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Leon Speakers is One Cool Co.: Augmented Reality, The Lounge, Noah’s First Gig

Find out why Leon Speakers and excitable founder Noah Kaplan are some of the coolest properties in the biz.

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Hey, have you seen the two-page Leon ad in the September issue of CE Pro (pp 12-13)? It’s the first ever to feature augmented reality. Grab your smart device (iPad works the best) and follow the instructions by the QR code. If you’ve never tried augmented reality, you’re in for a treat.

Leon’s newHorizon OTO powered soundbar—to be demonstrated at CEDIA Expo 2013—floats and turns as if in mid-air. Play around with it, pinch and twist your fingers—singly or two at a time. You’ll discover new angles with each session.

I wasn’t having a ton of luck with my tiny old Android phone, but Leon marketing director Ethan Kaplan tells me you can go inside the 3D model of the speaker and look at the amplifier inputs, the back of the drivers, and other mechanics. Check out some of his images here (and send us some of your own).

Kaplan also confesses, “Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how we’ll use this stuff beyond the cool factor, but there’s a lot stewing in my brain!”

Ethan and his brother, founder and president Noah Kaplan, are always stewing, it seems.

Art & Sound

I’m like a lot of dealers out there who have a soft spot for Leon Speakers, the hip maker of custom loudspeakers. The company’s claim to fame is making speakers that match any TV, but they’re really about matching the sound with the space.

During a recent visit to Leon’s offices in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Noah’s, Ethan’s and my alma mater), Noah – an accomplished artist—took me on a tour of Main Street (of Bob Seger fame), where his art and sound grace dozens of bars and restaurants.

Our first stop was Lena, a hip art deco place that bought Noah’s first sound sculpture earlier this year.

Noah, who also had a hand in Lena’s architecture, showed me how the angles of the sculpture were created specifically for that space, both sound-wise and design-wise.

PHOTOS: Down on Main Street, the Leon Lounge, Brand new product for CEDIA 2013

“Stand right here behind the fireplace,” he told me. “See how it flows?”

Restaurant after restaurant on Main Street had a touch of Noah in there, and it seemed the whole city knew him by name – from the wait staff to the restaurant owners to the businessmen at the counter to his guru Ari Weinzweig, founder and owner of the famous Zingerman’s deli (the two fawn all over each other … you’re so smart … no, you’re so smart …).

We also poked our head into the restaurant (Palio) that turned Noah pro. Knocking on doors after graduating from the U of M art school in 1995, Noah happened upon this place that was remodeling.

“Do you need any artwork?” he asked some guy.

“Can you do horses?”

“Sure!”

So the guy gave him 20 frames and paid him $30 each to fill them. The paintings and drawings—in every size, shape, style and medium—are still on the walls.

Elsewhere in Ann Arbor on the U of M campus, we happened upon Leon’s first offices, leased 16 years ago and abandoned in 2003. Noah and his small band of partners built out the dank basement, putting up some walls, building a really bad (as in the bad kind of bad, not the cool kind of bad) “listening room” and, well, constructing stairs so they could actually get to the place.

How do I know this? Apparently no one rented the space after Leon left and the whole thing is exactly how they left it a decade ago. The original Leon speaker still graces the outdoor entrance. The old Mona Lisa ads are plastered in a side room. And an ominous circle on the cement floor reads, “R.I.P.” Noah says something is buried under there but won’t say what.

The beauty of the intact office is this: It’s proof Leon built one of the first in-wall speakers. The cavity is there to prove it, with an indentation around the perimeter showing where the grille was flush-mounted.

How Leon Rocks Today

Back at the office, Leon was putting the finishing touches on its brand new loft space, acquired from the next-door neighbors. It was so brand new they were still debating whether to call it the Sound Bar or the Leon Lounge.

The crew raced to complete the new space in time for the grand opening (and my surprise party) that night, and oh what a treat it was! Seems like everyone at Leon is a musician or comedian.

While this particular night, the lounge was used as a party and entertainment venue, at other times it will be used as a “collaborative work environment,” says Noah, “and also an open space for our partners.”

In addition, local Internet radio broadcaster Acoustic Café will broadcast from the lounge when it brings artists to the show. The show, which is syndicated to more than 75 radio stations, boasts Leon as a sponsor. Launch the media player and a big Leon logo pops up. (It’s a really cool show, by the way.)

It’s all part of the Leon vibe as a funky, creative place. In fact, the company this year created the Leon Creative Committee to get the juices flowing throughout the organization.

Employees submitted their speaker-related ideas including prospectuses, and the Kaplan brothers helped to make the products a reality (samples in the slideshow).

Some may become products – like the soundbar with LED lights that flash to the music – and others will hang on the wall with the other eclectic pieces at Leon.

The Leon office is a bit of an art museum, with inspirational items created and collected by Noah, as well Anastasia Deinera, whose full-time job it is to find and spread inspiration (with a little bit of social media thrown in). She lives life with a camera, taking pictures of things that might move the designers at Leon.

So if you want to know why Leon has such strong following among people who love music, art and fresh ideas, there you have it.

Don’t miss the slideshow. The last image features a brand new CEDIA product.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

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