When the product engineers at SpeakerCraft decided to come out with a line of in-ceiling speakers for the home, they acknowledged that their technology would have to be innovative to compete in the cutthroat environment of the residential products marketplace. Their solution was relatively simple: come out with a speaker that the user can direct.
The custom installation business is really dictated by the dcor of the room,” observed Jeremy Burkhardt, vice president of SpeakerCraft. “In many situations, the TV winds up mounted in the corner of the room because the fireplace is in the center, or there is a window or other architectural features in the way. The audio system typically comes last on the list of priorities.”
Not only does room dcor present a challenge to custom installers, but so, too, does the traditional in-ceiling speaker, according to Burkhardt. “When a speaker goes into the ceiling, if it fires straight down into the floor it doesn’t do a whole lot of good, because you are typically not directly underneath the speaker,” he said.
SpeakerCraft began work on the AIM Series–a line of fully-directional in-ceiling speakers that enable the user to manually alter their directivity. The entire speaker sits on a pivoting structure, giving the tweeter 360 degrees of pivot capability. Should the listening position in the room change, the listener is able to alter the direction of the speaker by removing the grill and pushing it with their hand, without having to employ the use of tools. SpeakerCraft’s WavePlane technology, applicable to the AIM Series, assists in better directing the high frequencies out to the listener by providing a 95 percent solid plane for the tweeter and a 75 percent open area for the woofer.
“The WavePlane is a solid surface to the tweeter and an open surface to the woofer. The woofer waves can pass right through it, and the tweeter waves reflect off of it and flow toward the listening area,” Burkhardt explained.
In the original designs, the AIM Series featured a flat frequency response. This feature was altered after SpeakerCraft beta-tested the products on its dealers. “They found that depending on the type of music they were listening to, they wanted more bass or more treble,” Burkhardt said. “For example, if you are listening to rap music, bass is obviously very important. So, we installed equalizers on the front of the speakers so that you can equalize the high frequencies or the low frequencies. On the front of the units there are switches that allow the user to turn the bass or treble up 3db, leave it flat, or turn it down 3db.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the development process, Burkhardt admitted, was developing the ball, or the pivoting structure, that holds the woofer. Using computer-generated three-dimensional drawings, SpeakerCraft’s design team determined that their goal would be achieved if the woofer were able to pivot 30 degrees off of its axis.
“Now, homeowners are able to have a theater system that directs its sound toward the listener,” Burkhardt said. “It gives a listening experience that is more like a real theater.”
Speakers in the AIM Series can be painted to match the room’s color scheme. Although the SpeakerCraft design team toyed with the idea of releasing an AIM line of remote-control speakers, a plan has yet to be drawn up. “We had considered installing a motor in the unit, but what happens is that when people put furniture into their home, the speakers need only to be set once,” Burkhardt explained. “If the furniture is rearranged, all you need to do is remove the grill and redirect the speakers by hand.”
AIM speakers are available in several models: AIM One, AIM Two, AIM Three, AIM Four, and AIM Five. The units range between $400 to $1,500 per pair.
SpeakerCraft was founded in 1976 by Ed Haase, who originally concentrated his efforts on establishing a retail audio business. The company soon began performing custom installations, and initiated the manufacture of in-wall speakers. During the mid 1980s, the company was an OEM manufacturer for Niles, Sonance and JBL.
In 1994, SpeakerCraft began branding its own line of in-wall speakers, concentrating on delivering solid installation features, on-time shipping and a lifetime warranty. The company also built the SpeakerCraft Technical Training Institute–a facility that regularly hosts seminars during which SpeakerCraft staff instructs dealers on speaker installation. Haase has since retired, leaving three partners in charge: Burkhardt, CEO Jim Munn and CFO Bob Cavazos.
As the number of music delivery methods increases, Burkhardt believes that the opportunities for residential speaker manufacturers like SpeakerCraft will grow proportionately. “Many products are going to be integrated into the home through Bluetooth and IEEE 1394. When that happens, the demand for speakers throughout the environment to play MP3 players or computer signals is going to be even greater,” he said. “It’s not going to make sense to have a pair of speakers mounted next to your computer when you can have your speakers up in the ceiling.
“We’re also finding that in general, more and more home builders are specifying in-ceiling speakers as part of their standard home construction. As the acceptance of the product becomes even better with the building trade, you will see that speakers will be something that is specified automatically,” Burkhardt said. “That, for SpeakerCraft, is terrific.”