Giving into the urge to surround yourself in music at work or at home isn't a problem if there's only yourself to worry about. If you want to listen without bothering those around you, though, closed-back headphones would seem a logical choice. But long-haul use can be a little uncomfortable. Richard Haberkern's new Soundlazer VR directional speakers hang overhead like a light fitting and direct wirelessly streamed audio straight to the target listener, for the promise of a "high fidelity, focused cloud of sound that others can't hear."
Haberkern has been focusing sound at specific points for a few years now, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign in March 2012 to bring his Soundlazer SL-01 parametric speaker system into production. This was followed in 2014 with the barebones Snap system. Both of these devices make use of ultrasonic audio delivery, which lacks the frequency range necessary for watching television and playing games. So Haberkern has spent the last three years developing higher fidelity planar wave technology.
The Soundlazer VR features patent pending planar array stereo drivers set into a single piece of CNC routed wood, essentially like a row of small speakers each outputting a small amount of sound. The output is bounced off a transparent acrylic linear parabolic reflector and directed toward the ears of the listener beneath.
The focus point of the array's audio beam is some 2 to 4 feet (60 - 120 cm) below the unit and has a reported audio frequency response of 150 Hz to 20 kHz. In case you're wondering what's happened to much of the bottom end, the system is not capable of reproducing lower frequencies as they can't be controlled in a linear fashion.
Soundlazer says that listeners can look forward to clear, crisp, personal audio, but that "due to the organic nature of the sound produced by the Soundlazer VR, lower frequency sound reproduction is not necessary for an enjoyable experience."
The planar array is driven by a two channel, 15 W amplifier and audio is streamed to the Soundlazer VR over Bluetooth, with the hanging cables also serving to feed power to the circuitry. The VR is either 18 or 24 inches long and 10.2 inches wide (46/61 x 26 cm). The 18 inch unit has a hanging weight of 3.3 lb (1.5 kg), while the 24 inch model hangs at 4.6 lb (2.1 kg).
Though the Soundlazer VR system promises to immerse listeners in a personal all-around sound zone, Haberkern does say that if you really up the source volume, others in the room or office may be able to hear some sound escaping. He believes that this "background noise" won't be sufficient to distract others in the vicinity and your colleagues or fellow housemates will have no idea how loud your music really is.
On the other hand, if office or room chatter and clatter bothers you, you can send your own calming sounds through the system to help mask unpleasant noises around you.
Soundlazer is also making a desktop model called the Junior available. It sports the same driver technology as the overhead units, but has dimensions of 10 x 5 x 6.3 in (25.4 x 12.7 x 16 cm) and tips the scales at 2.6 lb (1.2 kg). It also has a smaller two channel 3 watt amp, delivers a frequency response of 300 Hz - 20 kHz and includes swivel beam adjustment.
As with previous projects, Soundlazer has turned to Kickstarter to bring the VR models to market. Pledge levels for the VR Junior start at US$169, while a full-sized VR unit starts at $209. If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in October. You can see the pitch video below.