In Commercial Audio, The World Is Going Flat

edit-extronFF-0111There’s an old saying common to many families that “anything that’s been done twice is a family tradition.” In ProAV installation it’s not too much of a stretch to state that what two manufacturers are doing is a trend. What is in question is whether or not flat speakers presage a revolution in both the speaker product category as well as how systems are designed in the same way that flat panel displays rapidly took over the world.

Flat speakers have been around for a long time, in one configuration or another, but they’ve recently begun to grow in prominence as a result of a couple of decision drivers that clients are concerned about these days: energy efficiency and budget control. We’ll explore the impact flat speakers have on those, but first let’s examine a couple of manufacturers and their offerings.

A few months ago, Extron announced its FF 220T, a speaker for 8 ohm direct or 70/100-volt systems. Like the extant 1’x2’ FF 120T, the 2’x2’ FF 220T uses Extron’s patent-pending Flat Field technology, which reduces beaming of mid and high frequencies directly under the speaker and offers a wide dispersion area. Another benefit of the self-enclosed design is that it’s easy to install in suspended ceilings, which are just as common in commercial environments as finished ceilings.

Another brand that’s heavily focused on commercial audio installs is Amina Technologies Ltd., a privately-owned, UK-based manufacturer of invisible loudspeakers. Primarily intended for finished in-wall and in-ceiling applications, the Amina AIWX Series In-Wall Loudspeakers are designed to be skimmed over with up to 3/16″ of plaster or drywall compound, providing a totally concealed audio solution that still delivers full dynamic range without the visible presence of speakers. As well, there are models intended for suspended ceiling applications.

amina_logo-0111Common to competing flat speakers is the aforementioned improvement in dispersion and off axis performance, especially in the high and mid-range. The net result of course is a room that’s easier to tune and equalize, audio that delivers better intelligibility, and a better chance of the client and the client’s own customers having a satisfactory listening experience.

That sounds great, but is it the start of a revolution? Keith Vanderkley, Director of Sales for Amina Technologies explains that in the current economic climate, ProAV clients are concerned about getting the most value out of the dollars they’re spending. Oh, and they don’t want to spend too much, either. Speaker product that allows for a system design that requires fewer speakers and still achieves better audio coverage maximizes the value for the client, and allows dealers to submit an extremely competitive bid in a market where competition between ProAV dealers can be described as “fierce.” As he puts it, “Businesses, be they large corporations or small enterprises, have, like the consumer, learned to do more with less, to give and receive value for money, and to concentrate on what they need to survive. I think we have entered an era where more is less, where space is valued, and spending is done with more responsibility. “

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At the same time, unique products help dealers differentiate themselves. The ProAV business is based on being a solution provider, and offering clients a solution that is both unique (at least in the client’s perception) and offers real solutions gives dealers a big competitive boost. It’s worth mentioning that flat speaker vendors are touting the “green” benefits of using them in large projects: after all, fewer speakers means less electricity, which means lower cost of operation.

Beyond that though, there are other valuable differentiating factors. Jerry Cameron runs Commercial Business Services, a Toronto-based commercial integration. He explains that flat speakers (his company uses Amina) have very powerful applications, such as high-end hospitality clients. “We do a lot of work for high end restaurants and lounges,” he says. “Those clients spend a lot of money on their décor and are extremely concerned about their aesthetics. It’s a very easy sell in applications where they don’t want to see speakers.”

There’s also appeal in more technical projects. Cameron states that in corporate applications like telepresence the more even distribution of audio in conference and boardrooms can eliminate feedback, improving the user experience.

Have we got a trend on our hands? Will flat speakers save and/or transform the speaker category? Maybe — stay tuned.
Lee Distad is a rAVe columnist and freelance writer covering topics from CE to global business and finance in both print and online. Reach him at lee@ravepubs.com