A Field Trip To Harman: Part I

Regular readers of my posts may recognize the name Dr. Sean E. Olive. He is the Director of Acoustic Research in the Corporate Technology Group at Harman AND current President of the Audio Engineering Society. I don’t remember how we first connected via email and Linked In but we finally met in person yesterday after years of emails and texts.

And what a great pleasure and rare opportunity it was for me. We’ve talked about getting together for lunch for a while and finally managed to get our schedules in sync yesterday. But what began with a half a deli sandwich extended well into the afternoon. Sean was incredibly gracious and generous with his time. I got the royal tour of their research facility in Northridge. We had a chance to listen to some music in their home theater, chat about the general issues of high-resolution audio, meet some of the members of his team, listen to a variety of headphones, blindly compare a variety of mid range speakers and experience the surround DVD-Audio system in his new “E” Class Mercedes.

It was an afternoon that I won’t forget. I was honored.

The only thing I regret is not taking pictures as we went from room to room (including three anechoic chambers). I wasn’t sure that taking pictures would be allowed.

Here are some of the highlights from my field trip to Harman.

Sean’s car is literally a couple of weeks old. It still smells new (although officially it’s a used car with only 200 miles on it…something about the original purchaser’s wife being upset that he husband got the “E” class and not the “C” class, so he had to return it!. The audio system was designed, engineered and manufactured by Harman. As you might expect, it’s a high-end system. I noticed right away the speakers on top of the dash…including a center speaker, which was my tip off that true surround sound was possible in the car. I gave Sean a copy of my most recent sampler but we couldn’t play it in the DVD-Audio player that is part of the Harman system. My sampler is a Blu-ray disc.

He pulled out a Diana Krall DVD-Audio disc and inserted it into the disc slot. The touch screen came to life and we enjoyed really great sound in full 5.1 surround. However, I’m still amazed that a new Mercedes (and the Acura iLx that I wrote about some months ago) still supports the DVD-Audio format. But it does. I regret not bringing a couple of my DVD-Audio discs. I’ll send a few along so that he can check out a few AIX Records in his new car.

During lunch, we talked about high-resolution audio and current developments in the area. As president of the AES, Sean had just returned from the Berlin Convention and had seen a few panels and paper presentations about DSD and DXD (apparently someone has established a difference…he said he would forward the paper to me). I made my pitch for a new research project to test the perceptibility of ultrasonics and the viability of high-resolution audio…like the one that I submitted to the CEA Audio Board some months ago. Dr. Olive understands the importance of doing a rigorous study and I think there’s some interest in a possible collaboration between the AES and myself…and perhaps others. Against the backdrop of the Boston Audio Society and their “study” and published paper, there is a real need to do it right.

We finished lunch and headed back to the sprawling campus that houses consumer and professional products from JBL, Harman, AKG, Mark Levinson and more. This is large organization! The tour through the research facility was fascinating. And I got to spend some quality time listening to their new studio monitors…the M2s. Incredible!

To be continued…


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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