GAINESVILLE, GEORGIA – MAY 2010: Five years ago, Danley Sound Labs started as a divine inspiration to change the world of sound reinforcement using truly innovative loudspeaker and subwoofer designs. Confirmation of that inspiration is that today Danley Sound Labs is one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the industry, and many are dispassionately asserting that the company will become the “next big thing” in the coming decade. At its core are Tom Danley’s innovative designs, born of his drive for flawless fidelity, his unconventional education, and his decades spent devising groundbreaking acoustical technologies for NASA. Danley Sound Labs owner Mike Hedden, longtime head of a successful AV integration firm, shapes the company’s burgeoning product line to perfectly suit the needs of contractors. Moving forward, the company is poised both to break into budget-conscious markets with its SM Series of loudspeakers and to shake the industry’s addiction to line arrays with Shaded Amplitude designs of greater power and fidelity.
THE MAKING OF AN UNCONVENTIONAL INVENTOR There are two telling stories from Tom Danley’s childhood that foreshadow his love affair with both high-fidelity sound reproduction and earth-shaking bass. In grade school, he discovered his grandfather’s monaural hi-fi set. “It was the first time that I had ever heard something coming out of a box that sounded close to the way real instruments sound,” recalled Danley. The hi-fi set long captivated the future inventor. The second story centers on a church organ, where the young man had discovered the pipe loft. Once, Danley snuck up to the pipe loft while the organist was practicing. “It was pretty terrifying,” he laughed. “It shook my whole body when she hit the low notes!” He paused a moment and then added with a smile in his voice, “I thought that was pretty cool.”
High school was an experience that Danley would rather forget, and it soured his stomach for college. He entered the loudspeaker business right after high school. That venture didn’t amount to much, and Danley found himself on a life path that he wasn’t happy with. “When I was about twenty-five, a light came on, and I realized I didn’t have to continue down that path,” he said. “I looked at a friend of mine, who, after ten years of hard work, had transformed himself into a talented guitar player. I thought, ‘I can do the same thing with acoustics.’” Danley stopped hanging out with the wrong crowd, and instead applied himself to the mathematics and physics that would allow him to design loudspeakers on a scientific basis.
A while later, Danley took a job at Intersonics, a NASA contractor. Working with both, a physicist from Fermilab and an acoustician who was one of the key developers of sonar, Danley learned to articulate and place his unconventional ideas within their proper scientific contexts. There, Danley and his team went on to patent seventeen ideas in nearly as many years. “Most of the patents were for exotic devices that found their way into research rockets, zero gravity airplane flights, and space shuttle payloads,” said Danley, modestly. “But there were also a few patents for speakers as well.”
THE GENESIS OF DANLEY SOUND LABS The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster decimated Intersonics’ budget, and so began many years foundering with brilliant ideas imperfectly executed, as one company after another sank under the weight of mismanagement that Danley had nothing to do with. Meanwhile, Mike Hedden came from a pretty diverse background of his own, having toured the world as a professional trumpet player in the early 80s, spending several years as a concert piano tuner/technician and ultimately becoming the owner of one of the top A/V design and installation companies in the southeastern United States. Through some twenty years of contracting, Danley and Hedden got to know each other. It is, in Hedden’s estimation, no coincidence that he had been asked at a recent C12 Christian Business Owners meeting to identify a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) that would be unobtainable without God’s help.
Within the next week or so, Danley called him on the phone to ask if he would consider partnering in a new loudspeaker company. “I was stunned,” recalled Hedden. “Although I had never manufactured loudspeakers before, I quickly prayed Lord, is this my BHAG? When Thomas Edison asks you to build light bulbs, you had better say, yes!” At their first face-to-face meeting, Hedden explained that not only did he want to build a better mousetrap, but he wanted the company to serve as a platform for ministry, to which Danley wholeheartedly agreed.
REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGIES AND THE SHAKE-UP TO COME The two patent-pending technologies that have fueled the meteoric rise of DSL are the Synergy Horn (SH) and Tapped Horn (TH). Much has been written about the ingenious ways that these technologies demolish what were thought to be inescapable trade-offs between fidelity, directivity, arrayability, and frequency response. Both derive from Danley’s unconventional way of thinking about audio, itself the product of his nontraditional education and his years dwelling on challenging acoustical problems that had nothing to do with sound reinforcement. As a result, he has a much broader view of acoustics and a richer set of conceptual tools than many in his field.
It would be easy to suggest that Danley Sound Labs’ success rests entirely upon its namesake’s genius, but that would be wrong. Unlike Hedden, Danley is neither a gifted businessman nor an experienced contractor. While Danley brings the core revolutionary technologies to the product line, Hedden has been blessed with a team of experts in their respective crafts, each working to ensure that those technologies reach the market in ways that solve real-world problems perfectly. Hedden comments, “Danley Sound Labs is an example of what Andrew Carnegie called the Master Mind Principle. I’m surrounded by folks that know infinitely more about their individual disciplines than I could ever know and my job is to keep them focused on the big goals”
The next five years at Danley Sound Labs promise to be every bit as exciting as the first five. The company is currently rolling out a new SM Series of loudspeakers that share the fidelity and pattern control of the flagship SH Series, but at a fraction of the cost. The SM Series will tap a market that is an order of magnitude greater than the high-end market to which its initial product offerings were restricted. The company is also poised to bring uniquely powerful Danley brand amps to the market. The severe, and all-too-often-ignored limitations of the ‘industry darling’ line arrays have rankled Hedden and Danley, and Danley Sound Labs is now directly challenging that paradigm with Shaded Amplitude designs that deliver the benefits of line arrays without their glaring faults. Mike comments,” We want to raise the bar of expectation, showing what true high-definition audio actually sounds like, and once it has been experienced, we believe folks will see what we mean by divine by design.”
ABOUT DANLEY SOUND LABS Danley Sound Labs is the exclusive home of Tom Danley, one of the most innovative loudspeaker designers in the industry today and recognized worldwide as a pioneer for “outside the box” thinking in professional audio technology. www.danleysoundlabs.com
PHOTO CAPTION (left to right) Mike Hedden and Tom Danley
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