This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Pro Sound News. Innovations is a monthly column in which different pro audio manufacturers are invited to discuss the thought process behind creating their products of note.
It’s not common to set out to design a product that can truly be utilized by everyone in your industry. Typically, in product development, a team is tasked with solving a problem for a specific market, a standard use case, or in response to customer demand. To say “make this product fit for 99 percent of the market you serve” is rare—but, at Renkus-Heinz, we consider ourselves to be a team with a rare pedigree.
The journey to create the ICLive X Series goes back roughly two decades. It ends with a confident declaration that we have developed a solution for 99 percent of the pro-audio market, but it begins with the discovery of a beautifully unique algorithm in The Netherlands.
About 20 years ago, I was busy working on horn-loaded boxes. I had just come up with the formula for Complex Conic Horns and Renkus-Heinz was gaining credibility amongst peer engineers. That credibility led to me giving a few presentations on our technologies around the globe. After a presentation in The Netherlands on our CoEntrant designs, I was approached by Johann van der Werff of Peutz about a unique technology he and his firm had developed. It was the algorithm behind “side lobe” free digital beam steering.
For those who might not know, digital beam steering is the technology that allows you to expertly place audio exactly where you want it: on the audience. It keeps sound away from hard, reverberant sources and allows for extremely high levels of intelligibility in all areas of a room, no matter the configuration or architectural peculiarities that may be in play. With precise placement of audio, you ensure everyone is receiving the same high-quality sound. It has truly matured as a technology—but 20 years ago? Not so much.
A test case of beam-steerable loudspeakers had been installed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The example worked well, but it was truly an R&D system in the wild, with analog technology being used to provide elements such as delay and low-pass filters. Still, it was quite a marvel to look at.
The reason Renkus-Heinz was approached with this information was that Johann believed we were the right folks to commercialize it and bring it into the world. Thus began our decades of work to not just develop the technology of digital beam steering, but truly harness it in a way that provides extreme benefits to those who rely on pro audio.
There have been many challenges we’ve successfully tackled over the years—things such as keeping our loudspeaker footprints small despite implementing cutting-edge technology, for example—but one key obstacle was what we call the “constant lambda array.”
To succinctly explain the challenge, we learned very quickly that with higher quality beams, you ran into an issue where you got solid coverage only in one half of a room – either the front or back. Our solution to this was exciting: We mathematically superimposed multiple beams onto one another to gain the coverage we needed.
It was an almost “point and shoot” solution. We used short, medium and long throw beams, all coming from the same virtual acoustic center, to create excellent coverage across a space. It was an excellent technical fix—but in practice, there was always a lot of training and support involved. While we at Renkus-Heinz dive into the technology every hour, we recognized that our integrator partners might be approaching it only on a monthly basis, and that meant a constantly steep learning curve.
To tackle this challenge, we developed the very first Unibeam—an algorithm creating asymmetric beams that utilizes the entire array for all frequencies. This results in a beam that is louder, can be thrown farther and had the potential to make setup more manageable.
I say “potential” because, at first, the Unibeam was a bit of an R&D oddity. We knew it could not only provide more effective coverage, but also reduce the level of manual input required from an installer. It had every sign of being a great enabler; we just had to find a way to manipulate and generalize it.
And thus we set to task to develop the software that could achieve this. But first, we asked ourselves: When designing the application to control this, what would be the best way to make it accessible to all? It was a question of if we could enable the solution for 99 percent of the market.
As we tackled that development, we soon developed an answer: Streamline the software down to a few button presses. In this moment, the ICLive X Series was born.
Our ICLive X Series are the first speakers in our range that allow for an elegant streamlining in digital beam steering setup. You’re asked for the angle from the bottom of the array to the front of the room and the angle from the top of the array to the back of the room. It then calculates that difference for you. That number is the Unibeam angle you want to deploy—and it is selectable in the software from a drop-down menu.
The result is that more venues can now quickly achieve the uniform results of digital beam steering without the pain points of the past.
The ICLive X is a culmination of a belief we had long held at our creative cores: that digital beam steering could be successfully implemented by all.
With the ICLive X, we have taken the power of digital beam steering from the hands of just the specialists and have given it to everyone, which means every installation now has specialist results.
The result? A solution that works for 99 percent of the market thanks to elegant setup, meticulous intention in design, and the provision of expertly placed audio precisely where you want it: on the audience.
Ralph Heinz is CTO at Renkus-Heinz.