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The Finnish line: Aura Audio

Phil Ward meets another loudspeaker manufacturer from Finland…

Here’s a classic tale, this time from up north. Way up north. Mika Isotalo was playing in bands while at technical college in his home town of Turku, Finland, and was naturally drawn to how loudspeakers were built. Before leaving college he began freelancing in rental and studios, met a few sonic soulmates and registered a business: “We had no idea what it would end up being – it just had to be audio,” he recalls. They called it Aura Audio.

His college studies were in electronics and telecommunications. “Nokia was very powerful at the time,” he says, “so our whole education system was pushing us towards any combination of wireless technology, electronics… anything that would be useful for Nokia! I used every opportunity to make active speakers, mixer modules, whatever.”

After graduation he focused on loudspeakers and got to know the rental community and its emerging requirements. Soon he was hiring staff and responding to an “innovation-orientated” clientele: “I discovered that once you introduce a horn in front of a cone driver, not only do you increase efficiency bit you also decrease distortion. Done properly, directivity always improves.”

At the same time, line array was coming to the fore. “The first line array models were on a very large scale, and the Finnish market needed a smaller solution,” Isotalo remembers. “We did try a large one, but we didn’t sell any! So we worked on a really compact design, which was a completely new idea in Finland at the time: six months on we began to realize how big the market was for it.”

This grew the company at a steady pace for the next three years, and led to a wide variety of installations as well as OEM deals. A woodwork facility was built, complete with CNC, and the domestic scene thrived. “We were so busy I didn’t even consider the overseas markets, until the financial crisis of 2008 began to bite into the restaurant and night club business,” says Isotalo. “This was one of our main sectors, and although the rental customers remained steady it wasn’t enough so we started to look beyond the Finnish border. It was a much bigger adventure than I was expecting.”

Despite joining the EU alongside Sweden in 1995, Finland still seemed isolated. “We felt it was just as difficult to build trade in Sweden as it was in Germany, Holland or anywhere else in Europe. I’d been to Frankfurt and PLASA many times, and I could see where the market was. But it took a while to get there…”

In fact, Prolight + Sound 2014 was the first appearance as an international exhibitor. By this time, a very self-sufficient Aura Audio was showing a generous range of speakers for rental companies, modest-scale installation and larger projects such as EDM and live music clubs. Unique subwoofer designs and patented mid-range driver technology underpin touring and large-scale installation loudspeakers, and the A-Series (pictured), C-Series, XD-Series subs, F-Series studio monitors and i-Series are all selling well. The D-Series loudspeaker management system has dedicated Class-D amplifiers – an Italian relationship complemented by one more, with FaitalPRO, that supplies several driver models.

A few years ago, this prompted quite a breakthrough. “Our Italian friends [FaitalPRO] came up with a driver that got us thinking about 1-way (or single source) designs for small cafeterias, installations like that, and maybe creating columns using them. At the same time it led to the idea of replacing 2-way studio monitors – which, by the way, Genelec kind of already has covered! – with a similar design.”

No relation, but the venerable Auratone ‘domestic reference’ monitors used to offer this experience, but with limited scope, as Isotalo discovered. “Talking to a lot of experienced engineers it seems that they were mainly used for soloing vocals, or bass, rather than checking the whole mix,” he says. “So we started thinking we could develop our coaxialsingle source concept as a main monitor.”

All the products have patents: the A1 has a mid-range compression driver with different path lengths covering from 300Hz to 4kHz. Using a smaller cone, it uses a 15-inch driver with a small, band-pass type of horn. Last year Aura introduced the i3 (pictured) into to the ‘i’ installation range, designed in collaboration with the famous Finnish designer Stefan Lindfors: it still has the unique 3-inch cone driver but the styling is expected to appeal to the hi-fi market. The more compact format is aimed at nightclubs, music bars, speech and general music reinforcement if used with the XD10 or XD12 subs. Look out this year for a powered version of the i5, and a game changing passive cardioid subwoofer technology.

With echoes of David Gunness, Isotalo and his team are in pursuit of single source on a larger scale. “With this basic design,” he reflects, “the stereo image is much more three-dimensional. Once we had that driver, after 2011, we added a new waveguide and we really think we could be getting closer to the Holy Grail. We’re always thinking left field – trying to come up with new solutions.”