Industry & Product News

New Single-Chip Qualcomm CSRA6640 DDFA Amplifier Solution Allows Superior Audio in Smaller, Low Power Speakers
Qualcomm Technologies introduced the CSRA6640, a flexible, highly integrated amplifier solution with Qualcomm DDFA Digital Amplifier Technology. With its single-chip architecture, the CSRA6640 brings a new level of integration to make superior Class-D amplification more commercially viable on smaller form factors and lower tier products, helping manufacturers to create portable and power-efficient speakers that offer differentiated audio quality .    Read More

Apple Introduces Updated AirPods with Wireless Qi Charging
Apple is testing another way to introduce new products in "stealth mode" with daily announcements on its website. Starting with new updated iPads and iMacs on the first days of the week, Wednesday March 20 was the day chosen to confirm the much anticipated release of its new AirPods, powered by a new H1 chip, featuring 50% more talk time, hands-free wake-word "Hey Siri" and the option of a wireless charging case supporting the Qi standard .    Read More

SEAS Improves Foundational Driver Family with Launch of New Prestige Titan Series
SEAS announced the launch of its new Titan product line in the Prestige Series, implementing FEA-optimized magnet systems with copper caps and rings, and titanium voice coil formers, in combination with matte black aluminum cones and domes, among many other improved features. SEAS' Prestige series targets the hi-fi and DIY markets and offers a large array of sizes and diaphragm materials to perfectly fit the exacting requirements of both the OEM and distribution markets. The new Prestige Titan series is a long-awaited refreshment of this product line .    Read More

Solid State Logic Launches SiX Desktop Mixer
Solid State Logic (SSL) surprised us with the launch of SiX, a compact, desktop-friendly audio mixer that will appeal to a broad market of project studios and post-production suites. Even in its compact form, SiX is a classic SSL design, with a carefully considered feature set that the Oxford-based company says is "driven by an obsessive desire for total flexibility, to encompass every creative eventuality," and carries "the DNA of 40 years of true expertise in creative studio workflow."    Read More

New Sounds and Experiences at 10th Annual AXPONA, April 12-14 
AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) will take place April 12-14 at The Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel with more than 50 first-time exhibitors making their debut. AXPONA is known for featuring world-renowned companies and manufacturers, showcasing the most innovative products and services in the high-end audio industry. It is the place where manufacturers and dealers unveil their latest offerings, in a wide variety of price points and mediums .    Read More

Steinberg Unveils Nuendo 10 with Advanced Sound Design and Media Production Features
Presented for the first time at this year's Game Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, CA, the latest iteration of Steinberg's audio post-production workstation, Nuendo 10, combines premium audio quality with a sheer endless number of advanced editing tools, intelligent workflow enhancements and exciting new features. Nuendo 10 now adds a new Field Recorder Audio Import window, Video Cut Detection, VoiceDesigner effects, a Doppler effect, dearVR support, and much more .    Read More

Teledyne LeCroy Demonstrates First Protocol Analyzer Platform for Next-Generation USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 Systems
During the Thunderbolt 3 Developer Conference & Plugfest that took place in Taipei, Taiwan on March 5, Teledyne LeCroy, a leading company in USB protocol test solutions, announced and demonstrated the first protocol analyzer platform for testing next-generation USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 systems. The new Voyager M4x Protocol Analyzer underscores the company's technical expertise and leadership in the USB ecosystem .    Read More

Qualcomm Launches AI-Enabled Highly Integrated SoCs and Dedicated Smart Speaker Platform
Qualcomm made two important announcements for audio developers, both bound to significantly impact the fast-growing market of smart speakers and new generation whole-home audio systems. The San Diego, CA company announced the new QCS400 family of audio SoCs and the Smart Audio Platform 400 development kit, bringing smart speakers high-performance processing, Qualcomm AI Engine, superior connectivity, and multiple advanced audio and visual display capabilities in a single, power-optimized chip architecture .   Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and USB4
Everything Explained! (not)

I literally have not had much sleep since Intel and the USB Promoter Group announced the forthcoming USB 4 specification.

For the past six months I have been working on an article for audioXpress that would try to make some sense out of all that was happening with the popular USB interface and the ongoing transition for an updated version of the protocol's specification (USB 3.2 as it was standing) and the more visible evolution toward the ubiquitous USC Type-C (USB-C) universal connector. This included my latest conversation with the heads of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) at CES 2019. But the more I would look into it, the more questions would come up and the more complicated the puzzle seemed to get.
There's no official logo for USB4 yet. This is what audioXpress created while we wait for the specification and have to talk about it...

I've seen many Internet articles published by tech websites capitalizing on the typical click-bait strategy of "Everything Explained" promises, when in reality everyone seems to have the same or more doubts than I have - and worse, many articles are just contributing to the confusion. But in the latest weeks, the web exploded with anecdotes regarding how confusing the whole USB strategy was getting, which was a clear indicative that things had gone astray.

And since audioXpress is committed to look at technology from an audio developer's perspective, the more I approached manufacturers and industry experts, the more they would also confide in me that they were feeling confused and increasingly frustrated.
Back in December 2016 and January 2017, I wrote two articles for audioXpress on the topic of USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3, at a moment when the (then new) SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps (USB 3.1 Gen 2) interface, the new USB Type-C connector specification, and the subsequently published USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, which standardizes audio over USB Type-C, had been published. And because I already felt that the topic was so closely linked with the related Thunderbolt 3 technology, which also adopted the USB Type-C connector and introduced updated specs at that time, I decided to cover that as well.

audioXpress discussed "USB 3, Type-C, and Thunderbolt 3 - Interfaces and Implications on Audio" in its Standards Review article series in December 2016. Now available online.

Boy, was I early... but that article hit the problem right on spot, and for that reason, I decided it should be made available online for everyone to access it, because it touched on so many important aspects, and because it pointed out what was great and what was not so great with the whole thing.

During subsequent months and years a lot happened, with work focusing on the USB Power Delivery specification, leading to the introduction of the Certified USB Charger Compliance and Logo Program, Certified USB Fast Chargers, and more recently (January 2019) the USB Type-C Authentication Program, an optional USB security protocol that defines cryptographic-based authentication for USB Type-C chargers and devices. 

Power charging has indeed been the main focus for the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) and the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, given this was a major market requirement on the mobile front in particular. Other problems, which were deserving attention, as I originally pointed out in my Standard Review articles, was cable length, leading the USB-IF to announce a new active cable specification and also a specification update to allow charge-through USB Type-C digital audio products, to create an optimal method for charging a smartphone, while also using USB Type-C based headphones. All familiar territory (and many headaches) for manufacturers struggling to offer solutions first.

Fast forward to March 4, 2019, the USB Promoter Group once again surprised us with the announcement of the pending release of the USB4 specification, a major update to deliver the next-generation USB architecture that complements and builds on the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures, adopting an architecture based on... the Thunderbolt 3 specification contributed by Intel Corp. As detailed - and there's not much more we can say - USB4 doubles the bandwidth of USB to 40 Gbps and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols, increasing compatibility among USB Type-C connector-based products.

How many of the existing USB Type-C products, including these new Neutrik mediaCON cable and panel connectors, will support USB4?

Why did things evolve that way?
First and foremost, as my original 2016 article pointed out, the coexistence of multiple USB 3.0, 3.1 Gen1 and Gen2, and the later fragmented 3.2 specifications, plus Thunderbolt 3, all sharing the same connector but using different cables and allowing different possibilities, created confusion in the market.
Second, the latest announcements from the USB-IF generated an unsustainable situation regarding the logic of the whole process, with USB 3.0 interfaces in computers not supporting the speeds allowed by SSD storage devices, confusing data rate support depending on cable length, restricting key applications such as automotive systems, which did not support USB 3.1 Gen2 but could support 10 Gbit/s bidirectionally with USB 3.1 Gen1., and finally the USB 3.2 specification (published in September 2018) introducing two-lane 10Gbit/s operation and a new nomenclature according to connection speeds:

General nomenclature: Gen X Y - (Speed x Lanes)
Enhanced SuperSpeed Gen 1×1 - (5 Gbit/s)
Enhanced SuperSpeed Gen 2×1 - (10 Gbit/s)
Enhanced SuperSpeed Gen 1×2 - (5 Gbit/s*2 =10 Gbit/s)
Enhanced SuperSpeed Gen 2×2 - (10 Gbit/s*2 =20 Gbit/s)

This could seem extremely logical for the engineering groups involved, but considering that the specifications also needed to be updated for critical applications like display support - and of course the audio device specification, while dealing with a completely unsustainable communication problem to explain all that to manufacturers themselves, not to mention consumers - a nightmare situation was created. The more the USB promoters worked to solve the problems, the more complicated the whole thing was getting.

Third, Intel - which was basically handling most of the workload on both standards - confirmed it had contributed its Thunderbolt protocol specification to the USB Promoter Group, enabling other chip makers to build Thunderbolt-compatible silicon, royalty-free. This paved the way to move forward and avoid the "Generation" conundrum created.

Now, these are the doubts I - and I'm sure a lot of other people - have.
First, how to avoid freezing the market while waiting for the USB4 specification to be released and products to reach the market? What will be the most sensible option for developers who need to launch products in the short term? Use USB 3.1 Gen2 or Gen1 products available today? Still plan to use USB 3.2 and wait for Gen 2×1 or Gen 2×2 controllers to be released this year? Go directly to Thunderbolt 3?

With semiconductor companies knowing that such a major change is happening, will it pay to consider designing with "outdated" IC controllers, voltage regulators, etc., to handle Power Delivery plus all the engineering time to learn something that - while still staying compatible - will be obsolete soon? And what about the implications over price of chips?

And what are the key differences and implications with USB4?
Of course, as the Thunderbolt consortium promoted, Thunderbolt 3 can do everything that USB 3 Type-C can do and more. It offers improved latency for audio due to the time synchronization protocol use in its transport layer, it supports PCIe 3.0 allowing the use of external graphics cards, supports DisplayPort (up to) 1.4 alternate mode, and supports delivery of up to 100 W of power, among many other things. 

And Thunderbolt runs in USB Mode, but they are different protocols. Thunderbolt 3 defines a superset of capabilities - it is bi-directional with four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 and eight lanes for DisplayPort with application-specific protocol stacks - and also uses different modes to deal with legacy devices like USB 2.0, 3.0 or 3.1, which is very different from the Thunderbolt 3 Mode or the Thunderbolt Networking Mode. 

Well, long before this discussion was going on, some people like myself were using Firewire. Because Firewire 800 hard-drives were much faster, because video cameras used Firewire and basically because all Firewire audio interface were vastly superior to anything on USB. So, much in the same way I have managed to completely ignore the pains of Windows XP for many years and moved from Windows 2000 Professional to Mac OS, USB 2.0 for me was basically something used for connecting a mouse and to download pen drives with press kits. When Thunderbolt arrived on the Mac, I could continue to use all my Firewire devices as before, simply using a basic adapter, until today.

Universal Audio Thunderbolt 3 cards. These were probably the best investment that users and audio manufacturers could have made, compared to anything USB.

I mention this, because there lies some of the key differences between Thunderbolt and USB. Focusing on professional applications, Thunderbolt was designed to support the PCI Express (PCIe) standard but also network interfaces (e.g., Fibre Channel), storage devices such as external SATA (eSATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), and FireWire peripherals. Also, Thunderbolt supports Ethernet, theoretically up to 10 Gbps. Those are important things to keep supporting.

While USB uses a "tree" topology and "master-slave" protocol for addressing peripheral devices, where a host cannot "broadcast" signals to all peripherals at once, Thunderbolt 3, on the other hand, can address multiple end-device types dynamically. It uses a tunneling architecture designed to take a few underlying protocols, and combine them onto a single interface, so that the total speed and performance of the link can be shared between the underlying usages of these protocols - whether they are data, display, or something else. More important, Thunderbolt supports up to six Thunderbolt devices via hubs or daisy chain.

So, basically, if USB4 is implemented as Thunderbolt 3 - as is - we have basically a superior solution that should support all legacy USB devices and much more. But will it be exactly the same? As the USB Promoter Group describes, USB4 will need to be a superset solution that supports "multiple data and display protocols to efficiently share the total available bandwidth over the bus," while maintaining "backward compatibility with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3". So, this is not as simple as "rebranding" Thunderbolt as USB4.

What will happen to all the work with USB Power Delivery and how can that be carried forward to USB4 without disrupting the ongoing transition in mobile devices? Will the mobile industry eventually decide they are fine with USB 3.1 or 3.2 for the foreseeable future and leave USB4 to the same market that already adopted Thunderbolt 3 (laptop, desktop, and workstation computers)?

The process will also open access to all manufacturers that are not part of the USB Promoter Group and can now benefit from the royalty-free license to both the Thunderbolt protocol and the new USB4 specification. But Intel already confirmed it will retain its role certifying Thunderbolt-compatible devices. So, can we expect to have both Intel and AMD processors with USB4 support in early 2020?

This is a graphic published by Intel that already mentions USB4 and defines it as a subset of Thunderbolt 3.

As always, I'm certain many of the answers will be soon provided by Apple. After all, Apple is the company that could benefit the most with the transition, finally adopting the same specification for cables, connectors, and protocols for connection, communication, and power supply in all its devices. Most important, Apple did contribute significantly to the Thunderbolt and USB Type-C specifications and USB4 looks pretty much like the type of solution Cupertino would have developed in the first place.

I really would appreciate hearing what the industry has to say. That's why I decided to write about this topic in The Audio Voice. Any contributions welcome. Feel free to email me here.

The USB4 specification is expected to be published around the middle of 2019 and holds the potential to finally define a possible end to the reigning confusion. It's important that this happens fast. Given the product development cycles, USB4 is not going to make a significant impact before 2021 .


Show Report
High End 2018 - Higher-End Audio Electronics in Munich
By  Ward Maas
"Yes, the High End in Munich, Germany, is my favorite show for everything high end audio. There, we indeed find everything. As all the manufacturers are there and all the trends are on display, we always find ourselves facing the question: Where to start? That is great fun, as well as a challenge. The following is a report of our main findings for the year." 
The paragraph above is how Ward Maas opened his report from the High End 2018 show in Munich, where he shared his findings in speaker design, amplification, turntables, and anything that showed innovations, an important improvement, better design, or simply because he couldn't resist it... While we are getting ready for the 2019 edition, enjoy all his highlights while he walks the Munich Order Center (MOC) in this exciting edition, which was also complemented by a small but very enjoyable concurrent CanJam show in a nearby building. This article was originally published in audioXpress, August 2018 .   Read the Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Test Bench
Celestion CDX14-2420 1.4" Compression 
By Vance Dickason
In this Test Bench, I characterized the CDX14-2420 1.4" compression driver from legendary UK Pro Sound OEM manufacturer Celestion. This transducer joins the CDX family of neodymium motor compression drivers. Designed for use with 1.4" throat horns, the CDX14-2420 has a 35.6 mm (1.4") throat diameter driven by a 60 mm (2.4") diameter voice coil wound with edge-wound copper-clad aluminum wire (CCAW) on a high-temperature fiberglass non-conducting former, which drives a deep-drawn titanium diaphragm and polyimide surround. Other features include a FEA-optimized neodymium magnet motor structure, a continuous power handling of 140 W (3 dB greater than the 70 W AES rating), a 1.2 kHz recommended crossover frequency, and 1 W/1 m 106.5 dB sensitivity (measured 2 π on a typical horn). Celestion has four horn models, but they are all 1" throat horns. Given that, I mated the Celestion CDX14-2420 with a B&C Speakers ME90 80° × 60° constant directivity cast aluminum horn with a 900 Hz cutoff frequency. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, December 2018 .   Check it out here!

AX April 2019: Digital Login
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