Technology – Audio
Invisible Speakers Open up a World of Design Possibilities
Advances in technology have made invisible speakers a viable solution in any area where a client wants great sound.
BY GEORGE MCCLURE
PHOTO COURTESY OF HARMAN LUXURY AUDIO
INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY WITH DESIGN IS ALWAYS A CHALLENGE. The physical requirements of audio/video and other equipment sometimes necessitate a compromise to décor, and vice versa. That’s why the category of invisible speakers is so exciting — they bring the promise of great sound reproduction to any room, with no impact on the interior design whatsoever.
Conventional architectural speakers certainly provide a less invasive approach than speaker boxes placed in the room. Though many manufacturers have marketed these solutions as “practically invisible,” they still have visible grilles, which some clients would prefer not to see. On the other hand, today’s invisible speakers are just that – totally invisible, which brings unprecedented options for their placement.
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.
JBL SYNTHESIS (HARMAN LUXURY AUDIO)
Last fall, JBL introduced the JBL Conceal Series of invisible speakers. We caught up with Dave Tovissi and Jim Garrett from the Harman Luxury Audio Group and asked them what drove their decision to offer this type of product.
DAVE: Prior to working for Harman International, I was a partner of an atypical technology integrator based in South Florida, with satellite offices in New York, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. What made us unique in our industry was the fact that we also offered interior design and construction services. We had acquired an established interior design firm in Aventura, Florida and merged technology and design together under one umbrella. Our reputation as an integrator with an eye toward interior design helped us differentiate ourselves from the other system integrators in the market.
Vice President and
Senior Director, Product Management and Planning
We understood the importance of the architect and design professional, who were often involved in a project months before the audio/video guys were brought in. I will never forget having my first company meetings with our designers expressing concerns about the aesthetics of the components and speakers that our audio consultants were proposing to our joint clients.
At the time, there were various architectural speakers that could be installed in the ceiling, in the wall, or on the wall. But when the designers were specifying chandeliers that were the centerpiece of a room, they would not compromise on the fact that we also needed to install speakers with visible grilles in the same ceiling. Needless to say, the cost of the chandelier and the impact of that piece often took precedence over a pair of speakers on the project. There were more times than not that we had to compromise a client’s music needs with that of their design needs. Rooms that should have had sound, such as parlors, dining rooms and kitchens where people gather often had the speakers removed from the design project. That’s when I started looking into invisible speakers and found that there were products out there, but most of them didn’t perform well except for low-volume background music.
Fast forward 15 years later, and now I’m working at Harman Luxury Audio with some of the greatest engineers in the world who have access to the greatest resources in the industry. In short, we now have the ability to make invisible speakers sound great. And that’s how the JBL Conceal series was born.
JIM: People were using invisible speakers, but the sound quality was really compromised, and that’s part of the reason that the category wasn’t gaining a lot of traction. We knew if we could take the aesthetic benefit of invisible speakers, which eliminates what we call the “wall acne” of grilles all over the wall and the ceiling, and combine that with great sound, we’d have a product that would be very appealing to the design community and their clients.
DAVE: We didn’t want to settle by just launching another invisible speaker into the market— we weren’t going to change the design 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 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 the music, not the box.
JIM: By nature of the design, the speakers radiate sound in every direction. We recently did a demo in a room where we had two Conceal speakers installed. When you sat in the middle of the room you could hear things coming around to the sides of you — it was this uncanny holographic presentation. No matter where you walk in the space, there’s consistent volume and consistent sound quality all throughout it.
DAVE: Design professionals are not bound by installing these products just behind drywall. You can cover them with almost any material as long as it doesn’t exceed 1/16th of an inch. For example, you can install them behind wallpaper, wood veneers and leather — we’ve even seen them installed behind fiberglass in a yacht installation.
JIM: By nature, since they’re covered, our invisible speakers are also weatherized, so they’re perfect for bathrooms and other humid environments.
DAVE: We’ve actually installed them in showers and you don’t see anything in the ceiling except perhaps the rain shower fixture. Those lucky homeowners just experience this three-dimensional, holographic sound as Jim described it, and wonder where it’s coming from. That’s why we often are quoted saying, “Music should be heard and not seen.”
“We recently did a demo in a room where we had two Conceal speakers installed. When you sat in the middle of the room you could hear things coming around to the sides of you — it was this uncanny holographic presentation.”Jim Garrett, Harman Luxury Audio