Author: Andreas Schiendorfer
Published: Nov. 11, 2010
sonic emotion

Enrico Caruso Would Have Rejoiced in Sonic Emotion

Thanks to sonic emotion, cheap seats with poor acoustics at concerts and in home theaters may soon be a thing of the past. Led by CEO Renato Pellegrini and CTO Matthias Rosenthal, and based in Oberglatt, Switzerland, the firm has developed pioneering breakthroughs in wave field synthesis.

"Staying true to the letter or notation is not the same as staying true to the work itself. The issue of meaning comes before the execution of direction," says conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Harnoncourt coined the term "sound speech" and helped bring historically-informed performance into acceptance. In his view, musical works should sound as close as possible to how composers heard them and be performed with period instruments.

Enjoy the Sound Space 

Today we hear less talk of "sound speech" than of "sound space." In fact, the latest technologies aim to do even better justice to the composers' intentions. It is now possible to experience three dimensional sound throughout an entire room, theater, or concert hall. The acoustic source can even be adjusted as desired, to allow audiences to actively participate in movies, for example, which will surely find fans across Asia. 

And all this from a quiet town in northern Switzerland? Renato Pellegrini, CEO of sonic emotion, laughs. "This location is perfect for our needs, with sufficient space at a good price, plus it's also very close to the airport. That is important, because our most important clients are overseas, particularly in Asia." 

It all started in Holland, to be honest. Professor A.J. Berkhout discovered wave field synthesis, a spacial audio rendering technique aimed at creating virtual acoustic environments, at Delft University of Technology in 1988. Twelve years later, the EPFL Lausanne became involved in the EU's CARROUSO research project, as did Studer, a Swiss company, represented by Renato Pellegrini.

Scientific Project on Wave Field Synthesis 

"When Studer's parent company, Harman International, announced that it was pulling out of this project, we were able to come to the rescue with sonic emotion, founded in 2002," reminisces Pellegrini. "CARROUSO was purely scientific. No thought was given to practical applications." This proved lucky for Pellegrini, who then set out on a journey without quite knowing where it would lead. "It was clear to us that, based on wave field synthesis, 3D audio was possible, and that more could be done than the traditional stereo surround sound system." 

The first step for Pelligrini and Rosenthal, both trained electrical engineers, was to focus on high-end professional systems. Subsequently, Volkswagen was able to simulate three dimensional engine noises before building the engine. In a more aesthetic application, highly artistic three-dimensional soundscapes were created for special exhibitions on Dadaism and writer Samuel Beckett for the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

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Sound Engineers in Detmold Are Delighted 

The masterpiece in this field just might be the concert hall at the renowned Detmold Conservatory of Music. Not only did they achieve 3D sound perfection, regardless of location, but the room's acoustics can also be adjusted electronically. Composers, conductors, and sound engineers all fine tune their craft at Detmold, making this an ideal space for education as well as performance. 

Composer Albert Lortzing, who lectured here, would have taken great pleasure in this technology. As would many other modern musicians or even the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, the namesake for the EU project. The project could have easily been named Sting or Pink Floyd. 

Sonic emotion demonstrates the high quality of its products to visitors with the 1973 Pink Floyd song "Money." The cash registers in the song have never sounded as real as they do in the sonic emotion demonstration room. "Money... I'm in the hi-fidelity first class traveling set." Sonic emotion captures the sounds in three dimensions, even when they were recorded in only stereo…

Hopes for New Partners in Asia 

"Share it fairly," sings Pink Floyd, "but don't take a slice of my pie." This is absolutely the case for sonic emotion. Success in the retail market is fragmented across speaker, radio, and audio equipment manufacturers such as Lenco, Scott, and Pinell Wide. "The audio market is diversified with respect to manufacturers as well as distributors in such a way that we can focus on the companies who are really interested in our technology," explains Renato Pellegrini, en route to hunting out new business partners at the Hong Kong Autumn Electronics Fair. He surely has the considerably more attractive television market in mind. 

However, to ensure that no one takes more than their fair share of the sonic-emotion pie, the technology is sold as an encoded chip, rather than as software. This technology has now advanced far beyond wave field synthesis, which normally requires dozens of speakers to function optimally. The engineers in Oberglatt have reduced this number to six speakers that can be installed in a single device.

Making the Brand Even More Famous 

However, sonic emotion AG, which made its public debut at the IFA in Berlin in September 2009, still lacks really big partners. "We will be making a huge effort to publicize our brand in the coming months," says Pellegrini. "Within the next five years, sonic emotion will be for 3D sound what Dolby is for noise reduction." Work has already started on the next generation of chips, which are expected to give more flexibility to product designers. 

In order to reach these goals, sonic emotion is looking to add an additional partner to its two current venture capital investors: Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd., which brings with it extensive international experience and contacts, thanks to Credit Suisse. Looking to the future, Pellegrini hopes this partnership will one day make the cash registers ring for all involved.