Brand Focus: Origin Acoustics's Jeremy Burkhardt
A little more than a year ago, loudspeaker manufacturer Origin Acoustics arrived on the custom integration scene, at the same time signaling the return of one of the industry’s most recognisable figures, Jeremy Burkhardt.
Previously the creative brain behind the popular SpeakerCraft brand, Burkhardt “retired” in 2012, but few of us thought he would remain so for long. With Origin Acoustics having taken its first bow in the EMEA market at ISE earlier this year, Burkhardt talked with HiddenWires about how the brand came to fruition and what dealers are telling him about how they are pitching the new line to their clients.
HW: You have been in the residential AV business since you were a teenager and have made historical and noteworthy contributions to the evolution of the loudspeaker, most prominently in the creation of the SpeakerCraft brand and now with the year-old company, Origin Acoustics. What is the most significant thing you have learned while working in custom home integration?
Jeremy Burkhardt: When I started in the industry Ken Humphries, Ed Haase partners at SpeakerCraft and now Origin Acoustics had just invented the first in-wall speaker, and we had no idea that the acceptance would be tens of millions of speaker sold across our 30-year careers. We were just excited that the world had embraced the idea of eliminating box speakers all over the home. As time went by we learned that home owners and designers wanted sound equal to that of floor-standing speakers with a more discrete aesthetic and this lead us to invent several new concepts to get the sound to the listening area regardless of room placement of the speakers. This began with the pivoting tweeter, then the pivoting woofer and now with the fully pivoting loudspeakers we have in the Director Collection. This new technology can be secretly hidden away in the ceiling up to 17 feet from the listener and still provide flat frequency response and tight bass to the listener. These inventions advanced the industry in a few significant ways. Home Theater is now easily accomplished in the ceiling, Dolby Atmos has opened a door for our new products since you can pivot and direct the entire speaker in an infinite amount of directions to achieve a diffused or focused sound. The other exciting breakthrough is that integrators are starting to use in-ceiling speakers with high quality amplifiers for critical listening with lossless audio formats, which is a very exciting breakthrough in thought process.
You “retired” from SpeakerCraft in 2012 under stressful, and what became later, public circumstances. You have now returned to the industry with a brand new loudspeaker company that is doing healthy business. In the midst of the storm, how did you find time to rethink and remodel the concept of the in-wall speaker? What was that R&D process like for you and the Origin Acoustics team?
When I decided to “retire” from SpeakerCraft after 20-plus years it was the best decision I had ever made. When you’re a relentless entrepreneur you always want to spend aggressively on new products and technologies. I did all I could to advance the industry in the corporate structure I had committed to work within when I sold SpeakerCraft. The circumstances actually were not stressful; I choose to leave and tried to chill out on the beach. After six months I got restless and began searching to buy a new company. I was deep in the acquisition mode when Ed Haase SpeakerCraft’s past CEO contacted me and we began discussing what we could do to change the industry again. We contacted Ken Humphries SpeakerCraft’s first CEO and Head Engineer and the three of us spent a few weeks discussing “what if scenarios”. We sat three of the finest competitive speakers on the table and started identifying problems. We identified four problems with architectural speakers.
These questions became the foundation for our engineering efforts. Over the course of the year, Ken invented and patented a new tweeter to fix dispersion; the three of us defined and invented Director Technology, which allows the entire speaker to Direct the sound, which is patent pending. We also invented two new mounting systems: Zip-Clip, which is like a zip tie and allows the installer to simply slide the spring clip down the rail and attach to the drywall without tools. Then we invented Spring-Lock, which is a system that we use on our rectangular speakers that automatically springs and locks the mounting system in place with the use of just your finger, patent pending. These new mounting systems made the overall size of the speakers smaller so we were able to use larger woofers in a smaller space thus helping to solve the bass dilemma the industry has had. Again, by making the speakers smaller and by making a new finer perforation grill material we advanced the minimal aesthetics of the speakers and made a more discrete appearance.
These inventions have allowed Origin to completely stand out from the hundreds of speakers in the market. We chose to provide the most discerning solution for installers and listeners when there isn’t a constrained budget. Having the most expensive in-ceiling speakers in the market is a big responsibility, as we must push what is possible we compete with finely made cabinet speakers. I think we have a good start at changing industry opinions and expectations.
- Installation time and if we could make a truly tool less system to save installers man-hours and make the install more secure.
- Sound Dispersion so that architectural speakers could be used for high-end theaters and critical listening.
- Lack of bass response from architectural speakers.
- Aesthetics and improving the overall look of the speaker in the room.
What kind of feedback are you receiving from your EMEA-based dealers and integrators about Origin Acoustics? How are they pitching the brand to their custom integration clients?
I had a dealer from France just tell me that selling Origin was the easiest thing ever. He said, "I tell the customer that Origin invented the in-wall speaker over 30 years ago and that the new product is from the minds of those that created the category. I let them hear them and I ask how many they want to buy?” Others have thanked us for providing far more upgrade opportunities in selling finer amplifiers and electronics.
I write this in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris having just spent the week in France and England and am in route to Germany, Austria, Poland and Italy. I’ve met with several hundred dealers this past week and the acceptance of this new direction has been outstanding. It’s insanely rewarding that when you gamble with a new product direction and spend your life savings, give everything you and you team know so far in terms of knowledge and experience and invest it all in one set of ideas and then the people you designed it for, Love It! That’s a feeling that keeps us getting up everyday and trying harder to advance the industry.
You are well known for bringing flair and music to CEDIA’s annual expo in the US. Many of us will descend on Dallas this coming October. Any hints about what kind of fireworks Origin Acoustics will bring to the show floor this year?
We like the nightlife and we like to boogie, Dallas is where we first launched SpeakerCraft in 1994 and I promise we will have a party to remember!
Llanor Alleyne is the Editor of HiddenWires.