Jack Kontney /
01.20.2012
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient IEM System gains US patent

Sensaphonics has announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted a patent for its 3D Active Ambient IEM System. The patent application was originally filed over five years ago and includes a total of 50 specific claims for the 3-D system.

“It took a long time, but we are thrilled to finally have formal notification of patent protection for the 3D Active Ambient,” says Michael Santucci, Au.D., founder and president of Sensaphonics. “The mere fact that no one else has released a competitive product since its introduction in 2006 shows just how much of a challenge it was to design.”

The 3D Active Ambient incorporates a suite of technologies to achieve its goal of safely providing natural ambient sound in a sealed in-ear system. The system starts with a pair of custom IEMs, then adds embedded miniature microphones in the earpieces to pick up ambient sound, routing that binaural signal to a bodypack, where it is combined with the monitor mix at the wearer’s desired level. This allows the musician to hear full-range ambient sound with accurate tone and directionality, with both earphones inserted. Another great byproduct of this approach is that wearers can speak to each other directly without removing an earpiece.

While developed for concert musicians wishing to hear their instruments acoustically while still gaining the sound quality and hearing protection inherent in wearing custom earphones, this technology has shown interesting applications in other areas as well. Recordists on sound stages and in the field can check their record input audio against “reality” at the flip of a switch. FOH engineers can listen at safer volume levels while mixing in loud environments. And when specified with the “Record Out” option, the audio stream from the system’s embedded microphones can be sent to a recording device, literally capturing the binaural audio exactly as the wearer heard it. And when used without a direct input, the 3-D system functions as a sonically accurate, variable-level earplug.

Like most new technologies in pro audio, the 3D Active Ambient was quickly embraced by early adopters when it began shipping in 2006, followed by a steady rise to greater popularity as the word spread in the touring sound community. Despite a balky economy, annual sales of the Sensaphonics 3D system nearly doubled in 2011.

“Obviously, it’s very gratifying to see this kind of growth,” notes Santucci. “Developing the 3D was a huge commitment for us, and you never know if the market will accept your vision. But when you can make artists like Steven Tyler, Dave Matthews, and Stevie Wonder happy, you know you’re doing something right.”

The patent for the 3D Active Ambient covers the three primary challenges addressed in the development of the product. Its ambient microphones can handle sustained levels of 140dB SPL without overload or distortion. Critically, the sound quality of the ambience is truly high fidelity, with full audio bandwidth, while the binaural placement of the embedded microphones provide natural “3D” localization. Finally, the system offers user-friendly control in combining the level of ambience with the monitor mix.

With formal patent protection in place, Sensaphonics is open to licensing its 3D Active Ambient technology to appropriate partners. Interested parties are invited to demo the 3D system and meet with two of the inventors at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, Booth 6950.


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