News 15-07 (No.331)
Issued : July 25, 2015
Loudspeakers: More Musical Instrument than Electrical Equipment
By Makoto Ino
Loudspeakers convert the electrical signals of sound to atmospheric pressure waves in space. Typically, loudspeakers have transducers, or "driver units" mounted in a wooden enclosure. Combinations of drivers for each of the low, middle and high frequency range sound are commonly used to comprise "one" loudspeaker.
The structure and operating principles of these units make faithful sound reproduction difficult. The manufacturers of professional quality loudspeakers for theatres and halls expend great effort to innovate, develop and manufacture products that better overcome the limitations with the goal of producing amplified sound that will impress listeners in exactly the same way as does the original source sound.
<< Comparing Loudspeakers to Musical Instruments >>
The amplified sound of each loudspeaker model has its own set of acoustical characteristics. Loudspeakers emit sound into the air, are designed and built by specific individuals are used by other specific individuals for the listening pleasure of audiences. These attributes of loudspeakers make the nature of a loudspeaker similar to that of a musical instrument. I’ve come to strongly believe that our interaction and work with loudspeakers must be in a manner that differs from the way we interact and work with other electrical products, such as washing machines or refrigerators, and more in line with how we approach work with musical instruments.
Before coming to this realization I had already thought about how the individuals who design and fabricate specific loudspeakers influence the acoustical characteristics of its sound. I’m of the opinion that the region where the loudspeaker’s designers and fabricators live and work, the region’s history and culture and, of course, the acoustical properties of the languages the designers and fabricators speak all influence the acoustical characteristics of a loudspeaker’s amplified sound. My thinking about these factors makes even more sense to me when I think of loudspeakers as musical instruments.
<< Historical Evolution of Loudspeakers >>
For 100 years, every large spaces have been using loudspeakers to amplify sound for the benefit of their audiences. Loudspeaker research and development advanced rapidly in the early 20th century. Since that time, the basics of loudspeaker design have not really changed. Be it conical, circular or dome-shaped, a driver unit has a diaphragm made of thin paper or metal that moves because of an electromagnetic force, converting electrical signals into mechanical vibration to emit sound into air.
Certainly, incremental improvements in the durability of loudspeakers, the reduction of sound distortion, the adoption of horn shapes that control directionality and similar small advances have continued to be added to new loudspeaker models and brought to market. In the mid-1990s, line array speakers which were then boxes of loudspeakers coupled together in vertical direction started to show up in concerts. Early models of line array speakers tended to be large in size but, over time, each manufacturer developed models of greatly reduced size while delivering robust output. Many theatres and halls now have line array speakers installed.
<< Coda Audio’s Loudspeakers >>
Comparison of Diaphragms
In the autumn of 2010, Hibino Intersound Corporation began importing Coda Audio loudspeakers to Japan. Coda Audio’s products have a unique feature. The diaphragm that Coda Audio uses for mid and high-frequency range has a ring shape instead of being a solid dome. The loudspeakers have 2.5 times more efficiency than other conventional loudspeakers at converting electrical power to acoustical power.
Among all of the loudspeaker improvements of the past 100 years, the Coda Audio innovation ranks as an invention of epoch proportions. The Coda Audio diaphragm is not made of metal, but instead has as its base a resin used in the medical industry.
Because of the efficient conversion from electrical power to sound, the loudspeakers reproduce sound from even very tiny electrical signals and intermodulation distortion is well-controlled so that the amplified sound from the loudspeakers sounds incredibly natural. It might be appropriate to describe the sound from these loudspeakers as fresh in the way I would describe the freshness of sashimi in a fine sushi restaurant. In addition, the loudspeakers’ sound has excellent clarity that harmonizes well with the natural sounding acoustical quality.
I recently visited the Coda Audio main office in Hannover, Germany. The company’s managing director, Mr. Svetly Alexandrov told me the story of the company’s technical struggles while developing their loudspeaker design and explained the features of their products. The company was founded in 1994 and maintains a fabrication facility in Sophia, Bulgaria. After restrictions between Eastern and Western Europe eased, he established a company in Germany with the goal of attracting and retaining top technical talent.
Like Dr. Christian Heil, CEO of the French loudspeaker company L-Acoustics and Mr. Kenton G. Forsythe, Vice President of Strategic Engineering at the U.S. loudspeaker manufacturer EAW, Mr. Alexandrov displays a deep passion for loudspeaker technology and will surely be a force for more research and product advances. When I sat in the Coda Audio listening hall and heard the degree of perfection produced by the company’s loudspeakers, my thoughts soared with the convictions I expressed earlier in this article: that loudspeakers are indeed worthy of being considered musical instruments in their own right!
Miyagino Ward Cultural Center’s Chamber Music Collection Series Concert:
“Music from PaToNa”
By Fumiaki Sakamaki
On Friday, July 3, 2015, Miyagino Ward Cultural Center hosted a concert of chamber music in its PaToNa Hall. I attended the concert and will share some thoughts from my experience.
PaToNa Hall seen from audience area
I previously introduced our readers to this facility in the July, 2013 newsletter. Miyagino Ward Cultural Center (located in Sendai City) opened in October 2012. The center is a multipurpose facility with 2 performing arts spaces: the 384-seat PaToNa Hall for concerts and the 198-seat PaToNa Theater.
The chamber music series “Music from PaToNa” is an annual series of 4 concerts that began in May 2014. The performing chamber ensemble is mostly members of the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra and this orchestra’s lead cellist and soloist Mr. Susumu Miyake serves as the chamber ensemble’s music director.
The July 3 concert was this year’s second concert in the series (and the sixth concert of this program overall). Each concert’s program focuses on a theme or keyword and this evening’s theme was “hibiki-au” (a word comprised of the characters for “sound” and “coming together” and often translated as “resonance”). The full and satisfying program of works performed included Haydn’s String Quartet in G minor Hob III:74 (No. 3), Weber’s Clarinet Quintet Op. 34 and Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18. The ensemble welcomed a violist and cellist from Yamagata Symphony Orchestra for the Brahms piece.
When I arrived at the hall several hours before the concert, I saw a line of people waiting outside the building to purchase tickets. I was delighted to see the obviously strong popularity of the concert and venue on a Friday evening. By the time the hall opened, more than 100 people were lined up!
<< PaToNa Hall’s ”My Seat” Season Tickets >>
The “Music from PaToNa” series offers patrons a number of popular features. One of these is the ability to purchase a season ticket for the year’s 4 concerts with the guarantee of the same hall seat for all concerts. The hall calls this the “PaToNa My Seat” system. The My Seat system is very popular with PaToNa’s patrons.
Once inside the hall, I was struck by the large number of people who were PaToNa My Seat ticket holders. They filled a significant portion seats in the center of the audience seating area. Clearly, these patrons are “repeat customers” who attend multiple concerts and give the hall a good start towards completely filling the hall for each concert.
The people who had lined up outside the concert hall arrived early because of the limited number of remaining seats and because for these tickets PaToNa Hall uses an open seating approach that allows ticket holders to sit in any available seat that is not reserved for by a “My Seat” patron. The “My Seat” patrons and the open-seating ticket holders together filled the hall to capacity, making this performance a sold-out concert.
<< PaToNa Hall’s Unique Concert Start Time Bell >>
A second popular and unique feature of the PaToNa Hall experience occurs a few minutes before the start of each performance. Instead of using a pre-recorded set of tones or buzzer sound, the hall has an oboist, clarinetist, cellist and bassist together take the stage and play the brief “Prelude” piece written for the hall by Sendai City-native and composer Mr. Kazuo Kikkawa. When patrons hear this work being played in the hall they know it is time to take their seats.
The piece composed by Mr. Kikkawa truly serves the “prelude” function for which it is named. Before the start of concerts the musicians play “Prelude” on stage and, after intermissions, the oboist and clarinetist stand in the aisles of the audience seating area and welcome patrons back to their seats with a brief rendition of “Prelude”.
<< Experiencing the Hall’s Acoustics through this Concert >>
PaToNa Hall seen from stage
For a hall of PaToNa Hall’s size (on the order of 400 seats), the venue has a long reverberation time of 2.0 seconds (estimated value at 500 Hz in a full hall). This was my first opportunity to listen to chamber music in the completed hall and, therefore, both because of my role as the acoustical consultant on the project and as a concert-goer, I was very eager to listen to the evening’s performance.
To summarize my evaluation of the hall’s acoustics based on listening to this concert, each instrument’s part could be heard distinctly even during intricate passages and also there was excellent balance of the ensemble’s sound. I didn’t notice the somewhat long reverberation time as much as I had expected would be the case. I might even have preferred a bit longer reverberation time for this particular program and its performance, especially given that the hall was filled to capacity. Abundant early reflections from the ceiling and walls of this hall balance well with the long reverberation time, creating a space with fine acoustics and intimacy. I could sense the measured and focused breathing of the players as I enjoyed the brilliant sounds of the ensemble’s strings and woodwinds.
<< Other Events in the Music Collection Series >>
In addition to concert performances, the Music Collection Series also includes open seminars and “Ensemble One-Point Clinics” where amateur and student musicians can come and learn from the ensemble’s musicians. I was amazed to learn that PaToNa Hall offers these events to the general public free of charge.
The hall also makes the series’ rehearsals open to the public at no charge. Despite the rehearsals being scheduled on weekdays during regular working hours, I’m told that the rehearsals draw many attendees. Even the pre-school located adjacent to the hall has brought classes of children to listen to the ensemble rehearse in the hall.
The next concert in the series will be held on Thursday, November 5. The works will be chosen around the theme of “togetherness” and will feature Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, among other pieces. I highly recommend this concert and its series. It’s well worth the trip to Sendai City’s Miyagino Ward.
Nagata Acoustics Inc.
Hongo Segawa Bldg. 3F, 2-35-10 Hongo
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
Tel: +81-3-5800-2671, Fax: +81-3-5800-2672
1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 795
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: +1-310-231-7878, Fax: +1-310-231-7816
75, avenue Parmentier
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 21 44 25, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 21 24 00