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Spoke Sound combines speakers and wall art

Will Bodewes, founder of Spoke Sound, demonstrates how one of the company’s 16 by 20 inch speakers looks against the wall of a Southwest Colorado Accelerator for Entrepreneurs meeting room. (Nick Gonzales/Durango Herald)
Distributed mode loudspeaker tech transforms images into audio-visual experiences

To a casual observer, Spoke Sound’s products look like simple wall art, but on closer inspection, their secret is revealed: They’re also high-quality speakers.

“Speakers are something you want to be heard and not seen,” said founder Will Bodewes, “This kind of technology allows you to have a nice photo and also get really quality sound as well.”

The company, which is currently part of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator for Entrepreneurs program, transforms canvas photographs or art into audio-visual experiences, he said.

Bodewes solders components of one of Spoke Sound’s speaker systems. (Courtesy of Spoke Sound)

Bodewes said the idea came to him about three years ago while studying mechanical engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

“Basically, I moved my giant setup of speakers and stands and wires and everything into my new apartment and set it up kind of across the living room,” he said. “And then my roommate showed up and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to fly. The speakers are taking up all this space, and the wires look terrible.’”

Bodewes said he protested that he wanted to listen to good music in the apartment, but his roommate said the equipment was too ugly. This led Bodewes to imagine a solution to his problem: a speaker that just hangs on the wall.

“I spent a lot of work researching and developing and testing, and what came up was Spoke Sound,” he said.

The company uses distributed mode loudspeaker technology. Rather than vibrating cones to push air back and forth like a traditional speaker, DML creates resonance in a foam core backing that sits behind the image.

“Basically ... we don’t put speakers behind your pictures, we turn the whole picture into a speaker,” Bodewes said. “When we play music off of it, the whole surface of the speaker will vibrate and create sound.”

In addition to allowing Spoke Sound to put a good-sounding speaker into a thin frame, DML also emits sound throughout the entire surface in 180 degrees instead of just a cone in front of it like a traditional speaker, Bodewes said. In other words, if it is on a wall, one of his speakers can fill every corner of a room with sound.

He said that in one of Spoke Sound’s larger products, this has the effect of creating what is essentially a one-system surround sound.

“You get better dispersion into the room, and you get more even sound throughout the whole space,” he said.

Bodewes puts the finishing touches on a Spoke Sound Speaker. (Courtesy of Spoke Sound)

Spoke Sound’s speakers come in several sizes: 16 by 20 inches, 20 by 30 inches, 24 by 24 inches and 30 by 40 inches. The company can also do custom sizing, Bodewes said.

He said because of the physics behind DML, the bigger one of his speakers is, the more bass it can create – but this goes both ways. The 16 by 20 inch canvas is the smallest he’s willing to go because the bass may drop in quality.

“Aside from the novelty of having a speaker on your wall, we’ve put a lot of work into making it so that it’s cutting edge technology,” he said. “We have it connected to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so they’ll link up together across your house.”

The speakers also have Apple AirPlay integrated into them. They’re powered by either a battery or a power cord.

“It’s this whole nice little package altogether,” Bodewes said. “Hopefully, the aesthetics and the convenience kind of combine.”

He said the price of a Spoke sound speaker, depending on the size and the art printed on it, ranges from about $230 to $400.

An audio-visual experience

Bodewes said that one of the most interesting things about Spoke Sound’s speakers is the way they bring together images and sound.

“It’s really cool because the people who have them right now, they get a picture of their family or something and anytime anybody comes into the house and music is playing, they’re automatically drawn to that,” he said.

Bodewes said the products are starting to pick up interest from artists, and Spoke Sound has been working with photographers such as Lisa Mackie and Lyndsey Lamell.

“I think that this product speaks very well to them,” he said. “It’s like a different medium that they can sell their work, and it allows them to combine an audio-visual experience, so you can have a piece of art or an image or something, and you could say, ‘I listened to this while I was taking this’ or ‘this music inspires this piece.’ I think that combination is really, really cool.”

Bodewes works on a Spoke Sound Speaker. (Courtesy of Spoke Sound)

If they’re not in the market for one Spoke Sound’s existing prints, users of its website can upload their own photos and images to be printed on the canvas.

Alternatively, customers can use the company’s blank speakers to create new art, Bodewes said.

Spoke Sound sells blank canvases at Art Supply House & Custom Framing in Town Plaza, where there is also a demo canvas on display, he said. The company is also working with the shop so if someone wants to wrap an existing canvas around a Spoke Sound frame, they’ll be able to make their old art into a speaker.

Within reason, artists can apply paint and the like directly onto a blank canvas, creating their art on the existing speaker. (Bodewes said he can’t grantee that a particularly gloppy painting would retain its integrity, but he hasn’t had any issues so far.)

A Durango product

Bodewes said that being part of the SCAPE accelerator program and having access to its mentors has been very helpful.

“When we entered six months ago, we had basically one prototype, and we’ve gone though a beta test phase and we’re starting to ramp up and start production pretty soon,” he said. “It’s been so cool to be among such inspiring, awesome people who are just doing what they want to do.”

While some components of his company’s speakers must be outsourced, Bodewes said the speakers themselves are assembled in Durango. (Courtesy of Spoke Sound)

He said that while some of the parts must be outsourced, the speakers are all handmade and assembled in Durango.

“We’re trying to keep it as much in the community as possible because I think that’s important to be a Durango-based company,” he said. “All these other things are just made in China and you buy them on Amazon, it just feels better to get something that’s local.”

In the future, Spoke Sound plans to integrate the speakers with Amazon Alexa and voice control. Bodewes said the company is planning to expand into other printing materials such as metal and acrylic as well.

In the sort term, he also plans to sell subwoofers and the like that can also be hidden within the room to create a powerful home audio experience that’s completely invisible.

“We’re looking to focus on a home audio solution that was previously impossible,” he said. “Kitchens and the places we use the most, they don’t often see speakers because they’re ugly. If you can bring that joy of good audio into places that you use the most, that’s a really cool thing to do.”