Industry & Product News

Global Home Audio Trade Revenues Approached $15 Billion in 2018
Futuresource Consulting revealed the latest findings from its World-Wide Home Audio Report, confirming the worldwide home audio market signaled an increase of 21% in units in 2018, while posting revenues of nearly $15 billion, with major contributions from smart speakers driving growth. According to Futuresource, the growing presence of entry-level smart speakers from Amazon, Google, and various  Chinese brands impacted the overall average price for a home audio device, down by an estimated 12% the end of 2018.    Read More

CEVA Introduces WhisPro, Neural Network-Based Speech Recognition Technology for Voice Assistants and Connected Devices
During CES 2019, CEVA, a leading licensor of signal processing platforms and artificial intelligence processors, introduced WhisPro, a Neural Network-based speech recognition technology targeting the rapidly growing use of voice as a primary human interface for intelligent cloud-based services and edge devices. WhisPro provides Trigger Phrase SDKit for always-on devices, extending CEVA's intelligent sound IP portfolio, and offering developers a holistic solution for cloud-based or edge voice-controlled devices.    Read More

Dirac Research Equips New Tritton Gaming Headset with Breakthrough 3D Audio Immersion
Swedish pioneer of digitally optimized sound solutions, Dirac Research, announced that gaming headset brand Tritton is equipping its all-new Kunai Pro with Dirac 3D Audio - a pioneering digital audio solution that enables an unparalleled level of 360-degree immersion and externalization over headphones. The Dirac-enabled Tritton Kunai Pro debuted at CES 2019 and marks the first gaming headset to feature Dirac 3D Audio, and the Swedish company's official debut into the gaming market.    Read More

Cypress Announces Latest Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 Connectivity Solutions for Automotive Infotainment
Cypress Semiconductor announced the expansion of its wireless connectivity portfolio for automotive infotainment with a trio of new products. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo chipsets and supporting software serve as application development platforms that enable multiple users to connect and seamlessly stream unique content to as many as 10 mobile devices simultaneously. The new Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 combo solutions deliver more than 1 Gbps throughput and feature Cypress' Real Simultaneous Dual Band (RSDB) architecture to enable high-performance audio and video concurrent operation.   Read More

Celestion to Demonstrate Axi2050 Axiperiodic Driver During NAMM 2019 
Following earlier presentations at several international trade shows, Celestion announced the Winter NAMM debut of the Axi2050 wideband axiperiodic compression driver, which will be on display with "The Big Red Horn" at the company's second booth in the Pro Audio Hall (ACC North, Level 2, Booth 18100). This high output single diaphragm driver is able to perform the role of two speakers in one with no crossover required and is one of the latest examples of the type of innovation Celestion is bringing to pro audio market.   Read More

New Hybrid Audio Amplifier from Dayton Audio Blends Tube Tone with Class D Power and Bluetooth
In a surprise announcement, Dayton Audio unveiled a new compact design that combines the efficiency and power of solid-state Class D amplifier topology with the warmth and character of a vacuum tube preamp section. The new Dayton Audio HTA20BT hybrid stereo tube amplifier combines a 12 W per channel RMS design (into a 4-ohm load) with Bluetooth 4.2, Aux, and USB inputs, featuring a subwoofer output for adding an active subwoofer and a built-in high-quality headphone amplifier. The results, the brand says, are sure to please even the most refined ears.   Read More

Bose Introduces QuietComfort Road Noise Control Car Sound Management Solution
Bose announced a new offering from its portfolio of Active Sound Management solutions for cars: Bose QuietComfort Road Noise Control (RNC). Now available to global vehicle manufacturers, it joins Bose Engine Harmonic Cancellation (EHC) and Bose Engine Harmonic Enhancement (EHE) to form a comprehensive and effective set of technologies for managing sound inside cars, trucks, and SUVs. Today helping to turn traveling by car into a more comfortable experience, and anticipating the sound management needs of tomorrow's fully electric vehicles.   Read More

Consumer Technology Association Forecasts US Tech Revenue to Reach Record $398 Billion in 2019
Artificial intelligence (AI) and fast connectivity - critical ingredients for the next era of category leaders, such as smartphones, smart home devices, and smart speakers - will drive the US consumer technology industry to a record-breaking $398 billion in retail revenues ($301 billion wholesale) in 2019 and 3.9% year-over-year (YOY) growth, which includes streaming services revenue, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). A record growth anticipating the introduction of 5G smartphones and 8K TVs in 2019.   Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

CES 2019 First Impressions

Nah... Any attempt to reduce a massive event such as CES to a few hundred words risks failing perspective, much like - I have no doubt - most of the visitors return from Las Vegas, NV, with a very limited perspective of what the show itself is all about.
Of course, given the scope of the annual Consumer Technology Association (CTA) gathering, and since I'm focusing mainly on the audio industry's perspective, I also risk failing to address some important trends but that's precisely why I think it is worth writing this type of "first impression" briefings, providing a broader view, instead of just focusing on new audio products. Those effectively will be covered in our continuous CES 2019 coverage online, which will probably endure for many more weeks, as many of the things presented at events like these take time to be released (if they even do...).
Just click on any of the photos for CES 2019 related stories.

LG Electronics stole the show with this amazing installation!

As I previously wrote, the real importance of CES for the industry is not so much about the products introduced but much more about the backstage meetings and the private demonstrations happening in hospitality suites. That's why it's not that important to actually know if the attendance figures were again another record-breaker surpassing or not the 180,000 visitors from previous years. Actually, there are so many suites in hotels all over Las Vegas, that most of the important company executives that we actually met didn't even have CES badges, and it's easy to estimate that around 60,000 additional visitors actually go to Vegas for CES without ever even visiting the actual exhibits.
In that regard, this is a completely different show from any others, and it is truly challenging to make the most out of it. In fact, I just hope that the expansion project of the Las Vegas Convention Center District (LVCCD), which started in September of 2018, will be concluded in time for CES in 2021, as scheduled. The show really needs it. Many other shows we attend also have that profile of closed-room demos and business meetings, but they happen in meeting spaces within the convention itself and not spread across dozens of hotels. This is desperately needed for CES.
And I don't even want to mention the "official" high-end audio area at the Venetian, which this year was already compressed to just Floor 29 of the Tech West suites, with the other four floors basically used by technology companies for closed meetings. And there was just a mere dozen open demonstration rooms dedicated to traditional home audio products, mostly surrounded by closed suites. The crowds, once again, made it difficult to get everyone who was interested in accessing those floors on the allowed elevators, which is the reason why many more companies have chosen to take suites on other "non-official" floors, at the neighboring Palazzo, the Wynn, Mirage and many more hotels. This means, that anyone with a carefully organized agenda will be able to have 8 to 10 "visits" a day at the most. We did, and we couldn't believe the amount of rooms and companies that we wanted to visit and finally didn't...
CES 2019 will be remembered for some key technology trends, not so much for products. On the audio front, I noted the fact that object-based audio was mentioned multiple times by important companies, the fact that there were many wireless headphones, true wireless earbuds, and many new models with ANC benefiting from the latest platforms and technology improvements, and that we had three demonstrations with headphones, which actually used in-ear measurements to create personal hearing profiles and binaural spatialization of sounds. Two companies even mentioned the used of head-related transfer function (HRTF) profiles as something they intend to have for the future. Wow!

While Dolby Atmos and DTS:X continue to be the formats for content production, MPEG-H Audio was already the talk of CES 2019, showing that the transition to object-based audio is in full-force.

On the smart speaker front, there was naturally a swirl of activity and announcements, with almost every single company showing and discussing the future of voice interfaces. Of course, Amazon dominated those demonstrations with the sheer number of products that supported Alexa, while Google literally invaded every single corner of the show (and the city!) with activities promoting its Google Assistant. Also, Chinese companies turned up in full force with (quiet) demonstrations of their own voice assistants and dedicated products for China's market, which eventually will also reach other corners of the world.
Effectively, in the technology demonstrations we have witnessed significant progress in voice recognition products - which I believe was not so much visible to the general visitors to the exhibits. Voice demonstrations at shows tend to be extremely difficult and unpredictable, when they are not at all impossible. For those reasons, we couldn't help feeling impressed by the fact that some companies actually were able to have voice commands - local or on the cloud - being acknowledged by the devices and some actually working! Of course, not all the companies had such luck and CES 2019 will be remembered by the moment when a hyper-active Alexa interrupted a Qualcomm executive during their press conference to say: "No, that's not true!" Hilarious! 
I said that voice recognition systems have shown significant progress, but at the same time, I am certain that the consumer electronics (CE) industry is also starting to feel the growing pains of over-promising and facing consumers who are now more familiar with the concepts and expect actual progress. That progress was seen in closed rooms, and in the fact that many companies are now starting to introduce voice recognition and AI engines in edge devices, meaning delivering very simple propositions that actually can work reliably. Possibly an extreme example was the simplehuman Sensor Trash Can, which is able to open the lid with the command "Open can" and benefited from the latest technology from Vesper's piezo MEMS, to DSP Group's advanced SmartVoice and Sensory's TrulyHandsfree technologies.
But, while progress is being made on the design of systems to better support sophisticated voice digital assistant services such as Alexa, Google, and Siri, and there is a clearer notion of the importance of privacy and when to simply use local voice interfaces combined with sophisticated platforms for voice pre-processing and neural network algorithms, the reality is that the hype is far surpassing the reality of implementation. And this is felt in general with many of the more promising product categories, including hearables, augmented reality, and even something as simple as audio processing for ANC or personalization. At CES 2019, I made an effort to see manufacturers that were advertising products based on the latest standards such as Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6, or even the latest USB specifications, and my impression is that the hype is moving faster than the technology. In fact, if standards implementation doesn't move faster, we risk seeing more and more companies bringing proprietary approaches to fulfill those promises to the unwary consumer, as usual.

Thousands of startup companies attended CES 2019 and literally invaded the Eureka floor of the Sands convention center. Still, there was very little in terms of audio, and most of the more impressive concepts were already promoted on crowdfunding platforms.

Nowhere is that truer than the fierce battle for the Smart Home, which dominated CES 2019. No wonder, we frequently have seen demonstrations of CarPlay in the automotive exhibits, AirPlay 2 support touted as the latest novelty by audio companies, and HomeKit support from many, many companies - some showing actual smart home integrated products, others simply showing gadgets - which serves to illustrate how Apple continues to actually deliver the goods, even if they don't even publicly attend CES.
CES 2019 was touted as the place to discover "the latest transformative technologies that will redefine industries, improve lives, and solve some of today's most pressing global challenges." From what I witnessed, it seems clear that the will is there, but the actual accomplishment is being pulled by a limited number of companies, many of which don't even focus on the consumer electronics space, instead focusing their efforts in sectors such as mobile or automotive, not to mention other more "professional" or corporate segments.

Sony, LG, Samsung, Sharp, TCL, Panasonic, and all the display companies have chosen CES 2019 to introduce 8K UHD TVs. No doubt they are impressive, but this time I think they are way ahead...

This is revealing of the state of the CE industry, where some 4,500 exhibiting companies, including a record 1,200+ startups, with more than 20,000 products introduced on the show floor, actually had very little to show in terms of actual technology evolution and basically built upon the efforts of larger players and industry consortiums. 
One of those "consortiums," sort of, is the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA) - supported very visibly by Summit Wireless - which had a very positive strong and positive influence at CES 2019, showing real progress in its attempt to introduce "immersive, wireless sound technology for intelligent devices and next-generation home entertainment systems." Basically, we covered all the WiSA announcements online, but I would still highlight the fact that the WiSA demos at CES this year add wide recognition and that the support from a company such as LG Electronics is having a very strong impact. With other proprietary technologies such as DTS Play-Fi or Qualcomm AllPlay now almost forgotten, WiSA is the most attractive and universal wireless home audio standard, offering uncompressed 24-bit multichannel to all. As Brett Moyer, president and CEO of Summit Wireless Technologies stated, "We expect this momentum to continue as we grow the WiSA ecosystem and expand our relationships with more top consumer electronics companies. In 2019, we're on track to see up to 60 million WiSA-Ready platforms in the market and grow revenue."
At least, together with voice, headphones, and soundbars, it was plainly obvious that audio technologies are one of the strong reasons why consumer electronics are a growing business. Everything else that I've seen at CES 2019, from 5G to the promise of robotics, self-driving vehicles, and in particular, with the display industry bet on 8K video technology, it all sounded like a somehow distant future and not much that we could (or want) to buy today.

Audio Product Design
Turning Up the Innovation on Smart Speaker Designs
By Benwei Xin and Wenchau Albert Lo (Texas Instruments)
For its December 2018 edition, audioXpress compiled a Voice Market Update that explores some of the latest developments and platforms for voice processing, with contributed articles from world-renowned experts in voice. In this article, Benwei Xin and Wenchau Albert Lo explain where designers should focus to Turn Up the Innovation on Smart Speaker Designs. "There is increased competition in the smart speaker industry to create designs that provide enhanced functionality and ease of use. Smart speaker features now include interactive voice response, artificial intelligence, smart home control, and multimedia playback. To succeed, designs must distinguish themselves in terms of overall system cost, battery runtime, thermal considerations, voice recognition error rate, and premium audio quality," the authors write. This article was originally published in audioxpress, December 2018.   Read the Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
BMS 4507ND Dual Diaphragm Coaxial Planar Wave Driver 
By Vance Dickason
The BMS 4507ND is a unique transducer that uses a neodymium coaxial compression driver to drive a planar waveguide intended for use in line arrays. BMS Speakers patented the two-way compression driver technology in 1997. The company now has a full line of coaxial (midrange/tweeter) compression drivers in neodymium and ferrite, plus two coaxial compression drivers loading planar waveguides, the 8.5" 4508ND, and this month's Test Bench subject, the 6.5" 4507ND. The 4507ND's features include a 300-Hz to 22-kHz bandwidth (6 to 22 kHz for the tweeter and 400 Hz to 6.3 kHz for the midrange), Kapton voice coil formers wound with copper-clad aluminum wire (two layers on the inside of the former and two layers on the outside), a 1.75" (44.4-mm) voice coil diameter for the tweeter, a 3.5" (90-mm) voice coil diameter for the midrange, two neodymium ring magnets, polyester diaphragms, 1,000-W peak midrange power handling above 500 Hz, and a 320-W peak for the high-frequency driver, plus color-coded chrome push terminals for each coaxial section. The rectangular planar waveguide measures 6.5" × 0.75" (162 mm × 19 mm) and is optimized for 0° to 15° vertical dispersion and up to 120° in the horizontal plane. Since the midrange and tweeter are coincident, the planar wave driver enables excellent acoustic phase coherent coupling for a smooth line source effect. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, May 2014.   Check it out here!

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