Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sights & Sounds

We also have another International Contemporary Furniture Fair to discuss. This was a great year at the trade show, actually. To start it all off, I want to talk about something that doesn't really look like much, which is precisely the point. It was one of the things that truly impressed me the most. As a dedicated audiophile and former DJ, this product is like a dream come true for me. It's an invisible speaker system from Amina Technologies based out of Cambridgeshire, UK.

Each speaker is a rectangular half-inch-deep panel about a foot wide by a foot and a half high. You install it in the wall and then just plaster, paint, or wallpaper right over it. Essentially, the walls of the room become your speakers. The frame is extremely solid so as not to create cracks in the wall surface around the speaker over time. They're also calibrated perfectly for the kind of materials out of which walls are typically made. The subwoofer shown in the photo there isn't entirely necessary (the rep turned it off and the sound was still full) unless you like a lot of bass in your music (which I do). It's definitely indispensable for movies, which can often have a lot of rumble.

I want them side by side all the way around the entire room, one row at about three and a half feet up (sitting), another row right above that (standing). Then I want complete seven-channel surround sound and a receiver that can trick out two-channel audio recordings into seven, also (my receiver does this; it's great). I can't imagine how more astonishing surround sound could even be possible. Watching a film, it would be as if you were in the same room as the actors.

Adding to the possibility of total immersion is the sound quality itself. A normal speaker pushes the air vibration
out into the room in a straight line that narrows the further it has to travel. This is why there's a "sweet spot" directly in the center of the room with all the speakers pointed directly at the listener. The further away from the sweet spot a person is, the less accurate the sound reproduction.

AIWX speakers don't move air, rather they vibrate the molecules of the air by resonating the same way a musical instrument like a violin or guitar does. If I understand it correctly, the composite material is able to change shape in response to the magnetic drivers to create vibrations rather than moving back and forth in space.  So instead of traveling through the room in a straight line, the sound waves emanate from their source in a half-sphere, the way they would from a real sound event. The visual analogy that occurred to me a few years ago is a pebble dropped into a pond. If one can see the waves spreading out in a circle and imagine that as a three-dimensional sphere, like a balloon being blown up, that's sort of how it works. Amina's representative (who really knew how to talk, by the way) said that in tests, it was very difficult to distinguish between sound coming from these speakers and a real musical instrument physically in the room.

It also didn't occur to me before reading their materials how perfect this is for locations that make ordinary speakers problematic, like wet ones. They were not only able to install them safely behind waterproof walls in a humid room for an indoor pool, but also inside the pool itself, where they're protected from the water by the ceramic tiles. The benefit of this translates easily to any bathroom, where you could have music right inside your shower stall.

Stay tuned for more of the stars of the ICFF.

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