An innovative sound system with a digital twist.
By Angela Prues
Sound-system technologies have improved and compacted over the years, allowing home surround-sound systems to not only sound live and more intense, but also necessitate less space.
In the UK, Mark Butcher had developed a large following in the speaker and sound system industry, but by 2004 his customers sought more improvements. Only it wasn’t the sound that they were displeased with-it was the sight. His high-end customers were "footloose," as he says, wanting contemporary systems sans the large, obtrusive speaker boxes that looked bulky and unattractive inside their otherwise custom homes. Design had become an integral part of homeownership, and that entailed concealing as many wires, speakers, appliances, and hardware as possible. What dawned on Butcher was the idea for aesthetically pleasing speaker systems that produced quality sounds-to make the sound system not appalling, but visually appealing.
His solution: SoundArt, a speaker system that would incorporate his Distributed Mode Loudspeaker technology-the use of vibrations, with no air transfer through the speaker front. And, to accommodate his customers’ need for aesthetics, the speaker front panels would integrate whatever color was desired, to mesh with a person’s home environment. Of course, digital printing would play a major role.
The concept of visually pleasing speaker systems was easy, but the actual manufacturing of such systems was more complex. "The process was long-very, very long," Butcher says of the research and development phase of SoundArt.
What he needed in his printer, ink, and media was intricate compatibility: a quality media-and-ink combination that could produce durable, nearly fine-art-quality images but not interfere with the acoustics. Because SoundArt’s speaker technology uses vibrations, not air transfer, the material used to cover the speakers could be canvas rather than mesh. But the quality had to be as pristine as any other fine-art canvas. Butcher eventually settled on Seal 340-gsm Grand Canvas, which addressed the speaker functions while fulfilling the art’s requisites.Finding printers was the next obstacle for Butcher, who was inexperienced in the printing-technology department. He initially looked into outsourcing the printing, and even went this route for a while, but, he says, "We were let down on too many occasions." So the decision was made to bring the entire printing operation in-house.