“During the entire design process, we have all of the right answers all along the way,” Harman Luxury Audio manager of product development Kevin Voecks explained while standing in the John Eargle Theater, in the company’s Northridge, CA facility. Not even a visit to its sprawling Northridge, CA, facility provides the proper sense of massive scale of Harman International’s audio manufacturing operations. The company, which owns the JBL Synthesis, Revel, Lexicon, and Mark Levinson luxury audio brands, no longer manufacturers its loudspeakers and transducers in the building I visited this summer, yet the sprawling facility still houses most of the JBL Professional team, almost the entire Americas region consumer audio group, the research technology group, and factions of its corporate technology and advanced technology groups.
You don’t get a complete picture of Harman International’s power until you account for its other facilities around the world.
But sticking to the Northridge location, you will find all of the company’s consumer-facing lines, including the luxury home audio and automotive brands, which have been combined under Harman’s Lifestyle division for the first time. The reorganization provides access to the same marketing teams and other financial resources, as well offering better coordination between the company’s car manufacturer partnerships and and products intended for the home.
“Maybe best of all is the cross-promotional opportunities we have, being able to bring cars to home events and vice versa and gaining exposure for the brands,” explained Jim Garrett, director of marketing and product management, of his company’s recent reorganization.
Jim Garrett, director of marketing and product management, shows off the new 2U-high Class D amp from JBL Synthesis. Jeff Poggi, who had served as global VP of sales and marketing for the branded car audio business, is now VP and general manager of the Luxury Audio business unit, and Garrett continues to lead the engineering and marketing teams within the luxury home audio brands.
The Northridge facility remains “the acoustics center of excellence,” according to Garrett. Everything associated with acoustics engineering is based there, whether pro or lifestyle-oriented. There’s currently a 12-person team of acoustic engineers on-site, as well as various mechanical, electrical hardware, and program engineers. Harman does its own transducer and systems engineering in Northridge, and all of its listening tests are run through a sophisticated double-blind Multichannel Listening Lab (MLL) there, along with the voicing tests for its speakers.
The evolution of Harman International has been in the works since 2009 when the Great Recession convinced the now-$5-billion company to get lean, fit, and focused. Now all of its divisions are profitable and, by all indications, doing quite well. According to Garrett and manager of product development Kevin Voecks, the company has benefitted greatly from contributions of the top audio researchers in the industry, including Sean Olive and the now-retired Dr. Floyd Toole.
“Our research speaks to the end performance of our products,” Garrett said. “When we think we have the best-sounding products, it’s because we have the scientific research and have done the double-blind listening tests with consumers to prove we have the best-sounding products.”
To measure speakers without enclosures or room resonances affecting their results, the company uses one of three different fiberglass wedge-filled anechoic (“echo-free”) chambers in the Northridge facility. Engineers can create models of their designs, test them out in the anechoic rooms, and alter their designs as needed.
Also within the Northridge facility, Harman demonstrates the results of its research inside the John Eargle Theater. A scaled down version on the Academy Theater where sound nominees are judged for the Oscars, this room’s gear is admittedly “overkill” for the size of the space, Garrett acknowledged. The high-end home theater in the Northridge facility features three JBL Synthesis Everest speakers across the front, four S1S EX subwoofers in the corners, two pairs (one for each row of seating) of in-wall side surrounds, and a pair in the back. Those speakers are equalized independently and time delayed. Driving the system is a stack of JBL Synthesis amplifiers and the relatively new JBL Synthesis SDP-45 surround processor. Video is projected from a Digital Projection Titan onto a 15-foot-wide Screen Research screen (plans are in the works to renovate the room into a Dolby Atmos room and to add a Kaleidescape server.)
And a visit to the Eargle Theater isn’t complete without a stop in the brand-new product showroom that displays Harman’s latest consumer-level audio products.
And a visit to the Harman Northridge facility isn’t complete without a stop in the brand-new product showroom that displays the company’s latest consumer-level audio products. More proof of Harman’s commitment to its audio-manufacturing craft will be on display at CEDIA EXPO, where the high-performance audio brands will be housed a larger booth than previous years to showcase consumer, pro, and luxury audio lines, as well as AMX control products and three luxury automobiles, replete with Harman audio upgrades. In the center of it all will be a commercial-theater-level demo room that might include some very trendy surround sound gear.
New product highlights will include Mark Levinson separates, a Lexicon surround processor, as well as Revel floorstanding towers, in-wall/in-ceiling speakers, and a powered subwoofer. For more details about all these new products, visit www.residentialsystems.com/0914.
From the JBL Synthesis line, Harman will show its SDP-45 surround processor, an ultra high-end home theater control center designed to be the heart of a JBL Synthesis custom-installation home entertainment system.
Garrett emphasized a new digital amplifier strategy with the JBL Synthesis line. “We’re taking out the heat, reducing the weight, and providing more space in a rack, by moving to a digital amp strategy across all of Synthesis brands.”
The company is creating a lower price point option for the Synthesis amplifier line, as well. The lower power Class D amp offers more traditional analog connectivity, rather than digital connectivity in the larger models.
“Before, with Synthesis, we could scale the system down to consumer-level loudspeakers and really bring the price point down, but what we didn’t have were the electronics that matched,” Garrett said. “Now we can provide much more price point flexibility than what we’ve been able to do before.”
And that flexibility seems to be at the heart of Harman’s focus for CEDIA EXPO. “Based on the changes to the company this year,” Garrett added, “we wanted to amp up the CEDIA experience from what we’ve done before.”
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.