Linea Research may just be the largest power amplifier manufacturer you’ve never heard of.
Rather quietly, the company has developed technologies that have redefined the concepts of efficiency, quality, and performance. All the while, Linea has amassed an impressive share of prestigious OEM clients around the globe.
For much of its 15-year history, the UK-based firm has seemed to be a closely guarded secret, but those times are changing. Founded in 2003 by Davey Smalley, Paul Williams, Ben Ver and Pip Wilson (now retired), Linea came to life as a natural extension of the vision that the founders all shared while working together at Harman, creating products such as BSS Omnidrive and Soundweb systems.
Williams and Ver were natural counterparts. While Williams was a seminal force in helping to shape the progression of DSP technology in professional audio, Ver’s focus was more on hardware such as clever networking circuitry, converters and power supplies. Smalley, who managed sales while at BSS, took on the same role at Linea while also bringing an inspirational talent for developing product feature ideas and refining how those features should work.
“Our ‘parting gift’ to BSS was when the three of us locked ourselves in a room with a whiteboard and defined what became Soundweb London,” Williams recalls. “The title at the top of the board was SW2 (Soundweb 2). This London postcode became the inspiration for the name for the product range. The technologies we were dealing with didn’t really lead to Linea Research, but the relationship we had between us did.”
Still, the team was quite well versed with networked DSP and its control software, as well as switch-mode power supplies and clean, high-power class D amplifiers. A significant demand for these technologies was building, and Linea stepped up to offer them all in a tightly integrated package.
The Linea vision encompassed careful development of every aspect of the products it intended to create. No development work would be outsourced. The end results would offer technologies that were leading edge in both design and function, as well as cost-effective and high performing.
As Ver notes, “While it’s sometimes possible to use a ‘cut and paste’ approach to creating systems, doing this tends to be suboptimal, especially when the boundaries of space and performance are approached. This is why, while often painful, better results are obtained when a system is designed as a whole rather than from a number of disparate building blocks.”
Following a start-up period of research and development, Linea launched its first product, the X-Pod power module, which housed two high-power class D amplifiers joined by an integrated universal switch-mode power supply and networked 96 kHz DSP.
Quickly adopted by OEM clients seeking amplification for self-powered loudspeakers, as well as by makers of premium monitor systems and some hi-fi companies, X-Pod proved to be a success, and developed relationships between Linea and a host of manufacturers. The module’s high efficiency allowed minimalist dimensions and convection cooling, while DSP configuration and monitoring was provided via the Podware app.
As Smalley stated, not long after X-Pod debuted, “Our potency lies with integrating the key technologies of the future. While initially focused on high-power amplifier modules for integration within OEM loudspeakers, we’re not fixed in product strategy or routes to market. Rather, we’re combining our design experience with these modern technologies to create the building blocks from which a range of complete solutions will flow.”
To which Ver adds, “Yes, we’ve developed building blocks of technology that can be combined into products, but it’s important to note that these blocks rarely move from one product to another without significant changes. In addition to their natural evolution, we can make changes to optimize the blocks for a particular application. We can do this readily because we designed them all and thus have a deep understanding of their functions, and very importantly, their interactions.”