New Audio Entrants Come From Varied Backgrounds

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New blood is pulsing into the consumer-audio industry from some unexpected places.

Mohu is entering the business after having developed military-vehicle antennas that detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It later adapted that technology to the consumer electronics market with the launch of paper-thin Leaf HDTV antennas.

For its part, ODM audio company Audio Design Experts, which launched the Riva brand, traces its origins back to a concert-promotion company that staged concerts for such music icons as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Rod Stewart.

Both companies launched their consumer-audio efforts with portable speaker systems, but Audio Design Experts is also developing soundbars and wireless multiroom Wi- Fi speakers. Mohu is also contemplating an expansion beyond portable speakers.

Mohu got its start in 2009 as a military contractor making flat antennas that could be integrated into a military vehicle’s mudflaps to detect IEDs. It adapted that technology to the consumer market in March 2011, when it launched its first paperthin Leaf HDTV antenna through Amazon.

Now Mohu is taking the “be set free” philosophy behind its cordcutting over-air HDTV antennas to the audio market with the launch of a high-performance boom-box-like portable speaker with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. “You can take your music with you. You don’t have to be tethered to an electrical outlet,” said Dr. Mark Buff, Mohu’s founder and CEO.

Buff explained the addition of audio to Mohu’s line by saying management “has a passion for high-quality sound and music.” And, he added, “We like to build products we like to have.”

The company’s $499-MAP BeBox single-chassis Android-powered stereo speaker features color touchscreen, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi streaming of downloadable music apps, and playback of music from USB sticks, memory cards, and embedded memory. It will be available from Mohu’s online store on Nov. 23 followed by sales through Amazon and then, likely in 2016, through brick-and-mortar retailers, Buff said.

Mohu’s Leaf antennas are sold by Best Buy, Walmart, Crutchfield, Fry’s, Amazon, B&H, AAFES, Conn’s, Nebraska Furniture Mart and about 65 regional retailers.

BeBox is Mohu’s first audio product but might not be the company’s last. “If this gets the reception we expect it to get, we’ll drive down that path [of launching more audio products] in an aggressive fashion with not me-too products,” Buff said.

To differentiate its first audio product, the company packed a 100-watt Class D amp, three-way speaker system, and large eight-hour 16,000 mAh rechargeable into a hefty 13- by 19- by 5-inch chassis. Frequency response is 40Hz to 20kHz.

The 14-pound speaker is topped by a 7-inch 1,024 by 600 touchscreen that controls system functions and accesses the Google Play store. Downloaded music apps can be used to stream online music when the speaker is connected to a home’s Wi-Fi network. Outside of Wi-Fi range, the speaker streams Bluetooth music.

The device also plays music stored in multiple formats in internal 16GB memory, on MicroSD cards with up to 128GB storage and on USB sticks. The speaker decodes AAC, AAC+, AAC ELD, Enhanced AAC, MP3, MIDI, Vorbis and PCM/Wave. It also has a 3.5mm analog input.

Though its primary use case is sharing music, the speaker also streams Internet video through Google Play’s downloadable video apps for viewing online video on its 7-inch display or on an HDMI-connected TV.

Other features include quad-core CPU, Android 4.4.4 OS, 6.5-inch long-throw woofer, two 3-inch midrange drivers and two 0.75-inch soft-dome tweeters.

For its part, Audio Design Experts opened its doors in October 2012 as an ODM designer of home- and pro-audio speakers, and it has high hopes for its fledgling Riva Audio consumer brand.

Founded by former executives of OEM-speaker maker AuraSound, the company is expanding its selection of branded audio products with the launch of its second portable high-performance Bluetooth speaker. The company also plans at CES to show concept prototypes of the first Riva-brand sound-bars and wireless multi-room-audio speakers.

Audio Design Experts’ principals include Donald North, president and chief engineer, and Rikki Farr, chairman and chief creative officer.

Farr was a concert promoter going back to the 1960s for such musicians as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Bob Marley, Miles Davis and others. He also built touring speakers for the concerts. He later started a company that designed aftermarket computer speakers and PC-bundled computer speakers. He also launched the Diamond Car Audio brand of aftermarket car speakers, later selling it to Cerwin-Vega. He also designed some of the first soundbars in the mid-2000s. In 2010, his computer- speaker company was purchased by AuraSound.

North was AuraSound’s engineering VP before moving to Audio Design Experts. Before that, he was with Harman Multimedia and Boston Acoustics.

Having built a dealer base for their first Riva-branded Bluetooth speaker, Farr and North have started shipping their second Riva Bluetooth speaker, but they aren’t stopping there. Details of their first soundbars and wireless multiroom-audio speakers will be revealed during CES.

Before launching its first Riva-brand Bluetooth speaker in December 2014, the company designed transducers for consumer hi-fi speakers and studio monitors for other companies. It has also designed complete soundbars for other companies.

Their first Riva-brand product, the $349 Riva Turbo X portable Bluetooth speaker, is available through such retailers as Abt, BestBuy.com, Crutchfield, Worldwide Stereo, Huppins and smaller independents. This month, the company is shipping its second portable Bluetooth speaker, the $249 Riva S. It will be available at RivaAudio.com and select retailers, including Amazon, Crutchfield and BestBuy.com.

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