Harman Internship Experience
By Champ Darabundit
Harman Luxury Summer Intern
Over the course of three months during the summer I had the great opportunity of working with the Luxury Audio engineering team as a Summer Intern in Northridge, California. Having been an audiophile since high school, I always wanted to work in the audio industry and chose to go to the University of Southern California to study Electrical Engineering with a specific emphasis in audio.
While I was familiar with some of Harman’s brands such as JBL, Harman Kardon, and AKG from their consumer products, many of Harman’s luxury audio brands were completely foreign to me because I wasn’t even aware of the luxury audio market. In my first week as an intern I had the pleasure of getting demos of JBL Synthesis and Revel loudspeaker systems along with JBL Synthesis and Mark Levinson amplifiers and receivers. Hearing these systems was my first step in learning what Harman Luxury Audio engineering is all about because it taught me what audio is supposed to sound like. I was completely blown away by these demonstrations because as a college student I had never had the opportunity to hear products designed to such high standards. And being able to hear these systems one on one allowed me to listen to them without any distractions which was a completely different experience from hearing product demos at trade shows.
My next step was to become more critical in listening to our product by undergoing Harman’s "How to Listen" program and becoming a trained listener. Combined with more listening demos, this helped me understand the nuances of the speakers I was hearing and begin to dissect the differences and characters between different systems, replacing my initial sheer awe with the beginnings of cognizance. I also started to get a sense of what the different luxury audio brands sonic characters are and the of systems within each brand. I came to understand how minute resonances in a speaker’s frequency response can affect the character of the sound that is reproduced.
This training helped me when I began working with Revel’s Principal Engineer Mark Glazer on the development of a new product, by helping test and evaluate the various parts of a speaker system. I helped to test individual drivers and crossovers as each speaker system undergoes extensive measurements and test to ensure we are receiving consistently reliable components from our remote engineering and manufacturing teams. These individual measurements culminated into evaluation of the complete system in our anechoic chambers. After the measurement activity we then listened to and evaluated the speakers, which helped me learn how to correlate what I was seeing in measurements with what I would hear in a room. It was a marvel to watch how Mark would adjust and tinker with the crossovers and drivers based on our listening impressions to create a perfectly tuned system. I was able to see how a system with already well-designed components is improved and perfected through testing and evaluation leading to a finished product.
Besides learning about loudspeaker development, I also helped support the engineering team by helping to calibrate and validate our measurement systems and various anechoic chambers. Luxury audio product development relies on the feedback between our measurements and what our engineers hear, thus it is important to maintain our testing chambers and equipment to ensure all our measurements are accurate. Through this I was able to dive into the systems that form the backbone of our development process and learn about the processes that need to be taken to properly calibrate audio testing equipment. In addition to this the team provided me with my own project to help integrate a new turntable into our test chambers and update our equipment.
I also learned about measurements outside of the basic SPL measurement that are being carried out by our engineers including the Tone Burst Measurement and Intermodulation Distortion. Tone Burst Measurements send sine wave bursts through a speaker at ever increasing voltages until the speakers reach a distortion threshold and is used as a method of measuring the dynamic capabilities of the speaker. Intermodulation Distortion provides a better metric of distortion within a speaker system over the more common Total Harmonic Distortion. The measurements done in development exceed that of the normal SPL test that is seen in most audiophile reviews to account for factors in loudspeakers that cannot be perceived on by a SPL measurement. By improving measurement methods and upgrading our measurement equipment I was able to see that the engineering team at Harman is not only improving their products but also how they develop the products.
I was also given the opportunity to attend the Luxury Audio Academy, where I got to see the brands from the perspective of our global dealers. The Academy consisted mainly of system demonstrations, which were exciting, but the highlight for me was the opportunity to hear talks given by Dr. Floyd Toole and Dr. Sean Olive, both distinguished researchers in the field of acoustics, to learn how the research that they started and currently lead at Harman directly impacts all of our products to make them better and help maintain Harman as being on the cutting edge of acoustic research.
But what I learned the most from the Luxury Audio team was in the conversations I would have with the engineers. The team here was very patient with answering any of the questions that I had regarding acoustics, system design, electronics, and even life advice. I’ve learned more from talking to the team here than I have ever learned in a university class and each and every one of them is a wealth of knowledge. Working with such a small and experienced team of engineers I’ve been allowed to wear many different hats and shadow the many roles that help develop the amazing products that this team produces.
I am extremely thankful to the team for letting me spend my summer with them, learn from them, and tolerate my endless questions. My time here over the summer has been an invaluable experience that has cemented my desire to work in consumer audio and reinforced my love of loudspeakers and audio systems. My summer internship has been an amazing first step in my career in the audio engineering field and will hopefully lead me back to Harman in the near future.