What is a directional speaker ?
A directional speaker is a speaker that projects sound in a specific direction so that only a small number of people can hear it. Conventional speakers spread sound over a wide area to reach more listeners. But directional speakers narrow down their coverage to concentrate on a compact spot much like a stage spotlight shining its light on a single actor.
Please refer the below illustration to understand how directional speakers work. The blue zone is the audio field and the white zone is ambient sound.
A directional speaker can optimize frequencies the human ear is most sensitive to. It can elevate dialogues without increasing other sounds in the track. This increases intelligibility and enables the user to hear the track even in noisy environments and at considerable distances from the speaker.
The following diagram shows how a directional speaker works and how it is different from a conventional speaker.
Difference between a conventional and a directional speaker
The key difference between a conventional and a directional speaker is in their sound technology. A conventional speaker produces ordinary audible sound by passing electric current through a single moving electromagnetic coil and a cone. This causes the cone to move back and forth, pumping out sound waves into the space in front of it.
A directional speaker, on the other hand, produces ultrasound using an array of electrical devices called piezoelectric transducers. These are mainly quartz crystals that vibrate tens of thousands of times per second when electric current is passed through them. The sound thus produced has a very high frequency and is inaudible to the human ear. But they have a shorter wavelength which means they spread out less as they travel and stick together as a beam for longer. When such a beam of ultrasound hits something, it turns into ordinary sound which we can then hear. That is why when we walk into a beam of ultrasound, we can hear it clearly, but as we step away from it, the sound gradually fades until it becomes inaudible.
Directional speakers can be used both indoors and outdoors, although the designs of the two types are vastly different. Indoor directional speakers are commonly seen in exhibitions, trade expos, museums, malls, stores and offices. They are also increasingly used in homes and cars for personal entertainment. Outdoor directional speakers are used by the armed forces to send out sound signals to specific targets. They are also used in outdoor billboards for advertising.
In this article we will take a look at top directional speaker brands and their best-selling products. Following are some of the leading brands.
- Brown Innovations
We shall discuss a few products by each company.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Best Directional Speakers In 2021
Brown Innovations makes high-quality directional speakers for art galleries, airports, malls and amusement parks. It has over 40 different audio systems that create directional audio spots for a range of applications. There are products for a single user, a small group of users and those that create multiple listening zones inside a small area. Here are the models lined up for discussion:
- SonicBeam EJ-22
- SonicBeam SB-18
- SonicBeam SB-47
- SonicBeam CT 24-24
- Single Localizer Sound Dome
- Wide Dispersion Localizer Sound Dome
- Quadeo Localizer Sound Dome
SonicBeam EJ-22 Directional Speaker
This speaker focuses on a single listener in front of it. It has built-in brackets and is designed to be mounted to the edge of a table, desk or console. Once installed, it merges with the table, forming its edge in a seamless fashion. See pic below.
Each speaker bar has sixteen 1-inch drivers and each driver has a 3-watt amplifier. This makes the total power of the unit 48 watts (16 x 3 watts = 48 watts).
The SonicBeam EJ-22 can be daisy-chained to several other SonicBeam EJ-22s. They can be mounted side by side on the same table maintaining some distance between them. The device needs a dedicated controller. The control box distributes sound and power signals to each speaker in a ring network configuration.
Brown Innovations has a special compact low-power audio amplifier called Myriad. When you add this to the EJ-22, you can access a wide range of features like SmartVolume, Sensor Activation, Vocalizer and SD card recording.
SmartVolume automatically increases the volume when the environment becomes too clamorous and decreases it when it falls silent. Sensor Activation plays your looped audio presentation as soon as a user steps in front of the display and stops it when they move away. Vocalizer is for videoconferencing in public places. This feature uses a special microphone to enable users to talk in whispers while directing the audio straight to their ears during Zoom calls. This ensures people around them are not disturbed (useful in work-from-home situations). Finally, the SD card can be used to load audio recordings and played straight from the amp. The SD card slot is in the amp instead of the speaker.
SonicBeam SB-18 Directional Speaker
This is one of Brown Innovation’s most compact directional speaker bars. It is 18 inches wide and creates a one and a half feet wide sound beam. It comes with a standard amplifier that delivers mono audio but can also be wired for stereo at an additional cost. The gadget can further be customized with Myriad to incorporate add-on features like SmartVolume, Sensor Activation, etc.
The SB-18 has grommets on the back and comes with a mounting bracket. Stereo separation is 6 dB and frequency response 150Hz – 20kHz, +/- 2dB. Amplifier power requirements are 1 watt/channel (minimum) and 100 watts/channel (maximum).
SonicBeam SB-47 Directional Speaker
This is one of the largest speakers by Brown Innovations. It is 47 inches wide and creates a tightly focused beam of sound 4 feet wide. You can increase the width using optional custom width speakers. Like the SB-18, the SB-47 has a standard amp which delivers mono sound but can be wired for stereo at an extra cost. It can also be hooked up to a Myriad amp to access smart add-on technologies offered by the company.
The rear face of the speaker has grommets and the package includes brackets for easy installation. Stereo separation, frequency response and amp power requirements are the same as SB-18.
SonicBeam CT 24-24 Directional Speaker
The CT 24-24 is a unique overhead directional speaker that projects stereo sound on listeners standing 3 feet below. It is a flat low-profile speaker that mounts to the ceiling. Perfect for museums, airports and trade shows, the CT 24-24 has discrete space-optimized installation. If you want to keep the area around the display clean, this is a good alternative to standard directional speaker systems.
The CT 24-24 has all the smart add-ons as other Brown Innovations products. When paired with Myriad, it has a frequency response of 250Hz – 15 KHz, +/- 3dB. Amplifier power requirement is 1 watt/channel (minimum) and 25 watts/channel (maximum). Recommended mounting height of the unit is 8-9 feet from the floor.
Single Localizer Sound Dome
This is the smallest Sound Dome speaker. Brown Innovations has 3 products under this category. Each product has a patented hemispheric design that creates precise audio isolation. According to the brand, the hemispheric dome is three times more accurate than parabolic domes and four times more accurate than conventional overhead speakers.
The Single Localizer Sound Dome is designed for a single listener. It is the gold standard for audio isolation and stereo quality sound. Ideal for applications that mandate maximum audio focus, it offers a listening experience similar to headphones for a single user. It has an isolation of 14 dB and stereo separation of 10 dB. The dome has a diameter of 32 inches and a height of 16 inches. It has a pole mounting system and has different mounting heights for seated and standing listeners. Add-ons are available separately.
The above pic shows a casino with Single Localizer Sound Domes.
Wide Dispersion Localizer Sound Dome
This directional speaker is designed for a small group of listeners. It provides balanced stereo sound within the dome which has a diameter of 32 inches and a height of 16 inches. The size of the listening region is 0.8 m x 1.0 m x 0.7 m. Isolation is 12 dB and stereo separation is 10 dB. Installation is through pole mount and add-ons are available on demand.
The above pic shows a Wide Dispersion Localizer Sound Dome in an airport waiting area.
Quadeo Localizer Sound Dome
The Quadeo Localizer is designed for table configurations. It directs sound to people seated around a table. The beam can be configured according to the shape and size of the table to reach listeners at their ear level when they are seated. This dome speaker is great for offices and conference halls. It has all the add-on features available on other Brown Innovations speakers.
The above pic shows Quadeo Localizer Sound Domes in a restaurant.
Now let us move on to our second brand, Holosonics.
Holosonics speakers create a tight narrow beam of sound which can be controlled and aimed with the same precision as a light beam. Their products have their in-house Audio Spotlight PrivateSound technology which focuses audio on a small region with exceptional accuracy.
Here are the gadgets up for discussion.
This is the most recently launched Audio Spotlight directional speaker with Sound Beam Technology. It is affordable and suitable for reproducing brighter sounds. Designed for single listeners in very quiet environments, it is best suited for libraries, art exhibitions, kiosks, ATMs and point of sale integration. It has an output of 80 dB @ 1kHz and a max power rating of 12 watts. Dimensions of the AS-168i are 40cm L x 20cm W x 3.5cm H. It weighs 2.5 lbs. For audio input, there is a 3.5mm AUX-In jack, balanced Phoenix connection and a micro-SD card reader. Optional Bluetooth modules and Motion Sensors can be bought separately.
The AS-16i is the most popular product by Holosonics. It produces clear and present speech with outstanding precision. Suitable for one or two listeners in quiet environments, it is widely used in offices, retail showrooms, galleries, libraries and hospitals. The gadget has an output of 85 dB @ 1 kHz and a max power draw of 25 watts. Its dimensions are: 40cm L x 40cm W x 3.5cm H. It weighs 4.5 lbs. Audio input and add-on features are the same as AS-168i.
The AS-24i is the most powerful directional speaker by Holosonics. It has the strongest output and deepest bass response among all their variants. Conceptualized for a group of people, it delivers intelligible audio in noisy environments like malls, exhibitions, supermarkets and outdoor applications. Total output of the unit is 90 dB @ 1 kHz and max power draw 50 watts. It measures 60cm L x 60cm W x 3.5cm H, and easily replaces a 2 feet x 2 feet ceiling tile with no additional hardware. Audio input and add-on features are the same as the two preceding speakers.
Now let us move to the third company that makes quality directional speakers, Acouspade.
The name Acouspade is an acronym for ACOUstic SPAce DElimiter. It is one of the foremost makers of directional speakers in the world. Here are their top products.
- Acouspade XLS
- Acouspade Classic
This is a hyper-directional powered speaker with Bluetooth and motion detection (optional) capabilities. It focuses a beam of sound on a small region to address listeners at specific points. The sound ray penetrates most ambient sounds, offering the user an intimate headphone-like experience. This makes the speaker a good fit for retail establishments and exhibitions. It has a max output of 90 dB @ 1 kHz and a frequency response of 150 Hz to 17 kHz. Two RCA jacks allow for wired connectivity and there’s Bluetooth for direct wireless input.
The Acouspade has a slim profile and measures 370 x 176 x 22 mm. It weighs 1100 g and has several mounting options. Depending on where you install it, you get three main modes: Spotlight, Sound Shower and Virtual Speaker.
In Spotlight mode, you mount the speaker above or below the display and point the beam at the listener standing in front of the display. The listening spot varies according to the height of the person and different listeners hear the sound at different points. Spotlight mode also creates some audible artifacts around the room since the beam hits the first surface (floor or ceiling) at an angle and is reflected back to another surface and so on, creating scattered pockets of sound around the room.
In Sound Shower mode, the speaker is mounted overhead on the ceiling and the sound is fired downwards on the listeners creating a ‘sound shower’. In this mode, people of all heights can hear the sound at the same spot. There are also minimum reflections.
In Virtual Speaker mode, the speaker is mounted to the ceiling and the beam of sound is aimed at the display or surface the organizers wish to draw attention to. This beam ricochets off the screen and meets the listener at their ear level making it appear as if the sound is coming from the surface it is being reflected from.
This is the largest and loudest speaker in the Acouspade Series with a peak output of 100 dB @ 1 kHz/1meter. It provides acutely focused directional sound at a distance even in very clamorous environments. Frequency response of the speaker is 150 Hz to 16 kHz. It is powered by an external Class D amp which does not produce excess heat and therefore does not require a heat sink.
The Acouspade XLS is capable of stereo sound field distribution. The audio emitter has a distinct Left and Right section which provide left and right channel sounds respectively. The XLS is widely used in retail, digital signages, galleries, kiosks and trade shows. It is easy to use too. All you have to do is connect it to your source device such as a laptop, music player or DVD player and you are good to go.
The XLS emitter measures 600 x 300 mm. It is 21 mm thick and weighs 2900 g. The amp measures 173 x 84 x 38mm, and weighs 650 g. The mounting bracket weighs 500 g. The amp has the following connectors: 2 x RCA (L/R) jacks for audio input, one power input jack and 4 pin (L/R) for audio output to emitter. The emitter has a 4 pin (L/R) audio input connector.
The XLS has the same sound modes as the Acouspade, which are spotlight, sound shower and virtual speaker.
The Acouspade Classic is a fully integrated directional speaker like the Acouspade. It houses the amplifier and signal processing system inside the emitter cabinet. With simple plug-and-play functionality, the device is fairly easy to set up. Simply connect it to your sound source and you are ready to fire it up.
The Classic has a round disc-like shape and comes with a mounting kit. It has the same sound modes and applications as the other two speakers discussed above. The only difference is in their sound output and physical dimensions.
The next brand is PanPhonics.
PanPhonics is a popular directional speaker brand. It makes premium directional audio systems for commercial and domestic use. Here are the top products by this company:
- Compact Directional Speaker
- Sound Shower Directional Speaker
- Custom Directional Speaker
Compact Directional Speaker
This speaker is the smallest directional speaker by PanPhonics. It has an ultra-slim frame-less 60 cm x 60 cm enclosure made of natural fiber. The front surface is flat and can be printed with logos and pictures. An external amplifier drives the unit which projects a beam of sound on a small spot with great accuracy. It is best suited for art galleries, museums, libraries and colleges.
Sound Showers have very low attenuation. This enables the audio to travel long distances like along narrow corridors with horizontal installations. The emitter produces sound using an audio element which is an electrostatic transducer.
Sound Showers are available in two variants: passive and active. Both come in different sizes. The Sound Shower Passive is run by an external PanPhonics AA160 amplifier. It has an aluminum housing and produces mono sound. There are four models under this category and each has a different audio footprint (listening area).
The Sound Shower Active is a fully integrated unit with the amp inside the emitter. It connects directly with a media player, preamp or mixing system with RCA cables. There are two models in the Active segment.
Custom speakers are made-to-order. PanPhonics has a wide clientele of interior designers, gallery owners, artists and industrial establishments. It works closely with each of them to develop innovative directional audio solutions tailored to their needs. Custom speakers therefore do not have any fixed shape or size. They are made based on the client’s requirements.
Now let us take up the next seller on our list, SoundLazer.
Another widely used directional speaker brand is SoundLazer. We have selected four of their best products for analysis:
- SL-01 Open-Source Parametric Speaker
- Mini Pro Amp Kit
- Mini Transducer Array
- 98 Large Ultrasonic Speaker Array
SL-01 Open-Source Parametric Speaker
The SL-01 is an open-source parametric speaker that transmits sound in a focused beam at high intensity. It has DSP technology which helps it concentrate directional audio on a compact area. Suitable for indoor and outdoor applications, the SL-01 finds its uses in advertising, galleries, public safety and security systems. It can also facilitate personal entertainment/work at home so that others in the house are not disturbed. With the coronavirus forcing people to work from home, this gadget can really be a life-saver, especially if there are space constraints at home.
The SL-01 has an ultrasonic output of 120 dB. It has a power input of 12 volts DC and includes a 120/240 volts AC power adapter. A 3.5mm AUX-IN jack lets you play audio from a variety of devices like iPods, smartphones, laptops, etc. An AUX audio cable is provided.
The device has a stand and you can adjust the angle to point the beam in the desired direction. Size of the beam is 3 feet and it is audible up to 30 feet when operating indoors. Outdoors, the range varies according to weather conditions.
Mini Pro Amp Kit
This kit has one 10mm SL50 ultrasonic transducer board, one SoundLazer Pro amplifier, one 120/240 VAC worldwide power adapter and one 3.5mm AUX stereo audio cable. The transducer board comprises of 50 transducers, each 10mm in diameter. Together they create a highly directional beam of sound focusing it on a tight spot just for one or two listeners.
The kit has a power input of 12VDC. The beam it generates has a width of 3.2 feet and reaches a distance of up to 39.3 feet when indoors. Outdoor coverage depends on wind and weather conditions.
Like the SL-01, the Mini Pro Amp kit finds its use in diverse fields. It can be set up in digital signages, malls, stores, public safety and offices. Dimensions of the transducer array are: 64mm x 128mm. Dimensions of the amplifier are: 102mm x 127mm x 38mm.
Mini Transducer Array
This transducer array includes a swivel mount and an enclosure. The mount can be affixed to any surface with the help of screws. It allows the user to turn the transducer board in different directions for getting the most optimal sound. The enclosure keeps the board safe.
This device is best suited for custom installations in compact spaces. It delivers crisp high-output audio and is perfect for kiosks, ATMs, media centers and advertising cubicles. The size of the beam is 3.2 feet and it covers a distance of up to 39.3 feet indoors. Outdoors, the range depends on the weather conditions of the day.
The Mini Transducer Array requires a separate driver board. It is compatible with SoundLazer DIY and SoundLazer AMP. Dimensions of the array are: 5.75 inches x 6.5 inches.
98 Large Ultrasonic Speaker Array
This speaker array comprises of 98 large ultrasonic transducers. They produce intelligible directional audio with a wide beam angle. Designed for long-range applications, it has the ability to create audio spots at considerable distances from the source/surface being highlighted. Hence, it is suitable for public safety, trade shows, museums, libraries and advertising.
The speaker array measures 6.5 inches x 3.5 inches. It has a beam size of 4.5 feet and can project sound up to a distance of 35 feet when indoors. Outdoors the distance is influenced by the weather.
This transducer array needs a dedicated ultrasonic amplifier. It works with SoundLazer AMP or SoundLazer DIY. There are screw terminals for connection to SoundLazer amps. A choke coil is also mounted onboard.
We now arrive at our final entry, SRAY.
SRAY Directional Speaker
SRAY by CatchFlow is one of the smallest directional speakers in the world. It fits in the palm of your hand and is extremely portable. SRAY generates directional sound for single users. It consumes very less power but does not compromise on audio quality and volume.
SRAY has many applications. It can be used in offices for video-conferencing and in stores for targeting individual customers. It is great for watching shows at home when there are people working or resting in the same room. What’s more, you can also listen to music in cars without disturbing your co-passengers.
SRAY has a Dual mode which converts sound from parametric to hybrid to normal depending on the need of the user. This comes in handy when you want to share what you hear with others around you. For audio input, there’s Bluetooth, an AUX input port and a slot for SD cards.
The speaker has a tough ABS housing with controls on the side panel. The main emitter board measures 104mm (H) x 114.5mm (W) x 20.5mm (D). The package includes the SRAY directional speaker, a power adapter, an AUX cable and a desk stand.