SOUND AND VISION
With its jet-shaped head, fused from glass and nylon, perched atop its slender body, Node’s Hylixa looks, well, otherworldly; as if recovered from an extraterrestrial crash site. It’s a comparison that isn’t light years away from the truth, given that it was developed using technology that had never been applied to a speaker before. The brand behind this speaker, Node, is making waves in the audio industry. “There’s nothing on the market like it,” says Ashley May, its co-creator.
Ashley and fellow director David Evans spent nine years running a product design consultancy in Cambridge. It was there that they hit upon the idea of using a manufacturing process known as laser sintering – generally reserved for Formula One car parts – to create a groundbreaking loudspeaker.
The painstaking, 45-hour process uses a laser to fuse ultra-fine particles of glass and nylon, “growing” the devilishly complex cabinet, layer by layer. “Hidden inside the finished product is a long, helical path,” says Ashley. “Sound flows around the path to deliver astonishingly rich, deep sound from a small structure.”
The smooth outer-profile mimics the sonic signature of a human head, as it disperses sound evenly around a room. The result is that, even on the simplest tracks, voices almost hang in front of the listener, like holographic images. “The absence of any flat surfaces prevents resonance and colouration that you’d traditionally get from a flat-panel box,” explains Ashley. “It adds up to a certain magic you can’t measure.”Starting the project with a blank sheet of paper meant that Ashley and David could freely exploit new production methods to make the internal structure, but also create something as beautiful as it sounds. “It wasn’t a conscious decision for the Hylixa to look like it’s from another planet,” says Ashley. “But we wanted it to be a statement when it wasn’t playing music – a piece of acoustic sculpture that carefully marries cutting-edge manufacturing with time-honoured craftsmanship.”
Didn’t they find it a challenge to compete with so many established rivals? “We thought we could make something better,” says Ashley. “We may be new, but the proof is in the listening.”