Industry & Product News
Bluetooth SIG Unveils LE Audio, the Next Generation of Bluetooth Audio
At CES 2020, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the upcoming release of LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio. Two years on the making, Bluetooth LE Audio will enhance the performance of wireless audio, add support for hearing aids, and introduce Audio Sharing, a new use case with the potential to once again change the way we experience audio and connect with the world around us as Bluetooth did when it cut the cord 20 years ago to create the wireless audio market .   Read More
Selective Noise Cancellation with ams AS3460 Digital Augmented Hearing Chip for True Wireless Earbuds Demonstrated at CES 2020
ams showcased its new Earbud Innovation Demo Kit at CES 2020. The ready-to-use reference design shows how loose-fit true wireless earbuds can achieve selective noise cancellation for augmented hearing, while supporting features such as proximity sensing for automatic power saving and usability enhancements. Based on the new ams AS3460 Digital Augmented Hearing companion chip, the solution currently provides the world's best performing noise cancellation for loose- and closed-fit earbuds .    Read More  

Syntiant and Sensory Demonstrate First Ultra-Low-Power Multi-Language Voice Solution At The Edge
At CES 2020, Syntiant announced a partnership with Sensory, combining the expertise and technologies in AI and speech recognition at the Edge, to deliver a deep learning, multi-lingual voice interface for battery-powered devices. The combined solution merges Sensory's larger, higher-performance TrulyHandsfree wake word engine and voice control with Syntiant's microwatt-power Neural Decision Processors (NDPs), bringing low-latency, real-time inference to edge devices .    Read More  
Nuheara Launches Next Generation IQbuds2 MAX Hearable Platform
At CES 2020, Nuheara announced its most advanced true wireless hearing buds, the IQbuds2 MAX. Building upon its successful IQBuds truly wireless platform launched in 2017, and leveraging Nuheara's latest smart-hearing platform, the IQbuds2 MAX combine hybrid Active Noise Cancellation and unique features for personalizing and enhancing the wearer's soundscape. The IQbuds2 MAX hearing buds are now available for pre-order and are planned to ship in March 2020 for USD $399 .    Read More  

CEVA Speeds the Development of True Wireless Stereo Earbuds with Support of Bluetooth LE Audio
CEVA, the wireless connectivity specialist, announced that it has enhanced its offerings for developers of true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds and other wireless audio devices with the general release of the RivieraWaves Bluetooth Low Energy and Dual Mode IPs with support for LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio. The CEVA solution introduces new features that enhance audio quality and link robustness as well as enabling new audio sharing use cases .    Read More  

Nordic Semiconductor Launches Bluetooth LE Audio Evaluation Platform
Nordic Semiconductor announced it has launched an LE Audio Evaluation Platform in partnership with San Diego, CA-based Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) stack developer, Packetcraft. The LE Audio solution demonstrates the benefits of High-Quality Wireless LE Audio and is designed to support the new LE Audio specifications that are expected to be released by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) during the first half of 2020 .    Read More  
Dirac Unveils Digital Audio Solution and Mobile App for Headphones at CES 2020
Swedish digital audio processing pioneer Dirac announced the debut of a new digital audio solution for smartphones and other mobile devices. What can be described for now as a powerful audio enhancer implemented on a mobile app, applies headphone specific profiles, intended to "set a new standard in sound across all headphones." For now, Dirac is tying the promotion of this new processing solution with feedback received directly from acclaimed DJs and music producers, which praise the solution as "the best way to experience the richness and energy of studio sound through any headphones."    Read More

NAD Unveils Masters M33 BluOS Streaming DAC Amplifier Featuring Purifi's Ultra-Quiet Amplification Technology
NAD Electronics is previewing another Masters Series release at CES 2020! The M33 is a BluOS enabled DAC/amplifier that will also be the brand's first product to feature Purifi Audio's new amplification technology. In its simplest form, the NAD M33 is an ultra-high-performance 200W amplifier that can serve as the heart of a reference whole-home system. For the brand, this will be its new flagship model, featuring BluOS multiroom streaming, 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC, full MQA decoding, and Dirac Room Correction .    Read More  

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

CES 2020 Impressions
A New Expanded Scope for Wireless Audio Technology
During CES, it's hard to keep up not only with the massive amount of announcements, but mainly with the length and breadth of events. While the audioXpress and Voice Coil team is still deeply involved with the activities in Las Vegas this week, I will focus on sharing some thoughts about a CES 2020 announcement with direct implications for the audio industry. Today I will focus on the wireless side, with the new Bluetooth audio update, and very soon I expect to expand on some additional news coming from the wired USB front - also with important implications for audio.

CES is where the entire technology ecosystem gathers to conduct business, launch products, build brands and partner to solve some of the world's most challenging issues. This year that's particularly noticeable.

Heading our news update this week, is the LE Audio announcement, the next generation of Bluetooth audio. More than two years in the making, the updated Bluetooth Core Specification Version 5.2 and more specifically, the next generation of Bluetooth audio, Low Energy (LE) Audio will enhance the performance of wireless audio, and adds new extremely important possibilities, including Audio Sharing and Multi-Stream Audio applications.

LE Audio operates on the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) radio, made possible by LE Isochronous Channels, a new feature introduced in the latest version of the Bluetooth Core Specification that adds isochronous data transport on the Bluetooth LE radio. Not only does support for audio on LE allow for lower power consumption, but it also enables the development of devices capable of both wireless data transfer and audio streaming using a single-mode Bluetooth LE radio.

With LE Audio, we also have the introduction of a new, high-quality, low-power audio codec called LC3 (Low Complexity Communications Codec), focused mainly on providing high quality, even at low data rates, and allowing to manage audio quality and power consumption to best meet the target user experience. The sweet-spot for the LC3 codec, centered on 192kbps, allowing for better quality than SBC currently allows at 345kbps. And even though the folks from the Fraunhofer IIS, which once again conducted the research for LC3, stated that there isn't any limitation in terms of using higher bit-rates, it is clear that LE Audio is intended to provide the most efficient transmission possible at the lowest power. And this will be particularly important for true wireless earbuds, which were clearly the focus.

Being a complete end-to-end solution, which will require multiple lifecycle updates, including a renewal cycle for smartphones, it was interesting to discuss the timeline for the LE Audio implementation with the multiple companies that were represented at the Bluetooth SIG CES 2020 event, where the next generation of Bluetooth audio was announced. Some chip companies like Qualcomm, Microchip, Dialog Semiconductor, or Nordic Semiconductor had completely different perspectives on how they plan to bring the LE Audio updates to market. Nordic was clearly the most optimistic, since its current silicon Bluetooth 5 platforms are able to support the new specification with a simple software update.

Ken Kolderup, VP of marketing for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, details the expected LE Audio timeline.

As Ken Kolderup, the VP of marketing for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group explained in the presentation, the LE Audio "launch" will span over 36 months until the technology adoption gains critical scale, even with an enthusiastic support from the industry. And most important, as some of the companies involved in the LE Audio demonstrations have also noted, there will be a critical period within the next 18 to 24 months, where the dominant players in the space will be able to expand their current proprietary approaches and gain further advantages in the market during the transition to LE Audio.

As the companies currently involved in the race towards high resolution wireless audio transmission over Bluetooth will also note, there's nothing in the LE Audio update or much less in the low-power audio codec LC3 that supports or questions their strategy. Qualcomm with the higher bit rate options in the aptX Adaptive technology (and aptX HD), or Sony with its LDAC codec, already have significant market traction in the consumer space and this is expected to expand. 

The companies that attended and promoted LE Audio demonstrations during the Bluetooth SIG event at CES 2020.

In fact, most of the technologies that are involved in this Bluetooth audio update are first and foremost engineering solutions that were identified as requirements by the industry to solve their current product development challenges. While the LC3 codec will clearly benefit the vast majority of those consumers that currently use the SBC codec without even realizing, outside of the engineering departments, no one was asking for more efficient audio compression. 

But then again, the engineering challenges of transitioning to wireless headphones and earbuds, or designing longer lasting portable speakers and mobile devices, remain completely ignored by the consumer. As the recent 2019 Bluetooth Market Update reveals, Bluetooth is globally recognized and accepted in traditional markets like audio, automotive, or smartphones, and has grown from a preferred feature to a requisite technology. And even with the current limitations and sometimes poor performance of many existing products, consumer demand seems to be insatiable, with 50% of all headphones sold today including Bluetooth.

As Luke Pearce, from Futuresource Consulting, recently reported, the worldwide headphones aftermarket is growing 37% in value (in 2019) and the price consumers are willing to pay pushes ever higher, up 32% year-on-year in the year to October 2019, to $74. "The in-ear form factor is showing the strongest growth, with Apple's AirPods prompting a flurry of releases from other brands and creating a major new sub-category of true wireless headphones, a category which will grow by 25% CAGR from 2019 to 2023. True wireless has also helped to grow the total in-ear segment, which now accounts for over two-thirds of all aftermarket headphones shipments."

And as the recent Futuresource Audio Tech Lifestyles consumer study - carried out in the USA, UK, Germany, China and Japan - reveals, the vast majority of users already owns two or more pairs of headphones, and they are open to adopt new wireless headphones for listening on-the-move, while investing in over-ear and higher-end headphones purely for audio listening. And probably the largest market shift will occur with hearables, or consumer headphones starting to be adopted by those with hearing difficulties, creating a crossover with hearing aids, and paving the way for "smart hearable products, able to amplify and enhance speech while filtering out ambient background noise."

Synopsys collaborated with Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) to release an implementation of the next-generation Bluetooth LE Audio LC3 codec optimized for the company's DesignWare ARC EM DSP and HS DSP processors.

Therefore, existing consumer expectations and the general market perception towards Bluetooth will be one of the aspects to explore during the transition period to LE Audio. While many manufacturers will focus on quickly expand on the possibilities this updated technology will allow, others will look at differentiation by offering optimizations in areas that are already recognized by consumers. Like augmented hearing, noise cancellation, or higher quality wireless audio, able to convey the additional quality that is also currently offered by music streaming services using lossless codecs such as FLAC, and providing access to high resolution audio or master digital files.

For the many manufacturers currently announcing new products at CES 2020, that has been clearly the focus, and multiple technology companies are already offering solutions for those challenging engineering requirements, while also meeting consumer's expectations in key areas such as battery life, and fast charging. The difference is, today's solutions are all basically proprietary (and even exclusive, such as in Apple's case). With the availability and adoption of LE Audio, there will be a new "basic" layer that will offer a robust, affordable, and consistent experience to everyone, while at the same time eventually helping to promote new use cases that consumer's today don't even imagine, like tuning to a broadcast audio channel during a live sports event, assistive listening in classrooms, or sharing audio with a group of friends.

Speaker Builder
Back EMF Phase Relationships in Moving-Coil Loudspeakers - Part 2
By  Andy Lewis
In this second article of the four-part series, Andy Lewis continues to explore the generation of Back EMF in the region of a loudspeaker's resonance. Continuing his discussion, the author details some experiments to better understand the phenomena. Having noted that, in a loudspeaker, there are three modes of Back EMF generation - below, at, and above resonance - inductive, resistive, or capacitive, respectively - he now performs simple "thought experiments," in order to make qualitative observations about the activity of a moving-coil driver in the region of its resonance. This article was originally published in audioXpress, June 2018 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice Coil  Test Bench
The Dayton Audio DMA80-4 3" Full-Range Driver
By  Vance Dickason
In this month's Test Bench, we characterize Dayton Audio's DMA80-4, a new 3" full-range line array/smart speaker driver. The Dayton Audio DMA80-4 is one of the transducers from the brand's new line of full-range smart speaker/array drivers, the DMA Series. DMA stands for Dual-Magnet Aluminum Cone and includes five models of full-range drivers, all with both 8 and 4 ohm versions. All five models have pretty much the same feature set starting with a proprietary 12-spoke injection-molded frame. This frame is very open to reduce reflections back into the cone and also has a very generous mounting flange making multiple driver arrays cosmetically attractive and compact. The DMA80 cone assembly consists of a black anodized aluminum cone, with a 26 mm diameter convex aluminum dust cap (directly coupled to the voice coil former), and suspended with NBR and a 45 mm diameter treated cloth surround spider (damper) for compliance. Motive force for the cone assembly is supplied by a neodymium slug-type motor with an additional bucking magnet to focus flux into the gap area. Driving the assembly is a 1" aluminum vented (five vents below the spider mounting shelf and eight smaller vents above it) former wound with two layers of round copper wire. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, November 2019 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
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