October 24, 2008 by Arlen Schweiger
Don’t care to listen to that “Kids in Motion” CD 15 times in a row the way your toddler does? Maybe your wife pulls her hair out on Sunday nights whenever John Madden opens his mouth. It’s okay: Mom, Dad and the children can actually stay in the same room, and no one has to wear headphones.
Boston-area Holosonic Research Labs has created what it calls a directional sound system that pipes audio straight to a targeted listener. Only those situated within the acoustic beam of the company’s Audio Spotlight receive the sound. Technically, it’s ultrasound.
“It’s like having lighting control. Where the loudspeaker would be analogous to overhead ceiling light filling a room, Audio Spotlight sound would be like a spotlight,” says company founder and president Joe Pompei. “Its primary purpose is actually for maintaining quiet. Families want to sit together but don’t necessarily want to share acoustic space. People want to read while others watch TV, or one spouse wants to watch TV late at night and the other wants to sleep.”
The short wavelengths of the high-frequency ultrasound signals make for very narrow, well-defined beams of sound that aren’t dispersed like sound from a normal loudspeaker. The airwaves then pitch in and downconvert the signal into audible sound as it travels to the listener, says Pompei, whose product is an outgrowth of his Ph.D. work in nonlinear acoustics at MIT. Audio Spotlight has been used predominantly in commercial applications—billboards, museum exhibits, offices, retail store kiosks and tradeshows—but Pompei sees natural value for such a system in the home.
The AS-16 model comes with a half-inch deep, 16-by-16-inch panel (older, circular models are available; there’s also a 24-inch version that Pompei says is overkill for residences) and a receiver that connects with your content source. The $1,999 price tag is regularly discounted by about 25 percent to consumers, Pompei notes.
So how does it sound? Check with your significant other. “The people buying them are not the ones listening to them—it’s the wife buying it for the husband—because the real value is for the one not hearing it. The customers we hear from love it,” Pompei says. “We hear it saves marriages.”
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.
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