You probably haven’t heard of Brane Audio yet, but trust me on this one: you will. One of my highlights at today’s CES in Las Vegas was listening to the company’s debut speaker, the Brane X, alongside several other well-known speaker brands. The founder of the company has experience in the field of high-precision magnets, and after leaving his previous company, he decided to apply this knowledge to another area where magnets are important: in loudspeakers.
The company’s first product is the $700 Brane X, which will go on sale soon. A big innovation is the proprietary Repel-Attract Driver (RAD). It uses a combination of moving and stationary magnets to create a force equal to and opposite to the force caused by large changes in air pressure in the speaker cabinet. The result is the ability to move a lot of air (and thus hit a lot of bass) in a small enclosure that the company says uses 10% of the power a conventional technology subwoofer would use.
“We have developed a new way of creating sound. In particular, we have an innovative subwoofer. It uses a technology we call “driver pull repulsion” or RAD. It uses magnetic forces to cancel out the air pressure forces that are inherent in creating a subwoofer’s low end. Using traditional technology, there is even a law – Hoffman’s law – that says that a powerful speaker cannot have deep bass and let it be compact. As the subwoofer gets smaller, the air pressure gets higher and you draw more and more power,” explains Joe Pinkerton, co-founder and CEO of Brane Audio, in an interview with TechCrunch. “By canceling this pressing force by magnetic force, it stays in its container. That is, it is enough to overcome your own inertia. This is a factor about 100 times more efficient for subwoofers. This allows us to make it one-tenth the size and draw one-tenth the power.”
You’ve already calculated, dear reader: smaller, lighter and less energy-intensive means interesting technology for portable speakers. And that’s exactly what the company has built into the Brane X. It features an 8-inch subwoofer in a portable speaker that can run on battery power for 12 hours. It also has all the other bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end portable speaker: it has Alexa, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and can run Spotify. In addition to the aforementioned bass pumping, it includes a pair of tweeters and a pair of midrange speakers, thanks to which it retains the power of stereo sound reproduction. The speaker is rated IP 5x, which means it is more resistant to rain than during a barbeque or pool party.
In the suite where the tech was demonstrated, I checked behind the sofa to see if the company had hidden extra speakers: the sheer amount of bass and oddly immersive soundscape coming from a box the size of a small toaster was clearly an amazing experience. I couldn’t locate the other speakers, and the team assured me that, yes, everything really does come from their little box.
Pinkerton founded Active Power, an energy company in the early 1990s, which created huge 15,000-pound magnetic flywheels to store energy. The precision needed to use a combination of static and dynamic magnets to keep these flywheels accurately balanced with an axial magnetic bearing meant the development of an extremely precise feedback loop. Sometime after the company went public in 2000, he founded Clean Energy Labs to start looking for other opportunities. One technology the company was considering was to use graphene to create more efficient switches.
“ANDs we switched it 5000 times a second. We thought, ‘wow, that makes a lot of sound for its size,’ and it was just a chip-level device,” laughs Pinkerton. From there he wondered what would happen if they tried to publicize intention. “In 2015, we paired Brane Audio with Clean Energy Labs and just said ‘hey, let’s make this diaphragm speaker. We’ve been working on it and working on it for a couple of years and we were going to release something in 2020. Then COVID hit and the factory shut down.
From there, it went back to the drawing board – but Pinkerton wasn’t ready to let the technology rest just yet.
“Our experience is something a normal audio engineer wouldn’t even know existed. It took us years to figure out how to perfect this technology,” says Pinkerton, describing the path to the ultimate launchable loudspeaker.
The speaker is large for a portable speaker; it’s more of a small boombox than a loudspeaker that you can just toss in your hand luggage on a foreign trip. It seems like it’s better to take the speaker with you on your travels, move from room to room in your home, or pop outside for a pool party.
“This is a preview of Brane X. We’re doing a full launch at South by Southwest in Austin in mid-March,” concludes Pinkerton, suggesting the company has speakers with its technology in smaller sizes and with more modest price points on the drawing board.