Ole Witthøft

We got off our asses to make designs for real people

The kits were refrigerated on the floor and we buckled out of the lab as we got started on the design process of our new speaker. We wanted to go out into the world, to see how people live and live with sound at home.

Developing good speakers is a process that involves a lot of experimentation and focus on technology. In the design process, it's easy to get sucked into the world of technology, because there's so much that can be optimised and working with the technologies quickly takes over everything. In this way, you unfortunately risk spending effort on something that is not really to anyone's benefit. Here, starting product development in the real world can be a bit of a wake-up call. That is, to start with the customer, not the product. Before we go any further, let me quickly introduce myself. I am the founder of the small loudspeaker company System Audio A/S in Roskilde. I'm crazy about design, technology and sound. Our speakers are sold in 41 countries and are aimed at people who love music. I have been running the company for more than 30 years and am responsible for product development.

We're creating a great little speaker for music lovers in big cities

That's our job. It may sound crazy, even talking about speakers for people in big cities, but it will make sense in a moment. The cities can be New York, Paris and London, but also Copenhagen, Odense etc. In big cities, people live in a special way. Whichever big city we are talking about, its inhabitants have some basic things in common. They have easy access to venues and live music. They live in (relatively) limited space. They are exposed to a sea of impressions on a daily basis. And they're busy. All over the globe, you'll find big cities where people live within these constraints. In the hustle and bustle of the ants and in everyone's fight against everyone in traffic, in an intense chase for work tasks, deadlines, closing times and a lot of other things. The WHO has estimated that a staggering 75% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050. Researchers from Heidelberg University have scanned the brains of people living in big cities and discovered that the brain changes when you live in a city. German professor Georg Simmel researched metropolitan mentality ( that word exists! ) and discovered particular traits in city dwellers that are not as pronounced in people living in smaller towns. The research shows (in a nutshell) that city dwellers are ultra-critical and set high standards for everything.

 

A0001951 - small

Nobody said it better than Frank Sinatra

In the song "New York, New York", the classic refrain is "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere". The point is that if you can make it in the most demanding circumstances, you can make it anywhere. In the book "Made to stick", which is about the special ability of good ideas to survive, the authors even talk about the "Sinatra test", as a kind of goal that if you can show that your product works in the most extreme environments, it will also work in all other conditions. Translated into speaker-speak, it means something quite tangible.

The wall behind your loudspeaker works against good sound

People living in limited space have placed their speakers quite close to a wall. It's both sensible and not at all strange that the speakers are 5-30 cm from the wall, but it's a bit of a challenge when we're talking about the sound. The thing is, the sound reflects off the wall, making it look like a blurred image. It becomes fuzzy and mumbling. I have written about this in a series of articles on Ingeniøren, where the phenomenon is thoroughly documented with acoustic measurements. The conclusion can be summarised as follows: if a loudspeaker is to be placed near a wall, it must be designed for it. The same loudspeaker can (advantageously) be placed in a densely furnished bookcase.

See SA mantra 5 on the SA website

 

IMAG0482_1 - small - wide

We rarely sit down when we listen to music

People are often active when they are at home, and we rush around doing different things while listening to music. Koda, an organisation that connects musicians with their audiences, has researched how people use music. They found that we often listen to music while doing something else. This discovery is unlikely to make the headlines, but it means a lot to the speaker that delivers the music experience. People moving around the house while listening to music should be deeply concerned about the sound radiation from their speakers. That is, the speaker's ability to fill the room with sound. The challenge is that loudspeakers do not have to be approved or labelled according to their sound radiation. The technical specifications do not have to mention the sound radiation with a beep. No consumer is told about this rather important feature. I have written a few articles on the subject, because you can learn to detect the sound radiation of a loudspeaker without really knowing anything about engineering.

A0001632 - small - cropped - wide

What to always do with busy people

Fast-paced people, exposed to many impressions, experience a constant competition between many different sensory impressions in their minds. A musical experience must therefore be irresistible enough to gain a place in their overloaded consciousness. Busy people hate hesitation. They want clarity and love things in positive motion. This translates greatly into speaker-speak. In my company, we were once in search of the reason why we (sometimes) unconsciously sway our foot in time to the music. We were convinced that some speakers could make people tap their foot, while others could not. Super-experienced people were invited to take part in a test comparing the sound of different speakers and giving it scores. The short story is that we didn't really care what people answered in the questionnaire. We were interested in testing the theory that certain characteristics of the speaker make it easier for people to follow the rhythm of the music. We were interested in people's feet, to see if speakers built in a certain way would make the experience more intuitive and musical. The wildly interesting thing is that the results clearly show that some speakers "spoke more directly" to people's enjoyment of the music, but it's not possible to put a number or a smiley face on this particular ability.

And so began the story of SA mantra 5

Away from the laboratory. Out in the real world. After all, the development department isn't doing anything wrong by tweaking the product and refining the technologies. It's just important to realise (in a real way) that there are things that people experience with ease that the lab's measuring equipment can't pick up at all. That's why the most important part of the development work takes place in the real world, where people are. If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.

See SA mantra 5 on the SA website
Share this page
Ole Witthøft
Ole is the founder of System Audio. His 3 greatest passions are music, design and technology. Every day, Ole is working on some kind of projects, and you find him in the workshop, in the production, behind a computer or on one of his many presentations around the world.

Join thousands of music lovers!

Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe Blog