Industry & Product News
Dolby Introduces Dolby Dimension Home Entertainment Immersive Wireless Headphones
While Dolby is mostly recognized for licensing key audio and media processing technologies, once in a while the company doesn't hold back from venturing into its own hardware, sometimes to deliver reference designs, other times simply to grab a new category in untapped markets. That is the case with the Dolby Conference Phone, which allows a Dolby Voice conferencing experience in meeting rooms. Now, Dolby has decided to do the same in the consumer space, with Dolby Dimension, the first wireless headphones perfected for home entertainment.   Read More

Creative Technology Introduces Nova Smart Multi-Room Speaker with Amazon Alexa
Creative Technology has announced Creative Nova, a portable WiFi multi-room Smart Speaker with a light-and-sound mood-setting environment, which the company calls "a Light & Sound Spa." The Nova features a powerful five-driver design in a WiFi/Bluetooth high-performance speaker system with Amazon Alexa-enabled voice assistance, complete with far-field voice recognition. A design that the company believes will set it apart from other smart speakers, inspiring "a smarter lifestyle."    Read More

Cabasse Announces the Pearl Wireless Active Three-Way Coaxial Smart Speaker
Cabasse, the iconic French hi-fi brand is now part of AwoX, one of the most dynamic companies in the smart home space. In recent years, Cabasse significantly expanded its catalog with modern and feature-rich products for home-theater and wireless multiroom. The most recent announcement from Cabasse clearly positions the brand in the most contemporary lifestyle segment. After three years of R&D and benefiting from the group's experience in wireless and smart home connectivity, Cabasse has launched The Pearl, an active, high-definition, connected - and smart - speaker.    Read More

Microchip Announces INICnet Technology to Simplify Automotive Infotainment Networking with Support for Ethernet, Audio, and Video over a Single Cable
During Electronica 2018, Microchip announced a more efficient automotive infotainment networking solution that supports all data types, including audio, video, control, and Ethernet, over a single cable. Intelligent Network Interface Controller networking (INICnet) technology is a synchronous, scalable solution that significantly simplifies building audio and infotainment systems. INICnet coexists with automotive Ethernet, efficiently linking IP-based communication across vehicle domains, and supports digital audio formats with multiple sources and sink.   Read More

Consumer Technology Association Announces CES 2019 Best of Innovation Awards Honorees 
The CES Innovation Awards is an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products. As in previous years, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced the CES 2019 Innovation Honorees, including those products recognized as Best of Innovation Honorees. This year's nominees have a strong focus on sustainable and eco-friendly concepts. Audio products highlighted in the Innovation Awards include many surprises, including a Best of Innovation tube amplifier!   Read More

Strategy Analytics Updates Global Smart Speaker Report
Strategy Analytics just announced its Global Smart Speaker Q3 2018 market update, detailing vendor, shipments, and installed base market shares for the category by region. According to the market research firm, global smart speaker shipments grew nearly 200% year-over-year in Q3 2018 reaching 22.7 million units in the quarter. Amazon remained the top ranked smart speaker brand in the world, followed by Google and the Chinese trio of Alibaba, Baidu, and Xiaomi who are all vying for control of their fast growing domestic market.   Read More

Chord Electronics Unveils ULTIMA Next-Generation Mono Power Amplifier and Preamplifier
With its 30thanniversary year fast approaching, British manufacturer Chord Electronics has launched ULTIMA, a new state-of-the-art flagship amplifier featuring John Franks' latest circuit topology, the first all-new design in three decades. The company introduces the ULTIMA mono amplifier and the matching preamp as "the ultimate expression of the finest high-performance, ultra-fast, ultra-high-power amplifier technology available today." The ULTIMA set (pre and 2x mono power amps) is available for £90,000 (approx. $116,000 USD).   Read More

Foxconn, Innovo Audio Designs, and System Audio Join Wireless Speaker and Audio Association
The Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA), an industry group comprised of more than 40 leading brands including founding member Summit Wireless Technologies, announced Foxconn Technology Group, Innovo Audio Designs and System Audio as its newest members. The strong and growing list of WiSA members is largely driven by the Association's WiSA Ready platform and its recently revitalized leadership. These important new members will certainly help further the adoption and availability of immersive home audio for consumers around the globe.   Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

There's Growth to Come!
Audio Collaborative 2018 Key Takes

Once again, and for the fifth consecutive year, market research firm Futuresource Consulting promoted its highly successful Audio Collaborative conference dedicated to latest audio industry trends. Combining the latest market research intelligence, this is a unique opportunity to share the latest insightful industry trends among key industry influencers and discuss how services, hardware, and content is shaping the future of the audio landscape.
This year, Audio Collaborative was an all-day event, held in London, UK, on November 8, 2018, and it was better than ever, with a really great representation of companies and market sectors, alternating between inspiring presentations, discussion panels, and great summaries of Futuresource's market data and forecasts, in front of an audience predominantly consisting of industry professionals. I felt really rewarded for attending the event, not only for the information that was shared, but also for the excellent networking opportunities. The diversity and richness of the topics discussed there make it impossible to fully report in this space - for those interested, Futuresource made audio recordings of all sessions available on YouTube here I will try to summarize a few key takeaways from the meeting.

The Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA) was the Platinum sponsor for Audio Collaborative 2018. Pictured is WiSA's demonstration area.

This year's event was sponsored by the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA) (Tony Ostrom, WiSA's President was one of the presenters and had a demo area available); Linkplay Technology, one of the key development platform providers for the audio industry and in particular for voice and streaming solutions; and Audiogum, a very interesting technology company that is specializing in software solutions for the audio industry and have specifically created many of the control apps currently available from major brands - at the event they demonstrated solutions created for recent Libratone and Dynaudio wireless speakers.

Tony Ostrom, WiSA's President, explained how the association's certification efforts will enable new-generation high-definition wireless audio experiences.

The event started with an opening keynote by Theunis Scheepers, Country Manager, Alexa Voice Services, Amazon, where he shared the company's perspective for its voice assistant strategy, and most importantly, provided a glimpse of expected Alexa's expansion - literally everywhere - in a way that I believe was very useful for the many audio manufacturers and audio industry executives present in the audience. Among key topics shared by Scheepers, we've learned that Amazon believes it will be able to scale the service globally and that language barriers will be overcome, as the company continues to perfect its voice engines for new languages and accents. Following English-speaking countries, Germany, Japan, and India, Amazon is now expanding the service to France, Spain, Italy, Mexico and, very soon, also Brazil. Scheepers also explained that Amazon is determined to foster this expansion with the help of developers and the whole audio industry and that Amazon believes its main focus should be on providing the level of "intelligence" and localization that makes a personal digital assistant useful to different users all over the world. As an example, he explained how hard they had to work to adapt Alexa to work in Japan, first and foremost to make it a native in the country's culture and make it relevant to users.

Theunis Scheepers, Country Manager, Alexa Voice Services, Amazon, shared the company's perspective for its voice assistant strategy in the opening keynote.

From the presentation, it becomes clear how Amazon believes that interacting with technology through voice is seen as the next-generation interface to connect humans with computers and truly seamless services, of which the smart home is a key strategic scenario, but also in business, hospitality... and in automotive. The astonishing market growth in just four years is there to validate that strategy, with 46% of US consumers saying they are already familiarized with speech assistance, when 70% of the users of smart speakers only bought their first device a year of less ago.
In terms of Alexa Skills, the key component for the service to be truly engaging and useful - and where Amazon truly opened its content development ecosystem - the growth is a staggering 450% year-on-year, already surpassing more than 50,000 skills today. New skills being submitted are practically doubling every month. Of course, well aware of the specific audience, Scheepers also promoted all the tools and development kits needed to foster that growth and briefly explained how Amazon offers the Alexa Voice Services (AVS) SDK for all types of devices and OEM needs, now with a specific SDK also for TVs and smart screens, a new Alexa Auto SDK for cars, and also solutions for system integrators - a key component not only in the residential market but certainly in the office.
One of the key takeaways of this presentation for me was the way how Scheepers was fully aware that the whole concept is very much in its infancy and that use cases - now dominated by simple things like interacting with music services or asking Alexa to say a joke or the weather forecast - will be soon complemented with many new capabilities, like the ability to recognize the user's voice and being able to interact with multiple users in the same space. This, while understanding the fact that voice agents are - for now - restricted to voice commands, even if everyone is dreaming about natural language interactions. That's in fact the main reason why Amazon is carefully looking at the user's experience and the way people "learn" to use the platform, in the same way the platform evolves over time as more users interact.
Importantly, smart home already represents 52% of the usage and this will expand quickly, bringing new needs and challenges, which Amazon believes only the industry together can solve, and the reason why the company is appealing to developers and even brands to develop apps for the Alexa platform. Just in 2018, Amazon attracted 1,500 brands to use Alexa in the smart home space, and there are currently more than 4,000 products available. Amazon is making the whole Alexa integration seamless across the home and provides a solution for manufacturers to connect directly to their cloud. This includes incorporating all sorts of devices with the voice service, including products such as appliances and light fixtures that don't even need to have microphones; simply connecting to the other devices that do. It even makes available a multi-room solution that becomes attractive for audio manufacturers who don't need to develop their own approach. Amazon is also making it possible for proprietary solutions to be connected to the Alexa ecosystem, including via Bluetooth, which is the case with headphones now also connecting to Alexa.
In summary, this presentation from an executive from a key market for Amazon in Europe, makes it perfectly clear of why Alexa is expanding so rapidly, and how Amazon, being a company that just a few years ago was not even considered a technology provider, is now leading the way with voice.

Simon Bryant, director of research, Futuresource Consulting, leads the "Voice Pervades the Smart Home: Who Will Have Control," panel with executives from Linkplay, Amazon, Netgem UK, Roku, and Sound United.

The Amazon keynote was followed by the panel "Voice Pervades the Smart Home - Who Will Have Control?", where Scheepers was joined by Joel Sietsema, SVP of Brand Management - Sound United; Shan Eisenberg, Commercial Director - Netgem UK; Brian Moller, Vice President of Engineering - Roku; and Gerry Holman, European Sales Director - Linkplay. In the discussion, the companies illustrated how they all see far-field voice interaction as a key technology in their strategies, even if in specific areas, such as content services, there are specific concerns with security, providing voice interaction restricted to the device without connection to the cloud, and above all, the challenges of content-specific voice interactions, such as with TVs, where voice is a useful but not the only interface.
Immediately after this panel discussion, Futuresource's principal analyst, Jack Wetherill summed up the discussion by presenting Key Trends and Drivers in the Consumer Audio Hardware Market, which I think left the entire room in celebratory mood.

Futuresource's principal analyst, Jack Wetherill presented Key Trends and Drivers on the Consumer Audio Hardware Market, using the company's latest data on Europe's market.

Among the key messages, Wetherill confirmed that consumer audio is back to growth, with global worldwide trade already representing $32 billion and growing 15% YoY - of course, in great extension thanks to smart audio devices and the adoption of streaming services. Expanding on that depiction, he went on to explain that headphones are the fastest growing category (in units and value), followed by wireless speakers, and soundbars. Using European-focused data, Wetherill illustrated the wireless headphone uptake (which follows a similar trend globally) and explained how streaming music subscribers are largely overtaking downloads and physical media, while also now motivating more people to listen to music than ever, with paid streaming services growing 21% just in 2018. One of the last countries in the world where CD (and vinyl) is still dominant is Japan, with France and Germany being also among the European countries where streaming only now has become the dominant music consumption method (but still almost 50/50 with downloads and CDs), while in the north of Europe streaming already represents 90% of the total music industry consumer spend.
More impressive are the specific statistics for wireless speakers in Europe with a 17% growth YoY in 2018 - an impressive 30 million units forecasted to ship in 2018 - and the enormous boost caused by voice and smart speakers. Considering that until now only the UK and Germany had Alexa available in Europe, smart speakers are doubling in numbers YoY, even if Bluetooth speakers still represent the vast majority of sold units and growing 8% in 2018, while Wi-Fi speakers without voice abilities are being surpassed by smart/voice-enabled devices. Soundbars are also growing by 7% in 2018 and 12% in value, and one of the key takeaways should be the fact that units costing 500 Euros/USD and more (way up to $3,500 in some cases) are selling well, as manufacturers add more features like Dolby Atmos, streaming support, and even voice interfaces. In Europe alone, Futuresource estimates that there are 170 million flat-screen TVs that are still not attached to any augmented sound system, so this represents a massive opportunity for the product segment - and even for next-generation wireless home-theater systems, such as those WiSA is promoting.

Consumer audio hardware will continue to grow at a healthy pace in Europe and elsewhere in the world!

After detailing what will happen for each product category in audio, including traditional hi-fi, separate components, and even custom-install, Jack Wetherill closed this audio market overview with a forecast of consumer audio hardware growth in Europe of +6.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between now and until 2022, driven by wireless, smart/voice, premium products and devices that fit people's lifestyle. Estimates for other regions of the world, like the US and Asia, where uptake of the fastest growing categories is faster, is even more optimistic.
A very interesting but complementary discussion about voice applications in the office and business took place after the coffee break, where Chris Mcintyre-Brown from Futuresource Consulting discussed with Bryan Sutton, Director, Technical Sales at Microsoft; Andy Barnes, Executive IT Architect, Watson IOT for IBM; and Dr. Paul Neil, Vice President Product and Marketing at XMOS, about the specific challenges for such uses. Interestingly, all confirmed they believe that the use of voice in the office, apart from the obvious use in conference and collaboration spaces, will be propelled by consumer's adoption and the fact that inevitably users will expect the same voice interface to be available in professional spaces - much in the same way as touch-interfaces have "invaded" corporate applications and were propelled by personal, bring-your-own devices. Of course, as all the panelist agreed, concerns about security are the largest challenge to overcome.

"Voice Applications in B2B," panel with executives from XMOS, IBM and Microsoft. Very interesting topics on the challenges and opportunities of introducing voice interfaces in the office.

The day continued with fascinating panels discussing live and touring trends, how kids are interacting with technology and entertainment (and specifically smart-speakers and voice), rising opportunities for the Music and Hardware industry in the Games sector (which by itself I intend to follow up with a dedicated article); how the pro audio industry can leverage opportunities in the consumer space; new trends and opportunities in the music market with the rise of streaming (another topic deserving a dedicated article); and finally a presentation on the use of Artificial Intelligence to create new apps and services.
Hope this will trigger your appetite to attend the next Audio Collaborative event in 2019. Follow the hashtag #AudioCollaborative2018 on Twitter to see more highlights of this event.

From the Vault
Measuring Loudspeaker Low-Frequency Response
By Joseph D'Appolito
With the availability of low-cost, PC-based acoustic data acquisition systems, experienced hobbyists can make highly accurate loudspeaker frequency-response measurements without an anechoic chamber. The power of these systems comes at a price. These systems window the time-domain measurement to eliminate room reflections. This, in turn, limits low-frequency response. Typically, response below 200 to 300 Hz is not possible in reasonably sized rooms. The near-field technique - which was proposed by D. B. Keele, circa 1973 - is the commonly accepted way to get low-frequency data without an anechoic chamber. However, there is another technique proposed by R. H. Small in an Audio Engineering Society (AES) paper, circa 1971. His technique is simple. It does not require phase information and avoids some of the complexity of the Keele procedure, especially when there are multiple radiating surfaces. This article reviews the Keele procedure and then presents Small's approach. Examples of both are given and discussed. This article was originally published in audioXpress, June 2012.   Read the Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
B&C Speakers' DE780TN-8 Compression Driver 
By Vance Dickason
For this test bench article, I characterized the DE780TN, a 1.4" exit titanium diaphragm pro sound compression driver from B&C Speakers. This compression driver is one of the latest additions to B&C Speakers' extensive 17-model ferrite and neodymium motor 1.4" exit compression drivers. In terms of features, the B&C Speakers DE780TN-8 is designed for use with 1.4" throat horns, which means it has a 36 mm (1.4") throat diameter and a field-replaceable titanium diaphragm driven by a 75 mm (3") diameter voice coil wound with copper-clad aluminum wire (CCAW) on a high Qm nonconducting former. As with the DE680TN - its "little brother" featured in the June 2018 issue of Voice Coil - the DE780TN-8's titanium diaphragm has been redesigned and incorporates a new bent edge former along with a new dome and surround geometry. Other features include a neodymium ring magnet motor, a nominal 110 W-rated power handling (220 W continuous), a 1.2 kHz recommended crossover frequency (second-order or higher high-pass filter), and 2.83 V/1 m 108 dB sensitivity. B&C Speakers supplied the ME90 horn for use with the DE780TN-8. This constant directivity horn has a 1.4" exit bolt-on type made from cast aluminum and provides an 80° × 60° coverage pattern and a 900 Hz cut-off frequency. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, August 2018.   Check it out here!

AX December 2018: Digital Login
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VC November 2018: Digital Login
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