I never set out to be a manufacturer. At my core, I’m an audiologist. My professional goals have always been tied to hearing health. As a musician, I knew the entire industry was at risk, so it was natural for me to focus my practice on the music industry. One opportunity led to another, and Sensaphonics evolved into one of the very first manufacturers of custom earphones.
Many have noted the potential for IEMs to help musicians hear their mix clearly and at safer levels … “with proper use.” As a manufacturer, I’ve designed many products with that in mind, but the bottom line is, live music tends to be loud. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love loud music, too!
Over the years, I’ve had tremendous success educating the industry on hearing health and designing innovative IEM products like the 3D Active Ambient system (U.S. Patent 8,160,261). By embedding a binaural microphone system in high-isolation earpieces, musicians gained access to the stage sound they were missing, eliminating the dangerous practice of one-in/one-out monitoring. It was unique and expensive, but it worked.
While many other IEM companies engaged in a seemingly endless battle for the highest driver counts, Sensaphonics remained focused on making the 3D system both more powerful and more affordable. It was a frustrating battle until 2018, when a chance meeting brought me together with CEO Jim Harris of Think-A-Move, a manufacturing company focused on headset products used in high-noise applications. After a few conversations, it was clear that our expertise and perspectives were ideal complements to each other. We joined forces to form a new company, ASI Audio.
Our shared vision was to create an entirely new approach to in-ear monitoring, using the Active Ambient technology platform. Our concept, called Music Enhancement, is embodied in our flagship product, 3DME.
Music Enhancement represents a new way of thinking about in-ear monitoring. 3DME is loaded with innovations and improvements, many of which have never been found in any IEM design. But the real beauty of this product is the way its features work together, making 3DME an ideal product on stage and off, for amplified groups or orchestras, and for music lovers as well, whether in the audience, at home or on the go.
Making this happen required redesigning the 3D Active Ambient system from the ground up. The ambient earphones are now universal fit (though there is a custom option), with new drivers and an upgraded MEMS microphone system. As a result, the IEMs themselves sound as great as ever, yet are more robust and less expensive than any previous 3D system.
The 3DME system’s bodypack mixer has been similarly uplifted. It’s now lighter in weight, smaller in size and rechargeable. Its only external controls are simple up/down buttons for ambience level, yet its capabilities have been expanded with the addition of a data output for its 7-band equalizer and other onboard tools.
The challenge was to provide new, expanded capabilities, but without making the system difficult or burdensome to use. In serving the music industry for over 30 years, one key thing I’ve learned is the importance of helping artists to focus on their performance, not their equipment.
We needed a way to implement personal control without making it confusing or complex. 3DME achieves that with another innovation in the world of IEMs: the ASI Audio app.
Using a smartphone or tablet, the app makes it easy to use the sound sculpting tools within the bodypack mixer. Input levels are adjustable. The limiter threshold can be set to ensure safe listening. And then there’s the 7-band EQ, which allows you to literally dial in your personal sound signature. All these settings can be done in stereo, or via separate left- and right-channel controls.
The idea is to wear your 3DME earphones with the bodypack mixer plugged into your smartphone, which is used to customize your settings. Once you have the sound you want, your setup is saved to the bodypack mixer. Simply disconnect your smartphone or tablet, and your system is ready to rock, automatically saving your settings as the default for your next session. You can also save your settings into a library of personal presets within the app for easy recall.
This puts immense power into the hands of the user. On stage, you’ve got your monitor mix (usually through a wireless bodypack receiver), augmented by 3D ambience at your preferred level.
3DME is just as useful for orchestral and other acoustic musicians who have no monitor mix. For them, it acts as a variable hearing protection system with custom EQ. I’ve seen career classical musicians using 3DME literally moved to tears at being able to hear the orchestra the way they remember it from their youth.
3DME is a powerful tool offstage as well. Portable device listeners gain situational awareness of the sounds around them, and can control its level and tweak its EQ. Frankly, the applications are nearly endless.
It is said that true innovation lies in combining existing ideas in new and interesting ways that satisfy needs and meet new requirements. By adding app-driven sound tools to the unique technology of Active Ambient IEMs, I’m convinced that ASI Audio has achieved exactly that with 3DME Music Enhancement.
Michael Santucci, Au.D., is co-founder and chairman of ASI Audio.
ASI Audio 3DME • https://asiaudio.com/pages/3dme
This article originally appeared in the February 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.