Sick of the Noise? This Startup Has Developed a ‘Quiet Bubble’

Israel’s Silentium has spent 20 years developing noise-reduction technology

Yoel Naor, CEO of Silentium
Ofer Vaknin

Noise is defined as a sound that is undesired or interferes with one’s hearing of something, according to Merriam-Webster. We can argue which ones are more bothersome, but we can agree that persistent, loud and monotonous sounds in certain spaces are certainly a distraction. Not only do noisy air conditioning units in the living room, busy roads near a residence or the sound of wind or tires in an improperly sealed car bother us but can also indirectly affect one’s health.

Insulation is one of the most common attempts to block out noise, but recent technologies have been developed to reduce noise through what’s known as destructive interference. The idea is simple: A microphone catches the background noise, and produces an identical yet opposite sound wave — like a mirror image of the noise. When the two opposite waves meet, they cancel each other out. The result is silencing the bothersome noise. One of the most well-known uses of the technology in recent years has been in noise-canceling headphones.

Silentium, founded in 1998, tried to develop chips to create quiet based on this theory. CEO Yoel Naor said Silentium founder Yossi Barath, who died two years ago, “made the company what it is today but sadly didn’t live to see its recent flourishing.”

Silenium, which is old for startups, could finally reach the Promised Land. After having its share of ups and downs, it was rated among Israel’s top startups by TheMarker magazine in July.

Naor explained the company’s proprietary algorithm to TheMarker in a conversation at his office in the Nes Tziona technology park. “We listen to the noises and predict the noise that will come to broadcast the same noise in the opposite phase,” he said. “The first idea was to create a device that you put on the table and creates quiet — but it was physically impossible.” He added, “The company’s focus changed in 2004.”

He says the company was stuck for years because it had the wrong target audience, like when it marketed oven ventilators and industrial fans. Then Silentium presented its trademarked Quiet Bubble, which cancels the noise around a lounge chair or car seat, at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “Suddenly, car manufacturers and others in the public transportation world started taking an interest,” he said.

“Today we have partnerships with many vehicle manufacturers,” Naor said

Still, things were hard, said Naor. “Yossi died, the money ran out at a certain point and we were seemingly in a crisis, but we quickly raised $5 million based on the deals we presented,” He noted the company sells its software to car audio suppliers.

Naor demonstrated two oven ventilators in an office showroom — one with the chip and one without. The difference is enormous. The same is true with two industrial fans in the room. A car seat in the lobby has speakers simulating the monotonous sound of the road attached to it. Turning on the noise cancellation system makes a palpable difference.

It will be possible by the end of 2019 to buy a car with a Silentium chip installed,” asserted Naor. Having spun its wheels for years, the company has raised a modest $15 million from several investors, starting with Terra Venture Partners in 2009. The company is working on a new round of financing, led by CB Capital with a goal of raising $20 million to $25 million based on a valuation of $80 million to $100 million.

“Although we already have contracts and our risk of failure has lessened, we are not spiking our value,” said Naor. “Thus, I am leaving room to bring in more money into the company. Companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars relatively quickly also have to quickly justify their valuation, but they will tread water — and it will no longer be possible to acquire them.”

He affirmed that Silentium is in good shape. Company revenue may only be a few million, but the company is growing and expects to double its revenue, especially in wake of deals that are on track to come to fruition in the auto industry as well as with airlines and railways worldwide.

Naor remarked that the company was accepted to Germany’s Startup Autobahn, which was co-founded by Daimler, the maker of Mercedes.

Major deals ahead

Naor showed in one of the rooms a list of all the auto companies as well as parts and technology suppliers with which Silentium is working. He immediately noted that the information was not for publication and erased everything written on the board. “We have an intensive partnership with two of the largest vehicle groups in the world,” he said. “Likewise, we are collaborating with two of the largest locomotive producers in the world — CRRC in China and one of its competitors in the West.” 

“The funds are coming here nonstop,” he insisted. He said Israeli funds have also showed up, but only in the last two months. “In any event, I prefer working with investors and portfolios that are close to the market,” he said. “In China, for example, you see besides the automobile market other areas developing, like the room air purifier market. Israel is a little lacking for investors for the stage we are at, between the preliminary investments and investments for growth.”

Ben Weiss, an investor in the company, said, “Silentium has a history of over a decade of research and development, and its platforms are rich in intellectual property.” 

Besides the automotive market, Silentium is still active in the ventilator and air conditioning market. Two months ago, it signed a deal with Electra, according to which it will install its technology in the company’s new line of air conditioners.

Naor stressed that the company recently decided to enter the headphone market as well. “Because every market is switching to wireless, and there is already a battery and Bluetooth in headphones, everyone is talking about the ability of noise cancellation in the headphones,” he said. “We won’t produce our own brand, but we will be able to adapt the technology for different suppliers. We are starting to work with CEVA (which specializes in digital signal processor technology), and I expect we will have serious sales in this market next year.”

Naor said the company is interested in bringing the quiet lounge chairs to open working spaces. This aspiration requires partnerships with companies in a totally different field — furniture. “The moment I have a major strategic partner, I’ll invest,” he said.

Looking at the big picture, Naor said his company’s vision is to adapt acoustics around people so they will have a good experience wherever they are. Today, people seal cars and add carpets to manage acoustics in cars or trains, which is limited to certain frequencies and adds weight. “If we can reduce the noise and preserve the user experience without making the car heavier, we will have an advantage,” he noted. “Heavier cars consume more energy and cost more.”