Watch current interviews with music and entertainment icons and influencers of the baby boomer generation as well as rising stars in music.

Posted October, 2011

tonybongioviI’m not an audiophile but I think I know good sound when I hear it.  I also don’t mind investing just a little bit into a set of speakers or amplifier in order to hear my music as perfectly as I can on my meager budget. 

Over the years, I’ve accumulated five sets of Bose speakers of different types and configurations and I really do love them.  I even have a pair of Bose Q3 headsets that I use while traveling. One of the sets of speakers I use quite often are the Companion 2’s that hang off of my Boomerocity computer.  I thought that they were a great speaker with the best sound for the money.  They are and they were . . . until a couple of weeks ago.

At that time I was introduced to a little Plug-In that I downloaded to my computer.  After a couple of minutes of setup and configuration, I opened up my iTunes library and picked one of my favorite instrumental songs, Cajun Pass, by guitarist, Phil Keaggy.

I was, like, “Wait a minute!”

I toggled the Plug-In on and off, not believing my ears.  With the Plug-In on, the sound emitting from my speakers was crisp, clean and clear.  When I turned off the tool, my beloved and cherished Companion 2’s seemed to sound like a cheap AM transistor radio by comparison.  This little gizmo blew my socks off!

After listening to my music through my newfound set of ears (and after retrieving my socks), I wanted to know more about the story behind this fantastic application.

Oh, yeah. I bet you’re wondering what this miraculous gizmo is called.  It’s called the Digital Power Station and it’s the flagship product produced by Bongiovi Acoustics.

Now, if you’re like me and mangle the king’s English, that word before “Acoustics” might seem to be hard to pronounce.  However, if you’re into rock and roll, I’ll bet you your next download that you know how to pronounce it.  Think “Bon Jovi”. 

Ring a bell?  The founder and big kahuna of Bongiovi Acoustics is Tony Bongiovi and, yes, he’s related to Jon Bon Jovi (second cousins).  However, Tony’s pedigree isn’t based on leveraging family relations.  In fact, Tony preceded his cousin in the music business by a few moons.

Mr. Bongiovi story is the stuff of legends and the American dream.  Young Tony was interested in the science and mechanics of sound and amplification at an early age.  At the age of seventeen, the Raritan, New Jersey teen was experimenting with sound and uncovered the secret to replicating the Motown Sound. 

Tony contacted the Detroit-based record label and immediately impressed its brilliant president, Barry Gordy.  So much so that the music mogul regularly flew the young Bongiovi back and forth from Jersey to Detroit to engineer records for the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips and many others on the Motown label.

Tony was eventually wooed away to a little studio a bit closer to home: the legendary Record Plant in New York.  The studio implemented his acoustic design talents to work to improve an already great facility.  The result was the “Tony Bongiovi sound” and was heard on rock radio in the 60’s.  Tony engineered albums there for such talent as Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, Vanilla Fudge and John McLaughlin.

It didn’t take long for another studio, Media Sound, to hire Bongiovi away where he added artists like The Isley Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, The Ramones and the Talking Heads to his engineering resume.

By 1977, with a resume loaded down with gold record credentials, Mr. Bongiovi designed and started up Power Station Studios.  Built within an abandoned Con Edison power generation station, the studio provided rooms designed specifically for multi-track recording that gave recordings a live sound.

Ultimately, Tony’s talents and studios have made significant contributions to over 40 gold and platinum albums for artists as the Scorpions, Ozzy Osborne, Aerosmith, and his cousin’s band, Bon Jovi.  He also had a major part in the largest selling disco record in history: Star Wars from the Meco album, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk.

With this incredible musical history bound up into this one man, even a simpleton like me could see the greatness behind the little Plug-In that I downloaded.  I knew that I had to chat with this amazing man and within a couple of days, a phone interview was arranged.

Our conversation started out with Mr. Bongiovi giving me the Reader’s Digest version of the history of the DPS and how long it’s been available.

“It’s been available for a couple of years now.  This all started many, many {mprestriction ids="*"}years ago. In 1970, I wrote a paper on this. The idea behind this was to create the ability to have sound played back in a high-noise environment using light-weight playback systems. 

“Also, running hand-in-hand with that, it becomes a very cost effective way to bring high quality sound into the hands of everybody.  Up until this time, it was only available through expensive components and it wasn’t practical.  With the advent of digital technology I was able to make this DPS happen.

“In order to make it work in its analog form, it required lots and lots of equipment and, as you can possibly imagine, the progress of this particular technology falls hand-in-hand with the progress of the cell phone. You can see the original ‘brick’ cell phone and now everything’s on my little iPhone.  So, digital technology is what really gave us the ability to make it available to everybody. Now, everybody with the Plug-In or the Bongiovi DPS App iOS can have the same high-quality sound that was only available on exotic equipment just a few years ago.”

Because Tony mentioned that his paper was written back in the analog days, I asked if he actually created analog version of the DPS.

“Oh, yeah! The initial prototypes were analog.  First, I had to go into the lab which was part of our studios.  We had enough equipment in terms of filters, equalizers and automatic gain control circuits that were all part of this. So I was able to test this theory.

“Then, around the 1980’s, we were able to build - in an analog form - a primitive version of what you have now and it worked. I wasn’t able to do anything with that because it wasn’t practical to either manufacture or market it because the person who would be operating it had to have all sorts of skill levels. Of course, with the DPS, everything is automated so you just plug it in or download it, hit ‘Bongiovi on’ and off it goes.

“So, the first iteration was analog and we built several prototypes. From that, of course, we graduated into the digital domain. That’s, of course, what you have now.”

As technology evolved the component costs dropped to the point where what was once high-end technology was pretty much commoditized and provided the perfect entry point for Bongiovi’s creation to hit the mass market.

“I started to investigate consumer electronics because I wanted to bring to the consumer what we’re used to having in the studio in both film and in music. Of course, having access to a lot of consumer electronics in the past years – those components that you buy at retail that are cost effective in their manufacturing. But it doesn’t mean that they sound good.  If you take a look at loudspeakers or even headphones, you realize that that device that reproduces the sound was invented in 1927 and hasn’t changed.

“So, the idea came about, ‘Well, if I can’t change the device – that would be too expensive – I’ll just change the program material to compensate for whatever anomalies exist in the device. In the past few years, there have been all kinds of things available. iHome offers a studio series of playback devices featuring the Bongiovi Digital Power Station technology that are docking stations as well as amplifier systems that are all self-contained.

“So, the size of the playback systems became more available and the cost of the playback systems became more effective. For me, it became a natural progression to say, ‘Now is the time to implement this’ because I have a vehicle that I can put this in which would be consumer electronics and I can make the low-cost consumer electronics sound every bit as good – if not better – than some very exotic, expensive equipment.”

When I shared my story about DPS’s impact on my Bose Companion 2’s, Tony was both complimentary and philosophical regarding the speaker manufacturer.

“The Bose technology is state of the art in terms of the manufacturing of the speaker itself. But speakers are like a little electric motor and there’s a little magnet in there and there’s a coil around a thing called a “former”. That’s hooked up to a piece of paper.  Although the materials are more sophisticated – the polymers are better today – it still does the same thing. You have to move a certain amount of air to make that work. I recognized that very early on.

“Bose makes a good mechanical speaker and, for what it is, it’s as good as it can get utilizing – I don’t want to say ‘old technology’ but utilizing speaker technology that hadn’t changed much.  Now, they have amplifier that’s sophisticated but, even with that, you still have to deal with the mechanics of that speaker.

“Engineers and companies like the Bose’s out there for years have been trying to refine that speaker and make it better and better. Of course, that is the answer if you can afford it.  I decided, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go back and change the content until I get it to do what it’s supposed to do.” That’s why your Bose speakers sound like that because it (the DPS) knows what’s in there and it reacts to that in real time. It remasters the program material in real time so it’s kind of like you re-imagine your audio when you plug this in.”

With Bongiovi’s history in the recording industry, I asked him if there has been any comments from those who have their home recording studios using programs like Pro Tools.

“Most definitely. With the advent of Pro Tools and digital technology to put into the hands of  virtually everyone to make recordings in their homes, what the DPS does is – even with Pro Tools, and generally if you’re going to have a home studio, you have to have reasonably good speakers because, if you don’t, they’ll fail.  You have to be able to listen to what you’re doing. There has to be an investment in speakers. That’s important – and an amplifier so that, if you’re going to make home recordings with Pro Tools, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing.

“The problem is, when you take that out of your little Pro Tools studio – or any studio, for that matter – and you go home and play it back on any playback device, the chances of you getting what you had in that control room are, basically, slim to none unless you have playback equipment comparable to what you have in the studio.

“So, what the DPS does is it gives the opportunity to all those people who are working on Pro Tools and little home studios to actually be able to finish their work product, take it home and listen to it so they can determine what, if anything, they want to change. In some cases  - this is kind of a neat thing – DPS enhanced what they already had so some people use it as a form of mastering. They play it back through the DPS and go back into the Pro Tools and finish the work like that because it actually enhances what’s already there. It enables them to be able to play back – with pretty good quality – what they do in the studio. So, it has been a big boom to those people who are into music and are into recording.”

As for feedback from the more sophisticated, discriminating listeners within his large group of recording industry friends, he shares that, “ . . . for the most part, they’re very much impressed with the way it controls the playback environment – mostly on our first entrance into consumer electronics with the iHome iP1. That was the top of the line that iHome had ever released to being a very cost effective company for docking stations and things like that. I actually took that around to professional mastering houses and got opinions from them: ‘How do you think it sounds? Is it pretty close to what we’re doing in the studio?’ because that’s my barometer in measuring it. They said, ‘Oh, yeah! It’s really good!’ 

“In fact, some of them actually use the iP1 – Sterling has one. Masterdisk has one in Manhattan and Joe Gastwirt has one in California. When they load something into a client’s iPod they test it by playing it back on the iP1 to see if it sounds good to them. But other people who are not necessarily professionals or audiophiles themselves begin to develop an appreciation for what you really can have when you show it to them. The average person walking around with ear buds or a set of headsets on is not aware of what it can really sound like until you show them. Once it’s demonstrated to them, they’ve gotten back to us and say, ‘I can’t do anything or listen to anything without it (the DPS)’. 

“Especially with movies on your little iPhones and you’re walking around watching film or you’ve got your music on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. It makes a big difference in what it sounds like. It changes everything from the little ear buds right up to more exotic headsets – the more expensive types that are available. Right now, there are five products in the iHome studio series that are DPS enabled. Those are things you can find now at Best Buy and other consumer retail store.”

Not only is the DPS technology available via a simple, affordable, downloadable Plug-In, it’s also available in certain models of Toyota’s.

“In automotive, we’re with Toyota Canad now and, towards the end of the year, we’ll have the same technology in other manufacturers. It’s especially effective in a car because DPS can improve the factory speakers that are already there. DPS in automotive is a cost saver and, by having less weight, it uses less gas and is more ‘green’.  That’s what digital technology does: it gives you the opportunity to really explore all of these things. “

As for the future product releases, Tony says, while he can’t discuss specifics at present, “You can look for Bongiovi DPS™ technology in headphones, cell phones, home theaters, televisions, more consumer electronics, more automotive products and medical. The DPS solution is already cost effective so everybody can appreciate it. It is considered by many the state-of-the-art for improving compressed audio sound for playback.

And for those of us who love great sound coming from our stereos, TV’s and other sound-driven gadgets, we can hardly wait to see what kind of toys Mr. Bongiovi will deliver his DPS technology to.  Stay tuned, folks.  This is going to be fun!

To read the Boomerocity review of the DPS Plug-In, click here.  To download your own copy of the DPS to try free for two days, click here and use the promo code, “Boomer” and let us know what you think!{/mprestriction}