Inside Samsung's Multi-Million Dollar Audio Lab

With a new world-class audio lab in Los Angeles, Samsung wants to change home audio in exactly the same way that it changed TVs — and spearheaded the switch to super-thin LCD TVs — back in the 2000s.

The brand new US audio lab's director, Allan Devantier, told Gizmodo that Los Angeles was the natural home for the world-class facility, not Samsung's home country of Korea. "If you look around the area, there are a lot of great recording studios, a lot of the movie studios have facilities — so there's that part of the audio business here, plus [companies like] Harman, Gibson, DTS — there's a whole bunch of companies that are involved in audio that are located here, so it was a very logical place to put this facility.

"They wanted us to set it up in San Jose, where Samsung has about 1000 employees — but I was able to convince them to put it here. There's only a handful of schools you can go to to be an audio engineer. You really need to get mentored, you need to meet other people in the business — again, this is why we wanted to be in Los Angeles. [We brought in] a really sharp bunch of people, and disseminated that information to [the Audio Lab], then to the rest of the company."

The 15-person team that runs the audio lab and that designs and optimises Samsung's new products, including the new R5, R3 and R1 omnidirectional multi-room speakers, has a combined 200 years of audio engineering experience, three PhDs, five masters degrees, and five active musicians in its line-up. Devantier is the director, but the facility's lead acoustic researcher Elisabeth McMullin and mechanical engineers like Andri Bezzola are just as important in logging data on new designs and speakers and optimising new products.

The facility itself is state of the art, and cost Samsung a pretty penny — there are two critical listening and measurement chambers in the building, at a price tag of $500,000 or more, designed with dozens of microphones inside to capture data on speaker soundstage, frequency response and overall sound quality. For speaker comparisons and A/B listening tests, Samsung compares its new product prototypes against at least four sets of high-end speakers from storied audio brands, each of which costs $10,000 or more.

Part of the reason for Samsung setting up the audio lab is a new push into sound; in exactly the same way that it decided to become the world's largest TV manufacturer, and then the world's largest smartphone manufacturer, it wants to become the world's largest audio product manufacturer. It's already number one in soundbars in Australia and around the world, and it's presenting a strong challenge to existing market leader Sonos and other upstarts like Bose in multi-room audio.

This expertise and investment extends from traditional audio into TVs, too; the second of Samsung's two anechoic chambers is purely for testing the sound of the speakers built into the company's flatscreen TVs. That move is smart, because it means customers enjoying their Samsung TVs' sound will then be more likely to buy a Samsung multi-room speaker — which can be paired to the TV to improve its audio quality — and then more speakers again, in other areas of their houses, for a traditional multi-room setup.

As some the first audio products coming out with influence from the Samsung Audio Lab, the new R5, R3, and R1 omnidirectional speaker are the new stars of Samsung’s wireless audio multi-room system. We’ve really liked Samsung’s ovoid multi-room speakers in the past, so fingers crossed that these ones are similarly good — whatever the result, it's great to see Samsung focusing on the audio quality of its audio products. Pricing ranges from $299 to $649 for the R-range speakers in Australia, with the larger speakers predictably costing more. They’re out now in the usual electronics retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman around the country.

More Samsung audio devices — both TVs and omnidirectional multi-room speakers — are on the way, and they'll be optimised in the US lab. Existing products, too, are being run through their paces to determine their quality, and possibly improved through firmware updates. They'll be compared to $10,000 speakers, and listened to by some of the world's top ears. They'll be developed, and drawn up in 3D simulation, and tested and iterated and re-tested. Hopefully, all this effort and expenditure means they'll sound even better than before. [ Samsung / YouTube ]

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