Creative Outlet

Woven into pro audio folklore are numerous legends about the infamous "Wall of Sound" that occupied four semi trailers on tour with the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s. The 75-ton system was cobbled together from disparate sources with a unified goal-to create a distortion-free sound that simultaneously served as reinforcement for the audience and monitoring for the musicians on stage. Then, standing in the fierce wind of 26,000 watts of audio power, the band put on performances that could be heard a quarter of a mile away, and suddenly to be a part of the Wall of Sound was to be a legend.

Jim Furman was a part of that wall. In fact, the man who personified the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, was one of the first customers to acquire one of Furman's analog crossovers. Today that sale and the Grateful Dead's subsequent brand support is a part of the lore at Furman Sound, a company founded in 1974, the year of the last and greatest iteration of the Wall of Sound.

"Of course, 32 years ago, every artist and musician wanted to copy everything that the Grateful Dead did," observed Dave Keller, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Furman Sound. "So that's really how the company got its legs under it. As a result, Furman Sound started developing products for the pro audio world-primarily musicians-then it moved into live sound production and then commercial audio."

Over the years, Furman Sound has produced a wall of sound on its own, consisting of a range of products that have included crossovers, equalizers, power conditioners, pedal boards, headphone amplifiers and a wide range of other products.

Along the way, the company developed an international reputation, as bands from around the world were given the chance to see Furman Sound products in action. Soon, customer requests for 220-240-volt products for use abroad led to the creation of Furman Sound's international products division, which has fostered the development of power products that meet stringent manufacturing and performance regulations the world over. "Whether it's an environmental concern or a safety concern, international requirements are substantially more stringent than those in the U.S., and so all of our products are designed to meet those specifications," Keller stated. "For that reason, our power sequencers are the most popular in the world, with large customers like Sun Microsystems customizing them to meet their requirements internationally and domstically."

Having met such high standards for performance in a multitude of audio applications, Furman's power products recently made the leap into the world of video, where plasma displays with switch-mode power supplies are especially vulnerable to electrical transients. There once again, the protection offered by Furman's surge protection and power conditioning products created a new business opportunity for the company. "We developed our SMP+ technology for the pro division in 2003," Keller recalled, "and its substantial reliability convinced many of the pro audio guys who transitioned into the consumer market to start spec'ing us into those projects."

Just as demand on the consumer side was picking up, Furman went through a transition from the employee-owned venture that had existed since Jim Furman sold the business in the late 1990s. A retooling of the company brought Jim Bonfiglio in as CEO and president in 2004, and shortly thereafter, a Consumer Electronics division was launched.

"A number of the dealers asked if Furman would develop an entire line of home theater products ranging from the power strips all the way up to the high end reference products," Keller said. "So in 2004 they started developing the new line of home theater products, and I was brought in to head up the Consumer Electronics division as well as international and business development."

Furman launched its new line of products for the consumer electronics market at CEDIA in 2004. "Today our business is skyrocketing in the consumer electronics marketplace, which has allowed us to generate working capital to reinvest in the commercial market and the pro market," Keller reported. "In the last 18 months, Furman Sound has introduced a number of new products in those markets."

One of those products is the AR-20 Series II 20-amp voltage regulator with SMP+ technology, which was introduced at the NAMM show last month. "'Series II' signifies the redesign of an existing product with the addition of SMP+ technology," Keller explained. "We're known throughout the world for our voltage regulators, from 15-amp all the way up to 30-amp, and because power companies are not investing in clean power there are certain parts of the U.S. and the world where voltage regulation is very poor. As a result, a sudden dip or spike in voltage can cause your system to shut down or become damaged. To compensate for these conditions, our new 20-amp AR-20 Series II has our latest filtering and surge protection technology built into it."

Furman's AR-20 II accepts any input voltage from 97 volts to 141 volts and transforms it to a constant 120 volts. Voltages beyond that range may also be converted to usable levels, depending on the range variance. Rather than using motorized transformer-based technology and switch taps at uncontrolled times, which can create voltage spikes and clicks that leak into the audio, the AR-20 II compares the incoming line voltage to an extremely precise voltage reference and switches taps electronically at the zero-crossing to avoid distorting the AC waveform.

In the commercial marketplace, where clients are investing more heavily in highly sensitive video displays in addition to audio products, this protection is invaluable. "A lot of people think that transients only arrive through lightning storms, but the majority of transients actually come from equipment within a building," Keller said. "There are so many switching power supplies used today in computers-and plasmas have six or seven switching power supplies. We hear story after story from our customers just raving about the fact that our equipment shut itself down before anything else got damaged, while other equipment that wasn't connected to our products was toasted."

Kirsten Nelson is a freelance content producer who translates the expertise and passion of technologists into the vernacular of an audience curious about their creations. Nelson has written about audio and video technology in all its permutations for almost 20 years; she was the editor of SCN for 17 years. Her experience in the commercial AV and acoustics design and integration market has also led her to develop presentation programs and events for AVIXA and SCN, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate and participate in panel discussions. In addition to technology, she also writes about motorcycles—she is a MotoGP super fan.