DirectOut Promotes Flexible Audio Network and Interconnectivity Solutions at AES NY
Following a successful premier at IBC2018 in Amsterdam, German audio network and interconnectivity specialist DirectOut Technologies will showcase the first member of its new flagship interface series at AES New York and NAB NY (October 17-19, 2018). The company will make the US debut for the new PRODIGY.MC modular audio converter and audio router, while supporting the IP showcase at the NY events. DirectOut will also present updates for the MONTONE.42 MADI-onto-Network Bridge and the globcon unified control software.   Read More

RecordingTheMasters Launches New FOX C-60 Analog Compact Music Cassette
Did you know that audio cassette tapes are outpacing all other audio formats - including vinyl - in sales growth? Yes, exactly. 
Since cassette sales reached its peak in 1989 - when the US market alone counted 450 million albums sold in cassettes - the format was quickly replaced with Compact Discs (CDs) and the digital recording uprise in home studios. But cassette tapes never went away, and they are now returning to considerable volumes. Enough for RecordingTheMasters, the leading worldwide manufacturer of reel-to-reel tape to introduce a new music cassette with superior quality. Available in the US in November 2018
   Read More

Smart Speakers Driving New Music Consumption Habits, Says New AudienceNet Study
Music subscription services are gaining traction as the dominant way consumers listen to music, with smartphones and new devices (e.g., smart speakers) driving adoption of these services, especially among younger audiences. "Audiomonitor 2018: The Overall Music Listening Landscape" is a new report provided to the Music Business Association (Music Biz) from research firm AudienceNet. The report was based on a survey of a statistically and demographically representative sample of the US population, and was detailed in a webinar hosted by Music Biz and AudienceNet.    Read More

Devialet Unveils New Compact and More Affordable Phantom Reactor Speaker
Devialet, the pioneering French technology brand, unveiled the Phantom Reactor, an ultra-compact version of its famous Phantom speaker that still delivers up to 900 W of power and very high fidelity, with prices starting at $999. The company calls the Reactor "a new pinnacle in audio engineering," and states that, like its predecessor, the new "Phantom Reactor embodies the brand's progressive vision of making the emotional power of sound accessible to as many people as possible through ground-breaking technology."   Read More

COMSOL Releases Multiphysics Version 5.4 and Introduces Two New Products 
COMSOL announced the latest version of COMSOL Multiphysics Version 5.4, which in addition to two new products provides performance improvements and additional modeling tools. The latest version of COMSOL Multiphysics features COMSOL Compiler, giving specialists the freedom to distribute their simulation applications through executable files, and the Composite Materials Module for layered structures analysis. For acoustics modeling applications, the update introduces acoustic ports and nonlinear acoustics Westervelt model.   Read More

FDA Authorizes Bose Hearing Aid Device to Enter the Market as First Self-Fitting Hearing Aid Controlled by the User
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed marketing of a new device, the Bose Hearing Aid, intended to amplify sounds for individuals 18 years and older with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing impairment (hearing loss). This is the first hearing aid authorized for marketing by the FDA that enables users to fit, program, and control the hearing aid on their own, without assistance from a health care provider.   Read More

Focal Introduces Elegia High-End Closed-Back Headphones
Focal has been enjoying significant success in the high-end market with both speakers and headphones. After launching the Elear, Utopia, and Clear open-back headphones, the French audio manufacturer now integrated the best of its technologies into the Elegia, a closed-back solution, which Focal is proud to call, its first high-end, closed-back headphone. It features speaker drivers integrated directly into the closed-back headphones, without making any concessions on the reproduction of the lowest frequencies.   Read More

Listen Releases SoundCheck 16.1 with New Frequency Trigger for Open Loop Testing
The audio measurement specialists at Listen have announced the release of SoundCheck 16.1. This minor software release contains some exciting new features for all developers and manufacturers working with connected audio devices, providing a test routine for smart speakers and other voice-controlled devices (e.g., smartphones, robots, automotive audio, smart thermostats, hearables, and more). The new software is available free of charge to all registered users of SoundCheck 16.0.   Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

Technology and Market Choices for Headphones

There's a lot of activity in the headphone, headset, in-ear, earbuds - wired and wireless - product segments, with the audio industry abuzz with new designs and expanding its product ranges in all directions.

New designs, improved wireless connectivity and personalization, environment awareness. Manufacturers like Plantronics are quickly responding to consumers' wishes.
Reasons for excitement? Well, according to the latest Headphones Market Report from Futuresource Consulting, the worldwide headphone market is growing and projected to continue to grow at a decent rate (4% in unit sales), while retail value continues to grow much faster, generating revenues worth 20.8 billion dollars. Futuresource has even increased the longer-term outlook to 422 million units by 2022 (from previous projections of 400 million) as a result of growing demand from emerging markets.
Retail revenues are also forecast to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11% (higher than previously expected at CAGR 5%) to generate $31.7 billion. "Growth in true wireless, voice technology, noise cancelling, and an overall improvement in the durability and quality of headphones will encourage growth in prices throughout the forecast period," Futuresource predicts. Emerging opportunities in areas such as voice assistants, voice translation and the - about to explode - category of hearing enhancers or over-the-counter hearing aids could even improve this outlook.

The headphones market continues its recent trend of solid growth in volumes and substantial growth in revenue. The worldwide average price for headphones is projected to grow by 19% this year to $55 (higher than previously reported at $52 for 2018). North America will be the largest headphone market in 2018 to ship 115 million units and account for 31% of global demand. Source: Futuresource Consulting.

Just recently, there was a very intriguing announcement from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowing the "marketing of a new device, the Bose Hearing Aid, intended to amplify sounds for individuals 18 years and older with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment (hearing loss)." As I commented in the story, this is the first hearing aid authorized for marketing by the FDA that enables users to fit, program, and control the hearing aid on their own, without assistance from a health care provider.

This is intriguing since we don't know the exact device yet, what it does, or what the form factor is, and we know, that the over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid regulations should not be in effect in the US before August 2020. By approving this new product from Bose, the FDA is paving the way for an intermediate category of "personal sound amplification products" or PSAPs, with the personalization tuning features that users will require to use them as "self-fitting hearing aids," assuming they will not directly compete with medically prescribed devices.
Now, anyone who closely follows the industry knows how technology developments on this front have been copious, with both the leading hearing-aid giants, such as Starkey, ReSound (GN Group), Signia (former Siemens), Widex, Oticon, and Sonova (Phonak) adding completely new features (e.g., wireless headphone connectivity and more sophisticated sensors), while the consumer electronics industry has also amassed an impressive set of features that allow hearing measurements, preset-based frequency tuning, noise-cancelling, awareness amplification, and other personalization features, while creating completely new platforms that are now effectively very powerful embedded computers able to run machine learning and neural engines on the cloud and on the edge, and support personal voice assistants and voice interfaces. All this, while still being used for high-quality music listening, with all the (now streamed) related connected services. When those systems start enabling practical text-to-speech conversion and translation, they can become an entirely new category of products (hello Bragi).
Those two worlds are bound to collide, and all the companies know it and are working accordingly on strategic plans that leverage the best technologies from both sides of the equation. Also, the whole world is not going to wait for the OTC transition in the US. With Starkey being the only hearing aid company that's US based while most of the leading manufacturers are based in Europe (three in Denmark!), things will evolve in different ways globally.

Hearing aid manufacturers like Widex are not sitting still. They are adding smartphone and television connectivity, and more communication options, while making their products much more well-designed and attractive - even fashionable.

In many European Union countries, hearing aids are heavily regulated, but they are also fully subsidized by public health schemes in some countries, or supported directly by health insurance companies, making the "medical approach" for OTC much more complicated. In those markets, those products will evolve purely targeting the generic consumer electronics approach, without explicitly advertising the medical applications (we can see that happening already with smart watches and sensor-equipped sports bands). That doesn't mean they couldn't become extremely popular very quickly if the benefits are considered effective - and that could lead to a reversal in regulation, incentivizing their acquisition and use. Very possible and likely.
In other regions of the world - and the poorer countries - the self-fitting hearing aids will probably be welcomed as a competitive, affordable alternative to something people cannot typically afford. And the volumes those countries can represent are simply massive and it is the reason why companies in China are watching the space very closely. Also, for the big global consumer technology companies, this is far too attractive an opportunity, with far reaching implications on their expanding ecosystems of hardware, software, and services - we bet Apple will quickly jump at this.
Now, putting the hearing aid perspective partially aside, there's another angle about which I am intrigued. While there's no doubt that many of the developments I previously alluded to are happening in truly wireless devices (where data connectivity is present, but using wireless protocols), and the form factor is miniaturized and battery-dependent, there is clearly a middle ground that remains to be explored and presents a much larger opportunity for new headphone categories.
While consumers need to get familiar with the possibilities, and the industry sorts out how to combine all the features in devices with batteries that last a full working day (at least 8 hours) and still support an operational range from connected devices of at least 30 meters (98 feet) - Bluetooth power class 1 range -there's room for other form-factors.

Consumers globally are willing to pay more to upgrade for better features, particularly wireless and more recently true wireless. In H1 2018, TWS accounted for 12% of wireless headphones and is set to capture more than a third of this segment by 2022. Revenues are set to reach $14.8 billion (up 44% year-over-year), accounting for 71% of global retail value. Source: Futuresource Consulting

I suspect that the now FDA-approved Bose device will not be any of the company's current TWS designs, which are far too limited for a full-day of use and optimized for entertainment or temporary sports activities. As the current Bose Hearphones show, the Bose "self-fitting hearing aid" is most probably using a neckband type of design, or it will need to be provided with a connected accessory to hold a larger battery.
The other approach I believe to be a much more profitable design choice for generic feature-rich consumer headphones/earphones is to combine a wired connection using Lightning and USB Type C connectors. While it's true that the removal of the headphone jack from smartphones was essentially the main motivation for headphone companies to invest in wireless and that - as Futuresource highlights in its latest report - wireless headphones are projected to grow by 30% this year to reach 174.4 million units, and account for 47% of worldwide headphones demand, there is also increasing demand for new wireless features with noise-cancelling, personalization, and voice assistants, among the most requested. All features that pay a heavy toll on the duration of the battery, which is the reason why a connected option also makes sense.
The Libratone Q Adapt. In-ears designed with a Lightning connection supporting adjustable noise cancellation powered by the iOS device - and extremely affordable. Of course, Lightning designs could do so much more...
There's every reason possible for manufacturers to explore the potential of connecting to other devices via Lightning or USB-C interfaces, providing digital audio and power to the headphones, as well as supporting externally even more sophisticated personalization, noise-cancelling and voice interface features. Not only can they design better sounding and more lucrative models, but they can differentiate in features, without the limitations of built-in batteries. Those advantages are already present in a few models of Lightning-connected headphones like the Audeze SINE, Philips Fidelio M2L, Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature, Libratone Q Adapt, Pioneer RayZ Plus, or even the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset, to mention just a few.
And it's not just for Apple iOS and Lightning. The same advantages can now be leveraged for USB-C. Android smartphone brands are adopting USB-C and removing the headphone jack, and yet, the headphone manufacturers are being slow to react. And as the requirement for USB-C connected solutions also increases, other companies will simply sell accessories. As an example, Moshi just announced a second-generation USB-C Digital Audio Adapter with Charging, certified by Google for the just announced Pixel 3 models. Developed under Google's Made for Google partner program, users can listen to music while charging their Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL at the same time. The adapter retails for $40 and features an improved amplifier and digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which outputs high-resolution audio at 24-bit/96 kHz, and is able to drive even more demanding headphones. Now, there's an obvious convenience in having headphones with USB-C that offer the same and much more, without requiring an adapter.
Also, given the complexity of TWS designs, companies will increasingly rely on existing "fast-to-market" development platforms, making the designs essentially very similar and with limited features. In a market were Apple continues to reap the benefits with its AirPods, manufacturers are simply trying to throw every argument they can in an effort to attract consumers. Just recently, I've seen FreeTek advertising a new Bluetooth 5 TWS model, with fast charging, situational awareness, graphene drivers, voice-controlled AI and "16 hours of music" - that's 3 hours of use plus 3 full charges on the battery cradle, obviously.
If manufacturers don't offer USB-C headphone options, the market will buy more adapters like this one from Moshi, certified by Google for the just announced Pixel 3 models.

Of course, other manufacturers are trying to find a way to explore the possibilities of the latest SoCs to pick and choose the features they will highlight - even if in the end not all of them will be able to work as advertised. An example, using Qualcomm's latest chipset for premium wireless headphones was just announced by Mavin, a California brand, currently promoting its latest Air-X true wireless earbuds on Indiegogo, which the company claims to be the first to last 10 hours with one standalone charge, and up to 50 hours with its included charging case. So, there's that.
But the above thoughts are simply my perspective. For facts, more consubstantiated predictions, and anyone interested in learning more about the headphone market, we recommend the latest Headphones Market Report from Futuresource Consulting.   Click Here


Amplifier Series
Axign of Things to Come
Review by Ward Maas
Continuing audioXpress' Amplifier Series, looking at the latest technologies and Class-D amplification platforms, Ward Maas writes about Axign, a new company from The Netherlands, founded by former Philips and NXP employees who worked on the pioneering Class-D efforts. Established in 2014, their efforts have resulted in the development of the AX5689m a Class-D audio amplifier controller chip in a QFN package. The solution uses a digital control loop with feedback behind the output filter, across the loudspeaker terminals. It requires a digital input signal and suppresses all artifacts with a fifth-order digital feedback loop. audioXpress visited the company to find out more and to receive a demonstration. This article was originally published in audioxpress, December 2017.   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
The 18HW1070 18" Pro Sound Woofer from FaitalPRO 
By Vance Dickason
In this Test Bench explication, Vance Dickason characterized a pro sound 18" ferrite woofer that quickly became one of FaitalPRO's best-sellers. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, January 2014 and it was missing from the online publications that we regularly post on the website. As Vance Dickason noted at the time, the 18HW1070 is a carefully designed and crafted driver, with an impressive power handling capacity for PA applications. The 18HW1700 is rated at 1,600 WRMS, or for 3,200 W maximum power handling, according to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) standard. The 18HW1700 features a proprietary eight dual-spoke (16 supporting struts total) cast-aluminum frame that includes eight 6-mm × 35-mm vents located at the juncture of the frame and the front plate. This design provides substantial air flow across the voice coil and the top of the front plate (see Photo 1a and 1b). The cone assembly consists of an 18" curvilinear ribbed carbon fiber and a fiberglass loaded pulp cone, coated on the front side that incorporates a 6" convex dust cap. Compliance is provided by a three-roll M-shaped coated (sealed) cloth surround in conjunction with two 8" diameter flat-treated cloth spiders (dampers) mounted back to back to cancel out odd-order nonlinearity. A 4" (100 mm) diameter high-temperature nonconducting glass fiber voice coil former wound with a round copper wire winding drives the woofer. The voice coil is terminated to a pair of color-coded chrome push terminals. The back plate cooling structure is fairly complex. There are six 8-mm diameter peripheral vent holes. However, in place of a large single-pole vent, the 18HW1700 has a series of six 8-mm diameter vents that angle into the area below the T-yoke, plus five more 8-mm diameter vent holes placed at a different angle. The concept is to aim the air at different areas of the voice coil as it travels in this area. Three aluminum demodulation shorting rings are located above and below the voice coil. One of the demodulation rings is mushroom shaped and directs air flow around the voice coil. FaitalPRO engineering obviously spent considerable time optimizing the cooling and induced inductance on the 18HW1070's motor. Read the full characterization.   Check it out here!

AX November 2018: Digital Login
Audio Product Design | DIY Audio Projects | Audio Electronics | Audio Show Reports | Interviews | And More 

Don't Have a Subscription?
VC October 2018: Digital Login
Industry News & Developments | Products & Services | Test Bench | Acoustic Patents | Industry Watch | And More