INDUSTRY & PRODUCT NEWS

Integrated Systems Europe 2018 Draws Record Crowds and Confirms Its Position as the Largest Global AV and Systems Integration Industry Event
The largest and busiest Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) in its 15-year history drew record numbers of exhibitors and attendees from around the world for four days of business, education, and networking at the RAI Amsterdam from February 6-9, 2018. More than 80,000 registered visitors, 15 halls filled with 1,296 exhibitors, many new product introductions and, above all, serious business, contributed to turning ISE 2018 into a record breaking event.   Read More


Dayton Audio Releases DTA-2.1BT 100 W Class-D Amplifier with Bluetooth
Dayton Audio announced the release of the DTA-2.1BT 100 W Class-D Amplifier with Bluetooth, a discrete whole-system amplifier that provides output for two speakers and a passive subwoofer, which allows for a compact 2.1 setup in virtually any room whether it be an office, bedroom, or even a small home theater. The 2x 50 W output power is more than enough for most bookshelf speakers, and the subwoofer output of 100 W is ideal for a small-scale subwoofer.   Read More


Travis Launches Travis Blue Translating Bluetooth Speaker on Indiegogo
After Travis the Translator, Dutch startup Travis is now promoting the Travis Blue - a translating speaker that takes the original experience of a portable (pocket-sized) dedicated device into something that might appeal to wider gamut of users, like... a Bluetooth speaker. The Travis Blue pairs with a smartphone app, features a single button to translate, accepts voice commands to change language, supports wireless charging, and comes in three different colors.    Read More


Sound Devices Acquires Wireless Microphone Specialists Audio Ltd.
Reedsburg, Wisconsin-based Sound Devices announced the recent acquisition of Audio Limited, the UK manufacturer and developer of high-performance wireless microphone systems. Audio Ltd., now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sound Devices, will continue to operate out of its Watford, UK, offices with Kishore Patel and Lee Stone continuing as managing director and technical director, respectively.   Read More


New 2018 Drivers from Eminence Speaker 
Among the several products introduced at this year's NAMM Show, Eminence confirmed a series of new drivers already scheduled for 2018. From small format pro audio devices to a 15" neodymium guitar speaker, Eminence has expanded its lineup of audio solutions for a wide array of applications. New Eminence drivers for 2018 include the Alpha 2-8, and the Alpha 5-8 for compact pro audio applications, the APT30 horn loaded tweeter, the SD28 soft-dome tweeter, and the F151M-8 ring radiator compression driver.   Read More


Focal Expands Studio Monitor Range with Shape Twin
One year after the launch of Shape 40, 50, and 65 monitors, Focal is expanding its Shape professional powered monitor series with the line's new benchmark product: Shape Twin. This new standard bearer of the Focal Shape series features two passive radiators, woofers equipped with a new Flax cone, and the latest 'M'-shaped Aluminum/Magnesium inverted dome tweeter. Shape Twin is made in France, as are the Shape 40, 50, and 65.   Read More


HiFiBerry Introduces More Affordable AMP2 Board with More Power and Higher Sample Rates
The creative minds at HiFiBerry announced an important improvement in one of its more popular products, the affordable HiFiBerry AMP Board. The new AMP2 comes with up to 60 W output power, which means that it not only offers more output power for speakers, it also provides more power to the Raspberry Pi, allowing it to also power additional components such as a display. In addition, with its 192 kHz/24 bit maximum sample rate, the AMP2 Board is now also an improved DAC.   Read More


d&b Soundscape and the Evolution of Live Sound to Object-Oriented Mixes
It's the latest trend in live sound. Following immersive audio in cinemas and spatial audio in gaming and consumer electronics, the professional audio industry wants to move away from the limitations and restrictions of stereo of dual mono configurations. Based on a networked audio system processor and two software modules, the d&b Soundscape solution from d&b audiotechnik opens up a world of creativity. This approach opens up completely new possibilities for sound designers and audio engineers, but above all for artists and audiences.   Read More




João
Martins
Editor-in-Chief




Editor's Desk


What's Smart About Apple's HomePod Speaker

Apple launched its $349 HomePod on February 9, 2018.
People tend to forget how Apple enters a category and sometimes takes it time to find the simplest "dumbest" approach to the exact things people want. And for that, they often enter a market segment, see what people do, and evolve or change directions. There's no shortage of examples of products where Apple entered and moved out without saying a word. That includes a speaker - the famous iPod Hi-Fi.
 
Another example I always like to remember was the actual iPhone. Apart from all the buzz and the impact that the revolutionary concept caused, the first iPhone was a sort of "limited prototype" of what it could be. Soon to be replaced with the iPhone 3G -  the first actual smartphone with real data connectivity, available almost globally, the iPhone only became closer to its full potential with the iPhone 4, four years after the original release.
 
And despite all the copies and desperate efforts from all the competitors, the iPhone realized the full potential of the concept and allowed Apple to become the largest and most profitable company on Earth. Of course, it helped that all the companies that initially focused on copying everything about the iPhone quickly diverted those efforts to copying the iPad and...we all know that story. With the original iPad, at the time no one understood what it could really be used for when it was launched. The concept was incredibly appealing, the large touch screen experience seemed to be all that was needed to justify its mere existence, and it didn't really bother me that the connectivity was limited to Wi-Fi or, the most glaring of all lacking features, the absence of a camera.
 
Remarkably, that same year the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 introduced multitasking functionalities and Apple's new FaceTime video chat service, because the iPhone 4 was also the first iPhone to include a front-facing camera. Of course, the original iPad was quickly replaced with a new model that also had a camera and did allow FaceTime calls. And it sold hundreds of millions.
 
In that regard, Apple could have revolutionized communications forever and be today's dominant player in Unified Communications, removing the likes of Skype and WebEx to oblivion. Instead, Apple never even bothered to upgrade, promote, or do anything with FaceTime, and today's WhatsApp users don't ever remember what FaceTime is and its intended use. Unfortunately, neither does Microsoft apparently, and Skype continues to be a low priority for Redmond's plans. So, yes, Apple doesn't always get it right the first time around.
 
With the HomePod, it is a similar story. Much in the same way as the first iPhone was limited and didn't actually support the absolutely needed broadband connectivity, now the HomePod is a great speaker that sounds better than anything in its class, but is being received with criticism because of its limitations. And yet, the HomePod actually delivers on introducing the latest technology that defines a "smart-speaker" such as using the latest sensors for spatial awareness (tuning itself to optimize reproduction) and far-field voice detection.
 
Unfortunately, like the first iPhone, some of its essential features are not yet implemented, such as stereo pairing and AirPlay 2 for multi-room connectivity. More glaring, music integration is limited to Apple Music, and Siri's functionality as a VPA and, even harder to understand, HomeKit integration - potentially the thing that most justifies buying one - is still basic.
 
Is there a sign that Siri is limited compared to Amazon Alexa or Google's Assistant? Absolutely not, as many reviewers already noted, when Siri works in far-field mode on the HomePod, it can truly shine in terms of voice recognition - but unfortunately, it is not yet connected to the world of services that a Google search engine can provide, and is not able to be Alexa with its "box of tricks" provided by third-party skills and voice-commands.
 
In general, HomePod reviews all acknowledge the stunning design, the quality of construction, its robustness, the performance, and the sound quality, unlike any other in the "smart speaker" category. In general, HomePod's construction is a wonder - the fabric mesh, the drivers, and the microphone array. Anyone with time for that, can check some of the teardown videos here.

Apple HomePod teardown. Photo courtesy of iFixit.

The HomePod is able to fill any room with sound wherever it is placed, and performs much better than much larger speakers such as the Google Home Max, or any Alexa-enabled or Google Assistant available speaker - with much less distortion when pushed to its loudest. In that regard, Apple's speaker designers did their job. Also, the microphone array and the ability to detect the wake-up works "Hey Siri" and understand voice commands while the music is playing seems to be superior to all rival systems.
 
On the other hand, it's impossible not to note that since it can only be used with Apple Music - for now - its appeal compared with any other similar device is severely restricted. And voice commands for music control are still not convincing. Good luck telling Siri to play that obscure album from your favorite artists, or trying to say the name of a song that's clear basic English words. It's not that HomePod is available only in three English-speaking countries and that voice recognition in general only works well enough in English. The problem is also that it only works with artists, albums, and songs with English metadata. Do you like French music? Want to request "Libiamo Ne'Lieti Calici" from La Traviata by Verdi? You're out of luck!
 
But like any other Apple device, it works beautifully with all other Apple devices and Airplay sources, and the entire process of pairing and controlling it from an iPhone is pure magic. So, if users ignore voice commands and simply control iTunes or another music app, that problem becomes irrelevant - and probably that's what will happen with the large majority of HomePods sold.
 
Apple knows that its Siri engine is actually built on artificial intelligence and natural language engines, but it will be a challenge for users already familiar with voice engines that work with keywords and voice commands to understand contextual sequences and multi-step commands. And comparing Apples for Apples (meaning standard voice commands with standard voice commands) Siri works pretty well. If in doubt, just check this video.
 
Will Siri evolve and learn? Well, the device certainly needs to be updated quickly, offer AirPlay 2 multiroom and stereo pairing, and work with other Apple devices such as Apple TV and - grow in terms of third-party services supported. So, in reality, this is like having an earlier iPhone with limited data services and no apps...
 
So, as all honest reviewers have started to find out, the HomePod does best what is supposed to do well - playing music! Some of the reviews, as usual, are simply hilarious with comments like "this actually sounds surprisingly great!" coming from people who have lived with Amazon Echos and Google Homes for the past months!
 
This is the internal low-frequency calibration microphone module for automatic bass correction. We can recognize the Conexant Systems logo, now a subsidiary of Synaptics. Photo courtesy of iFixit.

On a more serious tone, our friend Brian Hamilton from NTi Audio did some measurements for Fast Company and "surprise, surprise," the HomePod is "legit" and remarkably good, they say! The most relevant of measured performance being its remarkably low distortion.  What else would you expect from Apple's team, and the combination of the most cutting-edge internal calibration for automatic response correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming AND the best-available dynamic processing ever integrated on a speaker On the wireless front, the HomePod is ready to evolve, featuring 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 (with extended range), and Peer-to-Peer direct access from Macs. I like Fast Company's conclusion that "Apple's definition of 'smart' speaker might simply be different than the common understanding," meaning "sound smart."
 
The HomePod will get better with an upgrade, and the HomePod 2 (or the Plus) will eventually be the one to buy. By that time, everyone will have already understood what exactly you can do with voice commands and, eventually the real race for natural language recognition will seriously start. By then, no one will remember the earlier efforts with voice... Apple knows that voice recognition is its infancy, and like always, will tune its strategy depending on those very things that users will actually use and value.
 
Here I should trace another - more recent - parallel - with another Apple product. After the AirPods were launched, most of the reactions - mine included - focused on the non-essential. The truth is, Apple's AirPods are currently leading the true wireless stereo segment with a market share of more than 80% and selling increasingly well. Apparently we disregarded the fact that, when something works well people tend to recommend it to others, and the word spreads. To the point that even a bizarre design like the "cigarette butt" AirPods can become an accepted icon. That's what happened.
 
In my opinion, Apple did the same with the HomePod, and focused on the fundamentals. This is a reference design using all the available tools that for some time have been available to the audio industry, very well put together. So, don't underestimate the impact that this product is going to have in the overall audio industry. This speaker will make other respectful products sound dull in comparison. Audio manufacturers will have to step up their designs to be "sound smart."



                        

R&D Stories
True Bass in a Large Space: A Pro DIY Subwoofer Project from 1975 Using Electro-Voice's 30W 30" Woofer!
By Don Keele, Jr
 
Part of the audioXpress Speaker Focus edition in September 2017, this article by Don Keele, Jr. reminds us of how things have evolved in speaker design, revisiting a subwoofer project that uses an Electro-Voice 30W 30" woofer from 1975! In "True Bass in a Large Space," Keele writes, "Getting true bass in a small place is quite easy and straightforward today, but back in 1975, it was not!" Inspired by Thomas Perazella's DIY article, "True Bass in a Small Space" (audioXpress, February 2017), Keele describes an equivalent solution from 1975 that provides about the same response and acoustic output but using a high-efficiency low-excursion 30" driver mounted in a massive 76 ft3 vented-box driven by a 60 W amplifier, with a total system weight that exceeds 800 lbs!   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
Volt Loudspeakers VM527 Midrange 
By Vance Dickason
 
Voice Coil magazine welcomed Volt Loudspeakers UK to Test Bench in this edition! Volt Loudspeakers has a rich and interesting history. Volt speakers can be heard in some of the planet's most prestigious recording studios and venues and the brand's customer list features some impressive names including Proac, Quested, Martin Audio, Graham Audio, PMC, Funktion-One, Glockenklang, and Robson Acoustics. The driver I tested from Volt Loudspeakers was the hot-off-the-production-line new 2" midrange dome, the VM527. This new mid dome is the little brother to the popular Volt Loudspeakers VM752 3" dome midrange. The VM527's features include a coated single piece fabric dome/surround, FEA-designed ferrite motor structure, a 52 mm diameter Nomex/Kapton voice coil former wound with round copper wire, short flare horn built into the rear mounted (0.75" depth) faceplate, a 91 dB sensitivity, and 75 W (AES) rated power handling. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, August 2017.   Read the Full Article Online

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