From Legacy Portable Computing Wiki

Beatnik, Inc. (Headspace, Inc before 1999) was a company focused on MIDI wavetable synthesis. The company was founded by Thomas Dolby in 1993.


Thomas Dolby first founded Headspace in 1993 with Mary Coller, feeling unhappy with the lack of tools for interactive audio. Headspace's first products were the Virtual String Quartet, and music for video games such as Cyberia and later Obsidian.

In 1995, Headspace acquired Paul Sebastien's music publishing company Power of Seven, which brought him over to Headspace. Both composers made a few demos to demonstrate what they could do. In 1996, they began composing music for WebTV. While working on that project, they met the IGORLABS team (Steve Hales and Jim Nitchals, as well as contracted composers Peter Drescher and Brian Salter) and their SoundMusicSys engine. Headspace was also developed Rich Music Format, a container for MIDI and samples. There were plans to integrate it with other software synth engines, such as the Yamaha SYXG-50, but they settled on acquiring SoundMusicSys as Dolby was impressed by it. The company developed it into the Beatnik web plugin, which could play Headspace's RMF files and other formats such as MIDI and tracker modules. It was also bundled with Netscape Navigator, as well as the JavaAudio API in Java virtual machines.

Salter joined the company too, along with composers Blake Leyh and Kim Cascone. Drescher remained freelance, but still did contract work for Headspace. Sebastien served as the Director of Production, and built a music library consisting of several collections spanning various styles. Freelance composers were contracted to write music for the library too. However, by 1998 three of the in-house composers left the company, although Leyh appears to have stayed for slightly longer. Sebastien went on to become a marketing officer, while the others continued their music careers albeit as freelance. Salter continued to do lots of freelance work for the company, which had been renamed to Beatnik.

Mobile technology

Cell phone audio would end up saving Beatnik after the dot-com bubble, as the market for web audio had become too niche to be profitable. Nokia approached Beatnik as they needed a software-based technology to play polyphonic ringtones on their phones; they chose this over hardware-based audio due to the potential for the manufacturing chain to be disrupted. Salter, who still had a close relationship with Beatnik, was contracted to create various mobile sound banks and ringtones. The BAE was reworked into miniBAE, a lighter version designed for portable devices.

As well as their first mobile manufacturer client Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Danger also used the engine for their P series and Hiptop line of phones respectively, and other companies are said to have licensed miniBAE but it is unknown if they actually shipped it on phones. In 2002, Beatnik redesigned the engine to use DLS and XMF files and named it mobileBAE. As well as the previous three companies, this was licensed by many other companies such as Motorola, Samsung and LG for various phones.

Later years

Dolby stepped down from his CEO position in 2002, and was replaced by Don Millers. He went on to found the company Retro Ringtones, which provided ringtones in a variety of formats intended for companies to license for their products. The company appears to have ended its business around late 2005, but still legally existed until it was suspended years later.

Despite success with mobile technology, Beatnik continued to otherwise struggle and became defunct in December 2011, as at that point audio ringtones had long replaced polyphonic ringtones outside of very low-end phones. Earlier that year, Hales open-sourced the miniBAE codebase with permission from the company. However, mobileBAE has not been open-sourced due to potential legal issues, as it was used by Nokia and Samsung until 2013, two years after Beatnik closed down.