A decent sound system is highly essential to putting on a party or musical event.
And the London based company, Funktion One, are pushing ahead when it comes to that.
But it’s hardly surprising that Funktion One Sound Systems can be found in some of the best clubs in the world. Berghain in Berlin, Space in Ibiza, Cielo in New York, just to name a few.
Slices / Electronic Beats talked with Funktion One visionary Tony Andrew at the Frankfurt Music Fair while he was giving a presentation on Funktion one. A perfect canditate for this episode of Tech Talk.
What exactly is Funktion One?
Well, it is a company dedicated to loudspeakers in particular, but we are very concerned with everything in the audio chain. Because the rest of the audio chain affects the way our speakers sound. But primalary we are about loudspeakers and we have, shall we say, methods and approaches quite different from pretty well everybody else in the world.
What is the main difference?
I would say in the high-mid frequencies it’s smoother. It can be loud and strong and lots of impact, but very loud distortion.
All the other devices use a metallic compression driver, so the thing that is making the sound is actually made out of metal and we make this frequency band with loudspeakers lined with paper. Paper is a much more organic or friendly material and the speed of sound in the material is closer to what it is in air. So the transition from the diafome into the air is a lot smoother. I mean, everybody knows what a dustpan sounds like, a metallic drum or an oil drum – it is not a great sound. Whereas organic things… I mean there are steel guitars but most of the classical instruments tend to be made out of wood. It’s something we like, and paper is only one step removed from wood, really.
Typically our speakers are flat, there is no processing. It’s not a reason, they’re natural, so they don‘t have to be corrected. We will spend a lot of time getting the speaker and the wave guide together to produce a naturally flat sound. I don’t think… No other manufacturer now makes loudspeakers without equliziation but then again, I come from a long time ago when people didn’t have DSP, in fact the EQ had just been invented, analogy EQ, when I started, so that was how you had to do it.
You had to make flat speakers because there was no alternative. And I’ve always had that attitude, and they’re saying, in a way, that if you take a graphic equalizer, because you know the DSP will give you that, and you can boost this frequency and cut that frequency.
But why ist the thing not even in the first place? If you have a cancellation and you start to put more energy, so a cancellation will give you a hole and you start to put more energy into the hole, all you get is a bigger Argument.
It’s this ridiculous.
Quite frankly, the rest of the manufacturers I have no respect; very few – one or two maybe, but generally speaking I think they’re not helping the situation. They’re misinforming the public, it’s all marketing; it’s just like politics; it’s been. And the outcome of all this is the sound in the world generally is going down. Consense is they used to be better 25 years ago then they are today, I’m afraid.
Another important thing is that it’s very efficient, that is part of the reason people like it; it’s very clean. You get a lot of sound for the minimum of amplyfier electricity, and this means that all the componentries are not under stress, so, you know, it’s relaxed, it does it easily, it’s effortless. People often use use this word with our system, that it’s effortless.
So a thing to mention is that it has a very good conversion of electrical energy into accoustic energy, probably the best in the business because we think this is… we’ve always thought that was obviously a good thing to go for. It’s like a petrol engine, you know, they‘re typically 25-30% efficient. Well, you get another 10% on this and it’s all over the place.
Sound systems are about the same. The speakers in your laptop are about 1% efficient, the speakers in the front room maybe 2 or 3%. We get as far as maybe 30% but 100 pure Watts of sound is actually enough to kill you.
A thing that concerns me greatly is the decline in audio standards generally. The digital world is utterly complete rubbish, it actually made it worse. We are now stuck with this dreadful MP3 which most of the DJs use. It’s not real sound, it’s –if you like- it’s a toy, it’s not professional. I can’t believe everybody’s using it.
A lot of the sound systems out there today are so bad you can’t even tell the difference. But you can on ours.
We always try to talk to the club owners and say, look – tell the DJ to use wave files.
Minimum CD quality.
To be honest, that’s not necessarily good enough for the scope of human perception. In other words, anything less than what we are capable of saving is an insult, actually. And MP3’s are a very big insult, I’d say. So, in terms of digital, if you wanna talk numbers – the minimum we need I’d say would be 24 BIT depth and 96 Kilohertz. Now, a CD is 16 BIT 44.1, so, even. Although it’s just about acceptable, it’s still not… doesn’t address what the human audio system, you know, the perception is capable of discerning.
Well, obviously, all the links in the chain play a roll in the audio quality, and in fact the weakest link in the chain will be the level that the audio quality can get to – sadly, but it’s always been that way. In HIFI world right back to the 50s and 60s, that was understood that it can only be as good as the worst thing in the system. And sad to say, a lot of times the worst thing in the system is what the DJ brings.
Sorry to say this, but not only that they’re using MP3s which I already mentioned, but just the general mixing standards, you know, the overload things that don’t run things at a nice optimum level, to get audio from one place to another and keep its integrity is actually a skilled job, and needs some sensitivity.
And with all the digital machinery and the programs that are available there are all kinds of people who are definitely not sensitive and who are not necessarily even musical now making music. I used to think it was a good thing. These days I’m questioning.
It would be lovely if life was completely simple.
If you have a Funktion One sound system, then everything’s gonna be perfect, but actually it’s not that simple. There are the factors.
We’ve already been mentioning the source material and the chain of shall we say the mixer, the amplifyer, the… So the chain goes, the DJ, the mixer, the crossover, the amplifyers, the loudspeakers. So that’s the order of the chain.
And there are very few good DJ mixers in the world, there are some favorites that everybody likes to use, but frankly – they’re not very good. I’ve yet to hear a good mass-market DJ mixer, to be honest. They always compromise the sound.
But beyond that there’s actually the venue itself, the room you’re in and its accoustic properties, and accoustic properties of a room have a lot to do with the kind of surfaces and you know, it would be nice to have soft furnishings everywhere and carpet on the floor because that’s impractical. But there is a big difference between, shall we say, industrial vinyl floor and a concrete or tile floor.
We’ve actually done installations in the Far East in particular, where the floor’s got bathroom tiles on it. Well, what does it sound like? It sounds like a bathroom of course. It’s incredible how architects paid no attention to the accoustic properties of what they’re doing, and just – if there are any architects happen to see this: I would like to point out, the human audio system can discern information down to 15 to 20 millionth of a second, which is 2000 times more defined than the visual sense, which only needs 30 frames per second to believe there’s a continuum. If you go something slower than 15 millionth of a second, the air can sort it out, and that’s how it does it.
Why do you think we got 360 degree perception in audio that never switches off?
So, if you find yourself being tired and irritable – consider the environment you’re in; if you’re in one of these modern wine bars; they actually sound like a large bathroom, quite a lot of them. Then if you’ve been in there for a few hours, your brain is constantly trying to unscramble all the information. While this uses a lot of processing power, and it tires you out. And listening to a bad sound system will tire you out. And so, when sound is flat, even and effortless, it does on the part of the person. And possibly this is why – another reason that people like Funktion One.
If the speaker is good, then you can put any kind of music through it , there’s nothing different about the frequenzies that are used, it’s just the way they’re used; you know, the spectrum is still the spectrum. It’s like saying: well, we have a spectrum of colors and you can use them to paint any kind of picture, but they’re all the same colors in in the end, but very different pictures.
I mean, it’s the same thing with an audio, but people try to make it crazy. I think what they’re really saying is: the problems of a particular speaker aren’t so noticable with a certain kind of music. It would be fair to say that with the majority of dance music you need to use extra bass, because people enjoy bass.
One of the reasons for the kind of high quality and getting the sound as translucent as possible is that it has a very … when it’s clean and clear and it’s nicely produced and you’ve got a huge landscape of sound in front of you, it’s very uplifting or even a spiritual experience and I think this is very, very important, and it’s a part of the music and the sound.
Maybe there was more awareness of … you know, 30 years ago.
You know, I like to remember what Shakespeare said, which is that music is the fruit of love; worth remembering.