Brand Focus: Arnaud Laborie of Trinnov Audio
Arnaud Laborie is president and general manager of France-based audio manufacturer Trinnov Audio, a company he started with two friends right after he finished university. A childhood fascination with sounds and pictures led him to study electronics, computer science and signal processing that culminated with Laborie finishing his studies at the IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic / Music) research lab, which was working on 3D audio as early as 2000. This experience inspired him to establish the Immersive Sound project, which would become Trinnov Audio in 2003.
“Initially it started as a pure research project but the results were so promising that we decided to establish a company: Trinnov,” Laborie says. “Our initiative has been supported by the research department of the French government with an innovation award and, probably more important, a generous seed funding. As early as 2001 we were pioneering in the field of 3D immersive audio with the world-first high-spatial-resolution end-to-end audio chain from 3D-microphone to 3D-processing to scalable 3D-reproduction over arbitrary loudspeaker arrangements to reproduce all directions including height.”
Laborie speaks with HiddenWires about Trinnov Audio’s evolution and what the company is up to next in the home cinema audio space.
Trinnov was created in 2003. What about that time period made it ideal for a company focusing on 3D innovation to open its doors?
Back in 2000, most of the audio industry was focusing on signal processing with the goal of improving the quality of the audio signals. The outcome was the introduction of high resolution with 24/192k PCM or DSD. At Trinnov, our intuition was that any further technical improvement beyond this point (384k or 768k) would not translate to an audible benefit, even for the most talented sound engineers or the most discerning audiophiles. On the other hand, spatial audio was still very poor, providing huge potential for improvements that any listener can perceive. At this time the topic of spatial audio gained increased interest in the scientific community, especially in France with France Télécom and IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic / Music). That context made it ideal for a company to start research in the field of immersive audio but the decision was mainly made out of personal interest. It was a truly exciting time as everything needed to be built from the deepest scientific foundations: translating the signal processing toolbox to the new field of spatial-audio processing.
Besides, though it was ideal to start research at that time, it was nevertheless complicated to start a business with a focus on 3D Sound only. Trinnov really started to grow as a business from 2005 onwards by applying our 3D audio expertise to improve multichannel audio with our speaker position remapping technology and our Optimizer acoustic correction technology.
What is Trinnov’s main market focus? How do you see the company changing that landscape?
Regardless of markets, our main focus is to develop innovative technologies that serve high performance audio across a wide range of audio applications. To fulfill that goal, almost half of our team members are engineers and we do manufacture all our products in France to maintain the highest possible quality. We do have a consumer product line but also dedicated products for studios and commercial cinemas, which make Trinnov quite a unique company in the high-end audio market.
What also distinguish Trinnov is that we develop almost everything in-house from the mechanical design to the electronics and audio processing technologies. From that perspective, I believe the Altitude32, with its disruptive intel-based platform, may already have changed the AV pre-processor landscape.
Trinnov’s luxury home cinema processors, Altitude32, have been a success. How does the line work to bring out the best in home-based cinemas?
Indeed, the Altitude32 has been very well-received all around the globe. Its high-end look and feel and very high-level audio performance appealed to both home theater enthusiasts and audiophiles. But more importantly, it has been legitimately perceived as a safe investment thanks to its so far unseen upgradability. Based on its success, we are tempted to think that people had been waiting for such a product for quite some time.
From a practical point of view, home cinema installers response has also been fantastic. The Altitude32 can deliver up to 32 individual speaker feeds, includes up to 4-way active cross-overs and supports multiple subwoofers with state-of-the-art loudspeaker/room optimization available on every channel. What the Altitude32 means for installers is unprecedented flexibility in terms of design and a solution to drive and control their system optimally, irrespective of the room size, speaker layout and speaker type. Our patented loudspeaker remapping technology also makes it easier for projects with strong architectural constraints.
The Altitude32 also makes a substantial difference with immersive sound, which is almost a standard specification now. Indeed, immersive sound does not only bring elevation with height speakers, it also provides more spatial resolution and the ability for a family to get a more consistent and enjoyable experience. Provided that enough discrete channels and objects can be handled by the processor, immersive sound does ensure greater sound to picture coherence across a larger area.
The Altitude32 is significantly ahead of the game in that regards. It fundamentally is the only processor capable of decoding more than 16 discrete channels, which is necessary above a certain room size. Furthermore, the Altitude32 handles the different formats seamlessly so that speakers are being used optimally without any action required from the user.
What do you see as the blind spots in the current presentation of 3D audio? How can those problems be solved? What should integrators be considering when installing such a system?
The blind spot is obviously the incompatibility between the various 3D audio formats. This is a new problem, specific to immersive 3D audio which is unfortunately overlooked by custom installers and manufacturers. Eighteen months ago, at the time of 7.1 multichannel audio, the speaker layout was format agnostic. Installers had to place speakers according to well established guideline and any available content (Dolby, DTS, MPEG…) could be played. The new age of 3D audio introduces a major paradigm shift in which each format recommends a specific and incompatible speaker layout.
At Trinnov, we anticipated this problem 10 years ago with our remapping technology that allows to retain the original 3D sound image — meaning the accurate position of each virtual source within the 3D soundscape — when played over an arbitrary speaker positions. This technology was originally proposed to offer flexible speaker positions and facilitate the adoption of multichannel audio in living rooms. Today this technology has been adapted to solve the 3D format interoperability: each 3D format can be mapped to the actual speaker layout.
However, even with 3D remapping some speaker layouts are more capable than others to reproduce accurate 3D images over a wide listening area. This is why Trinnov established as early as mid-2014 loudspeaker layout recommendations that achieve the best compatibility between the various formats considering the theoretical position of each speaker along with additional considerations such as the actual view angle, the sound-to-picture coherence, the head clearance and architectural constraints. These recommendations represent a significant contribution of a new CEDIA White Paper for Immersive Audio room design that will be published in early 2016.
These high technology tools allow seamless and optimal 3D audio reproduction of any content without any action from the end user. It contrasts with the poor and un practical implementation found in most products where the user is required to switch from a format to another (only 18 month ago, would have people been okay to take a look at the Blu-ray cover to know whether they were playing DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby True HD to later select the right setup on the processor?).
2015 saw Trinnov embracing all three of the 3D audio format players—Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, and DTS:X—at major trade shows via extensive demos. What do you see as the next steps for this new and evolving category in custom integration and what role do you see Trinnov having in shaping how the technology develops?
The immediate and obvious step for Trinnov is to propose amplifiers to come with the Altitude32. Later Trinnov will continue to embrace the evolution of 3D audio formats such as MPEG-H 3D, the evolutions of Auro and DTS:X toward higher channel count and possibly the new SMPTE format for cinema playback of immersive audio. Trinnov will continue to improve its proprietary technologies to achieve 3D formats interoperability and optimal acoustic reproduction. We can anticipate that speaker manufacturers will develop new ranges of dedicated speakers, probably much more compact but requiring more advanced bass management. This may open a road toward higher speaker count but at this point it is probably science fiction – even though we start to see some inquiries. All these exciting innovations illustrate the beauty of the Altitude32 architecture where just a simple software upgrade is required.