Antelope Audio, Igor Levin: Increasing demand is a favourable opportunity for Bulgarian electronic production
Igor Levin, CEO and founder of Antelope Audio, for South-East European Industrial Market Magazine
Antelope Audio (Elektrosfera) won the “Innovation Management” within the Innovative Enterprise of the Year 2020 national contest. Tell our readers more about the company’s converter for real-time processing and modelling of music effects.
In the field of recording, you will frequently come across the debate about the difference in quality between analogue and digital effects. Traditionalists often talk about the uniqueness of analogue sound and its warmth and colour, which lies in the physical components and their “imperfections”. They argue that despite the potential of digital technology, analogue sound cannot be reproduced.
On the other side, people who mainly use digital effects welcome their accessibility and the clarity with which they process the signal – you get exactly what you hear through the headphones.
One of the unwritten rules in Antelope Audio´s working process is not to take sides in this debate. Inspired by analogue audio and the way music has been recorded in the past, we are not denying that some of the magic has been lost with the advent of digital technology. Still, we are aware of the fact that not everyone has access to the large recording studios of the last century. Furthermore, although they have analogue devices, the owners of these studios spend a lot of time and money on their maintenance.
As a technology company driven by technological innovation, we strive to create a product that brings back what has been lost in the analogue world without losing what has been achieved in digital audio. This aspiration led us to the so-called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and their application in audio effects. We are glad that we were the first to recognize their potential and we remain the only ones making effects in this way.
Could you share more about the technology you used to develop the product and what were the challenges you faced?
FPGAs are programmable, which makes them very suitable for modelling the components of analogue effects – transistors, resistors, transformers – and their unique behaviour when interacting with power. In the digital domain, FPGA-based effects provide users with real-time signal processing without overloading the computer, and of course the luxury of having an entire effects studio in a relatively compact form.
Despite the sound quality and the advantage that FPGAs offer in the process of creating music, their development cycle was much slower compared to digital signal processors (DSPs) used by our market competitors. This prevented us from building a more scalable model for software creation, which to some extent limited the availability of our product.
That is why in 2019 we created the audio effects processing technology Synergy Core. It is a conceptual fusion of FPGAs and DSPs into one single “core”, preserving the strengths of both and achieving a “synergistic” effect. FPGAs remain in the heart of the platform, but the addition of ARM technology-based DSPs gave us the opportunity to develop new effects much faster, making us more competitive in the market.
Nowadays, everyone wants to test out a variety of effects in the process of music making and Synergy Core has allowed us to satisfy this demand. Another difficulty that we have overcome with Synergy Core is offering different types of effects. Modulating the most used categories of effects such as equalizers, microphone preamps and compressors is suitable for FPGAs, but modulating effects such as guitar pedals is strictly DSP territory. Currently, Synergy Core offers a wide variety of effects, providing our customers with higher levels of flexibility.
What engineering approach did you chose and what electronic components did you use for the converter?
A large part of the working process in Antelope Audio is simplifying the complex. We strive for clean hardware design and maximum component optimization. The design of the devices has the ability to adapt to scale – the production of the simplest and most affordable device we have on the market follows the principle of the most complex device in terms of architecture and design. This is a major factor in the success of our latest products, which are aimed at novice artists and producers who make music at home. These products partially use the technology that drives some of our most expensive devices, which in turn brings the difference in sound.
Of course, the quality of our products goes as far as the quality of their components. We are glad that we have built reliable partnerships in the global supply chain, and despite the difficulties of the past year, we have been able to adapt successfully.
What is your long-term view on the technological trends in electronic production in Bulgaria?
In my opinion, the technological wave affects many sectors of the Bulgarian economy, including the electronic industry. The growing demand for various technological products worldwide is a favourable opportunity for Bulgarian business to increase its production, which in turn will attract additional investment. Due to the difficulties in the global supply chain, local production is becoming more attractive as it allows for more flexibility and control over processes and costs.
Technology and innovation in science are the tools of progress. Investing in education and R&D, promoting networks of scientific and business partnerships and sharing good practices - these are the trends I would like to see. Effort is required on all sides, but the process has begun and I believe it will go a long way.
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