Orban Celebrates 30 Years Of Making
Radio Sound Better.


Acclaimed OPTIMOD Line of Audio Processors
Continues to Set Broadcast Standards

September 20, 2000 — San Leandro, CA

It’s been 30 years since the name Orban began appearing on audio processing boxes. Brainchild of electrical engineering wizard and music lover Bob Orban, who started the business in the corner of a radio station where he exchanged engineering duties for working space, Orban went on to revolutionize the quality and reach of broadcast audio.

"People have come to trust Orban to produce reliable, high-quality products," says the company founder, who has continued as chief engineer to guide Orban’s development efforts through several ownership changes. "But, most of all, they trust Orban’s proven sound — by which I mean a sound that pleases audiences and keeps them coming back. That, after all, is the acid test in broadcasting."

"We are investing in the future so why not invest in the best?" explained radio veteran C. Jayson "Jay" Brentlinger, President and CEO of Circuit Research Labs (CRL), Inc., which acquired Orban from Harman International Industries in June. "And an Orban without Bob wouldn’t be Orban. It’s both exciting and an honor to be working with such a broadcast pioneer and the development team he leads."

The milestones are many in the company’s three-decades of innovation and growth. Orban’s early OPTIMOD 8000 processor — which debuted the company’s breakthrough product line in 1975 — was key to making a success of the FM "rock album" format that was transforming popular music in the ’70s. The company’s follow-up OPTIMOD-FM 8100, launched in 1980 and featuring a number of patented innovations, was to spend a phenomenal 17 years on the market, becoming the largest-selling FM audio processor/stereo generator ever produced.

Orban’s OPTIMOD-AM 9000 had already brought the new "FM sound" to AM radio. In 1981, the OPTIMOD-TV 8180A introduced natural-sounding audio processing to television. By 1991, Orban was leading the transition to digital audio processing with the first successful DSP-based FM processor, the OPTIMOD-FM 8200, which quickly established itself as the world’s leading digital audio processor. The OPTIMOD-AM 9200, introduced in 1997, was the industry’s first successful all-digital processor for AM radio.

This year, the company released the newest addition to the OPTIMOD line — the much-anticipated OPTIMOD-FM 8400, Orban’s next-generation successor to the standard-setting 8200. With more than five times the DSP power of its predecessor, and a number of new and improved features, the 8400 is expected to quickly establish its industry leadership.

With a note of hard-earned pride, chief engineer Orban calls the 8400 "an unmatchable combination of features, sound, and engineering excellence."

Bob Orban began the tinkering that led to his eponymous company — and some 25 patents — while studying electrical engineering at Princeton University in the mid-’60s and working both on and off the air at the college radio station. "I actually built an audio processor for on-air use at the student radio station," recalls Orban, "but it didn’t occur to me at the time to get into the broadcast equipment business. I was also at different times hosting a classical music show and serving as musical director. I like to think of myself as one of the guys who broke the Mamas and the Papas in the New York region."

The first product Orban ever sold was a hand-made stereo synthesizer, bought by WOR-FM in New York, while he was still at Princeton. When Orban went west to earn a master’s in electrical engineering at Stanford University, he continued building stereo synthesizers in a corner of KPGM-FM in Los Altos, California.

Intending to concentrate on the studio market, Orban also began building spring reverbs, which were marketed through Parasound under the trade name Orban/Parasound. Since Parasound produced records for Warner Brothers, Orban got involved in engineering music releases. He also bought a 3M M-56 1-inch, 8-track recorder and installed it in his living room to produce records. "It was an expensive item back then, so I drove a very old car but had an 8-track in my living room," notes Orban with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Orban had one employee hand-building his stereo synthesizers at KPGM and by 1970, he realized he needed a more formal manufacturing set-up. So he partnered with the late John Delantoni, who had experience managing electronic manufacturing, and "Orban Associates" was born.

At the same time, Orban had been hired as a consultant to help test quadraphonic radio systems and had begun "fooling around" with audio processing at KPGM. "My friend Steve Waldee, who was involved with programming at the station, was something of an audiophile and he had nothing but bad things to say about the CBS Audimaxes and Volumaxes that many stations were using at the time. I also felt the processed sound left quite a bit to be desired, especially in terms of clarity, and I thought I could do better."

So Orban built his first audio processor and "we found it didn’t control modulation very well." When Arno Meyer of Belar suggested that the filters were ringing in the stereo generator, Orban went to the mountaintop where the station had its transmitter to sort out the problem with an oscilloscope.

"Sure enough, I found that the filters were overshooting and ringing in the stereo generator," recalls Orban. That led to the insight that created the OPTIMOD processors. "It occurred to me that the only graceful way to solve this problem was to design a system that put an audio processor, non-overshooting filters, and a stereo generator in one box."

OPTIMOD technology quickly caught on with broadcasters. "We did some tests and the OPTIMOD was really louder than anything else," says Orban, "so the stations latched on pretty fast."

But Orban’s guiding light is quick to dismiss loudness as the key to audio processing, despite the "loudness wars" that have plagued the industry. "Every radio has a volume control and every person knows how to use it," he says in explaining his approach to processor design. "Loudness is the most ephemeral of the qualities in processing. What’s more important to my mind is consistency, clarity, and what I like to call ‘produced sound.’ One of the major jobs of modern audio processing is to put the last bit of polish on the sound so that it sounds big-time and like it comes from show business. That’s what keeps the audience coming back."

For the future, Orban expects the 8400’s innovative technology to "percolate down" into future products. Internet streaming audio, for which Orban recently launched two OPTIMOD processors, the 6200 and 6200S, and 5.1 surround sound for digital television are new markets in which the company expects to be a major player.

Other current Orban products include the OPTIMOD-FM 2200, the industry’s first low-priced, all-digital processor for FM; the OPTIMOD-TV 8282, the first all-digital audio processor for television; and the Audicy digital audio workstation, launched in 1997.