Sonic Breakthrough Claimed by North American Products

The object of the audio game, as Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt put it, is "to re-create original acoustic events as accurately as possible." That goal has driven engineers to extraordinary lengths, improving every link in the recording and playback chain. Most such improvements are incremental, but their cumulative effect is the sometimes astounding level of sonic realism available today from even moderately priced equipment.

But rarely does a truly new concept pop up on audio's radar screen. A new tweeter material or power-supply capacitor isn't earthshaking news, and incremental improvements are typically inflated by marketing departments and ad copywriters. As audio technology marches on, flashes of fundamental insight become less frequent and less intense. Nonetheless, they do still occur. (Eric Alexander's "Doppler Decoding" loudspeaker crossover technique, marketed by cable magnate Ray Kimber under the "DiAural" name, may be one.)

On November 24, a press release from a New Jersey company calling itself North American Products announced what it calls "Holographic-Cloning Amplifier Technology" (H-CAT), an amplification technique supposedly capable of restoring all the localization cues and full energy of an original sonic event. NAP claims to have a proprietary "pure analog nanoprocessor" capable of decoding the "virtual map of the physical locations of sound objects captured during the recording process."

NAP asserts that low-level signals are subjected to Doppler distortion in the recording and playback chains which render all reproduced sound "blurry" compared to the originals, and further claims that its amplification technique restores all the original signals to their proper relationships, rendering an unprecedented level of acoustic realism.

Reading the company's press release and the densely written material on its website give us no means by which to test the veracity of such claims, of course, but several clues in the material may provoke doubt. One is the lack of standard audio-engineering technical terms: "orders of magnitude" instead of "decibels," for example. The other is the emphasis on playback amplification as the key to acoustic realism, without any mention of the effects of loudspeaker placement or the contributions of the listening space. Nor do the texts mention recording techniques or microphone placement, or any specific loudspeaker technology such as driver array, crossover slope, dynamic range, frequency response, or dispersion pattern—all of which are universally recognized as having enormous effects on the perceived realism of reproduced music, or what we call the "soundstage." One interesting aspect is that the press release states that just two channels are needed for believable three-dimensional playback, something long maintained by audio conservatives.

Is H-CAT a hoax? Just more overwrought advertising hype? Or is it a real breakthrough by someone from outside the traditional audio industry, someone with a fresh perspective? At this point, we don't know. Take a look at the press release (partially reproduced below) and the NAP website and decide for yourself.

North American Products (NAP) has introduced "Holographic-Cloning Amplifier Technology," known as H-CAT (Patent Pending), a revolutionary new amplifying process that is virtually distortion-free and is expected to make a "quantum leap" for the entertainment industry. It can extract the sonic "DNA" of sound objects buried deep in the audio signal. This "DNA" is a virtual map of the physical locations of sound objects captured during the recording process. This map can be read by the H-CAT nanoprocessor and used to reconstruct or "project" these original sound objects back to their relative positions in the context of a Three-Dimensional Acoustic Hologram.

H-CAT's ultra-high resolution is actually cloned from the original recording and deployed "intact" as a naturally occurring acoustic hologram. This is accomplished in a pure analog mode and does not involve the use of any filters, phase shifters, "cross-channel" manipulation, or gimmicks of any kind. It is not an enhancement process or "surround-sound" method of illusion. It simply projects a "cloned" copy of the original event using just two audio channels. H-CAT is the only analog amplifier technology with a built-in Acoustic Doppler Prevention System (ADPS), and is capable of atmospheric emulation (a phenomenon in which objects appear to occupy their own space, but as part of your environment). A recording of instruments (including the room) can be superimposed or "attached" to your listening room.

"The comparison between real life and projection is so seamless that during the testing of H-CAT, some of our listeners were actually startled by a voice that was not coming from the loudspeakers, but out of thin air," said a company spokesman. "It was at this point that we realized we had broken the resolution barrier that has been in place for decades. Soon after the initial series of tests, we realized that it might be possible to increase the resolution at least another 10 times. We later found that we could 'boot up' an internal program in the H-CAT amplifier and almost dial-in the resolution we wanted. (This was too good to be true). Even more remarkable is the discovery that the volume settings acted like a size or distance control for the transparent holographic image. By adjusting the playback level to match the physical sizes of the suspended objects, the sense of electronic means vanishes and your brain believes you've been transported to a room that is larger than the one you're in. (Thank you, Scotty.) Innovations like the 'Boot' and 'Sleep' modes, combined with four sets of high-rel gold binding posts (for stereo biwire) as standard, is only one example of our commitment to flawless 3D entertainment. We now have an amplifier process that has 500 times the resolution of conventional amplifiers and a very bright future."

How it works . . .
H-CAT contains a pure analog "Nanoprocessor" and is the first technology of its kind capable of electronically locking on to audio images that are "buried" down in the nanovolt region. This is where the "location information" or "sonic map" is stored for all objects captured during the recording process. A highly accurate means of extracting this information was needed. The solution involves the Acoustic Doppler Prevention System (ADPS) developed by North American Products. Much like the optical holograms that rely on the purity of a ruby laser to capture finite phase angles of a visual scene, H-CAT uses the ADPS to program the main amplifier "engine" in a purely analog mode but with exact values (as if it were in a digital domain). This nanoscopic Doppler lock is secured via a learned "wet connection" that takes place during "boot up." Since acoustic Doppler cannot occur, there is no "wobble," and the sonic image is virtually "bolted down." The absolute position of objects does not move. This "SteadyAmp" condition is the audio equivalent of the "SteadiCam" effect used for motion pictures. Any attempt to track information this small by conventional amplifiers is quickly scattered by large foreground signals. This is because conventional amplifiers cannot maintain a stable image below 4 magnitudes in depth.

Each time the H-CAT amplifier is "rebooted," a new "wet connection" is learned and established. The "learning" cycle is a brief procedure that runs only once during boot-up. It "fires" a test shot through the processor to trap its only known error. This single trapped error contains a readable map of the nanoprocessor, including the exact value of Doppler "red shift" experienced by the test shot. The locally injected error is mathematically subtracted and a separately generated "antidote" is superimposed on the "wet connection" and is available continuously. Any new input (audio) signal being applied will inherit this "antidote" from the "wet connection" in real time. This virtually stops the nanoprocessor from generating any new errors. The use of the "antidote" keeps the ADPS fully locked. The result is a method of amplifying by passing the entire signal through the amplifier without alteration. This form of signal cloning is based on constant velocity. This ensures that the compressed and rarefied wavefronts are deployed with the same velocity (self-registering). To the observer, the overwhelming lack of distortion and crystal-clear suspended imaging is instantly recognized. Sound waves appear to travel through his or her own "air space" rather than [being] electronically delivered.

Unlike conventional amplifiers using a feedback "servo"-type loop, which relies on errors to develop output, all errors in the H-CAT processor are removed during boot-up—before the first input signal is applied. This technique yields massive benefits, including an increase in resolution of greater than 500 times that of conventional amplifiers.