Holoplot audio technology is expanding wave field synthesis applications
Berlin startup Holoplot is starting to make waves (excuse the pun) with a new take on wave field synthesis (WFS). Anna Mitchell catches up with CEO Roman Sick.
The technology behind Holoplot is the brainchild of audio engineer Helmut Oellers. With a wealth of experience in wave field synthesis, and a background working in environments demanding the very highest level of immersive audio – for example planetariums – he started to think about what could be done differently to move WFS further.
Working with Adrian Lara Moreno, the company’s CTO and a small team of engineers, Oellers soon had a prototype, which is when Roman Sick [pictured below], who had been involved with the development team for a few years, took over the company to focus on building, marketing and selling a viable product.
Sick’s grounding in economics and an entrepreneurial background, coupled with a “big passion for audio and music production”, made him a perfect fi t for the role and he soon repositioned the company to focus less on high end consumer (where it had been heading), and more on pro audio and practical applications.
The aim of the Holoplot offering is to deliver the best parts of classic WFS approaches in a more practical and scalable package.
“The classic WFS approach is to have a mostly circular array around the listener with a lot of individual speakers to build a wave front,” explains Sick. “But that’s hard to scale, it’s hard to implement and the applications are limited.”
Instead of fighting room acoustics, Holoplot’s approach is to either avoid or use them. “Depending on the application, we either minimise disturbing reﬂections or make controlled use of them to create an overall sound field in a room,” Sick continues.
The Holoplot system has extended applications for WFS into areas such as train stations, trade shows and conferences but, according to Sick, that’s not at the expense of the quality that lends WFS to applications in concert halls, planetariums and dedicated immersive rooms.
How does this translate into a tangible listening experience? It’s always a tough question for anyone developing audio systems, as very often the most practical, useful systems are those you don’t notice until they’re switched off (think acoustic echo cancellation or voice lift). It also depends on the task.
“Overall you are able to control audio on new levels of magnitude,” he begins. “Not only can you determine the directivity of the wavefronts freely on vertical and horizontal axis, but you also can modify the shape of the wavefront and thereby alter its overall effi ciency and effect to the audience.
“The main experiences can be broken down in to three sections. First, audio can be distributed with significantly higher levels of precision as well as homogeneity. Precisely confined soundfields of ﬂexible sizes can easily be created, with level differences of more than 10dB on sometimes only a few centimetres distance. Constant level can furthermore be achieved on long distances, with the system loosing only 5 dB and less on 100m. This allows delivery of dry and clear direct sound, distributed effectively to the whole audience.”
As a second category, Sick continues to explain, multiple channels can be played back from the same speaker simultaneously, allowing different audiences to be targeted with individual content.
“And third,” Sick finishes, “all applications evolving around immersion and authentic audio in terms of correct localisation are a key stronghold of this technology, due to its WFS foundation. Our ability to synthesise objects, create immersive experiences without the installation of additional speakers around the listener and moving objects in the room close to the audience’s face, are unexperienced so far and are always very impressive to any audience, opening doors for new creative applications.”
When it comes to tangible, measurable benefits Sick highlights the work Holoplot has for example carried out with Deutsche Bahn at Frankfurt railway station.
“When it comes to audio, statistically this is the worst train station that Germany has to offer,” he says. “Deutsche Bahn is striving for a Speech Transmission Index (STI) of 0.5 at train stations, which can generally only be achieved if you install a loudspeaker every 20m.
“We were able to show that our system could reach above 0.9 on a 30m distance. On 200m – so at the other end of the station – you still had an STI of 0.75, with of course also very constant level across the whole station.” It’s impressive that Holoplot has achieved these results, among a host of other remarkable reference projects it has worked on. But the key aim of the company is to translate these successes into a product that can be shipped and installed by third parties. So what are the requirements for audio professionals looking to install or manage Holoplot systems?
“The skills [among audio professionals] are definitely there,” assures Sick. “That’s what we’ve seen from working with external partners. It is a bit of a change in mind set as our products work and differently behave differently in terms of wave propagation and what you can achieve. But once people understand a little bit about the technology, they start to realise ‘ok, I can easily do this and it will bring a significant result’.
“Installation and management is very easy and we have a very comprehensible software interface. From working with partners we see they get into configuration of the system very quickly. There’s not a lot of technical support needed but we do have an applications team available to help.”
As Holoplot moves away from being directly involved with most of its installations, it’s starting to set up a distribution network. It currently has partners in Germany (focused on rental) and China. Sick believes the technology is a good fit for traditional AV distributors that have market experience but are familiar with supplying innovative technology. “I think you have to have the right mind set to bring a technology like this to market,” he notes.
But even before it gets that network in place, there’s still plenty to be keeping busy with. An exciting recent partnership is a high profile pairing with Madison Square Garden in New York and Holoplot will be on board as the event company progresses with plans to open venues in Las Vegas and London.