Amazon Announces New Amazon Echo and Echo Plus Smart Speakers and Introduces New Alexa Products
Decidedly, Amazon is not resting on its laurels in voice personal assistants. The company continues to severely undercut Google's ambitions with the Google Home, Assistant and Chromecast products, while jumping ahead to compete head to head with Apple and undermining Apple's plans for Siri and the smart home. The company just announced a completely revamped line of Echo speakers with lower prices and improved everything, as well as new classes of Echo devices.   Read More

Loudspeaker Sourcing Show Attracts More Key Industry Players for 2017 Edition
The Loudspeaker Sourcing Show, now in its third year, will take place October 16-18, 2017, at the Nansha Grand Hotel, Guangzhou, China. This show is an all-inclusive solution for loudspeaker brand buyers, engineers, and their decision makers to meet directly with qualified loudspeaker factories over the course of this three-day event. A significant number of new manufacturers and industry associations, including the Audio Engineering Society, have already confirmed support to the event.   Read More

Hafler Starts Shipping PH50B and PH60B High Performance Phono Preamps with Balanced Outputs
Hafler (a division of Radial Engineering) announced that its latest PH50B and PH60B high-performance phono preamps are now shipping. The PH50B and PH60B feature both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs for connection to hi-fi playback systems or pro audio equipment. With the continued resurgence of vinyl production and sales, the PH50B and PH60B help address a growing market for high quality standalone phono stages.    Read More

STMicroelectronics Introduces BlueNRG-MESH Bluetooth Mesh Networking Software Development Kit
STMicroelectronics is empowering the next wave of control-by-phone innovation with new software for creating smart objects that connect using the latest Bluetooth wireless networking features. The company announced an all-in-one software package that enables creation of networked smart objects and accompanying mobile apps with support for the official Bluetooth SIG Mesh-networking specification, assuring end-product interoperability, enhancing ease of use, and market appeal.   Read More

Audinate Unveils Pricing for Dante Domain Manager Software 
Audinate, developer of the industry-leading Dante audio networking technology, has announced pricing for each edition of its Dante Domain Manager platform, a network management solution that brings enterprise-grade system administration to the AV world. Receiving strong manufacturer support, the long-expected software tool will be available in three different packages, according to the number of Dante devices and domains per installation Read More

Audio Precision Introduces Next-Generation APx Bluetooth Duo Module
Audio Precision unveiled its next-generation Bluetooth I/O module for APx Series audio analyzers. The APx Bluetooth Duo module incorporates all the capabilities and features of AP's original Bluetooth module, while delivering a wider selection of A2DP codecs, faster pair and connection times, an increased feature set within APx500 measurement software, and improved RF shielding for use in production test environments.   Read More

NPR and Edison Research Release New Report on Smart Speakers
When NPR and Edison Research released The Smart Audio Report in June 2017, one thing was clear: Voice-activated smart speakers are becoming a must-have device in American homes. The original report revealed that 42% of smart speaker owners consider their device "essential" to everyday life and 65% wouldn't want to go back to life without one. Now available now NPR and Edison Research, a second part of the report reveals how smart speakers influence purchase behavior.   Read More


Editor's Desk

Expanding Horizons in Audio and Voice

It's been an interesting week! Just prior to the IBC 2017 show, which I addressed partially in my previous editorial, Apple made its traditional event for the launch of the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X (and those Augmented Reality demos were amazing!), also debuting the new Apple TV 4K. And before Samsung and all the other Smartphone manufacturers start announcing their own versions of "X" models, we had a series of interesting corporate and technology announcements, culminating by Amazon's announcement of a series of new Alexa-based hardware devices, including new Echo speakers that improve audio reproduction.
I'll address some of these topics, since they were directly connected with my focus at the recent IBC show and current market trends, which I believe are very relevant to our readers.  As I said, in Amsterdam I looked at technology trends in terms of the use of voice, not only for voice assistants, but speech/audio recognition, including speech to text, which is essential for closed captioning (subtitles), and is used increasingly for media asset management and content indexing. In these days of cloud infrastructure and completely filed-based production, those are becoming vital tools, and no wonder, IBC 2017 had many interesting things to see in that front.
I will highlight a company that I know has been doing presentations at all major technology shows, including CES and the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Knowing that they would be at IBC, I paid a visit to their booth and I was simply blown away with their (offline) demo of speech-to-text transcription on an iPad - right in the middle of a noisy show-floor. The company is called Speechmatics, and their AI-powered voice transcription service and new real-time virtual appliance, which enables real-time transcription to be adopted to existing systems in a variety of industries is a breakthrough!

Speechmatics is advancing speech-to-text significantly and its engine will soon be powering many new services. Its AI-powered real-time virtual appliance for real-time voice transcription is a breakthrough!

Founded in 2006, Speechmatics is a Cambridge, UK-based company, specializing in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). Its speech technology and Speechmatics software was pioneered since the 1980s by its founder, Dr Tony Robinson, applying neural networks. Thanks to the evolution in hardware, graphics processing (GPUs) and cloud computing, the research team was able to deliver on the technology's promise and actually explore commercial applications of speech recognition.
Now, the company is exploring all options for applications from subtitling to call analytics, meeting transcription to consumer electronics. One of the interesting aspects I have learned about Speechmatics real-time engine is that, for the first time, it is able to apply contextual grammatical tools to revise the resulting text, achieving almost perfect transcriptions in the English language. Their real-time virtual appliance features adjustable latency and dynamic transcript parameters, adjusting words using contextual analysis as words become clearer to achieve the best accuracy.
According to the Speechmatics team that I talked too, the engine is also able to quickly learn and perfect rules for any other language and they were already demonstrating examples in Dutch or Japanese. In fact, they claim their AI engine is significantly more accurate than their competitors, including Google, IBM and Microsoft, and has considerably better capability across a wide range of languages. Also, in the demonstrations I've seen, the company was showing the Speechmatics virtual appliance embedded directly into third-party software, without any reliance on the cloud. We are going to hear more about this company. In 2016, they have received investments from IQ Capital, and Amadeus Capital Partners, and their platform will be commercially available later in 2017, with licensing also available on a per stream or per hour basis.
At the IBC 2017 Awards, Dolby was recognized with the International Honor for Excellence. (Photo, Erik Verheggen)

Of course, there were also many other interesting cutting-edge technology and content demonstrations at IBC 2017 that deserve a mention, being clear that if those technologies are not visible to consumers just yet, they are currently being successfully implemented in existing production and distribution workflows. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly one of those key-technologies, as we've seen from the example of Speechmatics. But voice recognition in general is what is also powering new user interfaces - even that I've not yet been able to see any convincing demonstrations in television displays and set-top boxes, even though I've seen many references to it.
In a very pleasant chat with Vineet Ganju, Conexant's Voice President Voice and Audio, who was promoting demonstrations with Synaptics of integrated voice for STBs, I learned that there are significant efforts in place, but that companies in the media and broadcast space are very reluctant to adopt existing Voice Personal Assistants from Amazon, Google or Microsoft and many are developing their own engines. Significantly, the demo room demonstrations in the Synaptics room were being powered with Alexa. Current designs in this space are exploring all options, including voice-remotes and even soundbars, or connected speakers that can be placed closer to the user.
And as with elsewhere in the audio industry, all the big media companies are exploring new options for personalization of content, including the use of second screens (they are still around) with AR, chatbots, Immersive Media, and Holography. This is an area where objected-based audio will find ample space for expansion, and the main reason why we should expect interesting new possibilities in the near future. As demonstrated by the experimental MPEG-H transmissions, immersive audio and loudness control is just the beginning.

Significantly this year, the IBC 2017 Awards, recognized Dolby with the International Honor for Excellence, reflecting on more than 50 years of continual improvement in sound. Craig Todd, CTO, Dolby Laboratories, accepted the award on the company's behalf from Naomi Climer, IBC Council Chair and Past IET President.

Comcast Xfinity X1 is one of the best known examples of voice remotes and demanded a huge effort to implement.

And talking about awards, in the past few days, the National Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) announced the recipients of the 69th annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards. The actual ceremony will take place only next April 2018, during the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual NAB Show (Sunday, April 8, 2018) in Las Vegas, NV. Among the 2017 Technical/Engineering Achievement Awards, it is very significant that four companies have been chosen for their pioneering efforts in voice applications and interfaces: Comcast, Universal Electronics (UEI), Apple, and Nuance Communications.
Comcast was recognized with a Technology & Engineering Emmy on "Contextual Voice Navigation for Discovering and Interacting with TV Content," recognizing the technology teams that develop the Xfinity X1 Voice Remote and the innovative software platform that powers it. Comcast's voice remote combines Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing with a powerful, cloud-based platform. In 2016 alone, customers gave more than 3.4 billion voice commands. Today, there are nearly 17 million X1 Voice Remotes in customers' homes.
Universal Electronics, Inc. (UEI), has been awarded for its work relating to voice navigation technologies for discovering and interacting with TV content. UEI was selected for its "excellence in engineering and creativity that has materially affected the television viewing experience." UEI has "diligently expanded optimized voice remote offerings with state-of-the-art microprocessors, tightly coupled with software and acoustic design to enhance the accuracy of daily voice interactions." UEI currently has more than 40 million voice-enabled remote controls in use across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Nuance Communications' Dragon TV won a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for its "intuitive voice-activated navigation platform that empowers users to seamlessly search and discover content using just their voice." Leveraging advances in deep learning and natural language understanding, Dragon TV is designed to give service operators and manufacturers the ability to easily integrate and deliver a conversational user experience for smart and connected TVs. Nuance's embedded and cloud-based voice technologies are currently integrated in many remotes, TVs, set-top boxes, or speakers, in several languages.

Apple was awarded with a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for its Apple TV Siri Remote and in particular its ability to rewind and access content with simple voice commands.

Finally, the most surprising announcement of all was the Technology & Engineering Emmy Award confirmed to Apple for its Apple TV Siri Remote. A relatively newcomer in this space - two years in the market with this technology - Apple introduced its 2015 version of the Apple TV with a remote that features Siri, enabling users to search for content with voice. The Emmy recognizes in particular the ability of the Apple TV to find and play exactly what the user requested with voice commands, including advanced replay capabilities of recorded or live content. Using just voice, Siri on Apple TV allows users to rewind content at any moment by simply asking, "What did he say?" This is a significant implementation, considering the need to integrate hardware and software, allowing to solve a very simple need in a natural way. In the best Apple tradition. 

Significantly, Apple just updated the Apple TV to support, 4K image, HDR and Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and now users can even request: "Show me movies in 4K." And the new Apple TV 4K comes with support for AirPlay 2, allowing to control multiple AirPlay 2-compatible speakers as well as home theater speakers.


Fresh From The Bench
A Review of Hafler's PH50 and PH60 Phono Preamps and the PH44 Moving Coil Step-Up Transformer
By Gary Galo
To understand more about the Hafler revival, we delve into some of Hafler's history and the companies associated with it, including Dynaco, Radial Engineering, and Jensen Transformers. In this article, Gary Galo thoroughly reviews the new Hafler PH50 (designed for moving magnet cartridges) and the PH60 (moving coil) Phono Preamps, as well as the Hafler PH44 Moving Coil Step-Up Transformer. All products come from Radial Engineering, a professional audio company based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and now the owner of Jensen Transformers and the Hafler and Dynaco brands, which it bought in 2014. Following the resurgence of 33 RPM records and turntables, Hafler has launched this series of devices aimed squarely at this market, with two active phono stages and two step-up transformers (SUTs). The Hafler PH34 and PH44 SUTs employ ultra-high performance Jensen Transformers. Galo not only reviews the two phono preamps and transformer in detail but also discusses how Radial leveraged the technology and heritage from those companies.  This article was originally published in audioXpress, April 2017.   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Spotlight
A Platform for Expanded Possibilities: The New Klippel Analyzer 3 
By Manuel Spehr (Klippel GmbH)
Klippel GmbH is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017. To celebrate, Klippel launched its new Klippel Analyzer 3 (KA3). The Klippel Analyzer 3 is a hardware platform for R&D modules and Quality Control (QC) tasks that performs the data acquisition and real time processing. It is connected to a Host-PC / dB-Lab via USB 2.0. In standard configuration the hardware hosts several input and output channels, which are all digitalized in a 24 bit format up to 192 kHz. It allows for direct current/voltage measurements on a speaker and has built in power source for BNC and XLR microphones. Due to its modular design, the platform offers great sustainability and flexibility to make it fit best to special and future measurement applications. The KA3 is a modular device, accepting a series of KA3-Frame and Cards. The Frame offers six slots for cards to plug in. The cards contain different connectors and processing capabilities to allow for certain types of data acquisition or software modules. Using this concept, it is possible to extend the functionality over time and needs as well as simplify repair and/or calibration. In a Standard version, the KA3 is equipped with a Laser-, Speaker- and XLR-Card. The basic KA3-frame is a 19" 2HE unit, powered by an external short-circuit proof 24 VDC power supply. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, September 2017.   Read the Full Article Online

AX October 2017: Digital Login
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VC October 2017: Digital Login
Industry News & Developments | Products & Services | Test Bench | Acoustic Patents | Industry Watch | And More