The Courier-Mail

Sound in­vest­ment

GAD­GETS Sam­sung leads the smart­phone race but wants to be big in au­dio, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-Ni­chol­son

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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

with time”

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.

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