Plantronics Completes Acquisition of Polycom to Create Total Communications Solutions Strategy
The last of the surviving "videoconference companies" received a life buoy from Plantronics in March 2018, with the announcement of a proposed acquisition. Three months passed since the intention was revealed, Plantronics closed its $2 billion acquisition of Polycom to form a completely new Plantronics. The strategic plan is to create "THE communications experience company that connects people to what is important at work, at home, on the road, in the car, or anywhere you have a connection."  Read More

NTi Audio Introduces New Vibration Meter and Vibration Option for the XL2 Sound Level Meter
NTi Audio introduced the Vibration Meter, built on the advanced technology employed in the XL2 Sound Level Meter. This enticing addition to the NTi product family, provides many functions for vibration analysis, enabling users to accurately measure acceleration, velocity, and displacement simultaneously for frequencies down to 0.7 Hz. The results are presented with metric or imperial units, or as a decibel (dB) value with an adjustable reference level.   Read More

Martin Audio London Announces Management Buyout from Loud Audio
LOUD Audio, the parent company of leading audio brands Mackie and EAW, confirmed it has concluded the sale of the renowned Martin Audio brand to LDC, a private equity firm from the United Kingdom. In what was a long-expected move, following the acquisition of all Loud brands by the Transom Capital Group in October 2017 and the recent sale of Ampeg to Yamaha, now Martin Loud gets back to an independent position for the second time in its history.    Read More

Rembrandt Laboratories Patent-Pending Home Speaker Will Make You Cry
Rembrandt Laboratories is promoting its patent-pending speaker design Model V with the line "New Audio Technology with Sound So Beautiful, It Moves Listeners to Tears of Joy," claiming a level of realism that feels like the artist is in the room. Effectively, the outside of the Model V, in stained poplar tone wood, looks like one those early tube radios, but there's nothing vintage inside this active speaker, using a distributed mode planar driver with proprietary multiple internal tuned resonate chambers and bass reflex port.   Read More

Work Pro Audio Introduces SoundNut Pendant Speaker Range 
First unveiled at InfoComm 2018, the new SoundNut range, a new series of stylish, high-powered pendant loudspeakers for installation applications from Spanish manufacturer Work Pro Audio, is now available and represents an innovative approach to speaker design from the Valencia-based company. The SoundNut SN8 is the first product in the range, a two-way 400 W coaxial pendant speaker with an 8" bass driver.   Read More

New Qualcomm QCC3026 Bluetooth Audio System-on-Chip Now Available
Qualcomm announced the QCC3026, a flash-programmable Bluetooth Audio System-on-Chip (SoC) that is designed to reduce power consumption by up to 50% compared to previous generation entry-level flash devices. The new SoC is also engineered to help manufacturers simply and quickly develop and commercialize feature-optimized truly wireless headsets and extends the company's portfolio of low-power Bluetooth audio solutions following the announcement of the flagship QCC5100 Bluetooth SoC series earlier this year.   Read More

DSP Group Announces Ultra-Low-Power Development Kit with Far-Field Speech Accuracy for Amazon Alexa Voice Service
Wireless communications chipset solutions specialists DSP Group announced the availability of its HDClear 3-Microphone Development Kit for Amazon Alexa Voice Service (AVS). This Alexa-certified solution features DBMD5, DSP Group's advanced audio/voice processor, and its best-in-class HDClear voice enhancement processing technology, creating a complete development platform for low-power applications, including smart speakers, wearable computing devices, smart home devices, and remote controls.   Read More

Radial Engineering Launches New Website with Improved Experiences
Just as it has been quietly doing with its other brands, Primacoustic, Jensen Transformers, Hafler, and Dynaco, Radial Engineering has launched its new website at The new much improved website front has several features to make the user experience better, while maintaining the information-rich content that Radial users have come to expect and rely upon. New "personas" on the home page are just one of several features improving user experience.   Read More


Editor's Desk

What Shall We Do With Smart? 

While the effects of the global heat wave invites us to stay in the shadows and consider cooling options and relaxing activities, the audio industry doesn't show any signs of slowing down. The industry's calendar demands keeping the pace of innovation and delivering on consumer's expectations for many of the much-propelled technological wonders, which need to reach the market in time for the fast-approaching trade shows and shopping season (next Black Friday is November 23, 2018).
Right now, I am certain that most audio manufacturers are gearing up to introduce fine products that are basically incremental improvements on their previous designs, expand their existing catalog of solutions, attempt to expand their reach to an entry-level mass market or try an upscale approach to a more selective niche with more profitable margins. That's how 88% of the companies do business and define their marketing plans.
But I am also certain that in the minds of all audio company leaders, there is a thought that doesn't go away - how can we capitalize on the "smart speaker" phenomena, the emergence of voice user interfaces, and all the hype around connected devices that are supposed to be smarter? To deprive us from our precious sleep - apart from the heat, for some - is the never-ending flow of announcements from the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple, and Samsung, and all the news that Chinese companies are now catching up on "artificial intelligence" and voice smart assistants embedded in all sorts of products, soon to dominate the world.

As Canalys predicts, "the global smart speaker market is poised to grow to 56.3 million shipments in 2018, as the technology prepares itself for accelerated adoption in the consumer market."
Contributing to the anxiety is the barrage of statistics and market predictions, simultaneously saying the audio sales are growing like never before and that everything needs to be smart and connect to the smart home.
But all market research firms agree, that given their "Trojan horse" and ecosystem approach used by Amazon and Google, there is no way to directly compete. Not only are those companies dominating the market with their massive investments on voice engines and connected data infrastructures, but their product pricing strategies makes any attempt to compete head to head in the smart speaker segment impossible to even attempt - as Samsung's own Bixby project demonstrates. As Canalys predicts, Amazon and Google are expected to remain in the lead with their Echo and Home products, respectively, and will continue to react with aggressive pricing strategies, as the competition from other vendors to enter the race - particularly from China - increases. "The US will remain the single most important market for smart speakers in 2018, as shipments are expected to reach 38.4 million units," says Canalys, also showing that the language challenge is another massive barrier to universal expansion, and the reason why China is still a distant second market for smart speakers - even if it is evolving fast.
Still, in an interesting earlier 2017 market forecast, the "Smart Audio Report" from NPR and Edison Research these devices are forcing a change in marketing strategy with consumers becoming familiar with the concept of voice interfaces and voice personal assistants, leading to estimations that "50% of all search will be via voice already by 2020." This clearly indicates that there are opportunities in implementing voice interfaces in many products and the idea of having local voice commands might seem attractive. But there's always the risk that users can get frustrated when they realize local commands don't behave as a fully featured virtual assistant does. So, maybe gesture commands or a touch screen might be more advisable for many categories.

To me, this survey only tells me that people still don't know what to do with smart products. Of course, if it's a speaker, people will use it to listen to music. If it's an assistant, we ask questions.
Contributing to this sense of emergence over voice implementation, Amazon is aggressively expanding Alexa to include more countries and languages, while absolutely dominating the machine-learning and cloud-based media distribution and data analytics intelligence with its suite of Amazon Web Services (AWS). During my recent visit to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas, NV, in April, I couldn't help feeling apprehensive with the sheer number of announcements of broadcasting services that are dependent on Amazon, with Google aggressively trying to grab a share of that business, while Microsoft and Akamai are distant contenders in something they pioneered. And, Amazon has also announced taking Alexa to the hospitality market, in what is its first foray into the "out-of-home" experience.
So how can audio manufacturers compete in this space? Here's a few basic suggestions:
> Get wireless done right.
> Get the best platform for voice integration that also makes your product smarter, particularly on the local level - don't necessarily make your product dependent on ecosystems you don't control (or simply make those options available in a way that doesn't render your products obsolete).
> Look at ways to explore wired and wireless networks work for what makes your product unique.
> Create complementary solutions that expand on current market trends - enhance the possibilities of those smart products made by the big companies.
No doubt it will be interesting to see how Sonos will make its strategy of "embracing" all voice platforms work. The company has the scale and resources to make it work. So does Harman, but its strategy is not as well focused as Sonos', as the recent Sonos Beam Smart Soundbar shows.

Bluetooth speakers aren't necessarily a menace to traditional home speakers unless they impress with their sound quality and combine so many useful features that they can even conquer the living room.
I believe that audio manufacturers should selectively explore technology licensing opportunities. Understand that when expanding a product range to offer AirPlay 2 wireless audio on a new speaker, for instance, you don't need to add options that don't correspond to the usage profile and existing ecosystem. Apple product owners tend to rely on Apple's solutions and will not necessarily need Chromecast or other options, and they certainly don't need/want Alexa and Google Home. Bang & Olufsen's support of WiSA and AirPlay in its products is a good example of a strategy that combines convenience and compatibility with performance and high quality, which are appreciated by their users.
Also important, in their efforts to innovate, companies should avoid engaging in dubious efforts of reverse-engineering and blind emulation, which only leads to spending money on lawyers, as the recent win by Sonos in its case against Denon HEOS shows. This past week, there was also the news of Samsung finally having to pay (even if not enough) in its dispute against Apple. At least that case certainly helps discourage all those iPhone-clone makers with ambitions of being global.
I cannot help but feel inspired by some modest examples of audio companies that are doing their best to bring products to market that face these challenges and opportunities head on. Just this week, we've seen announcements from Cambridge Audio with its newly announced Yoyo (L) home audio hub, the third speaker in its stylish Yoyo range of wireless speakers, or even a more simple and affordable proposition, such as Fluance's Bluetooth with aptX Ai40 speakers selling for just $199.99.
Of course, eventually many more audio manufacturers will be able to leverage existing smart speaker platforms to design solutions that are able to instantly automatically tune to the acoustic environment and usage scenario depending of playback material, or to sense a fully network-connected system to be reconfigured for immersive audio or listening to a podcast without the user having to touch a button. But that's only one way of "being smart." To actually give products intelligence, manufacturers should explore the fundamentals of what makes a product stand out, such as optimizing drivers to be able to handle all the processing that is required from those sensor-adjusted controllers or creating pre-processing signal analysis to create consistent experiences no matter the quality of the source - 
from highly compressed streams to multichannel DSD. Other ways of creating unique propositions consist of making technology transparent. These approaches have huge potential on professional audio applications as well, as we are already starting to see.
But this week, we received news of another product that combines remarkable engineering and innovative product design in a completely unexpected category, showing how connected devices can truly represent a huge opportunity for consumer electronics. First Alert/BRK Brands, a fully owned subsidiary of Newell Brands and a manufacturer of home-safety products widely recognized in the US, managed to do all that with its Onelink Safe & Sound Smoke Detector, which is also a unique "smart ceiling speaker" with Alexa and Apple Home Kit integration. 

With the Onelink Safe & Sound, First Alert demonstrates that the virtual assistant can truly BE the Smart Home.

Usually this type of cross-pollination in product categories doesn't necessarily resonate with consumers. In the "world of gadgetry," we've seen disco lights on speakers, light bulbs that are wireless speakers, toys with web cameras, and the USB-powered coffee warmer. This is different. I believe this concept is truly unique and deserves recognition, demonstrating that there are lots of ways to rethink the smart home. We would expect this company - and probably many others - to expand this concept in the CEDIA space.
And for more on how to explore existing smart speaker platforms, read my article in the Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook 2018 on "How to Give Your Speaker Some Brains." Now online.


Fresh From the Bench
Audio Precision AECM206 Headphone Test Fixture
By Stuart Yaniger
As part of the April 2018 Headphone Focus edition, audioXpress included a thorough review of Audio Precision's AECM206 Binaural Headphone Test Fixture. For engineers developing and evaluating headphones, Audio Precision (AP) released this new headphone test solution, a competitively priced IEC 60318-4-compliant accessory that simplifies earbud and headphone measurements in both lab and production environments. The AECM206 Headphone Test Fixture is a dense, robust fixture mounted on a resilient base to isolate ambient noise, which can adversely affect measurement integrity. Audio Precision claims the AECM206 is equally capable in both R&D and production test applications and well-suited for testing circum-aural, supra-aural, and intra-concha headphones and earbuds. Stuart Yaniger puts the AECM206 unit to the test, uses it in real measurements of headphones and earphones, and shares the essentials about this complete measurement solution. This article was originally published in audioXpress, April 2018.   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Spotlight
New OEM Driver Company: BlieSMa 
By Vance Dickason
Vance Dickason highlights a new German OEM driver company, BlieSMa. BlieSMa, located in Blieskastel, Germany, was founded January 16, 2018 by Stas Malikov. Prior to starting BlieSMa, Malikov worked at Ultrasound Technologies, at Morel as a QC manager and a transducer engineer, and at Accuton as a production engineer for the last 8 years. The first product released by BlieSMa is the T34A, a 34 mm tweeter. Available since May 2018, the T34A is a metal aluminum/magnesium alloy dome tweeter which will be featured in an upcoming Test Bench explication.  This article was originally published in Voice Coil, April 2018.   Check it out here!

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