Industry & Product News

Sony Introduces 360 Reality Audio Music Experiences Powered by Object-Based Spatial Audio Technology
At CES 2019, Sony is not focusing so much on products and instead is mainly highlighting content and experiences. Among those, Sony is promoting an all new music experience called "360 Reality Audio," delivered by MPEG-H object-based spatial audio technology developed in collaboration with Fraunhofer IIS and promoted as "a new musical ecosystem for content creation, distribution, and music playback." The demonstrations cover all types of reproduction platforms, from fully featured speaker arrays to binaural reproduction on headphones with HRTF profiles.   Read More

Sonarworks Redefines Music Experience for Mobile Devices with Updated Mobile App
Pioneering audio calibration software company Sonarworks has announced the launch of its new Sonarworks True-Fi mobile app at CES 2019. The updated mobile app, which provides audio calibration references on both iOS and Android for nearly 300 headphone models, has already launched in "early access" and will be available for purchase later this year in the App Store and Google Play at a price of $3.99 USD per month, or as a lifetime license for $99 USD. Existing Sonarworks users who already own the desktop version will be provided a free upgrade option to a lifetime license for the mobile app.    Read More

SEAS Expands In-House Production and Announces Extreme Subwoofer Series
SEAS Fabrikker, celebrating its 70th anniversary in the audio industry, is investing to revitalize and improve all its production and has moved part of its manufacturing from Taiwan to Norway. SEAS' highly acclaimed subwoofers series has now moved to its new production line in Moss, Norway. With this transition, SEAS launched its new Extreme subwoofer series, starting with the XM001-04 model already announced in July 2018, and now complemented with the XM004-04 L26ROY, all now exclusively manufactured at its new in-house facilities.    Read More

Harman Introduces JBL 4312G Studio Monitor at CES 2019
At CES 2019, Harman introduced the JBL 4312G studio monitor, another modern take on the classic JBL loudspeaker line - which seems to be the trend for the consumer side of the brand in the last two years. Crafted in the mold of the legendary 4310/4311 family, and the more recent 70th Anniversary 4312SE, the 4312G is said to deliver "thundering, clear bass, with crystalline and precise highs, even at the highest listening levels." We are not sure those would be the arguments that would persuade us to invest in the vintage concept of this high-performance studio monitor.   Read More

HDMI 2.1 Specification Sees Strong Adoption Numbers and New Announcements at CES 2019 
Since the HDMI 2.1 Specification was released in November 2017, manufacturers of several products including semiconductors, TVs, AVRs, soundbars, and game consoles have made announcements on upcoming releases supporting the specification. During CES 2019, the HDMI Licensing Administrator (HDMI LA) organization reported an increasing number of new product announcements covering a broad range of categories, and forecasted annual shipments with HDMI interface to reach almost 1 billion devices in 2019.   Read More

ESS Technology Introduces Suite of High-Quality USB-C Audio CODECs Featuring Sabre DACs
ESS Technology announced a series of USB Low-Power Audiophile CODECs that feature QUAD DAC Technology. Intended for use in headsets and audio adaptors that demand high-quality sound, the new line of CODECs can support end-to-end high-resolution audio quality. An ideal platform for USB-C audio products, the new CODECs include the flagship ES9281PRO model, which also offers an integrated hardware Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) renderer.   Read More

CEVA Announces New CEVA-BX All-Purpose Hybrid DSP/Controller Architecture
CEVA announced its new all-purpose, hybrid DSP/Controller architecture to address new algorithms of digital signal processing (DSP) in voice, video, communication, sensing, and digital signal control applications. Offering general purpose DSP capabilities required for motor control and electrification, the new CEVA-BX architecture extends CEVA's market reach into the burgeoning automotive and industrial markets currently underserved by legacy DSPs or MPU/MCUs with low-performance DSP co-processing.   Read More

Qobuz US Opens Public Beta for 192 kHz Hi-Res Streaming
It's been a year since Qobuz announced at CES 2018 its impending entry into the US marketplace, with the ambition of becoming a heavy player in the hi-res music streaming market. Qobuz has the US audiophile set squarely in its sights, and it intends to deliver higher quality streams and a more complete experience than its competitors. Though there have been a few delays, as the fall 2018 release didn't materialize, and the timeline was later pushed to early 2019, Qobuz confirmed it is now available for registration to US users as an open beta, and published the finalized pricing.   Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

Acquisition Stories of the Year 2018

If you visit the audioxpress website and you search for acquisitions, you will find an impressive number of related news posts, 24 in total... just for 2018.

In many circumstances, company acquisition stories have left us with the trauma of seeing names we had learned to trust and admire disappear, as well as the bittersweet taste of seeing products on the racks, desks, and shelves that we would prefer to see remaining in the hands of the original manufacturer - and often company founder.

But sometimes, even company founders have an exit plan and great companies are sold, as it happened with Radial Engineering, the Canadian manufacturer of professional audio products and owner of Hafler, Dynaco, and Jensen Transformers brands, among many others, acquired by Mike Belitz, CEO and President of Ultimate Support Systems. The announcement was made at NAMM 2018, hinting that this would be a year of surprises for the audio industry.

Effectively, throughout 2018, we had a constant flow of acquisitions while we also witnessed the unsettling news regarding the bankruptcy of Gibson Brands and the supposed group reorganization, which was to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on November 1, 2018 - a process that is still being challenged. A never-ending story that seems to get more complicated every month. That story is particularly hard to follow given the number of great brands and companies that Gibson acquired over decades. The last official word from Gibson was the appointment of James Curleigh as president and CEO for Gibson Brands, Inc. in October 23, 2018. With Curleigh's appointment, Gibson also announced the appointment of a new executive team, including a new chief financial officer, reporting to Nat Zilkha, incoming Chairman of Gibson's Board of Directors, representing the new majority ownership group (KKR) on the restructuring of the group. While Curleigh's appointment may signal Gibson's return to its musical instrument roots, focusing on "the core business of guitars and beyond...," which is a positive, there is still a long way to go for the plan intended by KKR and the other major debt holders.

With this process, Gibson Innovations, the consumer headphones and home audio systems subsidiary also seems to be history now. But some positive stories emerged of the Gibson collapse. Companies such as TEAC and Tascam have survived the process and seem to be returning re-energized and refocused on their core businesses, while Onkyo and Pioneer also have survived unscathed so far, remaining in the hands of their Japanese shareholders.

In the middle of all the turmoil of the collapse of Gibson Brands, there was some good news for musicians and many home and project studios when Cakewalk reemerged in the hands of Singapore-based BandLab Technologies. After gaining control of the software development, the now rebranded Cakewalk by BandLab was made available free-to-download inside the BandLab musical creative hub solution, which has meanwhile reached 5 million users in December 2018.

The never-ending Gibson story is a really bad example of aggressive acquisition strategies. Sometimes, acquisitions simply mean a company returning to the hands of its founders and dedicated teams, other times, a company is saved from bankruptcy by being acquired by a bigger player, other times - and unfortunately, the most current - it is the result of a company being targeted by an expansion plan of another. We still really couldn't get over Harman's acquisition by Samsung (no matter how successful they might continue to claim that was...) or much less the mysterious disappearance of brands such as Midas, Klark Teknik, Lab Gruppen, Lake, Tannoy, Turbosound, TC Electronic, and Behringer itself, the company that acquired the lot and retracted to China already three years ago and is now called mysteriously Music Tribe (???).

In both the Harman and the Behringer/Music stories, what I find most fascinating is seeing how brand-value can be quickly eroded and even more fascinating, how well-paid executives that are hired to manage these giant conglomerates seem to be totally unaware of the core company's values. The other side of the story is seeing the talent pool going down the drain from the acquired companies and observing how this results in migrations to the competition and, sometimes, in the creation of new rival businesses.

That's why it's always interesting to closely follow acquisition stories. In 2018, fortunately, most of the ones on record are synergistic and/or relatively harmless for the implicated brands. More earth-shattering for the audio industry has been the recent announcement of Italian RCF Group acquiring Danish-company DPA Microphones, shortly after also acquiring Eastern Acoustics Works (EAW) in the US. In EAW's case, this was the consequence of the dismemberment of LOUD Audio, the parent company of the Mackie brand, which also tried to grow with acquisitions that never really worked. We sincerely hope this will not be the case with RCF. First, because basically DPA was acquired from the hands of an investment firm, and should be left alone and continue its own success strategy. In the case of EAW, it will represent an excellent opportunity for RCF to realize its growth ambitions in the North American market, once and for all. This was no doubt the acquisition story of the year, and we really wish all companies the best.

And mentioning LOUD Audio, in 2018 the holding confirmed it had 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, this paved the way to a positive separation of valuable brands with completely different cultures that effectively have never realized any synergetic value together. LOUD Audio sold legendary amplification brand Ampeg to Yamaha, EAW to the RCF Group, and allowed Martin Audio to become independent again, in what was effectively the second management buyout in the British company's history (a recurring theme among British audio companies, apparently...). And Mackie is now also free to follow its own path in good company with guitar amplification companies Blackheart and Crate, and the legendary TAPCO brand - a much more manageable portfolio with great potential.

The second acquisition story of 2018 I would highlight is the one about Rycote Microphone Holdings, Ltd, the famous UK manufacturer of advanced microphone windshields and suspension systems. Basically, Rycote should fit nicely within the acquirer, Vitec Group, a well-managed group of great companies focused on media production gear, which recognizes the value of brands, and in many cases kept those companies/brands alive after the disappearance of the founders. We feel this might be a great fit for Rycote, especially after the company had lost legendary audio designer and inventor Chris Woolf, recently hired by the Australian pro audio giant The Freedman Group - home to RØDE Microphones. And that one will be another interesting story with developments to follow.

Freedman/Rode has successfully acquired many other companies or businesses that were on the verge of disappearing (such as Aphex and Soundfield) and in 2018 it announced the acquisition of FuzzMeazure, the audio and acoustic measurement software created by Chris Liscio, which is now working on expanding the product within a soon-to-be-established Scientific Test and Measurement division, within RØDE Microphones. Together with RØDE's future line of measurement microphones, this should create a powerful combination that we will hear more about in 2019.

And speaking of microphones, in 2018 Logitech acquired Blue Microphones. Again a nice fit for Logitech, and should be a good home for a brand that has built a lot of value over the years. With Blue expanding over the years from professional studio microphones to popular consumer products such as USB microphones and lifestyle headphones, this should be a positive move, with Logitech adding precisely the "muscle" that the brand needed.

Also reinforcing the microphone consolidation trend we witnessed in 2018, Wisconsin-based Sound Devices announced the acquisition of Audio Limited, the UK manufacturer and developer of high-performance wireless microphone systems. An interesting move for Sound Devices, allowing the expansion of its location recording and mixer business, but at the same time breaking the wide industry support it received from other microphone and wireless radio companies since its inception.

And last year we also witnessed the acquisition of Polycom by Plantronics. The last of the surviving "videoconference companies" was acquired by the communications accessories giant 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." Some acquisitions truly make sense, and this one seems a perfect marriage of two complementary businesses, targeting exactly the same markets, with no overlap.

On the loudspeaker driver side of the industry, 2018 was a relatively calm period following the surprising announcement of the Eighteen Sound and Ciare acquisition by B&C Speakers at the end of 2017. The move by B&C Speakers created a formidable Italian conglomerate in the segment, and 2018 saw an interesting series of appointments, confirming B&C's determination to keep Eighteen Sound (and Ciare) as separate operations.

Early in the year we also learned about the acquisition of audio development platform experts Archwave and related brand Cymatic Audio by Riedel, the German media distribution infrastructure giant. With the acquisition of the Swiss engineering pioneer, Archwave was converted into a research and development (R&D) hub to increase Riedel's global engineering team, significantly expanding its expertise in IP networks and interoperability standards, such as AES67.

Also on the audio product development side of things, there were no shortage of acquisition announcements, with Skyworks Solutions gaining hold of Avnera Corporation, the developer of Analog System on Chips (ASoCs) and one of the main technology providers for audio development in the areas of analog/mixed signal audio, voice, and speech processing engines.

On the audio amplification side, Infineon expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of Danish startup sensation Merus Audio, the company behind the most energy-efficient integrated Class D amplifier solutions, already making strong inroads in all types of next-generation smart home and battery-powered audio devices.

While December 2017 was a strong month for acquisition announcements, with the bomb-shell story of Solid State Logic being acquired by the Audiotonix Group, the holding entity that already controls British audio brands DiGiCo, DiGiGrid, Calrec, and Allen & Heath has again expanded its foothold with the acquisition of German company KLANG:technologies, already in December 2018. Again, this seems like a very synergetic move for Audiotonix, adding a completely new category, with the addition of a pioneering company in the field of personal monitoring and immersive 3D audio solutions.

I have the feeling we will continue to see many more acquisition stories in the audio industry in 2019. That's the reason why in audioXpress we always like to collect vector-logos of the companies, so we can quickly build those challenging and always highly amusing brand + brand graphics that so clearly violate the carefully established corporate brand identity design guidelines :)

From The Vault
How Good Is Your Port?
By Bohdan Raczynski
Ported enclosures are known to extend the low-frequency output of loudspeakers by exploiting the Helmholtz resonator effect produced by the compliance of the air inside the enclosure and inertance of the air in the port. An acoustic transformer produced this way has its own resonant frequency, fB, at which most (or all, if there were no losses) of the system acoustic output comes from the port. This article looks at the problem of port nonlinearity to determine the correct port size, and the acoustic impedance of the port under high air velocityThis article was originally published in audioXpress, September 2001.   Read the Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
A 12-Inch NBR Pro Sound woofer from B&C Speakers 
By Vance Dickason
In this Test Bench I characterized the 12BG76-8, a high power handling 12" NBR pro sound woofer from B&C Speakers. The Italian manufacturer has a rather extensive line up of 12" pro sound woofers, 19 in total: 10 neodymium motor 12" models and nine ferrite motor 12" models. This month's sample submission is in the upper range of power handling in this extensive group with a continuous power handling rating of 1000 W (500 W nominal). Applications range from two and three-way PA speakers and compact two-way designs for high SPL in limited spaces. Features for the 12BG76-8 are similar to most high-performance pro sound drivers, fairly substantial. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, October 2018.   Check it out here!

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