For the past forty years, Klaus Heinz (founder of HEDD and ADAM Audio) has dedicated himself to developing loudspeakers that have become established constants in diverse fields: from music production to professional mastering and finally home HiFi. As both an acoustic professional and a lifelong music enthusiast, Heinz’s life has oscillated between the worlds of physics and sound.
Revolutionizing the world of audio
Heinz revolutionized the professional world of audio production with the introduction of its first Air Motion Transformer. “99% of speakers use a normal cone or dome where you produce the high frequencies,” explained Heinz. “But I met a German physicist, Dr. Oskar Heil, who came up with a speaker using folds that open and close instead of a disk-like action. So I developed a loudspeaker using this AMT technology.”
Today, AMT systems are used wherever an extremely precise and vivid reproduction of high frequency material is called for.
Rühl went to the Silicon Valley for inspiration and learned how platforms work. Shortly after, Klöckner began its transformation to become a platform company. “Platform companies typically have low variable costs, because many of their processes are completely automated,” explained Rühl. “With low variable costs, you can have much stronger growth than a traditional company with high fixed and variable costs.” He used Facebook as an example of a business with practically no incremental costs at all—when 1,000 new users join, the company doesn’t have to invest anything.
Entering the headphone market: a big learning experience
Over the years, Heinz noticed that the market for high-end headphones was growing. “Ten years ago, if you wanted to buy high-quality headphones for around €1,000, there were two or three options. Now there are 30 or 40 options on the market,” said Heinz. He wondered if the same AMT technology could also be applied to headphones, using different geometries.
“Our first approach was awful and needed to be corrected,” said Heinz. So he came up with a new idea using different geometries to linearize the frequency response. “This was a big learning curve for us in understanding how different it is to introduce this technology to the headphones market, but the reviews we got from customers were enough to make the whole thing a success story.” Heinz’s speaker designs have always stayed true to their ideal of sonic excellence—producing complete accuracy and outstanding signal fidelity. HEDDphones® are now widely used by producers, sound engineers, and high-end enthusiasts.
The future of loudspeakers
Today, Apple and Google are the largest manufacturers of speakers in the world. At a time when customers seem increasingly happy with music coming out of their mobile phones or cheap headphones, what is the future of loudspeakers?
“It is a bit of a tragic situation,” said Heinz. “But the numbers for loudspeakers are higher each and every year. The market is there. It’s not rising dramatically, but it remains a good market.” He admits that the demand for in-ear headphones and low-quality speakers continues to rise more rapidly.
But the good news is, this means companies like Apple and Google are putting a lot of energy into making these more affordable options sound good as well. Innovation and technology is continuing to advance.
Brands like Bose and Sonos are creating technologies that allow users to stream music to different rooms, using a management platform. “The sound is not bad either,” admits Heinz. “For the volume, I am astounded at what they can do. No question.” So it seems there are still opportunities in the speaker market, but the sounds experiences are beginning to look different, and high-end loudspeakers for classical music enthusiasts have become a niche market.
Product development is not without challenges
As with any product, development and manufacturing hasn’t been without its challenges for Heinz and HEDD. Early on in the development of the tweeter in their loudspeaker, Heinz had expectations for how the responses should look, but the responses they were seeing were terrible.
“I tried everything,” said Heinz. “Finally we had an idea to rebuild the prototype and glue every piece so that it was air-tight.” This turned out to be the big leap that made the whole speaker design work—air holes smaller than one millimeter spoiled the speaker’s performance to a surprising degree. “The air-tightness was enough to either send the design down the river or to make a good new speaker,” said Heinz. “I’m still amazed by this.”
In the beginning of 2018, HEDD brought on KREATIZE (then fabrikado) to help them plan and develop their new headphones using the same AMT technology. HEDD and KREATIZE worked together through the entire product development process to define the requirements for the prototype, test several manufacturing partners, review samples of product materials, and finally arrive at an ideal solution for high-volume production.
Advice for young engineers and product designers
Heinz offered a few words of advice for new, young engineers who have product ideas and want to help make our lives better, more fulfilling, or more fun.
“Don’t be overly enthusiastic about your own ideas,” he cautions. “Always ask yourself—what is the advantage for the customer?” This customer-centric mindset has served Heinz well throughout his career.
But on the other hand, he also cautions engineers to not be their own self-critics. “Don’t fool yourself when you’re doing R&D. If you have a new prototype and you think it sounds great, don’t go back into the lab the next day and question everything. Keep cool with yourself so your own self-doubt doesn’t endanger your designs,” said Heinz
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