Educar regularly “sits down” virtually with industry veterans worth listening to, and asks questions about their careers and what they’re working on now.
This month we’re going international and chatting with Emilio Vagnoni of Elettromedia.
Emilio Vagnoni is best known in Europe as the “father” of one of the oldest car-audio brands in the world. Audison’s parent company, Elettromedia, is one of the largest makers of aftermarket car audio, and one of the most experienced with DSP. He graciously agreed to this interview with Educar Magazine.
Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. How did you first get into car audio, and when?
Before finishing my studies in electronics I had to choose whether to go to the cinema with the girlfriend or buy transistors: the transistors won as I never got married! ????
With these components I enjoyed building low power amplifiers, some of which were tube amplifiers. Then in the year 1972, in my Fiat 127 a very popular car in those years in Italy, I made up myself an installation with an AM radio (Voxson) a cassette deck by Philips and one of the first car audio amplifier engineered and manufactured by me with 2 channels bridged in transformers-push-pull configuration.
What are your job title and responsibilities now?
I am one of the founders of the company, a current shareholder and I am the technical director for the electronics products.
Your company was one of the first to introduce a combination DSP with both OEM integration and acoustic tuning functions. Now, your company has several models, and many other companies have entered the category. What have you learned about this category over that time?
One of the main issues encountered in the use of DSPs is that its features are absolutely superior to those offered by any analog solution but unfortunately they are used with an “analog” approach. We have decided to overcome this thing with the adoption of FIR filters for high-end products and the adoption of a parametric approach, quite unique in the car audio sector
What aspects of OEM integration do you think dealers do best?
Normally car audio compared to Home / PA is considered a “cinderella” probably due the dimensions of the market, but it is much more difficult to setup a good system in a car than at home for many reasons: for this reason over the years car audio dealers have learned to deal with a difficult environment thus developing great installation and listening skills, moreover nowadays they need to keep in constant update due to the continuous evolution of in-car electronics.
What aspects of OEM integration do you think dealers are still struggling with?
As said above, the reconstruction of the front stage is still the big struggle especially due to the new architecture of the OEM infotainment. Elettromedia as a company listens and analyze those complications:
it is widely recognized by our clients that we provide technologies, already at the forefront from more than 10 years ago, that are supporting them to overcome those issues.
For example, the de-equalization process we use required much labor and required us to develop advanced skills, has been present since the first Bit One – more than ten years ago! This technology is still very hard to find in the market nowadays, but it is necessary to the dealers to keep working with current infotainment systems.
What do you think is the next area for progress for aftermarket DSP in cars?
I believe the real challenge of the next years it will be to develop car audio systems that will provide a listening experience common to all passengers inside the car cabin.
You have designed many high-performance Class AB amplifiers over your career. Today, most amplifier units sold are Class D. Now, as you know but our readers may not, much of the discrete circuitry in a Class AB amplifier is replaced by one Class D IC, so the amplifier design task is very different. What can you tell us about ways that you bring your AB experience to designing Class D products?
Let’s divide the IC families into two: “Power ICs” that are doing almost all the work, and “Driver ICs” which require a power stage customized for each situation and solution. We have chosen the second, because it gives us the possibility to customize and refine the engineering solution and obtain superior acoustic products. This is not possible with power IC.
I will not unveil our engineering approach here of course!
Apart from jokes, there is not much secret about this choice, think about a painting: you can buy a copy similar to thousands of others or you can decide to paint it yourself. But in the second case you need to be a good painter, otherwise the result will be poor. So the secret is to have nice painters around me able to transform an IC into a masterpiece. And that’s what our R&D team has been doing since in the last 33 years.
Over the past decade Elettromedia has started doing some speaker research and development, and speaker manufacturing, in a new facility you own in China. Your company has also expanded into pro audio speakers. This has been a big initiative for your company. What have you learned as a result?
We have a 100% owned production plant nearby Shanghai, where we produce car audio speakers exclusively for our brands Audison and Hertz. Of course the PA division research helps us adopting very advanced technical solutions, most of them under patent. Nevertheless, this allows us not to release know-how to third party suppliers and also stabilizes the production source. Despiting this, the main difference from other companies of our sector is that every project, product industrialization, testing and quality control is under the direct supervision of our engineers here in Italy. We have changed the view from “where it is made” into “how it is made” and the far east is just a geographic location that offers several strategic advantages.
What is one innovation you are most proud of bringing to market in your career?
The HR 100 and the Bit One: the first one is a milestone not only in the car audio sector, the second one has been the most interesting innovation in our sector and we have almost created from sketch.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about our industry?
I would do a magic for which all OEM infotainment systems would use an “open” approach thus letting the car audio brands, specialists and end users focus on products rather than find a way to unblock the systems in car.
Finally – if you could convey one thing to dealers and their staff about car audio, what would it be?
First of all to keep up the good work: when I think of a car audio specialist I think more to an artist that to a craftsman. For doing this I recommend to follow your intuition, your capabilities and your willing to constantly improve your knowledges. Never accept the dogmas coming from the industry belief, that is how I became what I am.