Audac on developing NOBA and the growing importance of software

main indoor space at Restaurant DIA, Lithuania featuring Audac speakers
Restoranas DIA in Kaunas, Lithuania, featuring AUDAC XENO8 full range speakers

Following on from the launch of NOBA, Charlotte Ashley caught up with the product manager at Audac, Stijn Vandebosch, to discover what the company is prioritising in the ever-evolving audio world.

PVS’s  product  manager,  Stijn Vandebosch,  may  be  an  electronic engineer  by  trade,  but  his fascination  with  all  things  audio dates  far  beyond  completing his  degree  in  2008.  “Ever  since  I  was  young  I  can  remember  playing  with  audio  electronic equipment. I had a sound system at home and was always making music with friends, so that gave me an early understanding of the industry and what’s important in my current job,” explains Vandebosch.

product manager at Audac/PVS, Stijn Vandebosch, headshotEight  years  into  his  current  role  at  Audac, Vandebosch  continues  to  thrive  on  the  fast-paced and varied nature of the pro AV industry, following on from learning the ins and outs of analogue  and  digital  electronics  and  software at  Belgium’s  Katholieke  Hogeschool  Limburg. “This may be my first experience of work, but I really enjoy how diverse it is.” He expands; “It’s my responsibility to bring all of our engineers together when a new idea pops up and explore how we can make it happen.” Vandebosch says to do this productively it is imperative the manufacturer doesn’t limit where it looks for inspiration. “Of  course we  need to be aware where  the  market  it  going,  but  it’s  sometimes important to look outside of the electronics or audio markets for ideas on how we can improve,” says  Vandebosch.  “For example, the lighting industry can give you some quite brilliant ideas when it comes to design and new techniques.”

In  his  8-year  tenure  at  Audac,  Vandebosch has  already  witnessed  a  lot  of  changes  in  the industry and one trend the manufacturer is keen to  capitalise  on  is  the  increasing  importance of  speaker  design.  The manufacturer’s newest offering, the NOBA bass cabinet was debuted at ProLight & Sound in April after more than three years of exhaustive testing and material testing. “What  we  see  in  this  market  is  that  design  is becoming  increasingly  important  –  especially in  retail  environments  where  they  want  good performance and everything to match their well thought-out  interior.  And that’s what we had in mind with NOBA.”  Designed  to  be  discreet yet visually appealing, the cabinet is curved in shape and crafted  in  4mm  thick  aluminium, incorporating  an  8-in  (300W) woofer  for  the distribution of sound. “We didn’t use wood but special aluminium alloy – getting the mechanic right for such a large shape was very difficult and complicated, especially to make the aluminium parts fit with the plastic bar perfectly. This was the first time we had used aluminium for a bass cabinet, and tried to manufacturer something like this,” says Vandebosch.  He  says  NOBA  is a response to what the manufacturer saw as a gap in the market; “It’s for those environments when  clients  want  a  loudspeaker  which  they don’t need to hide anything away, but can just be positioned where they need to be to have the right dispersion in the room.”

The company now hires around 65 people at its  headquarters  in  Hasselt,  Belgium,  with  new offices  on  the  horizon  in  the  near  future.  “To follow the market of course we need to continue to train and expand our R&D team,” states Vandebosch.  “We  have  been  making  matrix systems since the first ones come out, but back then the systems just did some routing and maybe some switching as well. These days the systems are faster and more powerful and DSP-based. The possibilities have changed enormously.”

“The difference will be made by software development rather than hardware development in the future.”

He says the acceleration of software development has had a noticeable impact on the company’s make-up. “Years  ago  our  R&D  team was mainly occupied by hardware engineers with some software engineers involved, but these days we see that the team is growing to accommodate more software engineers,” he notes. Quantifying this trend, he pinpoints that now when developing a new product, 30 to 40% of time is spent on hardware development, with 60 to 70% dedicated to software. “The simple reason being that hardware components are becoming more powerful and integrated meaning that developing it becomes a faster process.” Vandebosch  says he expects  this  trend  to  continue  in  the  future and becoming increasingly important in the AV sphere; “The difference will be made by software development  rather  than  hardware  development in the future.”

Vandebosch also sees ease of control as a key factor that will define a company’s success. “What we see is that the big challenge now is the controllability of the system,” he says. “With technologies evolving so fast people just expect to control everything – including their whole system – from their pocket, using a smartphone or a tablet.” This is something Audac is working  to  tackle  with  recently  introduced applications such as Audac Touch, allowing users to create their own dashboard and UI and control their system with only basic knowledge of  automation.  “This  capability  excited  for a  long  time,  but  it  was  really  only  dedicated to  expensive,  large-scale  applications,”  says Vandebosch. “What  we’re  trying  to  do  is  also bring this technology to the small and medium-sized  market  where  the  installers  or  even  the user can configure the system.”

Looking  to  the  future, Vandebosch  says  the manufacturer  has  many  more  plans  to  bring to  the  industry.  “We  have a wish list of  R&D products which we want  to  develop  in  the coming five years, and if we want to follow this list,  I’m  sure  we  won’t  get  it  all  done  in  that time,” says Vandebosch. “I think we’re going to continue to see systems becoming very scalable with the addition of networked audio products. That’s  something  we  are  looking  in  to,  but for  the  most part  in  the  coming  years  we  will continue in the same direction that has worked well for us and our customers so far.”