(Rune Skramstad, photographed by Odd Richard Valmot, Teknisk Ukeblad)
How it all started
When I was a kid growing up, I used to get up every morning to deliver the newspaper to my neighborhood – saving up to buy my first stereo. It was a Sony. I soon realized that the gadget factor had to give way to the real deal; the experience of audio. Soon after, I upgraded to a set of Snell speakers powered by Aragon amps. I brought these with me to all the places I lived throughout my student years until I landed a job at Tandberg, the biggest name in Norwegian audio history.
By 2004, Tandberg was developing video conferencing systems and was the global leader at that with a keen understanding of what made great meetings; “the most important thing in a video meeting is audio”
Tandberg was later acquired by Cisco and got the largest audio research department in Norway along with it. In 2013, as I was leaving Cisco, I thought it was about time I had a chat with the audio department about what they thought would be the ultimate sound system for my living room at home.
One of them, a very enthusiastic fellow named Rune Skramstad, asked me to make a sketch of the living room, whereupon the response was “Yeah, you need something custom for that.” “That sounds like a lot of work?.” “No, we´ll just sit down to sketch something, and then I’ll call a furniture carpenter I know afterward.”
Sure enough, we sat down in his attic a few Saturday evenings, and a few months afterward we invited his colleagues in the audio department to my home to do acoustic measurements of my living room and tune in the sound system over pizza and beer.
When we got the first track through the speakers, smiles were appearing.
“You could spend a million Krones on speakers, and they still wouldn´t be better than these.” I suddenly remembered what it felt like hearing the Snell speakers for the first time. The experience of hearing something far better than what you were used to.
The big idea
A few days later, I met Rune again. He asked me, “Well, that was fun. Why don´t we make something we can sell?”. Rune had been designing speakers since he was 10, and I soon realized I had been invited down into his rabbit hole.
My daily job at that time was in a video conferencing startup called Acano, where I happily shared the ideas Rune and I were discussing. One of the senior hardware engineers, Lars Eirik Mobæk, came by one day and mentioned he had had a chat with Rune and said in rather plain terms; “You guys need help, and I’m happy to do it! But may I suggest that we add our old buddy Lars Johan to take care of the paperwork, finances, operations, and everything we don’t want to do?”.
And just like that, we had put together the four N´s of NNNN. The N´s representing the four Norwegian co-founders while also creating a sine wave.
We gathered expertise from designers of world-class music and mastering studios, including acoustic design experts behind Capitol Studios A-Studio, and in 2016, NNNN saw the light of day. We built sound equipment designed to meet the requirements of recording studios, such as subwoofers and studio monitors, as well as concert speakers; with the ultimate goal of ensuring sound quality at every point throughout the recording and listening experience.
Our team of audio experts grew, and today we are a team of ten people working to create great music experiences for people today and in the future. To make that happen, sustainability inevitably plays a significant role.
What does the future of live music look like?
Every year, live concerts and performances generate 405 000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK alone, according to A Greener Festival. That is 380 million liters of diesel every single year, an equivalent to more than 150 Olympic swimming pools of diesel.
Every sustainability action taken is a step in the right direction, like cutting single-use plastic and serving less meat. But eating a meatless burger on a recyclable plate while a diesel generator is fueling the concert stages in the background, burning liters upon liters of fuel, should not sit right with anyone.
In the last couple of years, we have seen a growing engagement for sustainable events from artists, organizers, and audiences worldwide. Bands like Coldplay decided to stop touring until they can secure sustainability, and artists in Norway, like Sigrid, have signed The Green Rider – a list of environmental demands for festivals, initiated by Fortum and Øya Festivalen. The cultural sector is coming together to find sustainable solutions, and 82% of live music goers say “they strive to maintain an environmentally sustainable lifestyle” in a newly published global study by Live Nation.
Businesses that make it easy for the end consumer to choose responsibly are the ones that will thrive in the future, whether it´s a festival, a concert organizer, an artist, or a pro audio company. Artists should be able to deliver magical performances while also meeting their sustainability goals, organizers of concerts and festivals should be able to deliver sustainable music events to their audiences, and an assembled industry needs to ensure that future generations can enjoy live music events in the same way we do today.
Solutions for an industry in transition
This is why sustainability plays a significant role in our business. And it starts with the backbone of NNNN, the horn-speaker patent. We solved some fundamental aspects of speaker design. This enabled our speakers to reap the benefits of the perfect horn, securing extreme audio performance.
Horn speakers are extremely energy-efficient, have truthful representation and accurate impulse response, controlled dispersion, and low distortion for any given sound pressure. In Rune´s words, “that’s more or less all the main ingredients for good sound reinforced by a loudspeaker”.
If you are asking yourself now, “Ok, but horn speakers have been made before, so what makes NNNN´s speakers different?”.
Well, the rear chamber of a horn speaker needs, in theory, to be very large for the speaker driver to move undisturbed. Often even larger than the total volume of a typical touring bass horn. This is of course very impractical and makes most manufacturers choose between making sub par horns or box speakers, believing that the perfect horn doesn´t exist. We found a way for the speaker drivers in a horn to behave as though the rear chamber is infinitely large, with a controlled resistance to diaphragm movement designed to match the resistance provided by the horn.
This enables all our speakers to benefit from the extreme advantages of the perfect horn.
In use, the speaker´s energy efficiency creates several environmental benefits. When you need fewer speakers to provide the same amazing sound and the stacking solutions are designed to be effortless, less equipment needs to be transported. Compared to conventional speaker setups, the NNNN can save you 50-90% in energy consumption, depending on the scenario. This means more festivals and concert stages can run solely on the power grid, and eliminate the need for diesel generators. Our industry is in the midst of a transition, and we truly believe that this is a solution that will impact the future of live music.
When a musician puts their unique sound into the world, they should feel confident that anyplace that sound is heard – in a recording studio, a concert hall, or an outdoor festival, that sound should be faithful to their intention. By listening to the artists, organizers, and society, we set out to design speakers meeting the needs of the audio industry today, and in the future.
Every demo we do takes me back to my living room all those years ago. This is why everyone at NNNN is so excited about every single demo we do. Seeing people’s smiles when they hear the NNNN speakers for the very first time is our biggest source of inspiration and motivation for what the future holds.
With crystal clear audio reproduction and simpler setups that will also decrease the carbon footprint of the audio industry, we are making audio solutions for a more sustainable future.