Everyone knows Samsung as a leading manufacturer of smartphones and televisions. But not many people think of Samsung as a major player in audio. A Canadian ex-pat working in California plans to change that. "We want to be the number-one audio company in the world," says Allan Devantier, Director of Samsung Research America's U.S. Audio Lab in Santa Clarita, CA.
Samsung hired Devantier away from Harman International in October 2013, giving him a mandate to create a world-class audio R&D facility and staff it with world-class engineering talent.
Less than two years on, Samsung is starting to ship the first product developed at the Audio Lab. The Radiant-360 R7, an omnidirectional 100-watt two-way active speaker with multi-room capability, will be available in Canada this month for $600 MSRP. Samsung hasn't announced Canadian plans for the smaller Radiant-360 R6, a 50-watt active speaker that can be battery-operated.
Devantier's group is also responsible for voicing the audio systems in Samsung's top-tier televisions for 2015. And the Audio Lab is developing practices and technology that will be used throughout the organization.
To all these tasks, Devantier is bringing a solid foundation of Canadian know-how, based on work done at the National Research Council by Floyd Toole during the 1970s and 1980s. Devantier was in Grade 12 when he met Dr. Toole for the first time. He had started a small business at his family home in Windsor, ON, building speakers from kits using European drivers. The NRC's measurement facilities were available for rent on a per-diem basis, and Devantier wanted to see how his product stacked up. "Of course, it was a piece of crap," he now says. Toole was busy that day, but asked a colleague to look after Devantier. Later in the day, Toole played pink noise through Devantier's speaker. "I could hear the colouration in my product very clearly," Devantier recalls.
A bond was formed, and deepened by regular trips that Devantier made to the NRC over the next few years. After Devantier completed the electrical engineering program at Ryerson University in Toronto, Toole helped him find a job with a Montreal company designing speaker systems for TVs. In early 1989, Devantier joined Montreal-based Plateau Camber. The CBC selected one of his designs (the Camber 3.5ti) as a studio monitor after a competitive test involving 30 products.
In 1992, with the NRC program winding down, Toole headed to Southern California to become Harman's Vice President of Acoustical Engineering. Devantier joined him a couple of months later. During his two-decade tenure, Devantier worked as a systems engineer for Harman's Infinity and JBL brands; and managed Harman's objective measurement, intellectual property and acoustic research programs.
Devantier says Harman changed after the death of Sidney Harman in 2011. "Sidney Harman loved music," he recalls. "You could really sense a change in Harman after he died. Floyd had retired and a lot of the executives had gone." So when a recruiter approached him about an opportunity at Samsung, Devantier was receptive.
It helped that Samsung was willing to give Devantier a virtual carte blanche, not just on facilities and personnel, but on location as well. Samsung Research America has a major facility in Silicon Valley, where over 1,000 engineers conduct research on mobile devices, displays, processors and materials. But Devantier wanted to stay in the L.A. area, and not just because he lives there. "This is the centre of the audio business in the U.S.," he states.