Sound to knock your socks off

Sound technology has evolved yet again, and the Zo from digiZoid promises to turn the most modest stereo system into an amazing audio experience.

Like many entrepreneurs, Paul Berg, president and CEO of digiZoid (Scottsdale, AZ), thought he needed to get his new product manufactured in China in order to be cost effective. Berg, whose career spans 30 years in the microelectronics industry for several different companies including Honeywell and Medtronic, is the developer of the patent-pending SmartVektor technology. SmartVektor is a unique means of sound enhancement that deviates from the mainstream approaches to sound reproduction. It achieves that through a portable, credit-card sized, handheld device called the Zo.

The Zo enhances sound in any type of audio system to provide better quality in the upper and lower ranges without having to increase the volume.

"It's the next-generation technology in the evolution of sound reproduction," says Berg. Originally, sound reproduction was all analog. Then in the late '80s and early '90s, the industry migrated to digital sound reproduction such as the MP3 players. However, those "hack-up the sound pretty badly and don't really project sound very well," he explains.

"This created an opportunity for us to enter with our SmartVektor technology, which is a hybrid technology that uses some digital and some analog while allowing each of those to do what it does best. Now, you can get theater-quality sound experience on anything that you plug the Zo into. We bring to the portable media listening experience what THX brought to the movie theater. It gives you the type of sound where you can feel it, and it does that even with the smallest ear buds."

Originally the Zo's housing was molded in Asia, where it was also assembled. However, Berg soon found that there were a lot of problems associated with manufacturing there, including counterfeit resin, cleanliness issues, and an inability to get secondary operations done cost effectively, including hot stamping, marking, metallization, and hard-coating. "I came to the conclusion that it's too darn hard to get things done there," Berg says.

Mastercraft Cos., consisting of Mastercraft Mold and Polycraft Industries, the company's molding division, was known to Berg from his job at an OEM in Phoenix. He approached them about helping him get the manufacturing done locally. "When he came to us, he brought in the Zo product and did a demo for us," comments Jim Arrowsmith, Mastercraft's national sales manager. "I listened to it and was blown away by it. It's amazing! I've bought three of them."

Arrowsmith notes that Mastercraft has worked with inventors in the past, and has learned to "sift through these entrepreneurs" when they come through the door to learn who has a viable product.

"This guy, far and away, had one of the most technological products we'd ever seen and we decided that the Zo was something Mastercraft wanted to be a part of," Arrowsmith says.  Mastercraft's tooling engineers looked at the Zo's part designs, and how they snap-fit together and offered their expertise on how to make the next generation product a more robust product.

Mastercraft arranged to have the inserts for the original Zo picked up from the manufacturer in China, and shipped to Phoenix. New tooling is being explored to eliminate some of the weaker snap details making a more robust product and to design the tool for longevity to meet the higher volume requirements that are projected.

Instead of hot stamping the logo and decorations onto the Zo's housing which is a Lexan PC, Mastercraft introduced Berg to the inmold decorating process, which allows the Zo to have vibrant colors and to customize the product to various consumer groups.

"Through our molding services and expertise, we were able to take what he did and help him create a better product," says Arrowsmith. "By doing that we were able to offer him better pricing. For example, going into IMD ends up being a cost-out for him with respect to manufacturing in China-the scrap from hot-stamping was running him 60% because the PC was extremely hard and the finish very glossy, so it was difficult. IMD allows a high-gloss finish without the problems of hot stamping."

Berg says that Mastercraft has helped him network into some of the major retailers such as Best Buy to mass-market the Zo. He's also preparing for the next-generation Zo device, which will sell for about half the price of the current Zo, or $50.

The Zo monitors the frequencies not normally heard by the human ear-the very low and very high frequencies-and adjusts the sound power for those, balancing it with the midrange frequencies that are normally heard quite well. "People want to hear these low [bass] and high [treble] frequencies, so they turn up the volume, which then brings the midrange frequencies up as well, to which the ears are very sensitive," explains Berg. "With the Zo, you can turn the volume down and yet hear more sound. Blow your mind, not your ears, is what we like to say."

The digiZoid Zo can improve all aspects of the audio systems currently in use, such as iPod docking stations, MP3 players, headphones, even car stereos. "It totally upgrades the sound performance of the other systems," Berg adds.

While the Zo has been on the market less than a year, Berg has more iterations planned. The Zo is sold through some specialty product websites such as The Sharper Image and Xtreme Geek. "We bootstrapped digiZoid with funding from friends and family, and now it's about to become what some believe will be the best-selling item for the 2011 holiday season," notes Berg.—Clare Goldsberry

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