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Ateïs Europe – steering in the right direction

Phil Ward finds a VA manufacturer using more and more high-end loudspeaker technology to get the message across.

VA/PA pioneer Ateïs Europe has been providing installed audio systems for 15 years now, with a heartland of customers in the EU – especially in transportation – and extending as far as Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Hong Kong Airport. It was originally a French live sound and video company based in Grenoble, but success in voice alarm has created a global operation with a brand new 500sqm HQ in container-friendly Rotterdam.

Manufacturing is divided between three locations: in France, Internet Protocol (IP) is driving the latest product thinking; Taiwan makes voice alarm and commercial audio systems; and China produces the lowest-cost items and accessories. Everything conforms to EN 60849 and BS 5839 Part 8 regulations, but new standards EN54 Part 16 and Part 24 have already impacted the newest products such as IDA8 and DIVA, designed for certification from the outset.

The products are built as far as possible to respond to non-proprietary signals, so that voice alarm, for example, can take priority whatever the infrastructure. Although the core networking within Ateïs products is proprietary, all Ateïs devices are currently being converted with an IP interface to route data and audio. This will soon be followed by Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to cover Wide Area Networks from site to site.
 “Voice over IP is the most transparent and widely accepted protocol,” says international sales & marketing manager Albert Van der Hout, “with Skype and other internet-based telephones. Once you use SIP you save a fortune in cabling. We use a special version of the Speex MP3 compression algorithm, which brings down the bit rate to an absolute minimum and makes the connection perfectly acceptable for speech.”
 Ateïs’s latest market focus is billed as ‘Intelligent Acoustic Solutions’, referring to sound reinforcement of an environmentally sensitive nature. These products are based on a third-party technology called Messenger, acquired in 2007 from established Dutch developer Hacousto and addressing beam steerage – the ORBIT range of steerable line arrays was officially launched at the company’s first ever ISE Europe exhibition in February. 
 “The touring guys are used to acoustically climatised spaces, with reverb times of below two seconds,” Van der Hout says. “[In installation], we have to cope with up to 16 seconds, and incorporate voice alarm. We’re not allowed to hang drapes or baffles or otherwise interfere with the acoustic space, so we find other means of fighting the elements. Our steerable line array directs the output exactly where it’s needed and avoids all of the reflections that excite the space.”
 ORBIT, Van der Hout believes, not only addresses core installation issues but also takes Ateïs into new markets. “ORBIT was inspired by an architectural customer who didn’t want speakers fixed to marble columns,” he recounts. “This led to a free-space, radiating design which can be adapted thanks to our cost-effective Taiwan factory. For example, we have highly architectural versions for train stations, or a huge stainless-steel tube design as in Frankfurt airport. The cost of the speaker is fractional compared with the cost of the acoustical housing.”
 Typical recent successes include the Hauptbahnhof in Zurich and the entire TGV railway line from Paris to Marseille. Meanwhile, Neil Voce’s UK subsidiary counts the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands among several high-profile contracts, so the message does appear to be loud and clear. 
 “Our Bass-Array concept has been around for a couple of years now,” Van der Hout reflects, “and I think it’s made a real difference to the standard of audio intelligibility in our installations. It’s a small, user-friendly DSP and it tackles one of the basic issues of speech and music distribution: you use line array for good highs and mids, but normal point source subs add huge amounts of energy that interfere with the array signals. That’s a strange mixture of line array and point source behaviour. Bass-Array controls the low frequencies by steering them, just as in Messenger, within 2dB over 100m of the line array signals. It’s enabled us to improve the overall sound performance in a great many installations. In Dubai, at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, the improvement was 100% just by adding Bass Array to the line array hangs and point source subs…”