GADGETS Samsung leads the smartphone race but wants to be big in audio, writes Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
Samsung is the world’s top smartphone seller, the world’s leading TV maker, and it makes more LCD panels than any other firm.
But the technology giant is yet to make itself heard in audio.
Audiophiles are typically tied to high-end brands, while more modest music lovers are being tempted with simple streaming audio, cutting-edge design, or noisecancellation technology.
Samsung admits audio is an area it has often overlooked, hidden beneath TV screens and rarely prioritised in smartphones.
To improve its sound and truly compete, the South Korean firm has created its own audio research facility.
Samsung’s US Audio Lab is hidden at the back of a nondescript business park in Santa Clarita, an hour outside Los Angeles. It’s surrounded by barren hills, high-voltage power lines and, tellingly, film and television studios.
Its first employee began work almost two years ago, and staff numbers have swelled to 15, with engineers, researchers, and technicians counting three PhDs and five Masters degrees between them.
The team is headed by Allan Devantier, a veteran audio engineer from Harman Kardon and Infinity, and a man who admits Samsung’s sound turnaround will not be instantaneous.
“We’re coming from a disadvantage right now and we can only change that with time,” he says.
Devantier began building the lab’s team in October 2013, and had secured its location by January last year.
It wasn’t established enough to provide input on Samsung’s first multi-room speaker, the M7, but has since weighed in on two subsequent models, and issued an update to Samsung’s built-in TV speakers.
But the first product on which the lab takes “a leadership role,” the upright, egg-shaped R7 speaker, will arrive in Australia this month.
Its second speaker, a more affordable, streaming, coneshaped music-maker called the R5, will be revealed at the Berlin technology trade show, IFA, this week.
It is designed to stream music from smartphones and tablets, will feature ring ALLAN DEVANTIER, AUDIO LAB ENGINEER radiator sound technology, and can be controlled from Samsung’s upcoming smartwatch.
The speaker’s development and testing process was intensive despite the Lab’s small workforce.
Engineers spitballed design ideas but relied on computer modelling, prototypes, and objective sound tests before pitching their ideas to Samsung’s design teams.
Following “objective testing” — mapping the speakers’ sound output — lab researchers test products with “trained listeners” who rate their sound output alongside competing speakers.
The lab’s objective soundtesting facilities are more impressive to the eye, however.
Samsung has established two anechoic chambers at a cost of almost $US500,000.
One room is covered on all sides with 1.2m long foam wedges.
A second chamber is more unusual. It’s a small, foam-filled room with an arc of 15 microphones on one side and a door on the other on to which a TV can be mounted.
Devantier says the lab’s input in TV and speaker design will increase as a result of this
Samsung Australia audio visual director Brad Wright inside the anechoic chamber at Samsung's US Audio Lab and (inset) the R7 speaker.
“We’re coming from a disadvantage right now and we can only change that
chamber, with changes apparent just next year.
“The 2015 TVs, we helped out with them,” he says. “With the new products for next year, we are actively involved with everything. Pretty much everything this group will touch in some way.”
Samsung Australia audio visual manager Brad Wright said the lab’s reach would also extend to surround-sound speaker systems and to soundbars, which were gaining popularity.
“At the end of the day, we’re putting together technology here that thousands of Australians will be putting in their homes over the next few years,” Wright says. Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson travelled to the US as a guest of Samsung.