Industry & Product News
Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) Awards 2019-2020 in Audio Categories
Following last year's evolution of the (former) European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) to the new (global) acronym Expert Imaging & Sound Association, coinciding with the admission of new members from all over the world, including the United States, the traditional winners of its 2019-2020 Awards have been announced. As always, audioXpress highlights all the audio-related winers in the Hi-Fi, Home Theatre Audio, In-Car and Mobile Devices categories. And there are a few surprises!    Read More
Total Studio Control with New Neumann KH 750 DSP Subwoofer
Neumann Berlin introduced the KH 750 DSP compact subwoofer. The new model is the ideal choice for smaller rooms and the perfect complement to the, also compact, Neumann KH 80 DSP studio monitors, the brand's first with digital signal processing. Together, Neumann is now able to offer a studio solution with analog and digital inputs and outputs, routing modes, and adaptable acoustical controls, with the Neumann.Control app for iPad providing room calibration and configurable alignment .    Read More


PRV Audio Announces New WG270Ph High SPL Compression Driver with 4x4" Horn
Offering improved performance on a new compact design for easy front load mount, the new WG270Ph is PRV's latest addition to an already extensive range of 1" exit family of phenolic diaphragm compression drivers. The WG270Ph combo pairs the new and improved D270Ph-S 1" exit driver with the WG11-25 compact 45° x 45° exponential horn. A combo that is all about high output and low distortion vocal reproduction all the way down to 500 Hz, offering a powerful solution for use in high output public address systems .    Read More


Meridian Introduces Roon Ready 210 Streamer for Advanced Home Integration
High-resolution audio pioneer, Meridian has introduced its new 210 Streamer to help integrators meet market demand for reliable, high-quality audio streaming throughout the home. The new Meridian 210 allows the latest music-streaming services to connect flawlessly to home audio installations via a range of formats. With aptX HD Bluetooth, the Meridian 210 supports the highest quality streaming and synchronizes the volume controls of Bluetooth devices, playback apps, Meridian components and third-party control across the system .    Read More


Sennheiser Launches High-Quality IE 80S Bluetooth In-Ear Neckband with LHDC Codec Support
While the popularity of high-quality in-ears continues to rise globally, so does the popularity of wireless Bluetooth solutions, which are appreciated for their convenience. Sennheiser has products for all those segments and with its latest IE 80S BT model it is trying to combine the high-quality experience that music enthusiasts demand, featuring hi-res audio with the addition of LHDC support and the convenience that a wireless neckband design still affords. Users can also detach the neckband and use the IE 80S BT in wired mode .    Read More


Professional Microphone Market to Exceed $1.8 Billion in 2019 with Corporate Segment Creating Growth Opportunities
According to Futuresource Consulting's latest market report, the professional microphone market continues to display healthy growth and is on track to exceed revenues of $1.8 billion worldwide this year. That's an increase of 6% on 2018, with a similar CAGR out to 2023. Among the growth application areas, the corporate segment continues to create the largest opportunities, followed immediately by the live sound and venue installation verticals .    Read More


AES New York 2019 Product Development Track: The New Era of Product Development
As audio product development surges forward at a breakneck pace, the 147th Audio Engineering Society (AES) International Convention (https://www.audioxpress.com/news/audio-industry-returns-to-new-york-for-147th-international-audio-engineering-society-convention) is the premier destination for audio product developers to enhance their trade. Each year the Product Development Track presents four days of themed Workshops during the AES Convention. Building on last year's theme "Make Audio Matter," the 2019 Product Development Track is built on the theme "The New Era of Product Development."    Read More


Naim Audio Introduces Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation Compact Wireless Speaker
Making a great product even better, British hi-fi specialist Naim Audio introduced the latest member of its award-winning Mu-so wireless music system family: Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation. Following on the recent upgrade of the 2nd Generation Mu-so system, the more compact Mu-so Qb benefits from extensive software and hardware upgrades that deliver a significant performance boost over the original, launched in 2016, while the design itself evolves to match the Mu-so 2nd Generation styling .    Read More


Altice USA Introduces Amplify Smart Speaker Developed with Devialet
Altice USA, the American arm of the French telecommunications conglomerate, unveiled Altice Amplify, an Alexa-powered smart speaker developed in collaboration with French connected-speaker pioneers Devialet. Directly targeted at the booming North America smart speaker market, the Altice Amplify introduces "an intelligent, high-fidelity home speaker that powers the connected home." Of course, Altice didn't discard the audio quality argument and worked with Devialet to design a true high-fidelity system .    Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins
Editor-in-Chief



Valve Index Headset
Ultra Near-Field Off-Ear Headphones or Ear-Speakers

An interesting research was unveiled last week by Valve (www.valvesoftware.com), an entertainment software and gaming technology company founded in 1996 and based in Bellevue, WA. In addition to producing content, Valve is known for the creation of Steam, a games distribution platform, and for introducing the Steam Hardware device collection, which includes controllers and tracking devices. In 2016, Valve launched SteamVR, a platform for distribution of virtual reality (VR) products, which lead the company to develop its own VR headset - the Valve Index.

The interesting Valve Index design, with the ear-speakers attached to the headset structure.

In the development process leading to the company's new VR headset, Valve has made significant progress not only in the display, lens, and field of view aspect of VR goggles, but certainly - and the reason why I decided to highlight the story this week - on the aural side.

Detailing the R&D process leading to the design of the Valve Index Headset, Emily Ridgway, audio researcher at Valve Software, describes the company's take on what they call "off-ear headphones" or "ear-speakers." The interesting concept, akin to a lot of research done by companies such as Sennheiser, JBL, and Bose, intends to create a personal audio field that doesn't necessarily rest on the users ears, particularly while enjoying entertainment and interactive experiences (e.g., gaming).

But while those mentioned companies have explored the unsuccessful concept of around-the-neck (collar-like) sound emitting systems (read more about it here), Valve has opted to explore transducers that radiate directly at the ear, suspended on the VR headset structure, but not touching the user's ears (supra-aural). The motivation, as Ridgway details, was to optimize for the "specific experiential goals of virtual reality," leading the team to diverge in interesting ways from that of typical consumer headphones.

Emily Ridgway, audio researcher at Valve Software showing some of the working prototypes of the headset and the ear-speaker design.

"Early in our VR experimentation, it became clear that helping a VR user achieve an appropriate suspension of disbelief required not only a reliance on the narrative, environmental, and emotional methods of traditional games and films, but also an entirely new category of physiological problem solving unique to VR," Ridgway states. 

Valve's research led the company to explore how VR sound content, as processed by game engines, can reach the ear in different ways. They explored binaural simulations and the effects of head-related transfer function (HRTF) to better convey the position of a sound source and explore the sense of reality in the different frequencies. And even though the team recognizes that traditional headphones "provide more direct spatial sound information," and can excel in areas such as sound isolation, power efficiency, and noise cancelling, they do not contribute effectively to the "audio immersion" effect Valve was looking for with VR content. 

Because headphones and earbuds need to make contact or surround the ear in order to achieve their goals optimally, they sound different (inside the head) from the "natural listening process caused by ear and head interacting with real sound waves," the company describes. Also important for the application, headphones can cause ear pressure that gets painful and uncomfortable after periods of time.

As a result of those considerations, Valve decided to explore the supra-aural approach, including testing beam-forming and immersive speaker setups, which were discarded for its field restrictions for accurate spatial playback and on freedom of movement. Instead, the solution they agreed upon explores "a pair of ultra near-field, full-range, off-ear (extra-aural) headphones. Close enough to the ear to mimic player-relative stereo headphones and support the output format of current VR content, but far enough away to allow the ears and head to imprint their own tonal coloration onto the sound, while also addressing comfort and pressure issues."

The team developed different prototypes, starting with adding desktop speakers to the outside of a helmet, and testing large-size headphones (including custom planar drivers from Audeze), only to realize that the results always had limited bass response. Any variations in speaker positions caused by putting on the helmet differently or moving around in VR caused the volume, frequency response, and sound balance to shift significantly. And more importantly, the tested contraptions where too heavy and caused huge sound leakage. Valve also explored using actual headphone drivers instead of speaker drivers but found out they couldn't deliver enough volume when held away from the ear in free-air.

A prototype of the ear-speaker design using conventional small, full-range, traditional drivers... and the first prototype using BMR drivers, which were found to have the correct full-range response for ultra near-field use.

The Valve team finally selected a pair of Balance Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers from Tectonic, which were found in early tests to reduce coloration due to speaker mispositioning, had lower weight, great frequency response in high-mid ranges (important for binaural simulations), and were much thinner than traditional speaker drivers. 

When the final form factor for the Valve Index Headset system was set, a 3D printed prototype of the ear-speaker headphones was created allowing further measurements. For the final off-ear speaker product, Valve worked with Tectonic to design a 37.5 mm custom driver, which is detailed as having a 40 Hz to 24 kHz frequency response and being able to reach 96 dB SPL at 1 cm.
 
Further field tests with prototypes provided positive feedback on the benefits of not having anything touching the ear. Users reported an increased sense of sound immersion, and no complaints about external sound coming in and/or internal sound leaking out. As Ridgway details, after further measurements on a dummy head, the design was found to have a very low crosstalk, comparable to open-back headphones. The combination of EQ tuning, the use of DSP, and the cooperation with Tectonic, which worked to improve the bass mechanically by optimizing the speaker driver itself, allowed the team to achieve and exceed the desired sound quality and bass response goals.

As Ridgway explains: "By using BMR drivers, we are able to ensure consistent sound quality, without coloration, even if the speakers are slightly mispositioned on the side of the head. This is due to the unique way that BMRs radiate sound. (...) Basically, ensuring that your ears always receive the full sound information - even if they are not perfectly aligned with the BMR speakers." 

Additionally, the team was also able to explore the "self-baffling" features of the BMR drivers to mechanically minimize sound leakage with an open back design, preventing sound below 3 kHz from bothering people nearby. "The listener wearing the headset has the ears so close to the drive unit (near-field) that the cancellation is not perceived as the pressure from the front side is RELATIVELY so much closer to the ear than the rear side," adds Tim Whitwell, from Tectonic.

An interesting aspect of the design is the fact that the "self-baffling" of the Tectonic BMR drivers reduces external noise pollution much more than traditional speakers.

The characteristics of the design also made it easier to add high-quality microphones on the headset. "We expected the microphone performance to be a difficult challenge. To our surprise, this turned out to not be the case. Due to several of the ear speaker's unique features, we were able to avoid using a significant amount of noise cancelling DSP on the microphone signal, which in turn allowed us to keep the sampling rate of the microphone stream very high at 48 kHz," Ridgway explains.

"All this research, iteration and feedback leads us to believe that the Valve Index ear speaker design is as close to an optimal balance of trade-offs and features specifically designed for audio playback in room-scale VR as currently possible. We're really pleased with how the audio experience played out and, that said, there is still much more to learn and more improvements we can make," she concludes.

Now, the question that Valve needs to ask (as well as all the VR companies) is, do we really need to place a blind-fold on people's heads and stick screens in front of our eyes to play a game, just so we have an illusion of a different reality? My take on this interesting development is that this should be experimented with as an audio-only solution for gaming with external displays as well .
                  

Fresh From the Bench
Kali Audio LP-6 Powered
Studio Monitors - Measure of Value
By  Stuart Yaniger
 
In this article, Stuart Yaniger offers his review of the Kali Audio LP-6 Powered Studio Monitors. These are speakers with a plain, business-like appearance, using a 6.5" woofer-midrange, a 1" tweeter, and a front-firing port that we would easily be misled to think are just another run-of-the-mill home studio affordable offering. If it wasn't for the fact that Kali Audio is a new California-based company formed by a group of (now former) JBL employees, and that the company's lead engineer is Charles Sprinkle, who is best known for the fabulous JBL M2 loudspeakers, as well as the popular LS305 and LS308 monitors. In his review, Yaniger explains why the Kali LP-6s are serious contenders in the studio space, and can be also formidable affordable options in any other environment. This article was originally published in audioXpress, August 2019 .   Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Voice  Coil Test Bench
Celestion CDX1-1732 1" Compression Driver
By Vance Dickason
 
The Celestion CDX1-1732 joins the CDX line of neodymium motor compression drivers, now totaling 12 models. Designed for use with 1" throat horns, the CDX1-1732 is driven by a 44 mm (1.75") diameter voice coil wound with edge-wound copper-clad aluminum wire on a high-temperature fiberglass non-conducting former driving a single piece polyimide diaphragm and surround. The diaphragm is fixed using Celestion's Sound Castle soft clamping assembly methodology, which purports to reduce the stress associated with holding the diaphragm in place, decreasing distortion and increasing reliability. For this Test Bench explication, Celestion supplied its 1" H1-7050 "No Bell" elastomer (plastic rubber) damped cast aluminum 70° × 50° exponential flare horn. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, May 2019 .   Check it out here!

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