Product: SLS Printer
Industry: Consumer products
Nearly every piece of high-fidelity (hi-fi) equipment seeks to claim live-performance sound quality, yet many of these products are manufactured very similarly to their box speaker counterparts. The HYLIXA loudspeaker by Node-Audio represents a true departure and hi-fi industry breakthrough, made possible by using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing to produce a distinctive, complex cabinet structure. According to David Evans, industrial designer and co-founder of Node, this revolutionary new speaker was not only produced with 3D printing; it was inspired by the capabilities additive manufacturing makes possible.
Seizing the opportunity to create a high-value product
Industrial designers Ashley May and David Evans entered the hi-fi world because they saw an opportunity to do something that had never been done. With access to a 3D Systems SLS 3D printer in their production facility, they put their heads together to devise a high-value, high performance product that took advantage of the additive process.
“It was like a fresh start for us as designers,” says Evans. “We’ve always known how to design things so they could be manufactured in a particular way, whereas this sort of threw everything out the window and opened up our imaginations to what was possible.”
SLS, or selective laser sintering, is an additive manufacturing technology that fuses powdered materials together in a self-supported build style. Because of this layer-by-layer manufacturing process, it is possible to achieve far more complex and organically shaped components than conventional manufacturing methods allow.
Using 3D sound simulations to iterate the ideal design
With the industrial design component under control, Evans and May enlisted the help of an acoustic engineer to guide the technical development of a new loudspeaker. Their vision was to create a loudspeaker that produces audio quality that rivals a live experience, with beautiful, sculptural aesthetics.
The development process began with 3D designs from Evans and May that then ran through specialized 3D audio simulation software to inform the next iteration. As the simulation output began to confirm the next-level sound the team was after, they began to prototype and refine further, until finally arriving at Node’s flagship product, HYLIXA.
HYLIXA speakers feature a conical cabinet with a patent-pending helical transmission line that spirals for 1.6 meters around the cabinet interior. This line is fed by a dedicated bass driver and releases the sound through a circular vent around the mid and the tweeter. Because the rounded cabinet is designed and manufactured as a single piece, there are no edges to produce diffraction (a disruption to sound precision). This results in smooth sound travel and an enhanced listening experience. According to a review on the hi-fi music gear website The Ear, “the [more complex] the music gets, the better [HYLIXA] sounds, which is the opposite of what you get with most speakers.”
Maximizing technology in design and production
Production and prototyping for the HYLIXA speakers are done on a 3D Systems sPro™ 60 SLS printer. The speakers, which are sold in a set of two, are each printed separately within the printer’s 381 mm x 330 mm x 460 mm build volume. Evans says the team maximizes each build by nesting the other components within the speaker cabinet.
The cabinet and front baffle components of HYLIXA are printed in DuraForm® GF, a glass-filled engineering plastic that delivers an excellent surface finish that is machinable and paintable. As the primary display piece of the speakers, Node puts the HYLIXA cabinets through a methodical post-processing regimen to evacuate all material from the pieces and prepare the surfaces for whatever finishing the customer requests.
“We learned through the prototyping process that DuraForm GF actually worked very well acoustically,” says Evans. “It has almost a ceramic-like quality to the touch, which helped us both structurally and sonically. As designers, we could freely exploit SLS production to create the internal structure, but also design something that looked as beautiful as it sounds.”
“Every component that we 3D printed, we’ve done for a reason,” says Evans. “We’ve used the technology to benefit the product in one way or another, and pushed to take everything to the absolute limit.”
Reception in the industry and future products
After launching HYLIXA in 2019, Node sent several pairs of speakers to hi-fi industry experts for their unbiased take. In addition to descriptions such as “radical,” “unusual,” and “seductive,” publication Hi-Fi+ praises the speakers for “an almost unbelievable ‘out of the box’ sound” with “an exceptional dynamic range.”
“The feedback has been even better than we first hoped, to be honest,” said Evans. Having now earned credibility within the industry, Node has more up its sleeves and is looking to grow. Evans says what’s to come is still “very top secret” at the moment, but Node remains committed to its process. 3D printing will be an integral part of the company’s strategy to differentiate itself by doing things that haven’t been done before.
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