Mar 22, 2016 | By Alec

While 3D printed innovations are hitting various tech-based industries constantly, the music industry seems to be lagging behind a bit. To be sure, we’ve seen fantastic 3D printed instruments (such as the Hovalin 3D printed violin) already, but so far only custom 3D printed earphones are really pushing innovation. Fortunately, they are about to be joined by the Loopa, a fantastic reinvented microphone. Developed by British musical tech pioneers Sonuus with the help of 3D printing, it’s the world's first looping microphone that easily records and loops music during performances. Perfect for beatboxers and progressive musicians.

To be sure, the looping of music was already possible – but it requires quite a lot of technical hassle. With the help of foot pedals, footswitches and a pile of software, multiple layers of music can be combined in studio environments. Good luck perfectly recreating that on stage. But that is where Sonuus’ invention comes in – who have packaged all of that technology into a single handheld microphone with just a few buttons. “Now we have put the control at your fingertips – more intuitive, more musical, and more fun for vocalists. The Loopa is easy to use – perfect for budding pop stars and beatboxers – and it has the high quality audio and versatile looping control that experienced and professional vocalists require,” inventor James Clark says.

Clark is also the director of Sonuus Limited, a Cambridge, UK-based music products developer. Launched in 2009 to bring new and innovative technologies to the music industry at an affordable price, they first hit the spotlight with the first truly plug-and-play guitar-to-MIDI converter, and have since been working on a variety of other products, such as guitar pedals. All of them are masterminded by Clark himself. “I have a PhD in Applied Physics but have been working as a designer and engineer in the audio industry for the last 20 years. I do all of our products industrial design and prototyping in-house. I got my first 3D printer recently and I love it. Since getting the printer, my designs are more ambitious and results are so much faster,” he tells us.

So how does the Loopa work? Well, it features a built-in looping capability. “The Loopa enables vocalists, from beginner to pro, to record and loop their voice using just a handheld microphone,” Clark explains. It can loop up to 12 minutes of recording time, with unlimited overdubbing possible and significant loop level control. The microphone itself is a high quality condenser with cardioid response and 130dB max SPL (1% THD). Looping is realized through a custom-made high-integrity looper engine and a Toshiba BENAND flash memory. It has a 10 hour battery life and, as you can see in the clip below, adds a fantastic new dimension to music.

And as the inventor explains, 3D printing played a crucial role in development because a handheld microphone needs to sit in your hand perfectly. “The control buttons have to be in a natural position and the microphone shouldn’t slip out of position while you are using it,” he explains. Using 3D printing, Sonuus therefore refined the sculpted body shape (using Geomagic Design software), to find an ergonomic shape that looks and feels like a microphone, but also enables easy access to the buttons.

Clark went as far as saying that it wouldn’t exist without 3D printing. The mesh head of the microphone was designed with 3D printed tooling, for instance. “A very strong 2-part former was made and the mesh squeezed between these to form the shape. Big clamps gave enough force to bend the mesh and the tooling stood up to the high pressure required!” he says. The first prototypes, which you could have seen at The NAMM Show in Los Angeles last January, were 3D printed on a Wanhao Duplicator 4S desktop FDM 3D printer (with some details through 3DPRINTUK’s SLS printing service). The second-generation was almost entirely made using 3DPRINTUK’s services – except for the ‘light ring’, which was 3D printed in ABS on their in-house Wanhao 3D printer.

“Our Wanhao printer has been a fantastic asset, allowing us to experiment on every part of the design to really optimize it. On the first prototypes we used 3DPRINTUK for the control panel and battery door because we needed a level of detail FDM couldn’t produce. The vibro-polishing and black dyeing that 3DPRINTUK offers are amazing -- it looks so close to injection moulding! So good in fact, we used this for nearly every part of our subsequent prototypes,” Clark says.

If you’re interested in this very impressive 3D printed music tool that has the potential to fundamentally change music recording, you can now get one for half the price by backing the Loopa on Kickstarter. Retail price will be set at £149 (about $210 USD), but the early bird option will be available for just £74 ($105 USD). The campaign will kick off today and can be found on Kickstarter here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Sonuus wrote at 11/29/2016 4:12:34 PM:

The 1% THD figure was in relation to the power handling: "130dB max SPL (1% THD)." This means at a sound pressure level of 130dB the distortion increases to 1%. In normal use, it is much much lower < 0.01%! The audio is not compressed. In fact it is stored and processed entirely as 32-bit floating point to maximise sound quality. 12 minutes loop is actually quite long (if you want to keep your audience interested!). But it's not all about length, the flash used in high-reliability SLC flash which is more expensive than the high-density flash people are more familiar with. It allows many more write operations than multi-level flash so ensures the product will keep working for many years (even if used continuously).

Skeptic wrote at 3/22/2016 1:24:00 PM:

I really like good looping-performers, like martin-o for example. I just have some doubts about this products audio quality. 1% THD seems pretty high already, and i have not seen any data about the ADC/DAC chain in the device and what kind of digital compression is used on the audio. The price tag tells me that this can't really be a high quality (HiFi) device suited for more professional vocalists. And 12minutes of audio only? Thats seems very low considering that flash storage, especially for the bit-rates needed in a pure audio device, is really not that expensive anymore.

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