news - February 2021
Truly Invisible Speakers
These architectural marvels provide a completely stealth presentation.
By George McClure
CONVENTIONAL ARCHITECTURAL SPEAKERS have been around for many years now and certainly provide a less invasive approach than speaker boxes placed in a room. Though the audio/video industry has often marketed these solutions as “practically invisible,” they still have visible grilles, which some clients would prefer not to see. But today’s invisible speakers are just that – totally invisible, which allows for placement nearly anywhere, with zero impact on the décor of a room.
Invisible speakers have actually been around for over 30 years, but up until recently they were mostly used for background music, as the sound quality was not sufficient for home theater or critical listening applications. Today, however, advances in technology have made invisible speakers a viable solution in any area where a client wants great sound.
We recently talked with representatives from three manufacturers — Sonance, JBL and Amina — and to get their take on today’s invisible speakers. Here are brief excerpts from our conversations; the full interviews will appear in the next issue of Technology Designer magazine, which is due to drop in March.
Sonance Invisible Series
Jason Sloan, Chief Sales Officer
We are introducing a new range of invisible speakers to the marketplace which we started shipping in December. For the very first time, there's no sonic or acoustic compromise to incorporate an invisible solution into your project. In fact, these are some of the best sounding architectural loudspeakers in the Sonance lineup, believe it or not.
There are a few advancements that our Chief Speaker Engineer, Todd Ryan, was able to understand as he did a ton of research in this space. And he constructed elements from speakers that exist today and was able to figure out how to marry those with basically the cloak of invisibility. So you don't have to see them anymore. And the end result is a speaker that is, from a fidelity standpoint, from a performance standpoint, as good, if not better than anything at the equivalent price point from any manufacturer. We feel really, really bold saying that, but it's proven out in the demos that we've done.
JBL Conceal Series (HARMAN Luxury Audio Group)
Dave Tovissi, Vice President and General Manager
We didn’t want to just settle for making a good sounding architectural speaker — we weren't going to change the world with that. Our goal was to approach and even match the performance of conventional box speakers, because we want end users to have high-performance sound wherever they want it. Let’s face it, no matter how cool we in the A/V business think in-room speakers look, a lot of people still think they're just big ugly boxes. And when you have big ugly boxes or any box in the room, your mind sort of concentrates on listening to the box. But when you listen to JBL Conceal speakers, you're listening to music, not the box. Because there's no box there.
The other part about the Conceal series that’s very exciting for designers is that It's not just drywall you can put over them. You can cover them with 1/16th of an inch of nearly any material, including wallpaper, wood veneers, leather – we’ve even covered them with fiberglass in a boat installation.
Keith Vanderkley, VP Engineering Solutions
We take a different approach than other manufacturers by using Vibrational Panel Technology, which allows a loudspeaker cone to be replaced by a flat panel. This creates a series of surface vibrations that generate acoustic energy — much the same way an acoustic musical instrument works. This technology came from a soundboard that was developed by the Royal Air Force back in the 1980s for a helicopter trainer.
Today, we create all our own drivers in our own lab. It's not something that is picked off the shelf, it's not something that we just throw together or buy from a third party. It is something that we have developed and patented. And I think that that is probably one of the most important aspects of this technology — it gives the architect, the interior designer and the sound designer the ability to bring sound into the rooms in such a manner that the intelligibility is improved. Whether we play it loud or whether we play it soft, it really doesn't matter.