for charging mobile devices. It is available in black and white.

The March 2014 Issue of audioXpress is Now Online

This month’s audioXpress brings a great article from our regular contributor Thomas Perazella, in which he revisits the art of studio reamping and the different approaches and implications of that two-stage studio process. During the process, we first record a dry or clean track and then re-record the track by sending the clean track back through amplifiers and effects. Naturally, he looks at different Reamp circuits and some implications for the different impedance audio signals and balance to unbalance challenges.

audioXpress March 2014Another highlight is our review of the Rockruepel comp.two tube stereo compressor, hand built by Oliver Gregor in Germany. As Miguel Marques discovers, this is one of the most versatile audio processors on the market, packaged in a simple but impressive design.

Following the first of a two-part article dedicated to Dante audio networks, our Standards Review revisits Audinate from the perspective of those companies who have licensed the technology.

And for our readers who have are interested in the recently introduced loudness standards, Jon Schorah returns with another great article about Loudness Meters and Measurements.

Don’t miss another take from Mike Klasco and Steve Tatarunis on the “Weird Science Woofers,” in which they discuss some market innovations and pure research on unique speaker mechanisms, from huge to ultra-shallow speaker configurations.

In this month’s Sound Control column, Richard Honeycutt explores predictive acoustics and how the results of such evaluations can be highly rewarding.

Certainly an entertaining read is Shannon Becker’s interview this month with Morten Sissener, founder of Tortuga Audio, a DIY-oriented audio company dedicated and committed to audio enjoyment.

On the subject of DIY projects, this month contributor George Ntanavaras explains how to build his MC100 high-quality moving coil RIAA preamplifier. It is a great read for anyone who would like to know more about the phono signal chain.

And for Audio Electronics enthusiasts, Ron Tipton shares a fascinating project on testing a Class-T or Tripath power amplifier. We also discuss the story of Tripath Technology, which was later acquired by Cirrus Logic who discontinued the company operations. We also speculate on reasons why the Tripath ICs are still popular among the DIY audio community.

And for those with a passion for tubes, columnist Richard Honeycutt looks at Tube Guitar Amplifiers and why distortion evolved from an undesirable effect to part of the established guitar amplification industry practice.

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

Prescient Audio Awarded at CES 2014 For Its Revolutionary ThinDriver TD-12

Prescient Audio ThinDriver

Prescient Audio ThinDriver

Prescient Audio, from Rockford, IL, a consumer and professional audio manufacturer of high-performance loudspeaker technology, was named an International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree for its ThinDriver TD-12, in the High Performance Home Audio product category.

Prescient Audio’s TD-12 is the thinnest and lightest 12″ subwoofer available on the market, boasting an energy-efficient design. The TD-12 is a high-performance, 1,000-W loudspeaker that repositions the components from behind the loudspeaker to its perimeter. With a mounted depth of 2.25″, the TD-12 is the shallowest subwoofer available.

Its futuristic design allows for a smaller cabinet, requiring only 0.5 cubic feet of box volume. It can easily fit between standard wall joints within a wall cavity or underneath furniture or car seats. While it’s the thinnest loudspeaker profile in the industry, it still provides a rich, superior true-to-signal sound and incredible bass throughout all audible levels, all while offering the largest power-to-weight ratio in the industry at 120-W per pound.

According to Paul Niedermann, CEO of Prescient Audio, the ThinDriver TD-12 has been three years in the making and is now available.

www.prescientaudio.com

Member Profile: Bob Cordell

Bob Cordell

Bob Cordell

Member Name: Bob Cordell

Location: Holmdel, NJ

Education: Bob has a MSEE from Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and a BSEE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY.

Occupation: He is a retired electrical engineer.

Member Status: Bob said he has been subscribing to audioXpress “since the beginning of time.”

Affiliations: Bob retains memberships to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Audio Engineering Society (AES).

Audio Interests: He enjoys working on amplifiers, loudspeakers, and test equipment. He also spends his time authoring books and articles about his various audio projects.

Most Recent Purchase: Bob recently upgraded his equipment with an OPPO BDP-95 CD/SACD player.

Current Audio Projects: Bob is writing the second edition of his book, “Designing Audio Power Amplifiers,” and working on his website, www.cordellaudio.com.

Dream System: Bob said, “I am not a dreamer, I’m a builder.” His current system includes a 3.5-way active loudspeakers, each with four 125-W MOSFET power amplifiers built into the cabinets.

Industry Watch: February 2014

New President Heads MartinLogan, Paradigm, and Anthem

Rocco Melchione recently accepted the position of president/CEO for the Paradigm, MartinLogan, and Anthem brands. He replaces Tim Valters, who held that title for the last four years. Melchione has more than 20 years of experience at the senior executive level in global manufacturing and sales, the company said. His experience includes global supply-chain management, process improvement, and quality practices,

Melchione also had a leadership role in the expansion of a global division of Panasonic and helped integrate Baldwin Piano into Gibson Guitar Corp. as a Gibson subsidiary, the company added. Senior management teams for all three brands report directly to him.

ShoreView Industries, the parent company for the three brands, ShoreView Industries, owns 100% of MartinLogan and more than 50% of Paradigm Electronics, which includes the Paradigm and Anthem brands. The remaining percentage of Paradigm Electronics is owned by Scott Bagby, one of the company’s founding partners. Despite the change, the company said it will continue to focus on its specialty audio retailing.

 

 


 

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse Brand Returns to CE

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse brand, which left the car audio aftermarket in 2010 after 21 years, is making a US comeback in the home-audio market (see Photo 1). The Japanese company displayed its current range of stand-mounted, tapered, sphere-shaped home speakers ($490/pair to $11,200/pair) at the 2014 International CES (January 7–10 in Las Vegas, NV).

Fujitsu Ten Eclipse

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse brand now offers the TD-M1 speakers
($1,300/pair) with Wi-Fi, AirPlay, AirPlay Direct, DLNA, USB B to connect to a PC/Mac, USB A to connect to an iPhone/iPod touch, and a 192-kHz/24-bit DAC.

Fujitsu Ten also introduced a pair of high-end powered subwoofers—the TD725SW MK2 ($7,000) and the TD520SW ($4,500)—and a wireless Airplay speaker. The AirPlay speaker, shaped like the company’s other tapered spherical speakers, is called the TD-M1 ($1,300/pair). The new products ship in February 2014. The company’s current speakers became available in January 2014.

The new audio Eclipse brand entered the home speaker market in Japan in 2001 and has expanded its line to Asia and Europe. Although the brand was briefly in the US some years ago, the Eclipse home audio brand is ready to “properly” enter the US home market in February 2014. Both subwoofers are said to combine power and speed. They use two small-diameter drivers in a back-to-back configuration linked by an aluminum bar. The configuration combines small-diameter driver speed with large-diameter driver power.

Both subwoofers feature Class-D amplifiers, a low-pass filter bypass, an IR remote, and a selector to switch between 5.1- or 2.1-channel inputs. They deliver 500 W and 250 W, respectively, of nominal output with 1% total harmonic distortion (THD). The playback range is 20–150 Hz and 25–150 Hz, respectively. The larger model measures 21.5” × 19.7” × 20.6”.

The AirPlay speaker, which also features time-domain technology, comes with Wi-Fi, AirPlay, AirPlay Direct, DLNA, USB B to connect to a PC/Mac, USB A to connect to an iPhone/iPod touch, and a 192-kHz/24-bit DAC. An iPhone app is available for remote control of power, volume, and input switching.

The DAC provides users the option to remove the oversampling filter during the playback process. Oversampling filters remove noise that occurs when digital sound is converted into analog. The speaker’s oversampling-free mode removes the oversampling filter for enhanced clarity, the company noted.

The speaker features a Class-D amplifier, touch-sensor controls, and a speaker-angle adjustment, which enables users to choose different angles (0°–20°) with a single touch to optimize imaging for a given listening location.

A 3.5-mm input enables connection to TVs and other devices. The speaker measures 6.1” × 8.6” × 9.5” and features ring 3” drivers, a 70-Hz-to-30-kHz frequency response, and 20-W nominal output at 1% THD.

 


 

Atlantic Technology Adds Bluetooth to Its Powered H-PAS Soundbar

While Atlantic Technology (AT) has lowered the price of its PowerBar from $799 to $699, the big news is that the PowerBar now includes Bluetooth capability. The included Bluetooth receiver features nearfield communications (NFC) for tap-to-connect functionality and streams the aptX codec over Bluetooth. The Bluetooth 4.0 receiver connects to the soundbar via the bar’s analog audio input.
The AT product stands out because of its unique H-PAS technology that delivers bass to 47 Hz at “theater-level sound pressure levels (SPLs).” Typical soundbars usually have 150-to-200-Hz capabilities. The H-PAS also improves dialog clarity because of the low woofer excursion that produces less bass distortion. The AT PowerBar also incorporates DSP with Dolby Digital and DTS to deliver a two-to-five-channel experience.

One More Take

“One more take.”

Remember that joke? The producer in the recording studio says to the band: “Not bad, fellas. Let’s do one more take, this time with more emphasis on tone, harmony, melody, rhythm, composition, lyrics, musicianship, tempo, and originality.”

Maybe it’s time for the audio industry to try “one more take.”

During last year’s 135th Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention in New York, it was apparent that the audio engineering community unites several generations. Also, the younger but much more technically perceptive generation is fascinated by the achievements of those who had the “privilege” of working in the big studios and doing audio production for live concerts, or during great broadcast moments from the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s.

The younger generations have learned to value the tools and what they can do with them. They even value the “good old analog” electronics, essentially by using plug-in emulations of the real things inside Pro Tools or Logic. Yet, this generation also encodes studio recordings to MP3s.

From one content format to another, the music industry continually re-released its content in physical media until the Super Audio CD (SACD) and the Blu-ray disc (on video) formats appeared. And that was it. Suddenly, the Internet, mobile devices, and digital files changed everything. With that change came the MP3, the iPod, iTunes, and mobile networks. This accelerated the demise of physical media, on which the entire music industry had become over-dependent.

Meanwhile, technology continues to evolve. Even though SACD is dead and gone, the key developments remain valid and high-resolution audio is still a logical proposition. But is it well understood by the “plug-in” generation? A very faint sign of hope emits from the enthusiasm detected at events such as the AES conventions and the NAMM shows.

With new 64-bit processors and OSes becoming the norm, large bandwith networks available everywhere, and memory and storage increasing faster than consumers’ actual needs, it seems the industry is ripe for another go at quality.

As our contributing author Gary Galo noted in his impressions of the 135th AES Convention, it seems consumers are rediscovering the virtues of high-resolution sound and finding compressed formats such as MP3 unacceptable. But at the same time, mobile platforms and wireless networks have created new consumer behaviors. People are increasingly listening to music via headphones, soundbars, and portable wireless loudspeakers. Therefore, we need a new approach to address that changing landscape, and it’s not going to be with $20,000 home stereo (or multichannel) systems.

If downloading high-resolution audio files is practical and inspires a new group of record companies to reinvest in high-quality content production, it is clear that 1-bit DSD recordings could also breathe new life into studios, the pro audio industry in general, and even many high-end audio brands.

And it is at forums such as the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA—where those same generations again meet with producers and musicians—that the conscience needs to be raised. Not at the Venetian Hotel demo rooms in Las Vegas, NV. The signs are still fragile, the economic environment remains unstable, and the market trends are uncertain, but it all seems to be aligning for a “new take” in the audio industry.

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief

Q&A: OrigAudio Founders Jason Lucash and Mike Szymczak

OrigAudio founders

Jason Lucash (left) and Mike Szymczak (right) constantly traveled early in their careers and wanted an easy way to listen to their music on the road. During their travels, they came up with the idea for OrigAudio.

SHANNON BECKER: Describe your background (e.g., where you grew up and your education).

JASON LUCASH: I’ve always been an “entrepreneur at heart.” I’ve always had a knack for being a self-starter. I started my own candy stand when I was in the second grade. My family would buy candy in bulk from stores such as Vons and Safeway, and then I would race home from school to put my candy stand out in the path of students as soon as school was over. My buddies and I would hang out, eat candy, and sell it, making about $30 dollars a day.

MIKE SZYMCZAK: I’ve always had a wondering mind. I liked to tinker and be different from the crowd. From a young age my father, Jimbo, would bring me to the science store to explore and learn how things worked scientifically and mechanically. He also encouraged me to try and experience as much in my life and career as possible. I took this advice to heart. I held more than 20 jobs, all before I turned  25, and I visited more than 20 countries and 48/50 states. Always one for a new adventure and a new challenge, I decided to start my own business. This entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for music, and zest for travel helped to forge OrigAudio.

Jason and Mike recognized a need for an eco-friendly, portable solution for listening to music while on the go. Inspired by a Chinese take-out box—foldable, easily compactable, and recyclable—the “origami of audio” was born.

Jason and Mike recognized a need for an eco-friendly, portable solution for listening to music while on the go. Inspired by a Chinese take-out box—foldable, easily compactable, and recyclable—the “origami of audio” was born.

SHANNON: What sparked your interest in audio?

JASON/MIKE: Both of us are marketing guys who recognized the need for a light, ultra-portable speaker.

SHANNON: How did the two of you meet? And what made you decide to go into business together?

JASON/MIKE: We met on the job, which required a lot of travel. This is how we came up with our “million dollar idea” for cool, portable speakers.

SHANNON: Tell us about OrigAudio (www.origaudio.com). Where did you get the idea for the company?

JASON: Our first product, the Fold and Play speakers, uses the principles of origami to come flat and fold up into a speaker. This inspired the name OrigAudio—the Origami of Audio.

MIKE: It was out of need from our travel heavy jobs. We just wanted to create a better way that saved space, didn’t require batteries, and was ECO Friendly.

Fold and Play 2

The Fold and Play speakers are the product that started it all. These speakers are made from 70% post-consumer recycled material, require no external power, and fold and unfold like origami.

SHANNON: Tell us more about the Fold and Play portable paper speaker. What was the inspiration behind it?

JASON: Tired of lugging bulky audio players around on business trips while working for JanSport, Mike and I started futzing with the idea of putting speakers into Chinese-food takeout boxes. The box starts flat, and whenever you want to use it, you pop it up. Our idea sounded good. The product? Not so much. We moved on to putting a very old idea—origami—to work. In 2009, with $10,000 in seed money from my mom, we launched OrigAudio (origami + audio) with one product: speakers, which are made entirely from recycled materials that start out flat and fold together. The Chinese takeout box concept inspired us, but origami is what powered us.

MIKE: We were still working our “day jobs” and selling 15 pairs of speakers a day through our website when the US Marines placed a whopping order for 50,000 (launching OrigAudio’s corporate gift division). Shortly after, Time magazine waved its magic “best” wand. [OrigAudio was named to Time magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2009” list and appeared on ABC’s hit start-up business show, Shark Tank.] With the holidays coming on fast, the company quickly sold out of its 25,000-unit stock. That’s when we gave our two-week notice to JanSport.

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

JASON: The first version of our Fold and Play speakers were kind of a huge flop. I couldn’t even get my mother to take them seriously. They were literally just a Chinese take-out box with a speaker attached and could barely even stand on their own. So we went back to the drawing board, ditched the take-out box, and adopted the principles of origami to create our first successful product.

Rock-It Cup

The Rock-It 3.0 portable vibration speaker system takes music from your device and turns it into vibration sequences. It sends those vibrations through the Rock-It pod which sticks to any object and turns that object into a speaker!

SHANNON: What other products have you developed?

JASON: OrigAudio’s top-selling product is the Rock-It, which makes a speaker out of pretty much any hollow object you stick it to. It’s another example of the old-made-new strategy. The really cool technology had been around for 60 years, but we always saw these big applications. So we thought, “This thing would be sweet if you could make it portable.”

MIKE: We also came out with the world’s first ever fully customizable speakers. These products give consumers the opportunity design and personalize their very own speakers. More images of the Doodle, Cubicool, Epishock, and Headphones are available on our website.

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

JASON: I think people love being able to customize their gear. I personally don’t want headphones that only have a brand name on the side of them. I want headphones that reflect my personal taste. For instance, I love robots and have them all around my office. Therefore, I want headphones that have robots on them, too. I prefer to buy products that are an extension of my personal taste and preferences.

MIKE: We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we do take our business seriously. People like working with us and they love our unique products.

SHANNON: What’s next for your company?

JASON/MIKE: On demand customized products are not only the future of our company, but the future of business. Not only is customization great for our customers, it’s also incredibly effective for businesses. Twenty years from now, retailers won’t need to stock physical products in distribution centers (with the exception of food and canned goods). A customer will be able to order a watch from Amazon and have it made exactly how they want it to look and feel on demand. Even though customization has been around for a long time, more and more business owners are focusing their businesses on this fast-growing trend.

Epishock

New to the OrigAudio family is Epishock, a device that turns any flat surface into a bass pumping loud speaker. Place Epishock on a hard surface (e.g., a desk or table) and witness vibration technology at its best.

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

JASON: Noise-cancelling technology. It completely changes your listening experience.

MIKE: The iPod/MP3 player. The ability to transport an entire library and hundreds of CDs/records/cassettes in the palm of your hand is unreal.

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

JASON: You should always be a step ahead, especially in technology. In technology, you should probably be two steps ahead because the technology is always changing.

MIKE: Explore the unexplored…meaning basically create something entirely new do not reinvent the old.