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iZotope Launches Spire Studio Complete Portable Recording System for Musicians
In a surprising move, audio technology software and processing algorithm experts iZotope have announced a new hardware product. Spire Studio is a versatile, wireless system that enables songwriters and musicians to seamlessly capture, edit, and collaborate - at home or on the road. Inspired by the recognition that great music can come from anywhere, iZotope designed Spire to go everywhere, offering portable, professional-quality multi-track recording in a sleek, powerful device.   Read More

beyerdynamic Makes Sound Personal with the New Aventho Wireless Headphones
beyerdynamic announced a new era for headphones at IFA 2017. Developed in cooperation with German company Mimi Hearing Technologies, beyerdynamic debuted its Aventho wireless headphone model, making individual sound personalization via an app possible and effective. The audio specialist from Heilbronn says this is a new era for completely customized listening. The debut of the new, high-end Aventho wireless at IFA 2017 is also a benchmark in high-quality Bluetooth headphones.   Read More

DTS Play-Fi Unveils Speakers with Amazon Alexa Voice Service and Alexa Connected Speaker APIs Support
DTS, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Xperi, announced the launch of the first DTS Play-Fi-enabled wireless speakers with Amazon Alexa Voice Service (AVS) and Alexa Connected Speaker APIs support. The Phorus PS10 wireless speaker ($249 MSRP) will ship in late September/early October, followed by the Onkyo Smart Speaker P3 and Pioneer Elite Smart Speaker F4. Additionally, DTS Play-Fi users will be able to enjoy their "My Music" libraries via the Amazon Music app across their DTS Play-Fi wireless multi-room music systems, regardless of brand.    Read More

Harman Introduces Harman Kardon Allure with Amazon Alexa 
At IFA 2017, Harman International introduced the Harman Kardon Allure, a smart speaker with Amazon Alexa Voice Service (AVS) that complements any home space with 360° sound. By pairing Harman Kardon's refined audio performance with Alexa's intuitive voice technology, Harman expects to attract music enthusiasts and voice-activated speaker users frustrated with the low-quality sound experience of the Amazon Echo speaker.   Read More

Sennheiser Introduces Enhanced IE 80 S Earphones with Sound Customization 
At IFA 2017, Sennheiser launched an enhanced version of one of its highest-performing earphone models. Created for the discerning music enthusiast, the new IE 80 S offers a brilliant lifelike sound with outstanding sonic accuracy and clarity. With a unique sound customization function and additional customization features such as an interchangeable cable and memory foam ear tips from Comply, the IE 80 S promises to take the mobile music experience to the next level. Read More

Sony Electronics Introduces LF-S50G Wireless Speaker with Google Assistant
Promising a smarter way to enjoy music, Sony's announcements at the IFA 2017 show in Berlin follow the predictable consumer trends, offering access to voice personal assistants and improved wireless smart home features. Sony's new LF-S50G wireless speaker combines high-quality sound with the smart features of the Google Assistant built in. The LF-S50G can be used "smartly" in the kitchen with handy clock functionality and is IPX3 splash-proof design with a water repellant surface.   Read More

Jabra Launches Elite 25e Headphones with Best-in-Class Battery for Wireless Calls and Music
Providing up to 18 hours of battery time, seamless switching between calls and music, superior design for optimized comfort and fit using wind- and water-resistant materials, and a dedicated Siri and Google Now button, the new Jabra Elite 25e in-ear stereo neckband headphones were one of the highlights from GN Group's consumer brand at the IFA Berlin show 2017. As impressive as the specs, including the newly designed 10 mm dynamic drivers, is the very affordable USD $79 price.   Read More


Editor's Desk

IFA 2017 Momentum

The IFA 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Berlin just ended this Wednesday. With 1,805 exhibitors and more than 253,000 visitors in Berlin, IFA 2017 confirmed its position as the world's leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. From washing machines to fridges, cookers, vacuum cleaners, coffee-machines to juice blenders... and obviously headphones and speakers - including speakers that look like juice blenders, everything was there.
IFA continues to grow, attracting 253,000 visitors, 140,000 of which are trade visitors.

If you want to know the trends in appliances, suffice it to say that washing machines are getting smarter, robotic vacuum cleaners are selling, appliances in general have color touch-screens and voice-control interfaces, and 4K/HDR TV displays are so thin that the largest challenge is now the design of the standing/hanging mechanisms. Oh, and the good news is that curved screens seem to be fading away (hurrah!) As for audio, because those TVs are so thin, soundbars continue to grow (literally) for consumers that still have a family that actually uses the living room to watch TV. Soundbars are doing to home theater what multiroom wireless speakers are doing to traditional hi-fi. And of course, there are wireless speakers for all tastes, including an amusing trend of retro-designs, inspired not only by the 1950s but also by the 1980s.
IFA is quite a different show from CES. The Las Vegas show feels always like a glimpse into the future - sometimes a frustratingly slow future when you realize that many of the things we've seen there will take years to make it to the market. IFA in Berlin is when the companies try to convince the retailers and distributors to carry what they have - this next Christmas!
On the other hand, in terms of technology trends, IFA always feels like there is a world of people that don't attend CES, and they "suddenly" discover what's happening innovation-wise, and they try to sell it to you, as if it was the eighth wonder of the world. But that "distortion field of commercial reality" also has its benefits. Products - no matter how incredible they are sometimes - get orders and make it or break it. In fact, it feels like the global trading gains another dimension at IFA, with a direct connection not only to the prosperous European markets, but increasingly a direct bridge to Asia (and China).

British manufacturer GPO Retro had a hit at IFA 2017 with its new line of modern boom boxes (yes, they have wireless) and retro-turntables.

That's why global leading brands present their home electronics products (shipping or nearly shipping) here in Berlin every year. Trying to promote more cutting-edge presentations to rival CES, IFA promoters have created IFA NEXT, bringing together researchers and start-ups for a transfer of knowledge and information with industry professionals and retailers. The key being retailers, since IFA is a very strong show for channel distributors and reps, internationally. In the new IFA NEXT section of the show, Smart Home, Connected Car, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and (of course) the Internet of Things, were obviously the main topics. And of course showing off its new Connected Speaker APIs that enable new multiroom audio possibilities.
On the audio front, audioXpress has closely followed the major announcements, with Harman, Sennheiser, Sony, Audio-Technica, Bang & Olufsen, beyerdynamic, Jabra/GN, and many more brands releasing refined products that you can read about in our full IFA 2017 coverage. Advanced Bluetooth headphones with noise canceling or audio personalization and slightly improved battery life was the trend, and many entered the truly wireless earbud category.
As a curiosity, a panel of judges from market research firm IHS Markit, and members of the press, announced the IFA 2017 Innovation Awards Winners. The Nuheara IQbuds truly wireless earbuds were considered "the world's most intelligent wireless earbuds" in the Augmented Reality (A/R) category. The ReSound LiNX 3D, the third generation of the first hearing aid made for the iPhone from Resound GN, won in the Health Devices category, and the Libratone ZIPP 360° speakers were the winners in the Personal Entertainment category.
There was again strong momentum for Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), with the British company announcing a major agreement with streaming music service Deezer, and many new software and hardware partnerships, including the first smartphone (LG) and two Sony Walkman players able to decode MQA. This is related to the fact that all major record companies and independent labels are now increasingly providing MQA content and throws a strong spotlight on MQA. In my opinion, strong enough for the big players in the mobile space to take notice.

Fabrice Rousseau, EU Lead of Amazon Alexa, addresses the crowd during IFA 2017: "Integrating Technology into Our Lives - Smart Home, Smart Buildings, Smart Spaces."
Alexa and the Smart Home
But of course, IFA 2017 was also the big Alexa show, with virtually all the product categories previously mentioned now interfacing via Amazon's Voice Personal Assistant (VPA) technology. Amazon Alexa was at IFA for the first time with a dedicated booth strategically located among the upcoming start-ups, highlighting the fact that its software and development tools are free and that the technology can be easily adopted by manufacturers of all types of products.
And while the consumer electronics community waits for Apple to release the HomePod, at IFA all brands made use of those convenient Alexa development platforms and SDKs and implemented it with everything. Followed by many that also implemented Google Assistant... or (few) Microsoft Cortana. In the very particular case of Harman (now a Samsung company), it simply built voice-controlled speakers with Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Baidu (for China) ... and it would probably do it for Siri, if Apple would allow it.
But everything can change in the VPA market if the announced plans of Amazon and Microsoft to collaborate on integrating Alexa and Cortana will materialize. Yes. Alexa and Cortana will be able to talk to each other. No, not two VPAs freely chatting while you are away, but users being able to turn to their Echo devices and say, "Alexa, open Cortana," or turn to a Windows 10 device and say, "Cortana, open Alexa." This means, that Alexa will now be able to interface with Microsoft Office and all of Microsoft's popular apps (e.g., Outlook), while Microsoft's users will be able to control Alexa-enabled smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, or leverage the more than 20,000 skills already built by third-party developers. For now, the two companies are cooperating. Actual results can be expected in 2018.
Philips also goes truly wireless with its Bass+ earbuds that promise up to 6 hours of playback on a single charge.
Also, in China, Lenovo is already working with Turing Robot on a new Chinese voice assistant implemented in its Smart Cast+ projection concept. Turing Robot's technology combines an open platform for developers with a voice assistant and features a complete operating system (Turing OS) with an AI engine. I guess we will start to see voice engines evolving in entirely different ways...
The Stats and the Trends
As highlighted by Simon Bryant, Consumer Electronics analyst for Futuresource Consulting, the Smart Speaker market has grown 843% in units in the second quarter (Q2) of 2017, while the third quarter (Q3) is on course to break more records (year-on-year). "4.2 million Smart Speakers shipped in Q2, with sales dominated by the US and UK markets despite availability extending to Germany, China, and South Korea during the quarter. Adoption in the US and UK has been relatively swift, with penetration standing at 6% and 3% respectively and with each home owning a little over two speakers per home, on average."
Futuresource also highlights that "38% of home audio devices were voice-enabled in the first half of 2017 in the US." Bryant also identifies that "Usage is heavily focused around controlling media with voice, with a negligible share of Echo's 15,000+ skills used on a regular and ongoing basis."
Soundbars are hot items. Harman introduced the JBL BAR series with a slender design and battery-powered, rechargeable, wireless rear speakers.
Now the question on that front is, will future growth of smart speaker demand be affected by integration of VPAs in to other device categories? That, in my opinion depends upon the evolution of the smart home concept and the successful penetration of the current dominating platforms, including Google Home and Apple HomeKit, even with Alexa currently the leading voice interface in this domain. That's why Apple is not so committed to opening up Siri to hardware developers, while it clearly pushes HomeKit implementations to everyone. It remains to be seen if that's the right approach.
According to another recent report from Futuresource, "41 million smart home devices will ship in 2017 globally, representing a retail value of $7.9 billion. Revenues are expected to triple by 2021, making this category one of the strongest growth categories within consumer electronics. This will be helped by added store space dedicated to smart home, the bundling of smart home devices with services and continued good performance of custom installations."
See our full coverage of IFA 2017. Also, CEDIA 2017 just started today and there will be more to follow.


Practical Test & Measurement
Practical Applications for SPL Meters
By Ethan Winer
Following his original 2008 essay on sound pressure level (SPL) meters, in this article for audioXpress, Ethan Winer considers some practical applications for a basic SPL meter (e.g., calibrating loudspeaker levels and measuring room acoustics), using a simple Galaxy Audio CM-130 SPL Meter as an example. He then moves on to a more sophisticated model, the NTi Audio XL2. As he writes, because SPL meters are "reference" devices, they must be calibrated at the factory using known absolute volume levels. The Galaxy meter is accurate to within ±2 dB, which is reasonable for an inexpensive meter. SPL meters can be calibrated by an independent lab for a fee, but that's not needed for casual use. What matters is consistency from one reading to another more than absolute accuracy. In his article, Winer addresses using an SPL meter for assessing relative levels (e.g., to calibrate a stereo or surround system to ensure that all loudspeakers play at the same volume level), explains basic ways to measure a room's acoustic properties and provides valuable comparisons of actual experiences, including visualizing the measurement results in a computer using free or affordable software. This article was originally published in audioXpress, March 2015.   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Spotlight
New Driver Technology from Fibona Acoustics 
By Vance Dickason
Fibona Acoustics, founded in 2015 and headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, has introduced a patented driver technology Enclosure Magnet Coaxial Transducer (EMCT). EMCT was developed by Milad Kahfizadeh, an industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in acoustic design. With a multiple patented design that borrows from nature (the Fibonacci spiral molded into the cone), the EMCT design has a shallow coaxial design of the diaphragm, a self-containing enclosure, and high sensitivity using a neodymium magnet. Fibona acoustics was already awarded multiple patents on its key developments, and is currently working on several actual OEM projects, as well as developing new drivers based on its core technology, such as a long stroke subwoofer.   Read the Full Article Online

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