With the recording, management and playback of music and movies becoming more and more digitalized, the importance of innovative audio solutions for the computer, which is used as a multimedia center, is growing by leaps and bounds. It has been in response to this development that the Bose Corporation introduced and repeatedly expanded the Personal audio product line. 1) 2) This complete range of products includes Multimedia Speaker Systems such as the COMPANION 2, headphones or the 'SoundDock Digital Music System' (Figure 1, Figure 2 and Figure 3). 3) 4) The following article presents the 'COMPANION 5 Multimedia Speaker System' (Figure 4), an impressive system in terms of both styling and realistic sound reproduction. 5)
The development goals
Creating a surround-like audio experience for a variety of computer applications from only two loudspeakers and a bass module – this was the key challenge for the project team in charge of developing the 'COMPANION 5 Multimedia Speaker System'. Industrial designer Rich Carbone and Mike Laude, director of the Bose Design Center, had the task to establish a design vocabulary for the products of the Companion line that was to combine simplicity and elegance. This was intended to ensure the best possible integration of the system components into any particular decor. 6) 7)
A further requirement was that the shape of the components to be designed should be substantially reduced – following the "small and easy to use" design precept stated by Bose designer Lou Genatossio in 1996. 8)
The 'Speaker Arrays' and the 'ACOUSTIMASS Module'
The human auditory system perceives sound mainly by registering the volume of the sound reaching the left and the right ear and by simultaneously noting how long it takes the sound to pass the distance between the sound source and the ears. 9)
These psychoacoustic findings are being used by the Bose engineers to create the surround-like sound with the two 'Speaker Arrays' and the 'ACOUSTIMASS Module' (Figure 4). 10) The spatial sound simulation, which is so astounding to the computer user, is achieved by using the TrueSpace Surround Digital Processing technology and other closely coordinated technologies. 11)
31) To reproduce sound and dialogue relating to the action in the middle of the screen, these speaker arrays are driven to deliver one and the same sound information by providing a signal with the same frequency composition, phase and volume level – thus creating a simulated center speaker that can be perceived only acoustically.
Each 'Speaker Array' uses it mid-high range speakers arranged in the defined angle to radiate the sound into different directions. Both the volume and the sound velocity are controlled by integrated circuits in relation to the original sound information. These different acoustic signals reach the listener and almost give him or her the illusion of hearing the sound from a left or right speaker when he or she stands at the sides and in the rear of the listening area.
In the project team, the designers work in close cooperation with the development engineers. They fine-tune the packaging of the individual parts such as to minimize the formal complexity of the system components, the height of the table stands and the exact direction of the 'Speaker Arrays'. 12)
The restrained design of the 'Speaker Arrays' and also of the table stands owes its value and well-balanced visual image to the carefully proportioned radii, the crisp linework, the 'tidied-up' surfaces, and to the fact that the dimensions were combined with each other so as to form one harmonious whole. This design approach so characteristic of the Companion line is made clear already in the first idea sketches by Rich Carbone (Figure 5).
The shape of the 'Speaker Arrays' (13.4 x 6.3 x 6.3 cm) with their elegantly curved front follows the arrangement of the mid-high range drivers in the chassis. The silver loudspeaker grille has subtle perforations with diameters carefully chosen by the designers and presents a noble appearance. 13) This appearance is reinforced by the bottom strap on the speaker grille with the Bose Logo in the middle.
What turned out to be complex was the design of the table stands (height 22.5 cm). The goal was for the table stands to integrate as unobtrusively as possible to the sides of the computer monitor, to ensure the exact direction of the 'Speaker Arrays', to maintain a high level of stability in spite of their small footprint, and to share the design features characteristic of the Companion line. The first thing the designers did was to analyze the color, size and styling of computer monitors from various manufacturers. 14) Then they minimized the trapezoidal base plate and got to work on the detail solutions. The well-proportioned, sculpture-like appearance of the elegantly designed table stands and their formal shaping, instead of following some short-lived design trend, serve the function defined in the design instruction (Figure 7 and Figure 8). 15)
The 'ACOUSTIMASS Module' (17.2 x 21.7 x 42.5 cm) can be concealed anywhere inside the listening area. Nevertheless, the designers were mindful of the need to establish a formal reference of the design features to the 'Speaker Arrays' in order to express the overall value of the 'COMPANION 5 Multimedia Speaker System' as a whole (Figure 4).
Installation and operation
As is typically the case with Bose products, the 'COMPANION 5 Multimedia Speaker System' is easy to install. Specific plugs connect the two 'Speaker Arrays' and the 'Control Pod' to the connectors on the 'ACOUSTIMASS Module' clearly marked by graphic means. The system connects to the computer via a USB 2.0 Port without any need for additional hardware or software installation.
The elegant 'Control Pod' with its reduced dimensions (6.3 x 2.8 cm) is the central interface in charge of controlling the system (Figure 8). The control surface features single-touch mute and a status display LED. Designer Rich Carbone deliberately chose to give the 'Control Pod' a cylindrical basic shape. He arranged for the diameter of the cylinder surface to be in proportion with the lateral surface. The dark outer ring for the continuous volume control is pleasing to the touch and fits harmoniously into the basic shape. This ring symmetrically divides the lateral surface with the bottom connectors for additional external audio sources or for the headphones. The rubberized bottom makes sure that the 'Control Pod' stands firmly on any desktop surface.
The quality level of the 'COMPANION 5 Multimedia Speaker System' has been acknowledged by several awards – this July, the system will also be awarded the much-coveted 'red dot award: produkt design 2007' for its trend-setting design quality. 16) 17)
Author: Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand
Photos: Bose Corporation and Jo Klatt
Jatzke-Wigand, H.: The Bose 'Compagnion 5 Multimedia Speaker System'. In: Design+Design 80, Hamburg June-August 2007, 6-11