Pulling Power: How ISP Technologies’ New Power Amps are Bringing Efficiency and Eco-Friendliness to the Pro Audio World

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • April 2018
  • Issue Articles
• Created: April 9, 2018

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For every instance of going green and slapping an eco-friendly sticker on a product, there’s a product that makes the change far less obvious.

Plug in and switch on any new device from ISP Technologies that has a power amplifier built in and you’ll automatically pull roughly third less electricity out of your wall socket. The change is invisible, but the cumulative effect adds up quickly – for both the environment and your wallet.

The technology, which stems from three patents from ISP owner Buck Waller, is ISP’s next vault towards getting an energy star sticker on their products, which Waller is confident that the new tech will satisfy the requirements. Appropriately named Dynamic Adaptive Amplifier Technology, the devices with his new patents work to use less electricity.

“Starting January 1, every product we ship out the door that has a power amplifier in it is based on this technology,”

Waller says. “Even the guitar-based products that have amplifiers built in. We have three of our most recent patents issued in the last year, the most recent one I believe being December, for our power amplifier technology. One of the highlights of this design is that is pulls considerably less current off the line, versus the power output that you get at the output of the speaker.”

ISP Technologies, known for their range of cabs, cabinets, pedals and preamps, to name a few, now incorporates Waller’s technology in every product applicable, from the obvious application in speakers, to the guitar branch of ISP products that use power amps.

Like many inventions, the technology started in an entirely different world altogether – the entire concept formed after Waller got a proposal to work on similar technology for cars. ISP investor Richard Kughn, an avid car collector with upwards of 300 in his possession and as seen on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, asked Waller about possible technology that could be applied in the automobile world, specifically for after-market power amplifiers for cars.

“He said to me one day in a business meeting, why can’t we come up with something for the cars? Is there a way we can take our technology and steer it towards the automobiles?’” Waller explains. “I said, ‘what if we did a power amp design where we could take the 12 volts from the car and rather than doing it from switching power supplies?’ All the current cars have so much electronics in the car, including almost all of them have transitioned over to Class D power amps.”

The model ultimately worked, but was never implemented when Ford opted to go with technology from Sony instead. Thus, Waller took matters into his own hands and applied the technology to products in the music world.

“We had a request at the time from Ford Motor Company to evaluate this new power amp technology we had developed that allowed us to take the 12 volts and with zero RF energy we could generate 300-plus watts off the 12-volt car battery,” he explains. “No one else had this technology available, and so that was really that catalyst for that.”

From there, the possibilities back in the music world for Waller came rushing back in. With much of the necessary research in place, the ISP CEO switched gears and went back to focusing on power amps for pro audio and guitar gear. Even more incredible is the fact that Waller, a self-taught engineer, worked on all three patents himself after never going to college for engineering and struggling with dyslexia for a vast portion of his life.

“It probably took the better part of a year to perfect the technology,” he notes. “I had it working prior to that, but to migrate it into higher and higher power levels and [so that it] still retains the advantages of the stored energy aspects of thing.”

In the end, the technology lent itself more to items that plug into a wall socket because they pull from an unlimited power supply.

“I looked at what we had developed and said ‘let me transition this over to the pro side,’ and it didn’t occur to me until I started looking at this [technology in this context] that I realized in the car you’re limited to only 12 volts, but on the pro side you’ve got 120 RMS coming off the wall socket, which is where your power supply starts,” Waller explains. “It occurred to me that if I keep that voltage low on the power supply rails and store the energy in capacitors and dynamically lift the rail, we end up pulling considerably less current off the line – so it was kind of an interesting twist how the concept for this design came about.”

The result is a new wave of power amps that consume far less power, making these amps close to being considered class D. The difference between Class D and Class AB amplifiers, of course, lies in matters of efficiency, with Class D amps being the more efficient of the two.

“The beauty of the design is, number one, it pulls considerably less current off the line, and number two, we are very close to the efficiency of Class D, where Class D is typically 80 to 90 percent efficient,” Waller says. “We’re right around the 80 percent point. We can technically pull one third of the power of the line since we’re using reserve power in capacitors in order to produce that output voltage swing. The net result is, where some of these amplifiers require 18 or 20 amps of current for their output power, we can do that with almost one third of that energy off the line, which makes us feel very strongly about moving forward with green certification, because I truly believe we have without question we have the most efficient power amplifier for wattage out versus power in.”

Waller breaks down the nitty-gritty of the process in the patent paperwork:

“The ISP Technologies DAA amplifier uses stored energy to lift the rail voltages not direct power off the line. With fixed low voltage rails ranging from +/- 15 to +/-33 volts, and a peak current of 25 amps in both positive and negative swing, we now only need 825 VA of power off the AC line not the 2500 VA in the above example. By storing the low voltage high current energy for use when peak signal swings are required we can reduce the power consumption off the AC line by about one third to one half of the typical amplifier through the use of stored energy.”

As a result, Waller says users will notice a significant boost in reliability throughout ISP products that use the Dynamic Adaptive Amplifier Technology.

“The reliability aspects of this amp will go up tremendously because we never have more than 15 volts across the output transistors,” he adds.

The new technology also seeks to remedy the fact that many companies do not provide accurate specifications for their products – something that Waller says he sees permeating the entire industry.

“Recent years have seen a proliferation in what is called specmanship at a minimum and outright fabrication of misleading specifications at worst,” he notes in the patent paperwork for the Dynamic Adaptive Amplifier Technology. “The bottom line is power amplifier ratings are virtually meaningless today since there is no standard measurement system in use. This leads to confusion and serious misunderstanding in the audio community. ISP Technologies has for years rated the D-CAT power amplifiers in true RMS output power and as a result have shown modest performance specifications when compared with competitive amplifiers or self-powered speakers.”

Waller, whose career boasts more than 40 patents, said that he’s never see one be approved so quickly by the patent office, which points to the novelty of his design. Ordinarily, the process including comparing and contrasting the proposed invention to similar models, but for Waller, the OK for his third patent in particular came in a speedy six months.

“I’ve probably got upwards of 40-plus patents that have been issued, but in all my years of filing patents, I have never filed for a patent and had it take less than a year and a half, that’s the fastest it’s ever issued,” he notes. “This last patent was filed July 13 of 2017 and issued December 26 the same year.”

The feat remains a testament to the pulling power of Waller’s innovation with ISP, a force that’s sure to not slow down anytime soon.

“We never stop thinking about innovation here,” Waller says. And with so many ways to make technology green – whether you can see the changes or not – there’s really no reason to.

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