Digital Power Station: DSP Turns Crappy Speakers Into Honkin' Muthas

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.
This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

Jon Bon Jovi's cousin, audio engineer Tony Bongiovi has figured out a novel way to make cheap-ass speakers sound a whole lot better. His device, an unusually sophisticated equalizer he calls the Digital Power Station, originally filled a refrigerator-sized unit with its analog components.

Now he's shrunk all that down to a single digital signal processor (DSP) and stuffed it into a JVC KD-S100 car stereo, where the technology makes its debut today.

How can this possibly work?


The chip can be specifically tuned with more than 120 points of adjustment for the car in which it resides, teasing studio-quality sound out of small, cheap speakers in a noisy environment. Said Bongiovi, "It's so precise that the hatchback Ford Focus has a different tuning from the regular one."

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The chip's algorithms can also be run in software, and the technique works on inexpensive home theater speakers, too. But he said there are no plans to develop the technology beyond the car stereo market. Yet.

New chip provides high-end sound even for low-end speakers [Gulf in the Media]

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DISCUSSION

The main problem with cheap drivers is that you not only do not have a flat frequency response, but you inherently alter the frequency response curve whenever you start getting that speaker humming along ... IE if you have a piece of music with a low bass part and a high treble component — each part played seperately might sound fine, but combined they sound like crap because the speaker has more trouble reproducing the treble while it is also producing bass. Also very commonly, cheap drivers will also drop their overall output power under heavy bass. Probably everyone has heard a system where the bass is 'drowning out' the rest of the range. It's not just because its loud, but because the speaker is wasting all its energy thumping. This description is oversimplified, but hopefully you all get the idea.

A normal EQ works by flattening (or otherwise adjusting) the frequency response curve statically. With big powerful magnets and big powerful amps, this is generally sufficient, but this is almost never the case with very small and/or very cheap speakers.

So the theory is that if you can measure or estimate the frequency response curve of the speakers dynamically as they perform, you can EQ your audio dynamically to compensate boosting or attenuating various frequency bands or overall output power as needed.

It's probably in car stereos first because of a few reasons: First and foremost it's the most likely consumer-level application where you will find the source/preamp->amp->speaker setup really necessary to make this work. Secondly, the market is probably more lucrative than the cheap-pc-speaker market; and lastly, because car environments are limited in the size and number of speakers and in the amount of power they can deliver to them it's a perfect place to be selling a 'replace only the headunit; leave your factory speakers' type product.