As an 11 year old, Matthew Simmons had a small-time business fixing stereo speakers. He cycled around radio shops asking for old and broken equipment and quickly gained a reputation for an ability to fix items previously deemed beyond repair.
Now, the 36 year old Christchurch entrepreneur has his revolutionary acoustic technology installed in cinemas throughout the world. His latest coup is a deal to supply sound systems to motion picture imaging giant Kodak for its Los Angeles test studio.
This is no ordinary sound system. The Hypacoustic™ system is the result of years of research and development, some of it helped with investment from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
The work involved testing various techniques to learn how sound can be produced to trigger greater emotional response from cinema audiences.
“We went back to basics to analyse what happens in sound reproduction, learning how to trick the mind into believing the film is reality, so the study was more about the psychology of sound,” says Mr Simmons.
One of the major discoveries of the Hypacoustic research was that around 70 per cent of the emotional content of any sound event is transmitted in the first one to five milliseconds.
“We discovered that the initial burst of sound is the one which creates tingles on the back of the spine and provokes a subconscious response. Traditional cinema theatre speakers, however, distort most in that initial sound so the emotive response wasn’t being relayed,” he says.
Learning how the ear and mind work together provided important information for Hypacoustic to design and build speaker systems that allow the brain to believe the film environment is real.
“So much production effort goes into making the imagery real and there’s been huge development of digital sound onto the sound track but the raw loud speaker technology of cinema speakers has not changed in many decades,” says Mr Simmons.
The key motivation for the unique Hypacoustic sound technology is the slow decline of traditional cinema ticket sales.
As the home theatre and DVD market increased, Hypacoustic wanted to create an experience superior to what home theatre audiences were enjoying.
Mr Simmons business partner and wife, Julie, says it’s an opportunity they’ve worked on for six years.
“Existing cinema speaker technology was archaic and locked in tradition. There have been major developments in materials, magnets and acoustics, so we decided to use these new technologies with our psycho-acoustic research to create a marketable point of difference to home theatre for the cinema industry,” says Julie Simmons.
Both say the $73,000 investment support from the Foundation was instrumental in their acoustic technology development.
“It was pivotal and, as a result, the company now has greater capability which is providing a springboard into other product development,” says Mr Simmons.
Foundation Senior Business Manager Carmel Howley says Hypacoustic leads by example with its focused approach to technology and research and development using it to connect to world markets.
“It is quite an amazing company which is selling its sound systems to studios throughout the world.
“Hypacoustic is already a great business, having developed unique expertise and has significant growth potential,” she says.
The global expansion of Hypacoustic is providing other New Zealand companies with growth opportunities as all its system components are designed, engineered and manufactured in New Zealand.
Mr Simmons says emerging 3D film technology opens up international selling opportunities for his company, as the major cinema companies are looking for superior sound to add to viewer experience.
Hypacoustic equipment is being progressively installed in cinemas throughout New Zealand and Australia, and discussions are underway with European operators. Negotiations with some of the world’s biggest sound and acoustic producers for co-branding arrangements are also being completed.