Audio Industry Set to Capitalize on New Role at Center of the Smart Home
Futuresource Consulting has just released its most recent consumer electronics report covering a new place for audio in the smart home. "Voice recognition technology is shaking up the CE industry, broadening the horizons of speaker vendors and reinventing the audio device as the gatekeeper of voice, smart home, and machine learning," the report says. Futuresource research forecasts important growth in audio applications for the connected home.   Read More

4K UHD TV Display Sales to Grow 40% as 4K Ecosystem Expands Three Times Faster than HDTV
Holiday (fourth quarter) shipments of 4K Ultra High-Definition (4K UHD) televisions in the US are expected to reach 4.5 million units, driving total 4K UHD sales for 2016 to 10 million units, a healthy 40% increase over 2015, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). Sales of 4K UHD TVs continue to increase as more brands and screen sizes are available at lower prices, new technologies such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Color Gamut (WCG) are more widely available, and consumer demand grows.   Read More

Massdrop Massively Successful Collaboration with Sennheiser on HD6XX Headphones
Massdrop is fast becoming the new market sensation for the audio industry; much in the same way crowdfunding websites have revolutionized the marketing mix, especially for startups. The difference here is how powerful this one million strong audio enthusiast community can be for established brands. In a recent example, collaborating directly with Sennheiser, Massdrop made history with its recent HD6XX headphones campaignRead More

Ocean Way Audio New HiRes3.5 Studio Reference Monitor
Anyone who had the opportunity to listen to Ocean Way Audio's HR4 monitors - as we had - knows that Allen Sides is into something serious. At the 141st Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention in Los Angeles, CA, Ocean Way Audio (OWA) proved why it claims to be a "leading manufacturer of high-resolution reference monitors for the professional audio and audiophile market sectors," and unveiled the new HiRes3.5 Studio Reference Monitor, also known as HR3.5.    Read More

Silicon Labs Introduces World's Smallest Bluetooth SiP Module
Silicon Labs has introduced the industry's smallest Bluetooth low-energy system-in-package (SiP) module with a built-in chip antenna, offering a complete, cost-effective connectivity solution with no compromises in performance. Available in a tiny 6.5 mm x 6.5 mm package, the BGM12x Blue Gecko SiP module enables developers to miniaturize IoT designs by minimizing the PCB footprint including the antenna clearance area to 51 mm2.   Read More

L-Acoustics' Holding Company, L-Group, Acquires CAMCO
L-Group, a holding company of L-Acoustics, announced the acquisition of CAMCO, the manufacturer of high-end amplified controllers, DSP, and audio network solutions for the professional audio industry. L-Acoustics traditionally worked in close partnership with German company CAMCO to complement its sound reinforcement and touring solutions. The acquisition will enable closer integration of active and networked systems.  Read More

Amadeus Designs Acoustics and Monitoring Systems for "Philharmonie de Paris" Studios
French company Amadeus has announced the completion of a new install and acoustical design project for the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall studios. Having already created the "Philharmonia" speakers specifically for the install, Amadeus has now completed the project with detailed acoustical treatment and monitoring systems. The studios are equipped with a unique surround monitoring system, made up of five Amadeus Philharmonia speakers, along with an Amadeus 'ML 15 D' subwoofer.   Read More

Ultrasone Introduces Edition 8 EX Mid-Size Headphones with S-Logic EX
With the Edition 8, Ultrasone has created a piece of headphone history and the brand's best-seller. Now, in 2016, some eight years after the launch of the Edition 8, Ultrasone introduced the Edition 8 EX - a successor that the company hopes will once again inspire the segment it has created for itself. The new model now combines S-Logic EX spatial listening with a portable design using prime materials for excellent wear comfort, hand-crafted in Bavaria.  Read More


Editor's Desk

Is It Only About Voice Control?

Everyone seems to concur on the future of voice recognition technologies and its potential for the connected home or Smart Home. This is an unusual consensus, considering the technology is in early stages. Voice recognition technologies are commonly available in the majority of smartphones, tablets, and computers, and respective operating systems - which doesn't mean by any measure that people actually use it. According to a recent study by Creative Studies in the US and UK "It will not come as a surprise that 21% of our panel have never used Siri, 34% have never used OK Google, and 72% have never used Cortana. When we look within each ecosystem, the numbers get better: only 2% of iPhone owners have never used Siri and only 4% of Android owners have never used OK Google. The majority of active users within their distinct ecosystems admit to use these features only rarely or sometimes: 70% for Siri and 62% for OK Google."

Fabriq is the most affordable smart speaker with built-in Alexa functionality. Cheaper than Amazon's Echo Dot, it's more powerful, it has a built-in battery for up to 5 hours, and it supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, enabling syncing multiple speakers together.

Most of the available research on voice recognition services and voice assistants focuses on English language markets only and completely ignores the global multi-language and highly diverse accent perspective within specific languages, painting a highly-optimistic picture of the real usage of the technology. As analyst Daniel Eran Dilger writes in a excellent editorial for Apple Insider, "While a variety of tech commentators have played up a dramatic "voice-first" rivalry ostensibly led by the Amazon Echo, a yet-unreleased Google Home, and Microsoft's Cortana (and apparently miserably trailed by Apple's Siri), real data shows that's not actually the case." While not exactly scientific, and again focusing on the English-based Voice Personal Assistants (VPAs), the article provides some perspective of the real impact caused by Amazon's Alexa, the voice assistant service that actually kick-started the entire voice-enabled speaker trend.
Still, there is no denying that voice recognition will continue to expand as a must-have feature on any type of connected devices for the foreseeable future, and that anyone who used Alexa has found it to be superior to any other of the available technologies - even though use-cases are limited to simple voice commands, like setting up an alarm. Amazon's Alexa natural language recognition algorithms are now being adapted to British accents for the UK and for German language (naturally, the largest potential market for Amazon in Europe). More importantly, Amazon is licensing its Alexa Voice Service SDK to more manufacturers and Goggle is naturally expected to follow suit. Other companies and sound recognition pioneers, such as SoundHound, are following similar strategies with its Hound digital assistant and music-recognition service, already considered one of the most promising in Silicon Valley. 

The largest potential market in the world, which is the Chinese language voice-assistant market, remains mostly unrecognized. In China, Baidu is the dominant search engine and its voice recognition is considered the best, while Google is absent from that market. Apple's Siri, which is by far the most language-diverse voice recognition technology in the world, also works reasonably well in Chinese. Apple was one of the only companies to recognize from the early stages that multi-language support would be essential but still has to break to challenge of regional variants of the same language.
The other challenge - and one that headphone companies in particular have now started to understand - is that users expect those same digital assistants to be able to speak to them - and be smart when doing it. Text to speech is one of the technologies that SoundHound has already started to address and probably one of the key areas where Apple's Siri is more advanced. Converting big data into voice synthesis and voice interaction presents probably an even larger challenge for the entire CE industry and audio manufacturers in particular, than actual voice control - yet, with potentially greater benefits.
The Boombotix Hurricane speaker project of a "voice-activated DJ with artificial intelligence", (using SoundHound technology) did not do well on Kickstarter and was very far from reaching the $250,000 pledged goal.

It's the combination of all those usage scenarios that helps explain the consensus about the market potential for voice technologies and VPAs - at home and on mobile devices. As ABI Research forecasts , more than 120 million voice-enabled devices will ship in 2021. The company's research states that, "It is in the smart home that voice control systems will live out their full potential. Smart TVs, smart refrigerators, smart plugs, and more will extend the reach and simplicity of managing the smart home environment using voice." ABI Research states that, "Speech recognition and natural language processing is quickly becoming the key user interface within the smart home."
Agreeing or not with that statement, ABI Research rightly points out that microphone-enhanced products need to extend the ability to hear voice commands throughout a smart-home environment to include cameras, doorbells, smart lighting, and other appliances. For that, they will need to create a "coherent smart-home system" which requires a shared voice platform, and not tying the technology to specific businesses. The research company highlighted the example of Viv Labs, as a company "focused solely on extending its voice platform to as many services and devices as possible - without tying it to a sub-strategy of boosting the appeal of a separate core business." Unfortunately, Samsung recently acquired Viv...
A more recent market report, published by Futuresource Consulting also agrees with the smart-home perspective. As market analyst Rasika D'Souza states, "Voice recognition technology is shaking up the CE industry, broadening the horizons of speaker vendors and reinventing the audio device as the gatekeeper of voice, smart home, and machine learning and predicts that, this year, 6.3 million voice assistant speakers will be shipped globally, generating revenues of $890 million.
Other recently published reports reinforce the market sales potential for voice applications also in hearables. In a recently published article, Nick Hunn, CTO at WiFore, says that's exactly where the market potential is, forecasting a rise in sales of almost $45 billion in 2020 in its complete market report - The Market for Hearable Devices 2016-2020. As he points out, much more than just consuming music, future "hearables" will "use voice to interact with the Internet, whether that's buying stuff, asking questions, or running your smart home." He defends that "Internet of Voice companies," such as Amazon and Google are the ones better positioned to "leverage their server and machine learning expertise to improve natural language processing that will make talking to the Internet an everyday experience."
From a slightly different perspective, Apple's vision about the use of voice recognition consists of making the service available where it's closer to the user - instead of speakers or always-on microphones in the home (with all the security and privacy implications). That's why it reinforces the use of Siri on the Apple Watch - or the Apple TV 4 remote. As one Siri user stated in a forum, "I still don't understand why I would want Siri plugged into the wall instead of on my phone and watch." But than again, I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple entering the space with a Siri-based smart device, potentially also a speaker...

IBM's Watson solutions are being built, used, and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries.

And I would like to close by highlighting what IBM has announced regarding its ambitious Watson project. Recently, IBM introduced the Watson Virtual Agent, a cognitive conversational technology to create "conversational agents" or "bots." These rely again on deep natural language processing capabilities and interface with users with text (currently) and voice (in the near future). With Watson's unique computing capabilities, IBM believes it will be able to offer unique digital or virtual agents with highly specific skill sets. And, IBM's plan is to offer an ecosystem for any business to create solutions for any platform - not "products."
Watson's Virtual Agent conversational capabilities join existing Watson services such as IBM Watson Tone Analyzer, Watson Speech to Text, and Watson Text to Speech, offering a full suite of cognitive capabilities as cloud-based services. IBM is very clear in the vision that the future of voice digital assistants will depend upon the evolution of "cognitive computing" and learning - meaning artificial intelligence. Because it understands that if people truly want to interact with IoT devices and ride on fully autonomous vehicles, we will need much more than voice recognition...

From the Vault
Testing Loudspeakers: Which Measurements Matter (Part 1)
By Joseph D'Appolito
The controversy over subjective vs. objective loudspeaker evaluation has raged on for decades. However, to my mind, there is no controversy. These criteria are simply two faces of the same coin. When describing how a loudspeaker sounds, using terms such as neutral frequency balance, musicality, midrange transparency, graininess, harshness, imaging, ambience, and others in the reviewer's lexicon is totally appropriate. As a loudspeaker designer, however, these subjective terms do not tell me how to design a loudspeaker. Evaluating and comparing drivers, designing crossovers, and assessing cabinet geometry all require quantitative engineering data as part of an efficient and repeatable design process. So the question arises - of all the measurements available to the designer, which ones are the best predictors of listener preference? In over 30 years of designing loudspeakers, I have found the following measurements, taken as a group, provide the strongest predictor of loudspeaker preference available to us today. Want to know more? Read this reference article, originally published in audioXpress, September 2008.   Read the Full Article Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
Exodus Audio W06-017R "Anarchy" 
By Vance Dickason
This Test Bench article focuses on a product from Exodus Audio, a high excursion 6.5-inch aluminum cone midwoofer, the W06-017R, which was known in retail under the name "Anarchy." This article was originally published in Voice Coil March 2010. The company's website, DIY Cable and Exodus Audio, from Port Angeles, WA, sadly closed its doors in June 2011 (after 10 years and 6 months in business). Still, as this Test Bench attests and Vance Dickason could judge, the 6.5-inch Anarchy woofer, designed by Kevin Haskins was an excellent product. As Vance wrote in that issue of Voice Coil, "Test Bench is definitely my favorite part of Voice Coil, as each month gives me another chance to look at more new drivers and, I hope, learn something new that I haven't encountered before." Exodus Audio developed, sourced and designed a line of audio transducers that were widely recognized as some of the best-engineered devices of their kind and Kevin Haskins transducers received praise from the industry, in particular the DIY community. We thought we should make this review available to all, maybe as a way to inspire other transducer engineers. As Vance wrote, Kevin Haskins did "a nice job producing a high output 6.5" woofer for two-way applications," applying the patented XBL motor configuration from Acoustic Development International (ADI, and other ideas."   Read the Full Article Online

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