Welcome to Part 4 of my short history of Canon Audio. If you’ve no clue what the hell I’m on about, I’d suggest a quick look at the three previous Canon Audio posts. I described in Part 3 the design and development of the Canon S-30. The S-30 was significant not only because it gave Canon Audio a presence in the entry-level hi-fi speaker market, but also because it could survive the margin pressure of distribution outside the UK. However, perhaps of more significance in the potential development of the Canon Audio brand and business were two external factors. Firstly, the growth of multi-channel home-cinema (home-theatre in the US), and secondly, the increasing use of audio in retail and leisure spaces.
The use in movie soundtracks of surround and subwoofer channels, encoded into the stereo audio through Dolby Pro Logic, had been around since the late 1970s. However, as domestic stereo hi-fi video recorders began to become commonplace in the 1980s, the extra channels encoded in the soundtrack could be decoded and used in the home, just as they could in the movie theatre. Home-cinema was the result, and it was an extraordinary stroke of good fortune for many hi-fi speaker manufacturers because it meant that, rather than selling customers just a single pair of speakers, some customers were now in the market for five speakers and a subwoofer.
Audio in retail and leisure spaces was of course a phenomenon decades before the arrival of Canon Audio. However, the mid 1990s saw retailers beginning to appreciate that customers’ buying habits could be influenced by the music being played in the store. In the UK, the large supermarket chains especially, bought into the ‘science’, and as a result, some even went to the lengths of launching their own radio stations (Asda FM still survives as Asda Radio). A radio station predicated on the idea that the music it plays can influence customers is somewhat academic though if the in-store audio system isn’t capable of anything more than a muffled request for, “all qualified staff to go to the checkouts”. Supermarkets suddenly needed technically capable and conveniently installable speakers.
Both phenomena fell into the lap of Canon Audio thanks to a radical product proposal from its industrial design consultant Allen Boothroyd. Allen suggested that the core concept of Wide Imaging Stereo, that of a broadly conical acoustic mirror employed to manipulate dispersion, could be integrated into just the high-frequency driver element a corner mounted utility speaker. The acoustic mirror in Allen’s proposal would both widen and direct downwards the high frequency output, while a conventional direct radiating driver, also angled downward, would handle bass and midrange.
The resultant product, christened the V-100, was completed by a connection and corner mounting bracket system that could be pre-installed (the bracket was pre-wired to the amplifier and the speakers automatically connected when slotted in), a paintable, clip on plastic grille, and a range of mounting hardware that enabled clusters of up to eight speakers to be built and flown. The V-100 was a perfect fit with both the home-cinema surround channel and commercial high quality retail audio roles. It flew.
The success of the V-100 in the home-cinema role brought an almost immediate demand for a Canon Audio centre channel speaker and a subwoofer. The resultant SC-10 centre channel speaker and SB-20 subwoofer completed the range and when packaged-up with V-100s, along with S-30s for left and right channels, Canon Audio could offer a technically convincing and innovative looking home cinema proposition. The Canon Audio brand became a leading player for a year or two in the growing home-cinema business.
In the commercial sector a larger sibling of the V-100, imaginatively christenned the V-200, was developed for higher sound level applications in pubs and bars, and a corner mount subwoofer, the VB-100, that could like the V-100, be clustered and flown was also launched. A transformer equipped 100V line version of the V-100 was introduced, and there was even a Canon Audio 100V line four channel power amplifier for commercial installations the V-AMP (rare as hens’ teeth).
Home-cinema and commercial-install audio together gave Canon Audio a new sense direction, and although neither niche was quite what Hiro Negishi had in mind when he came up with the idea of Wide Imaging Stereo and Canon Audio, they were undoubtedly a good fit with the wider Canon brand. On the back of the two new markets, and the business they brought, Canon Audio began to thrive.
In Part 5 I’ll wrap-up with the SV-15, the SV-15 Active, the S-25, a couple of missed opportunities, and the tale of the Canon Audio end-game.