What’s Next in Audio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHANNON: What makes your audio equipment unique?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHANNON: How did you become interested in audio electronics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing It Differently

Time moves quickly. We are already feeling the aftermath of 2014’s first two major industry shows. This is also a year when audioXpress is completing its transition to an expanded publication that addresses the needs of the audio engineering community—not only for those who have fun listening to music (there are plenty of magazines doing that) but mainly for those who imagine, create, and work with audio technology.

This year began with the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV, introducing innovations on all fronts. It was also the largest CES in show history. While some companies introduced products based on users’ needs, it appears many consumer electronics companies still prefer to throw hundreds of new ideas at the wall to see what sticks. I guess a major electronics show like the CES is the ideal place to test those ideas, but sometimes we have to wonder why the successful companies that only introduce market-ready products don’t even need to attend the CES.

Yes, we miss seeing Apple at trade shows and we miss the inspiring clear vision of the late Steve Jobs. Apple is one those companies with products that are the perfect combination of state-of-the-art technology and innovation that are available for purchase exactly as advertised. And while the company was not in attendance, Apple’s products still dominated the 2014 International CES. It is no surprise that many great ideas and reference designs were designed to complement the iPad, the iPhone, and even the new Apple Mac Pro workstation.

IK Multimedia promoted its iRing wireless sensors to control music apps (or any other apps) using only gestures. We’ve also seen great photography peripherals for the iPhone and many new charging and home-automation solutions. There are even iOS-device-controlled robots and drones. And of course, no audio company could ignore the huge market created for wireless speakers and headphones. Many were especially designed for Apple’s mobile devices, leveraging Apple’s push for Bluetooth Smart 4.0 and AirPlay technologies. Apple also effectively revitalized the worldwide home audio market.

Wireless speakers, headphones, soundbars, integrated A/V receivers and audio systems are experiencing impressive growth rates, according to recently published market reports. Bluetooth products, in particular, continue to bolster the wireless speaker market, offering the convenience of portability, while multi-room audio based on Wi-Fi is also on the rise. Among the 20,000-some products introduced at the 2014 International CES, there were a significant number of new headphones and earphones.

After every CES, we should also acknowledge those sparks of inspiration from obscure companies and the truly exciting technology announcements. For example, cars connected to mobile networks—actually talking and seamlessly interfacing with our mobile devices.

It’s always difficult to understand why, but clearly, in the middle of all the Internet-connected toothbrushes and forks, speech-recognition watches, and curved television screens, some innovations make complete sense and leave us asking ourselves “why did it take so long?”

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief

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

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

Dan Dugan

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

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

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

SHANNON: When did you attempt your first audio project?

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

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

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

1978 Globe studio

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Model Dugan MY16

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Model E Series

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

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

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

 

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

DAN: Persistence, good luck.

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

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

SHANNON: Where do you conduct your outdoor recordings?

 

Dan Dugan recording

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

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

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

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

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

DAN: Audio over Ethernet.

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.