Under the wings of the Saffelberg investment fund, the Kempen sound technology Auro-3D takes a new start. For Wilfried Van Baelen, who pioneered sound technology, it must taste bittersweet.
Emotion. Wilfried Van Baelen would add it to the sound of music and video, in the cinema, at home on the couch or even in the car. Before that he had a bright idea: what if he couldn’t just make the sound come from front and back and left and right – the classic surround sound, says – but also from above and below? ‘Adding the missing dimension, the height, unconsciously creates a completely new emotional experience for our brain,’ he summarized.
The result of that thought exercise was Auro-3D, ground-breaking technology that truly immerses the listener. She combines a new kind of speaker arrangement – a series of speakers placed high on the ceiling, above the surround boxes – with an algorithm that turns any existing audio format into a real-time 3D experience.
Van Baelen knows the world of sound through his second entrepreneurial adventure, the legendary Galaxy Studios in Mol, which he set up together with brother Guy. It grew into a hotspot for the recording of orchestral film scores, but also for bands from Clouseau to Rammstein.
With his 3D revolution, Van Baelen also thought he would score in business. First in the cinema, in collaboration with Kortrijk imaging company Barco. And then in home cinemas, games consoles, cars and smartphones. Auro-3D made it to more than 1 million home devices, 1 million cars – among others Porsche uses the technology – and more than 2 million smartphones.
But pioneering is difficult. The cinema world was slow to change due to the high costs associated with the switch to 3D. And because consumer technology ended up mainly in high-end niche products, large volumes were not yet sold. Meanwhile, competitors with deep pockets and much higher marketing budgets also launched 3D technology, such as surround sound giant Dolby.
The corona crisis and the associated chip shortage was the last straw for Auro Technologies. Recently, fewer units have been sold with the Auro technology as a result of the Kempen company seeing their royalty flow dry up. Potential customers, such as streaming services and soundbar manufacturers, have put their plans to integrate Auro on hold as their labs were closed for a long time due to the pandemic. After negotiations with a potential investor failed, the company closed its books in June.
But Van Baelen’s baby now gets a new life. The investment fund Saffelberg of entrepreneur Jos Sluys has acquired the assets from bankrupt Auro Technologies. Through the new company NewAuro, Saffelberg wants to make another attempt with a fresh financial board to also get Van Baelen’s technology up and running.
For Van Baelen, who is passionate about Auro-3D, it must feel double. It’s certainly nice that the technology he pioneered is getting a second chance to conquer the world. But it must hurt to see your baby end up with another guardian.
Van Baelen is brief in his answer. ‘What was I supposed to say? I laid the foundation for Auro-3D and thus brought 3D sound to the world. I will always keep promoting it as it is the best solution for immersive audio. Unfortunately, I could not make it a financial success. But I am convinced that that success is only a matter of time. What role do I still want to play in it? That question is now out of the question.’
- The investment fund Saffelberg of the entrepreneur Jos Sluys gets its hands on the assets of the bankrupt Auro Technologies.
- With the company NewAuro, Sluys wants to break through the 3D sound technology, which was developed by the Kempen entrepreneur Wilfried Van Baelen.
- The management of Auro is making the change, the founder Van Baelen is not involved in the restart for the time being.