To get a sense of how HARMAN is transforming the in-car experience through audio for our September focus on design, we sat down with Senior Engineer, Chris Trestain to tell us more about his work developing Virtual Venues, a car audio technology that replicates the acoustic design of famous venues. Virtual Venues was made available as part of HARMAN’s Summit Car Audio platform launched at CES 2016.
As an acoustic engineer, do you consider yourself a designer of sorts?
Although I started at HARMAN as an acoustic systems engineer, I’m now working on our Epic Experience team, an exciting new group at HARMAN that is in charge of designing innovative new automotive concepts and figuring out how best to bring them to the market. In this role, I’m always thinking about designing the future in-cabin experience and looking at it from a big picture, user experience point of view. The belief that the look and feel of our car audio technology is just as important as how it sounds drives everything our team does.
As someone who was instrumental in the development of HARMAN’s Virtual Venues technology, how would you describe the feature to someone shopping for a new car?
Virtual Venues essentially allows us to transform the car into another space. It makes you feel as if you are anywhere you want to be listening to that music. So if you’re listening to Miles Davis, you could have your car sound like the inside of some little underground jazz club in New York City, for example. Or a KISS track can have the same big, enveloping sound quality as an open air stadium arena. And it’s not just the reverb of the music that is affected; the whole environment inside the car has been transformed to sound like the venue. So if you snapped your fingers or said something aloud, it would reflect the acoustics of that particular venue. People crave this experience – they want to feel more relaxed and enjoy their time in the car, especially when they’re sitting in traffic on their commute or whatever it may be.
What kind of approach does HARMAN take to design? What does the process look like?
We have some teams that are always working on new algorithms and concepts that they then bring the EPIC Experience team, which is headed up by Chris Ludwig. With him, we decide if it’s something we can apply to the vehicle and most importantly, if it will translate to consumer value.
The design process is a constant brainstorm where we’re asking ourselves, “what if?” and “how can technology add to this experience?” the entire time, with the aim of creating the ultimate experience for people that pushes the boundaries of what’s currently thought to be possible or expected.
What role did you play in the development of this technology?
I was deeply involved with Virtual Venues, from the initial brainstorming sessions and figuring out how we can apply the technology to the unique environment of a vehicle, to actually designing the system and figuring out how to connect the pieces. I was fortunate to have collaborated with some of HARMAN’s amazing Lexicon engineers like Jim Pennock. In the final stages, a lot of it comes down to testing and tuning of the system, to sitting in the vehicle and making sure it sounds good, which I spent a lot of time doing with my colleague Jason Choi.
I was also involved in developing the presentation and demo tool for Virtual Venues within the Summit Car Audio platform, which we debuted at CES last January. Having high impact demos is really important to us at HARMAN.
Can you explain a little more about the technology behind Virtual Venues? How does it take the acoustics associated with a particular design of a physical space and translate it to the interior architecture of a vehicle?
We worked with the Lexicon team to leverage an original algorithm that Lexicon’s Professional Solutions actually employs to help bands and musical artists recreate a particular sound quality so they are able to play their best across different environments and venues. When applied to the car, we can tune the vehicle to match any venue through this software in combination with speaker size, placement, etc. To translate the acoustic quality, we can actually go into any venue and measure the impulse response of the space. We place microphones in various locations and use the data from audio pickup to map it to the car audio system.
That’s incredible! From someone who has actually sat in a car and experienced Virtual Venues in action, let me say that it really does transport you to where you want to be, completely immersed in that music.
Thank you! It was a fascinating project to be a part of and I’m proud to have worked with such talented designers and engineers to bring Virtual Venues to market.
Chris Trestain is a Senior UX/Acoustic Engineer on the new EPIC experience team at HARMAN. Before joining the company, he worked as a freelance recording engineer for 8 years. Chris received his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Outside of work, he enjoys playing guitar and going to concerts and live sporting events as much as possible.