Snake Charmers

In 2002, FiberPlex was looking to expand into the commercial market. Buddy Oliver, director of the pro audio division, developed the concept of the LightViper 1832 system, a fiber optic snake for professional audio use.
The LightViper was constructed with the philosophy of total transparency, a new concept in the world of fiber optics. Oliver explained, "We don't color it, don't try to make it better, what you put in is what you get out. And that goes for the user interface too, nothing's used to control the signal. It's used like a wire as much as possible-you plug mics in one end and get signal out the other. Most other products have a computer-controlled interface and that might be good for a mixer console or a recording deck, but a snake shouldn't have a separate laptop connected to it."

FiberPlex is finding a lot of commercial work in the church market as the demand for quality audio at an affordable price continues to rise. The ease of use with the LightViper system is a major factor. Oliver expanded, "Say that a contractor goes into a church and the gear is run by a volunteer army. The contractor has to support that equipment until they're comfortable using it. With our system, clients are able to put something in that's real simple and doesn't take a lot of training. And for contractors, it saves money because they don't have to go back and keep training."

FiberPlex has gotten great feedback from installers on the LightViper System. Since the weight of 1,000 feet of fiber is 20 pounds, contractors are saving money with the current high price of gas. And for installation purposes it's not complicated with conduit since it's about the size of a lamp cord. Oliver said, "The fact that you can pull it through conduit and get 64 channels is astounding. And from a labor standpoint, to pull a copper snake you have to pull it blunt and terminate it at one end and do some soldering. So when you factor in the labor, our systems become cheaper. A lot of our innovation is the way we package and bring it to the market."

The quality of the fiber is why more installers are switching to the LightViper systems. When sending a signal over 200 feet with copper, the loss is unacceptable. But with fiber, LightViper can run over a mile and a quarter with no loss. Audio Analysts in Colorado, an installation company that uses LightViper, contacted Oliver with a story about its use of the system. "They were using one of our systems to feed a Crown I-Tech amp and they kept having this issue where the power amps were going into a sleep mode when they were fed digitally," said Oliver. "It turned out that our system was running so quiet, as far as the noise floor was concerned, the amps didn't read anything on the input and went to sleep. It wasn't a problem because they could defeat that, but noise in audio performance is such a big deal. People don't want to pay for the labor to fix it, they just want it to sound good. It really showed how pristine the sound going through us is."
FiberPlex's roots in pro audio date back to the early 1940s. Erving Linkow, one of FiberPlex's fathers, was working for US Recording, a company that manufactured broadcast mixers as well as a brand of speakers called Pan Acoustic, which was later sold and renamed Panasonic. Pete Mizinger, another founder and the head of US Recording, left the company in the 1950s, and took over a company called Lee that manufactured analog tape decks and speakers. The tape decks were some of the first to use printed circuit motors. They also developed some of the first folded horn speakers which followed the cantinoidal curve. Jim King, one of the partners of FiberPlex, also went to work for Lee in the 1950s.

In October of 1958, Pete Mizinger and partner Al Case started a company called Versitron. Harry Oliver, Buddy Oliver's father and one of the founders of FiberPlex, came to work for Versitron in 1961. Bill Linkow, president of FiberPlex, joined Versitron in 1963. Versitron did specialty work for the government, experimenting with the new technology of fiber optics. Taking advantage of Mizinger's government contacts, Bill Linkow, Harry Oliver, Jim King, and others developed the first fiber optic transport. Utilizing the original prototype LEDs created by Dr. Baird at Texas Instruments, early fiber optic "bundles" custom-made for Versitron by Bausch & Lomb and other archaic components, Versitron's R100 had a maximum distance of about eight inches. This fiber optic isolator was designed to pass through a waveguide to carry the high level loop of a teletype machine. Versitron got the contract and entered into the new age of fiber optics. In the mid 1980s, Versitron was sold and several of the employees decided that they wanted to start a company specializing in fiber optic design and manufacturing. In 1987, FiberPlex was born.

Since then, FiberPlex has used its knowledge in the industry to solve problems for entire markets. Buddy Oliver said, "We don't see our competitors as adversaries, we really try to work with them and solve some problems in the industry. Our approach is that it's a big market and there's room for everyone. We think that working together with other companies is a better approach than trying to outdo them."