French startup achieves deluxe sound thanks to 3D printing

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Askja Audio, a French developer of audio systems, has revealed how its path to offering high quality sound was heavily reliant on additive manufacturing technologies, and specifically Stratasys’ Fortus 900mc Production 3D printer. The company says 3D printing played a critical role in realizing its flagship product, the Askja Origin.

Askja Audio was founded in 2014 by Didier Kwak, an audiophile with a prolific career in the audio-visual and film industries. Notably, Kwak worked on the production of Luc Besson’s 1997 film The Fifth Element, and has worked closely with such high profile brands as Chanel. In recent years, however, much of Kwak’s energy has been focused on developing a state-of-the art sound system.

“For me, the level of audio quality has drastically decreased since the 1970s with the use of cheaper materials by audio system manufacturers and the rise of digital music streaming services largely to blame,” Kwak explained. “For years, manufacturers have developed increasingly powerful devices whilst using substandard materials and, as a consequence, the output does not meet quality expectations.”

Askja Audio

Kwak began his sound seeking journey in the early 2000s with the development of a personal audio system made from wood and metals. The positive feedback Kwak received about this bespoke system eventually led him to found Askja Audio in 2014, which had as its goal the development of a sound system that would “bridge exquisite sound and art.”

Throughout the development process, Kwak and his team worked with Swiss Fibertec, a company specializing in carbon fiber and composite molds, to design an audio system with impeccable sound aerodynamics. Even in these early stages, however, the startup faced significant challenges in choosing the right materials, geometries and manufacturing processes for the sound system.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was the hybrid amplifier. Kwak has come up with a complex design for the hybrid amplifier which offered high quality sound and was visually interesting. The curved structure of the large format amplifier, the Askja team realized, could not properly be manufactured using traditional processes.

Askja Audio

“We initially considered molding the only viable solution to produce the hybrid amplifier, but at 80 x 65 x 27 cm, the part was too complex to be removed from the mold,” Kwak elaborated. “After some research, we realized that Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing offered us the ability to produce any complicated shape with no geometric limitation. This capability proved to be the cornerstone to realizing the design and production of our hybrid amplifier, filters and power supply unit.”

With the realization that Stratasys’ production 3D printer could enable the Aska Origin’s body, the team got to work 3D printing prototypes for the sound system. Ultimately, Stratasys’ Fortus 900mc Production machine was used to produce the final parts for the sound system, using Stratasys’ ULTEM 9085 and ASA materials.

The materials, the company explains, offered good stability and toughness and reduced the risk of mechanical distortion by carrying the audio signal within the electronic components. Further, ULTEM 9085 was used to prevent resonances and vibration in the amplifier while ASA brought a balance between stiffness and handling to the system’s core design.

In addition to design benefits, Askja Audio also benefitted from faster turnaround times during the prototyping and production stages as well as more cost efficiency.

Askja Audio

“The Askja Origin’s hybrid amplifier is one of the biggest parts and features a complicated, unusually-shaped design—two issues that made it virtually impossible to produce via conventional methods,” added Kwak. “We were looking at several months wait and an incredible amount of expense just to produce the tooling. Additive manufacturing allowed us to overcome tooling and traditional manufacturing limitations and produce unusually-shaped final parts on-demand, cost-effectively. Indeed, we had the parts produced and in our hands within several days—something that would have been physically impossible without Stratasys 3D printing.”

Another crucial aspect of Askja’s use of additive manufacturing is the ability to customize the luxury sound systems for clients. For example, the company can integrate special ridges onto the power supply unit so that custom skins can be added without affecting the sound.

“The unique quality of our audio system ranks Askja within the luxury goods category, but the use of additive manufacturing to permit clients to customize their own design is a tremendous asset,” said Kwak. “We even had a request from one client to add diamonds all around the surface of the hybrid amplifier, which was made possible by incorporating a layer of holes in which the diamonds were embedded.”

Askja Audio

The Askja Origin is an undeniably cool looking sound system. The whole system comprises the 3D printed player-amplifier, the power supply unit, filters and loudspeakers. The company even offers a special console to place the system on. Currently, the French sound company is working on new designs for upcoming sound systems.

Kwak concluded: “The use of Stratasys FDM 3D printing enables us to bring our creative design aspirations to reality, and beyond that it also forms a great part of Askja’s unique selling proposition as no other audio system companies have ever designed their final products with additive manufacturing.”

Askja Audio: French startup achieves deluxe sound thanks to 3D printing