OPTIMOD Line of Audio Processors
Continues to Set Broadcast Standards
September 20, 2000 ó San
Itís 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 Orbanís development efforts through several ownership changes. "But, most
of all, they trust Orbanís proven sound ó by which I mean a sound that pleases
audiences and keeps them coming back. That, after all, is the acid test in
"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 wouldnít be Orban.
Itís 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 companyís three-decades
of innovation and growth. Orbanís early OPTIMOD 8000 processor ó which debuted the
companyís breakthrough product line in 1975 ó was key to making a success of the FM
"rock album" format that was transforming popular music in the í70s. The
companyís 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.
Orbanís 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 worldís leading digital audio
processor. The OPTIMOD-AM 9200, introduced in 1997, was the industryís first successful
all-digital processor for AM radio.
This year, the company released the newest addition to the
OPTIMOD line ó the much-anticipated OPTIMOD-FM 8400, Orbanís 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
With a note of hard-earned pride, chief engineer Orban
calls the 8400 "an unmatchable combination of features, sound, and engineering
Bob Orban began the tinkering that led to his eponymous
company ó and some 25 patents ó while studying electrical engineering at Princeton
University in the mid-í60s 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 didnít 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 masterís 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 didnít 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 Orbanís 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. Whatís more important to my mind is
consistency, clarity, and what I like to call Ďproduced sound.í 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. Thatís what keeps the audience coming
For the future, Orban expects the 8400ís 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
Other current Orban products include the OPTIMOD-FM 2200,
the industryís 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.