Sound Matters Because soundmatters And Now for Something Completely Different...
This headline, the signature opening line for British comedy-sketch show, Monty Python's Flying Circus is also a good fit for this article on a very cool new product category from soundmatters and their UPstage concept - a new speaker product category and the next trend from the people that invented the soundbar.
Let's provide some background to provide a bit of credibility to this story, as they have a long and successful history developing noteworthy audio products. soundmatters was founded in 1998 as an audio research and development company with projects for Logitech, Viewsonic, Roku, IGT, and Jawbone as well as for the many brands that Eastech (a large Asian OEM/ODM) supplied.
Twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to visit their futuristic design center in San Francisco, CA, which also was conveniently down the block from Dolby Labs. My clients working with soundmatters included Power Integrations, which has a novel and very high-performance switching power supply that enables very high peak power, and Tripath, now a legend for its early innovative work on the first decent sounding parametric switching amplifier chips. soundmatters was one of the few design teams that were able to get the best out of Power Integrations and Tripath stuff together.
In 2003, soundmatters introduced its first product for itself, the MAINstage 1-Box Surround System. This powered speaker converted any TV, computer, or other audio source into a mini home theater and was the prelude to the one-box soundbar surround solution. Powered stereo/virtual surround; easy hookup; just 2.5" tall; analog and digital inputs. Opening up a new category entirely, soundmatters lacked the mindshare to make it stick. Not surprisingly, consumer electronics giants including Samsung, Vizio, Harman, and company, quickly got into the game and ate soundmatters' lunch. Nevertheless, soundmatters evolved the concept and are still very much alive and kicking today, now based in Taiwan.
In 2018, startup Level 10, engineered by soundmatters was created to launch the UPstage360 speaker on Kickstarter, which was one of the most-funded speaker projects on the platform. UPstage360's aim was to reinvent traditional speaker soundstage to a 360-degree sweet zone. After a year of further development, Level 10 has new tricks with its UPstage180 concept and it is combining music and soft lighting with a streamlined design for wall mounting or to just sit on a flat surface with even beamwidth 180 coverage.
Let's Roll Back
With the UPstage introduced, let's roll back and introduce the illustrious founder of soundmatters, Dr. Godehard Guenther, NASA scientist and audio legend. Born in Germany, Dr. Guenther earned his PhD in astrophysics at the University of Heidelberg. Recruited by Dr. Wernher von Braun, Dr. Guenther immigrated to the United States where he worked with a group of scientists at NASA on the development of America's first space station.
In 1972, he left NASA to pursue his passion for audio, initially importing Braun loudspeakers to the US, then founding Analog + Digital Systems (a/d/s/), which later acquired Braun Audio. There he led the development of such innovations as the use of rare earth metals, including samarium cobalt and neodymium in loudspeakers, the first fully digital surround sound system, the first in-wall loudspeaker, and a pet project of a fully automated tweeter production machine. In 1998, Dr. Guenther went on to establish soundmatters.
At this stage, let me introduce Beijing Design and Creation Electronics Company (BDNC), founded 2007 as the R&D arm of a Taiwan semiconductor company and later spun off in 2016. One of its more recent developments is a unique damped glass diaphragm shallow speaker. And the UPstage180 speaker is the launch customer for BDNC's high-power, flat glass woofer with a 0.2 mm glass diaphragm and the highest excursion-to-thickness Index without the interference of rocking modes common in other transducers.
UPstage180 is compact, about one-quarter the size of the classic bookshelf speaker, and yet delivers solid bass that can reach down to 60 Hz. soundmatters' Linear Magnetic Drive Twoofer is both a tweeter and a woofer - it is the first single device produced by carbon fiber injection technology with sound-enhancing capabilities on both ends of the audio spectrum.
I talked with Emma Yu, soundmatters' CEO for the global operations, about her selection of the drivers for the Upstage 180; "I chose our Twoofer carbon fiber diaphragm and glass speaker, which both have very high Young's modulus in similar speed to transfer soundwave. Quick response. The quality is very even with both Carbon Fiber and Glass. Take a listen to 'The Sheffield Track & Drum Record' and enjoy very impressive sound quality."
For Bluetooth, the UPstage180 design uses Microchip's BM83 module with Bluetooth 5.0, to support also Sony's LDAC 24-bit/96 kHz Hi-Res audio and maintain a reliable connection. This Bluetooth module also features an innovative application of True Wireless Stereo (TWS) and Bluetooth Wireless Concert Technology (WCT) so that users can connect multiple UPstage180 speakers. Just like your TWS earphones, using two UPstage180 speakers with its proprietary app will automatically assign left and right channels to the two units. Finally, the design is powered with Infineon MERUS Class-D amplifiers, known for compact, cool stable operation and good sound.
The enclosure is light yet very rigid due to the injected-molded thermoplastic with a very high carbon fiber loading. I would mention that soundmatters is working with my firm and other partners evaluating various injection molding resins for acoustic properties and related mechanical attributes.
Both the UPstage360 and 180 projects involved the use of great electroacoustic measurement technology. The UPstage180 was tested at Warkwyn, Klippel's US training, calibration, and distribution partner. The test was done with the latest Klippel R&D system dB-Lab 210, which is part of an interesting story in of itself. Back in the 1990s, I worked with Bell Labs on its SYSid acoustic analyzer and the agency for Taiwan and China was run by Emma Yu. But Bell Labs was lost when AT&T was disassembled. Yu also founded SOMA, which today is the agency in Taiwan for both Klippel and Loudsoft.