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Five is magic number for Active Audio

A 500 per cent increase in turnover in five years, a contract to install Sagitone into 500 SNCF stations, and the unveiling of a fifth StepArray model make for a busy time, discovers Paul Watson

A 500% increase in turnover in five years, a contract to install Sagitone into 500 SNCF stations, and the unveiling of a fifth StepArray model make for a busy time, discovers Paul Watson

Active by name, active by nature. The French company, formed in 2002 by Xavier Meynial, mainly specialises in DSP columns, and has quintupled its turnover since 2005. The Nantes-based operation now looks set to take a large slice of the French railway market with its new innovative sound guidance system Sagitone, which is focused on helping the visually impaired access public places.

Sagitone is set up so that information is projected clearly and separately. It has been created with SNCF to satisfy train stations’ specific needs and is protected by its patent under the Audio Arrow name (ownership remains with Active Audio).

A universal remote system activates an audio beacon and messages are dispatched across Ethernet; these messages can be loaded into the beacon in MP3 or WAV format. Thanks to the Active Gain Control function, the sound level broadcast by the audio beacon can be adjusted to the ambient noise.

The audio beacon has two different functions: localisation, where they are positioned above entry doors, cash registers and service counters – they issue the name of the place or service; and orientation (or Audio Arrows), where the beacons can be used together in a group of four or five, each with a different directional message assigned to it.

“This product has many innovations and is in accordance with the French standard NFS32-002, which defined the frequency and the coding system of the remote controller,” says Active Audio’s communications assistant Claire Pung. “After that we knew we could take on the market; we have already equipped 40 of the 500 contracted SNCF stations and we are looking into how we can sell this in other countries.”

Also new from Active Audio is the SA400P StepArray, the fifth model in the range – and the largest (4m tall). The StepArray series was first introduced in 2005 and is a line array based on the company’s patented DGRC (Digital and Geometric Radiation Control) technology, consisting of a range of loudspeakers controlled by a DSP processor. Using DGRC decreases the number of channels needed to control their systems; multiple speakers can be controlled together rather than individually.

According to Active Audio, StepArray is the only solution on the market to locate DSP electronics and amplification outside the column, which means it is not only more secure, but lighter, easier to maintain, and can be slimmer in design.

Active’s managing director Regis Cazin explains: “The line array gives a J-shape designed to send the sound out just to the public. The idea of the electronic array is to have a different signal to every loudspeaker. In order to have the same shape, we have the DGRC patterns to cut this J-shape into steps. We then put all those steps on the same vertical line so we have fewer channels to worry about; that’s the reason why we can have the electronics outside of the column.”

The target market for the StepArray is vast. Depending on the size of the column (they range from 1-4m high) they can accommodate small to medium length spaces such as classrooms, conference halls and lecture theatres, as well as large plane volumes such as airports and railway stations.

Eight SA250P columns have been installed in the SNCF train station in Montparnasse, Paris. Two of the smaller SA180P columns feature in a conference room in Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum; and many universities and houses of worship – including Nanterre and La Sorbonne Universities in Paris and St Pierre Church in Olonne – have also been fitted with StepArray systems.

According to Cazin, the SA400P will open new doors for the StepArray line, providing enough coverage to cope with even larger applications such as arenas and stadiums. He also believes Sagitone has the potential to go huge. With distribution now secured in China, India and Korea as well as Europe, 2010 is expected to be another bumper year for growth.