Audac on developing NOBA and the growing importance of software
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.
Eight 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.”