It all began simply enough 50 years ago, with one man and one speaker. Now, as Phase Technology celebrates its golden anniversary, the Jacksonville, Florida-based audio manufacturer is launching the most advanced product line in its history.
Company president, Ken Hecht, is proud of the business that his father built a half century ago, but hes even more excited about his companys sophisticated new product, called dARTS (Digital Audio Reference Theater System).
First things first: back in the early 1950s, Kens father, Bill Hecht, was toiling away as an engineer for General Projectorthe company that installed the Cinemascope film projection system in Radio City Music Hall. All the while Hecht was building projection systems, however, it was audio that really piqued his curiosity. That passion for audio led to a hobby building speakers, which, in 1955, turned into a business that became Phase Technologys parent company, United Speaker Systems.
From 1959 until about 1980, United was strictly an OEM supplier for audio companies from Fisher Electronics to Yamaha and just about everyone in between. The companys patented soft-dome tweeter was one of the keys to its early success and remains a key feature in its designs today.
In the early 80s, just about the time Ken Hecht joined his fathers company, the decision was made to move the entire enterprise from East Orange, New Jersey, to clean-manufacturing-friendly Jacksonville. Once settled in northern Florida, United began manufacturing its first branded audio products under the Phase Technology name.
Product distribution was handled exclusively by a unique company led by Stewart Greenberg, formerly of Yamaha and JBL. Under the arrangement dealers who carried the Phase products were also shareholders in the distribution firm.
It was very limited distributiona set group of dealers who were owners in the distribution company that sold their products, Ken Hecht recalled of the arrangement. We went from no branded speaker business to that being our primary business overnight.
Three years ago when Greenberg decided to close the distribution business, without hesitation, Hecht called respected industry friend, Roberta Lewis, for help. Lewis, the former president of Texas-based specialty retail chain Home Entertainment and VP of Tweeters Texas region, was his choice to create a new distribution model for the company.
I said that it was time that we had our own sales team in house and asked Roberta if she would be interested in becoming our vice president of sales, Hecht said. That weekend she came down and began the process of taking us from being this exclusive brand to one that used reps and was more open to new dealers.
Until her recent departure, Lewis helped Phase Technology double its dealer base and gain a more widely recognized name in the specialty retail and custom installation markets. In that time the company has used its vertically integrated manufacturing facility to create critically acclaimed product lines, including the PC and Velocity Series, each with custom-centric designs. It wasnt until this year, however, that Hecht and his 60-person team made a quantum leap in product design with the introduction of its dARTS.
This system, which is Ken Hechts brainchild, incorporates a wide range of custom-designed and purpose-built speakers that utilize digital amplification, crossovers, and processing. It was a concept that Hecht always had envisioned but was unable to accomplish with available technologies.
Even as far back as 1990 I had a passion for digital, Hecht explained. The first digital amplifier that we built was back in 1990. We used DSP in it to control frequency response, and it worked very nicely. Since then every few years we try again. The technology and our ability to bring something to manufacturing just hadnt been there until this point.
What changed was access to D2Audios digital amplifiers and a digital signal processor with calibration software designed in collaboration with Audyssey Laboratories in Los Angeles.
The dARTS system comes in five-, six- and seven-channel configurations with one or two subwoofers, and includes a 16-channel all-digital DP2000 amplifier.
By using full digital amplification and purpose-built crossovers, dARTS speakers can be matched to one another to incredibly fine tolerances. With Phase Technologys custom calibration software, installers can also contour individual system performance to produce the best balance and frequency response for the room in which it is installed.
This is a truly one-of-a-kind system that takes the listening rooms acoustical anomalies out of the equation, letting listeners enjoy the pure movie sound effects and music that the artists intended, Hecht noted.
At the heart of the system is the Audyssey MultEQ XT system, a digital signal processor with calibration software designed in collaboration with Audyssey Laboratories in Los Angeles, a spin-off of the University of Southern Californias Immersive Audio Lab, which was founded in 1996 by Tomlinson Holman (inventor of THX and professor of Film Sound at USC) and Chris Kyriakakis (a Professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering).
Additionally, the Phase Technology DP-2000 digital amplifier was custom-designed and tailored for Phase Technologys speakers in collaboration with D2Audio. The amplifier offers 16 channels of power, with up to 250 watts per channel, for complete flexibility in biamping or triamping each speaker.
The evolution of dARTS was unusual for Phase Technology. Our whole custom line was developed with input from our dealers, but dARTS is unique because it was something that I had a passion for so long and just couldnt bring it to market, Hecht said.
The first generation version of dARTS is a theater product, which can be customized to fit into columns or cabinets. For the future Hecht plans an in-wall version of the product, which will be a little shorter and a little wider in size. The third incarnation of the line will be a tower-style cosmetic version.
The beauty is that you will be able to mix and match the lines and they will match perfectly, Hecht noted.
The main purpose of dARTS is to solve acoustical problems that installers face when putting speakers in a room. With dARTS an installer is starting out with a system that is very matched and extremely flat in response, Hecht added. The better the system you start out with the better chance you have of it sounding good in a room.
And reactions to the system have already been favorable thus far. We helped one of our high-end dealers in San Diego set up their demo room in their facility, Hecht related. The owner of the company called me the other day and said, Ive got a problem. Im thinking Oh man, what did we do? The owner said that ever since we calibrated the system, his sales people and installers were way behind on their jobs. They loved dARTS so much that they had played every piece of demo material they owned and wouldnt leave the room.
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems in New York City.