As he celebrates 2 decades with Martin Audio, Baird talks to TPi about some product development highlights.
“When I joined Martin Audio in 1998, the industry was in a very different place to now,” he began. “Bands were touring just to promote albums, production company owners were enthusiasts and the audio community was still in the process of waking up to the modern line array. Likewise, the general installation market was starting to attach increasing value to audio reproduction, following in the footsteps, if not the physical size, of the legendary nightclub systems of the 70’s and 80’s.
“The first Martin Audio product I was intimately involved in was the original Blackline range, which brought high quality transducers and cabinet construction to a more accessible price point. This proved to be extremely successful for us and surprisingly never more so than in the burgeoning Chinese entertainment market.”
As the new millennium dawned he and Bill Webb (then R&D Director) came to the conclusion that they had to produce a line array if they wanted to remain competitive in the touring market. Thus the W8L was born. “This started us on a steep learning curve as to how the interaction of splay angles, EQ and absorption of HF over distance all came together to critically influence system performance.”
The next turning point was the arrival of Ambrose Thompson, as Baird confirmed: “He and I immediately set about developing a software tool (ViewPoint) that allowed the user to derive splay angles automatically, via geometric analysis of the audience surfaces. It surprises me that this is still a pretty new feature to some of the market leaders of today.”
Baird remembers that, in the early days of the W8L, it was evident that driving a line array with the same signal for every cabinet produced a result that was often too loud at the front and was lacking in comparison at the back. To overcome this, he came up with the idea of ‘band zoning’, where the array was split into short, medium and long throw sections, each with their own EQ. This was an idea they would return to some years later.
2007 saw the launch of O-Line, which was an articulated micro line array for the installation market. “This was our first foray into configuring a line array using an accurate acoustic model of array output. This allowed us to replace our geometric splay calculations with a fundamentally more accurate simulation of array behaviour.”
Around the same time Martin Audio was asked to propose a system design for the main stage of an iconic British festival, which was notorious for its off-site noise issues. “Using the W8L Longbow, we doubled the amount of processing channels typically used to drive it, in order to have more control of the sound leakage from beyond the back of the field. The results were proper gig SPL’s for the crowd, while maintaining control of off-site levels.”
But the R&D Director was keen to apply O-Line’s analytical way of configuring a line array system to a more ambitious product, and in 2010, MLA entered the touring market. “Taking what we’d learned from the W8L series band-zoning technique, MLA was equipped with individual DSP processing and amplification for each acoustic device in the array. Crucially, we applied our optimisation algorithms not only to the splay angles but to the DSP filtering as well. This was achieved using our in-house software, Display.”
The results, he said, were compelling. “The system could produce highly consistent audience coverage, right out of the box, with the ability to reduce signal level outside of this region simultaneously achievable. This feature has been used to great effect at numerous high-profile outdoor events, where noise pollution levels had previously compromised audience experience to an unacceptable extent. Our patented MLA technology is still unsurpassed in this respect, 8 years on.”
Not content with bringing high levels of coverage consistency to large-scale line array applications, Baird wanted to do the same for shorter throw point source systems. “And so in 2015 we launched the CDD range, which featured our now patented Coaxial Differential Dispersion transducer technology. With the assistance of Phil Anthony, a means of mounting the HF waveguides directly onto the low frequency driver’s cone was perfected.”
The ability to shape the HF waveguides as they wanted to, meant that the HF beaming typical of the generic coaxial driver could be overcome. “Furthermore we could create a differential dispersion pattern, which was wider close to the speaker and progressively narrower in the horizontal plane as distance increased. For a wall-mounted speaker, this actually gives a rectangular coverage pattern on the listening plane, which we consider to be optimum for the majority of applications.”
But Baird’s list of triumphs don’t end there. The most recent addition to the Martin Audio portfolio, Wavefront Precision, was in recognition that MLA and its smaller brothers are flagship systems. “As such we wanted to bring many aspects of their performance to a wider market, via our ‘scalable resolution’ concept,” he explained.
“Rather than drive each acoustic device in the array individually, like MLA, scalable resolution operates at a single box or multiple box level. Display optimises splay angles and DSP filters just as it did for MLA but now the user can choose the box resolution that the array is divided into, with the amplification and filtering provided by our iKON electronics.”
For example, in the case of the smaller Wavefront Precision product (WPM), the user can choose from 1- to 4-box resolution and in the case of the medium format WPC, 1- to 3-box. “As resolution increases, so does coverage consistency,” Baird explained. “Although, even at the coarsest resolution, the results are significantly better than a classic same-signal-to-each-box line array system, driven by an off the shelf factory preset.”
Baird concluded: “In developing the Wavefront Precision range, our goal was to deliver expected performance requirements of maximising output vs size as well as speed of deployment, while adding more than a little bit of the magic of our MLA series, at a compelling price point. The overnight success of the series is testament to this thinking.”
The story, and evolutionary process, is far from complete. Expect to see Martin Audio continue to innovate further in the near future.