Brane X portable speaker packs a hell of a lot of power into a small package • TechCrunch

You probably haven’t heard of Brane Audio yet, but trust me on this one: You will. One of my highlights at CES in Las Vegas today was listening to the company’s debut speaker, the Brane X, side by side with some other well-known speaker brands. The company’s founder has a background in high-precision magnetics, and after leaving his previous company, he decided to apply this expertise to another area where magnets are important: Loudspeakers.

The company’s first product is the $700 Brane X, which will open for pre-orders soon. The big innovation is the company’s Repel-Attract Driver (RAD). It uses a combination of moving and stationary magnets to create a force equal and opposite to the force caused by large air pressure changes in a speaker cabinet. The result is the ability to move a large amount of air (and therefore punch a lot of bass around), in a small package that the company claims uses 10% of the power that a conventional-technology subwoofer would.

“We developed a new way of making sound. Specifically, we have a new subwoofer. Which uses a technology we call “repel attract driver” or RAD. It uses magnetic forces to negate the air pressure forces inherent when creating low subwoofer tones. Using traditional technology, there is even a law—Hoffman’s Law—that says you cannot have deep bass, an efficient speaker and keep it compact. As you make a subwoofer smaller, the air pressure gets higher and higher, and you draw more and more power,” explains Joe Pinkerton, co-founder and CEO of Brane Audio, in an interview with TechCrunch. “Of by canceling that compressive force with a magnetic force, it remains in the container. It means everything you need to overcome your own inertia. That’s a factor of about 100 times more efficient in the subwoofer range. That allows us to make it one-tenth the size and draw one-tenth the power.”

Brane Audio showed off the speaker alongside the Sonos Move, blowing it out of the water. Image credit: TechCrunch / Haje Kamps

You’ve already done the math, dear reader: Smaller, lighter and less power-hungry equals interesting technology for portable speakers. And that’s exactly what the company built in the Brane X. It packs an 8-inch subwoofer into a portable speaker that can run on battery power for 12 hours. It also has all the other bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end portable speaker: It has Alexa, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and can run Spotify. In addition to the aforementioned bass pump, it contains a pair of tweeters and a pair of midrange speakers, so it retains the power to play stereo sound. The speaker is IP 5x rated, meaning it’s more resistant to rain than your barbecue or pool party.

In the suite where the technology was demonstrated, I found myself checking behind the sofa to see if the company had hidden extra speakers: A huge amount of bass, plus a strangely immersive soundstage from a box the size of a small toaster was a distinctly uncanny experience. I couldn’t find the other speakers and the team assured me that yes, everything was actually coming from their little box.

Brane Audio’s subwoofer uses an FPGA to balance the magnet exactly where it needs it. Image credit: TechCrunch / Haje Kamps

Pinkerton started Active Power, an energy company in the early 1990s that created massive 15,000-pound, magnetically-bearing flywheels for power storage. The precision needed to use a combination of static and dynamic magnets to keep these flywheels precisely balanced using an axial magnetic bearing meant developing an extremely precise feedback loop. Some time after taking the company public in 2000, he started a Clean Energy Labs to start looking for other opportunities. One of the technologies the company investigated was using graphene to make more efficient switches.

“ONEs we changed it at 5000 times a second. We thought, ‘wow, it makes a lot of noise for its size’, and it was just a chip-level device,” laughs Pinkerton. From there, he wondered what would happen if they tried to make a sound purpose. “We spanned Brane Audio from Clean Energy Labs in 2015 and just said, ‘hey, let’s make this diaphragm-based speaker.’ -one in, and the factory was closed.”

From there it was back to the drawing board – but Pinkerton wasn’t ready to let the technology rest just yet.

“Our experience is something that the average audio engineer would have no idea existed. It took us years to figure out and perfect the technology,” says Pinkerton, describing the path to a final, launchable speaker.

The speaker is large for a portable speaker; it’s more of a small boombox than the kind of speaker you might just keep in your carry-on for an overseas trip. It seems like it’s better for a speaker you take on road trips, move from room to room in the house, or plunk down outside for a pool party.

“This is a sneak peek at Brane X. We’re doing a full launch at South by Southwest in Austin in mid-March,” Pinkerton concludes, suggesting the company has speakers with its technology in smaller form factors and at more modest price points on the drawing board.

Read more about CES 2023 at TechCrunch

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