Carving out great sound

Four different hand-crafted speakers are displayed with a prototype Woofer placed in between the group. Reagan Zimmerman photo

by Reagan Zimmerman

News Flash!

Internationally acclaimed speakers are being produced in your backyard!

Princeton Audio took home third place at the 2014 International Design Awards in Los Angeles with its handmade wooden speaker.

Of all the cities in the world, Mike and Beth Pelland chose Princeton to foster their company, Princeton Audio.

After moving here in 2006, Mike decided he wanted to create products for himself instead of other people, as he had in a past product-development position for 18 years.

He built a company and became the CEO of Princeton Audio.

Three years ago, Mike had a dream. That dream was the interface.

“I actually came up with an idea of being able to plug into the back of these [speakers] for when Wi-Fi or Bluetooth 5 comes out,” he said. “You are going to be able to adjust and upgrade.”

The idea for the interface came first, then Mike created the first speaker a few months later.

It has taken three years, but the patent for the interface was issued on May 23.

When starting the business, Mike turned his back on product development, which taught him how to create and sell a product. He decided to take the unorthodox path.

Instead of making huge profit off cheap materials, like he was taught to do, Mike created a company where quality comes first and money comes second.

Princeton Audio special orders handmade tonewood, Bluetooth speakers that are made in the building.

The company operates from two floors of a building located at 544 West Water St.

The first floor houses the marketing team offices, while the second floor is the shop.

Inside, manufacturing begins by selecting the correct tonewood needed for the order, sanding it and sending it off to the finisher to cover it in finish. The speakers are then given back to the shop and everything from the exterior hardware to the interior boards are assembled onto or into the speaker.

From there, every speaker is tested and shipped.

The building process takes six weeks.

Most of the creation process, including programming the sound boards, happens inside the workshop.

One of the only aspects that takes place outside of the building is the gathering of materials, which are mostly bought locally to ensure quality.

“We are very committed to the area, Princeton, and making a local product,” said Beth, the company’s co-founder.

Princeton Audio’s speakers are completely customizable.

“If you brought in anything and showed it to us, we could match it,” Beth said. “We had someone bring in a cello and we custom made one to match the cello.”

Even organizations such as Oshkosh Truck have ordered custom-made speakers from the company.

Prices vary from $385 to the most expensive speaker, which is still being developed, costing $1,200.

The variation depends on the level of customization.

The first portion of customization is choosing the desired tone wood.

At the shop, four main types of tone wood are used for production: maple, walnut, mahogany and cherry.

Special ordered wood can be used as well.

“When we picked woods, we picked woods that have been in the musical industry for the past century,” said Andrew Lahnert, the marketing manager at Princeton Audio for almost a year and a half.

Jack Kallio, one of the assembly men, explained  the difference between a few of the woods.

“They all sound a bit different because of the different tonal qualities of the wood,” Kallio said. “Maple is a really hard wood, so the sound just bounces in there quite a bit; whereas the mahogany is softer and has a porousness to it, so it resonates differently.”

Black walnut and maple are denser than cherry and mahogany. The heavier woods get higher highs (treble) and lower lows (base), whereas the lighter woods are more focused on the middle.

“Each of the differences are small, but distinct. I’d describe them [as] nuances,” Lehnert said.

The tone of the wood is only half of what makes the speakers so different.

The structure is built in the form of an isosceles triangle to minimize parallel surfaces.

“When there is a rectangle with two sound waves coming at each other, that is called a standing wave,” Lehnert said, explaining what parallel surfaces are. “Those waves cancel so the listener is unable to hear them.

Minimizing the parallel surfaces decreases the waves ability to hit each other.”

The amount of transducers — or speakers — also matters.

“Having one [transducer] means that the air in here is moved by one unit. It is clean,” Lehnert said. “When you have four to six, typically done in the industry to maximize volume from a smaller unit, [it makes] the sound muddy.

“The differences are subtle, but when you start trying to replicate it live, in-person experiences, which is what music is all about, that is the essence. From start to finish, there is a lot of work put into making speakers that are never obsolete.”

With the new patent interface, Beth doesn’t think the speaker will ever end up in a landfill. Mike, meanwhile, believes their company can transform the audio industry.

“We are doing things a lot differently than everybody else and we are plowing forward at a rapid pace,” he said.