A young Swiss firm is determined to improve the the sound of music by using supercomputers and smart software.
Two-year-old sonicEmotion AG, based in Dielsdorf, Switzerland is delivering speakers that just might be the next wave in sound.
Its sound system is based on an emerging technology called Wavefield Synthesis, based on the principle formulated by the Dutch scientist, Christiaan Huygen.
Its first practical application in sound systems, however, was in a European Union project called Carrouso, in which sonicEmotion co-founder, Renato Pellegrini, participated.
At the time he was working for the Zurich-based firm Studer Professional Audio. The Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science contributed a grant to the project too.
In a concert hall or movie theatre only a few seats experience the optimum sound, says the firm, but with Wavefield Synthesis (WFS) a personal "sound sphere" is created.
It is like an audio hologram that enables each listener, no matter where he or she is sitting, to experience the sound as if they were sitting in the best seat in the house.
"It is a much more realistic sound experience than anything that exists today," according to Kevin Elliot, an editor at Audioworld.org, an online source for audio professionals.
He says that the jump from "surround sound to WFS will be as dramatic the jump from 2-channel stereo to 5.1 surround".
"In fact," he writes in a recent article on the topic, "I'd say quite a lot more dramatic."
But there are two weaknesses in WFS systems, according to Elliot.
One is the need for powerful algorithms with equally powerful computer processors to manipulate the sound files, and the other is the requirement for dozens of speakers to reproduce the sound.
sonicEmotion has apparently overcome these issues. Based on his research at the ETH, Matthias Rosenthal, co-founder sonicEmotion solved the processing problem using the principles of super-computing and the company's advanced algorithms.
This innovation enables the integration of his sophisticated semiconductors into flat panel speakers that hang on the wall. There is no need for big bulky speaker arrays.
"The generated audio waves are an almost exact reproduction of a real world sound source," said Rosenthal.
The young company has also developed a headphone based system that is useful for sound simulation experiments or for gaming applications, which it licensed to German electronics giant Siemens AG.
sonicEmotion is the first company to sell flat panel WFS speaker systems. Its nearest competitor is Iosono AG, a spinoff of the Fraunhofer Institute, the same research group that delivered MP3 to the world.
Iosono launched a WFS sound system for cinemas and theaters in July based on large-speaker arrays that are suspended around a room.
It also sells the special digital audio recording equipment required to utilize the sound-system to its fullest.
sonicEmotion expects sales this year to reach half a million Swiss francs. But don't expect to see Sony selling WFS speakers this Christmas. This is a high-end, audiophile technology.
But then again, if Rosenthal fulfils his vision of licensing the technology to third parties, big name sound system manufactures just might also be catching the next wave.
by Valerie Thompson