Setting the Barr High: CAT Custom Audio
A sound system speaker is just a box. And a Koenigsegg Trevita is just a car, right? Those who surround themselves with quality recognize neither statement withstands scrutiny.
In the world of custom sound systems, there are only a few companies that earn placement in the world’s most exclusive homes and estates. In the world of superyacht sound systems there is one stellar choice: California Audio Technology, aka CAT. Brian Barr, co- founder, and President of CAT, and his brother, Michael Barr, Vice President and head engineer, are the force that continually hones this company’s edge of perfection. In business for 26 years, the Barrs have made “the impossible” their virtual signature.
In a blindingly brilliant CAT installation on board the Heesen superyacht Galactica Star, the CAT team showed its expertise at the 2013 Monaco and 2014 Ft. Lauderdale shows. A bespoke sound system constructed with marine grade loudspeakers and amplifiers delivered exceptional performance that captured the attention of the yachting world, winning Galactica Star three major awards in Monaco, several in Ft. Lauderdale, and others around the globe.
This year, the Heesen Galactica Super Nova is poised to eclipse that predecessor at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show. Bigger, better, and even more stunning than Galactica Star, this new yacht underscores the constant progression and evolution displayed by CAT, revealing a simply jaw-dropping custom sound system.
Despite the luxurious surroundings, the sea environment proves quite punishing for exterior features on a yacht. Salt, spray, sun, and temperatures take their toll on inferior construction. CAT ensures flawless audio performance on board the Galactica Super Nova beach club by installing speaker cones constructed of marine grade aluminum.
No paper or plastic here, these high-quality aluminum subwoofers, mid-bass, mid-ranges, and tweeters are custom milled to perfection and placed in made-to-measure enclosures. The enclosures are then carefully placed into bulkheads, hulls, and furniture, projecting sound perfectly tailored to various frequencies. Designing bespoke plans for optimum sound, CAT tucks the details into logical spaces that integrate beautifully with the yacht’s design. Big drivers for the job of the longer frequencies handled by the subwoofers can go just about anywhere. Smaller drivers for the shorter frequencies show up in strategically-placed satellites, blending well with both aesthetic and acoustic environments.
CAT’s professional, high-tech, pioneering engineers research and recruit the ultimate in materials, proven to withstand the challenges of superyachts, outdoor entertainment areas of estates, and unique interior installations. Innovative system designs place the satellites and subwoofers under furniture and in walls and bulkheads, often slipping them into spaces just 4″ thick. Components are often built into the bulkheads, hulls, and benches, using a healthy dose of expertise to achieve extraordinary sound that does not compromise the parameters of architecture.
Completely waterproof loudspeaker cabinets are constructed of premium materials like aircraft grade aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and varying grades of stainless steel, from 304 all the way to 316L and beyond, similar to that used for military aircraft as well as Formula 1 race vehicles. Loudspeakers, like those above, are built of two, three, or up to as many as ten drivers. The speaker above, with a mid-bass driver about 8″ in diameter for mid-range sound, also features a 1″ tweeter.
Home theatre is simply not adequate to describe the custom installations engineered by CAT professionals as they work to elevate their art to seamlessly integrate and complement elegant living spaces. These complete entertainment libraries fit every technical specification, accommodating aesthetic perfection through innovation.
The bespoke installation above displays tall, shallow speakers, disguising sound equipment that spans most of the perimeter yet fits into a space just 4″ deep. A baker’s dozen of 12″ aluminum subwoofers are set below the screen, with mid-range and tweeter drivers to each side, pushing the experience to the top with ultra-clean high power amplifiers.
CAT amplifiers supply an impressive force of ultra-clean audio horsepower. Custom installations like these take advantage of the 5- to 10-times greater volume, aka sound pressure level (SPL) potential, allowing for creative surface design embracing marine grade perforated leather, tapestries, or more exotic treatments like a wall constructed of woven horsehair.
While indulgent projects on gorgeous yachts or on private estates are frequently driven by aesthetics, the Barrs and their teams are thoroughly on board, ensuring every detail is just as beautiful as the surrounding setting. A preference to expose the mechanics is not unusual, as these CAT loudspeakers and amplifiers express pure, functional beauty in their top quality materials.
Some wish to place the works behind a custom enclosure, like the above system wall with the look of white plaster. Merging form with function, the CAT team uses Eurospan, a high-tech stretch fabric, to serve as the mask for equipment. Doing a perfect visual impersonation of a lathe and plaster architectural wall, the technical installation also invites the addition of multi-million-dollar art displays.
Indoor installations broaden the scope of materials of a bespoke CAT system, engaging leathers, woods, and stone to match furnishings. Birdseye maple and alabaster are incorporated as well in the above installation, featuring chic seating by Cineak of Antwerp, Belgium.
CAT-manufactured computer-based equalizers, known as DSPs or Digital Signal Processors, allow the Barr brothers’ engineering teams to make more than two million adjustments to perfect system performance, offering each individual a proper set of custom settings for the ultimate experience in listening pleasure. It is not unheard of for CAT teams to install five-million-dollar stacks of amplifiers like these in a single project.
The devil is in the details, and CAT proves its mettle with superior, top quality wiring featuring six nines copper, 99.9999 percent pure, and gold-plated internal amplifier circuit boards. High quality materials like these not only improve performance, but prevent corrosion, especially important in marine and outdoor environments. Exhibiting excellence even in the things that most will never see, everything CAT engineers and technicians touch bears the mark of perfection.
Despite their success, the Barr brothers aren’t resting on laurels. They continue to experience live music at every opportunity, absorbing lessons by analyzing some of the greatest musicians and venues in the world, then applying possible strategies to further refine CAT’s processes and products. In the Barr brothers’ opinion, there is no need to listen to bad audio equipment, or to suffer consequences of time with regard to hearing.
“You can’t cheat physics,” Brian Barr acknowledges, but you can certainly use expertise and technology to move the experience closer to perfection. That, very simply, explains why CAT is beyond busy.