Industry & Product News

What You Need To Know About Smart Speaker Acoustic Measurements
Smart speakers are a relatively new class of consumer audio device with unique characteristics that make testing their audio performance difficult. In this new application note, Audio Precision provides an overview of smart speaker acoustic measurements with a focus on frequency response - the most important objective measurement of a device's audio quality .   Download the Application Note Now
Schiit Audio Announces Unison USB Upgrades Now Available on All Schiit Upgradable DACs
Schiit Audio announced the immediate availability of the Unison USB input for all of its upgradable DACs (Bifrost, Gungnir, and Yggdrasil.) Unison USB is Schiit's unique, proprietary USB input, running on a general-purpose Microchip microprocessor (rather than a typical XMOS or C-Media solution.) According to Schiit, the new Unison USB board provides superior performance at a very low current draw from the host, as well as complete electromagnetic and electrostatic isolation .    Read More  

Sennheiser Steps Up with New HD 450BT and HD 350BT Wireless Headphones
Designed to offer great sound every day, the new Sennheiser HD 450BT and HD 350BT around-the-ear Bluetooth 5.0 headphones, first presented during CES 2020, offer a winning combination of improved audio quality, 30-hour battery life, and instant voice assistant access. The HD 450BT also features active noise cancellation so no matter how loud the environment, it's possible to enjoy a truly captivating audio experience without any distractions .    Read More

Steinberg Introduces AXR4 Audio Interface with USB-C
Steinberg presented its latest audio interface at the 2020 NAMM show in Anaheim, CA. The new, rack-mountable AXR4U audio interface, provides a USB-C alternative to the already available AXR4T Thunderbolt 2 interface. Featuring the highest audio quality, DSP effects to monitor the sound with various signal processors alongside hybrid microphone preamps and Rupert Neve Designs SILK technology, the AXR4U audio interface provides USB 3.0 data transfer with USB-C connectivity .    Read More  

Powersoft Announces Major Update to ArmoníaPlus Audio System Management Software
Celebrating a quarter century of innovation, professional power amplifier manufacturer Powersoft has announced the latest update to its audio system management software, ArmoníaPlus. HealthPlus, which replaces the software's previous "Events" tab, gives sound engineers a streamlined monitoring environment of all elements in a given sound system with improved communication, control and reporting to ensure even better performance than ever before .    Read More  

Genelec to Showcase 4420 and 4430 Smart IP Loudspeakers at ISE 2020
Genelec will reinforce its Smart IP loudspeaker range by showcasing two Smart IP loudspeaker models - already powered directly by the network cable - at the forthcoming Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2020 show in Amsterdam. The new 4420 model will join the already announced 4430 loudspeaker, both combining exceptional sound quality, single cable convenience, and the onboard Smart IP technology that provides scalable power, audio and loudspeaker configuration, supervisión, and calibration features via a standard CAT cable .    Read More  
Continental and Sennheiser Developed New Sound Actuator Solution for Vehicle Audio
One of the key technology demonstrations in automotive audio at CES 2020 was promoted by Continental and audio specialist Sennheiser. The two German companies presented a "speakerless" audio system for the vehicle interior, which Sennheiser claims is able to generate immersive audio by exciting surfaces inside the vehicle to produce sound. The Continental actuator solution - Ac2ated Sound - reduces weight and space by up to 90% in comparison to conventional systems .    Read More

1MORE Now Shipping True Wireless ANC Hybrid Earbuds
1MORE, the Chinese premium consumer audio company, announced that its new True Wireless ANC In-Ear earbuds are now officially available in the US. Featuring a dynamic driver combined with a balanced armature, two levels of active noise cancelation, pass-through mode, and a wireless charging option, the 1MORE True Wireless ANC - yes, that's the product's official name - is also the first TWS product pending THX Certification, and are available now on the company's own website and for $199.99 MSRP .    Read More  

Guest Editorial
Vincent Nallatamby
(CEO, Tempow)

More Than Music
The True Potential of True Wireless Earbuds
In the (short) history of my company, Tempow*, there are a few exceptional moments that have come to reshape it. One of these moments was when I tried a pair of Apple Airpods for the first time. The year was 2017.

At the time, Tempow was working on a breakthrough in Bluetooth technology. We were building a product that could connect one smartphone to multiple Bluetooth speakers from different vendors simultaneously. A challenge that had yet to be solved - it's actually a lot more complicated than it sounds!

True Wireless Earbuds (or Hearables)

Meanwhile, Apple was busy creating the Airpods.
I'll never forget when I tried them out for the first time: blown away. Almost immediately, I realized that these tiny products were setting the bar for a new category of products that would become massive in the years to come. The engineering and development that went into making the Airpods was so sophisticated that competitors have been scrambling to catch up ever since. 

A couple of weeks later, we decided to pivot the company from Bluetooth speakers to True Wireless Earbuds (TWE). Since then, the TWE market went from nonexistent in 2016 to 90 million units sold in 2019 and on track to reach 300 million units by 2022.

Here are some of the ways TWE are winning the consumer electronics and notably the hearables market and why they will continue to expand in the years to come. 

Voice Control
We ' re just at the beginning of what's possible with voice control. Current applications of smart speakers are pretty basic and we still haven't started using the voice assistant like a personal assistant. The earbud is the perfect device to become the link with your assistant.

My guess is that Google may be leading this evolution from voice to personal assistant with the Google assistant being more and more on the edge and meant to be used to navigate within Android (open/close apps, read notifications, etc.). However, I believe the market is missing the target when it comes to bringing a personal assistant to your earbuds: everyone is trying to reuse what's been developed for the smart speaker market and embed it into an earbud. But an earbud is not a speaker.

Your smart speaker is a family device, almost another person in your home. Your earbud is a personal device, almost a part of yourself, an extension of your ears. There are two challenges that should be addressed to evolve your earbud into your personal assistant: 

- The current "wake word detection engine" ("Alexa" or "Ok Google") won't work with the earbuds. Something needs to be solved around the assistant trigger so that you don't have to address yourself to think out loud.
- The second challenge is that the assistant for earbuds needs to be bidirectional and not unidirectional like a smart speaker. Your earbud assistant needs to be able to talk to you without you asking specifically. And the "assistant notification" question has still yet to be solved.

Augmented hearing abilities could soon be integrated in your True Wireless Earbuds

Hearing Aids
There is a convergence happening between the hearing aid industry and the audio industry. We will soon see the first generation of earbuds, which will never leave the ears, like a hearing aid. It may happen with the earbud form factor. By embedding your earbuds with a hearing enhancement, you could experience augmented hearing or noise-canceling abilities. And some companies are already working on it, like this one: Mimi.

It may also happen with the hearing aid form factor (i.e., as invisible as possible). I listened to music using an "invisible" hearing aid from Phonak, a Sonova brand, and I was baffled by the audio quality while listening to music - it was excellent.

In both scenarios augmented hearing or enhanced hearing, abilities could soon be integrated in your TWE and could be leveraged in a range of ways from emergency first responders to announcements made on the intercom in public transit. Conversely, noise-canceling also becomes very interesting in cases where better filtering sound and potentially increasing the volume for some specific sounds is important (e.g., the cry of a baby).

If you have a personal health device then it's likely worn around your wrist. But your ear is actually a very interesting touchpoint to collect health data (e.g., body temperature) and particularly data related to your brain.

There is a ton of research on this at the moment, and we see some of the first Kickstarter projects emerging such as these here and here. Apple is also filing several patents at the moment on heart-rate tracking with Airpods and it's only a matter of time before more sophisticated monitoring follows. The next generation of personal health devices will come from the ear, not the wrist.

Battery Consumption
For all of the opportunities TWE present, there is still a key challenge, the elephant in the room that manufacturers and brands are rushing to solve: battery consumption and processing power.

In order to realize all of these use cases, battery consumption must be reduced in order to bring additional components and innovation into the earbud. From where will this innovation come from? At present, chip makers, smartphone OEMs, and audio brands are in an interesting stalemate.

When we pivoted Tempow in 2017, it was because we recognized this need for innovation in TWE. We had the team, the expertise in Bluetooth technology, and we even some of the patents needed to solve it... So why not go for it?

The rise of True Wireless Earbuds

Bluetooth LE Audio
Today, Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) Audio is creating new opportunities. In case you missed it, the Bluetooth consortium just announced a new Bluetooth norm at this year's CES: LE Audio.

This new generation of the protocol will significantly improve the performance of Bluetooth Audio and enable a new generation of wireless earbuds capable of substantial optimization from both a technical and user experience perspective. Seizing this opportunity are a new generation of chipset manufacturers embracing Bluetooth Audio, bringing a much welcomed diversity in the landscape with novel approaches and innovations.

At Tempow, we are actively working with some of these chipset manufacturers on a Dual-Mode Bluetooth solution. This will allow us to provide a state-of-the-art software solution that supports both classic and LE Audio during the inevitable transition period brought on by hardware renewal cycles. 

Exciting times ahead of us!

* Tempow is a research and design lab based in Paris, France, with extended operations in Seoul, Korea, and Shenzhen, China, focused on pushing the limits of Bluetooth technology.

Fresh From the Bench
Audio Precision APx555 B Series Audio Analyzer -  Expanded Capabilities and Software
By  Stuart Yaniger
Stuart Yaniger offers his review of the latest Audio Precision APx555 B Series audio analyzer, and the corresponding new updated V5 software for the APx series. The APx B series now features a new High Performance Sine Generator and a High Performance Sine Analyzer, which Audio Precision claims reduces THD+N to better than -120 dB, with a 1 MHz bandwidth and Fast Fourier Transforms (FFTs) of up to 1.2 million points. This is a significant improvement over its previous series of instruments, which were certainly not slouches in the distortion and noise department. One might reasonably ask about the practicality of this improvement, but audioXpress had been dealing with multiple systems under review where measurements were limited by the analyzer, not the DUT. When audioXpress was given the chance to have a B Series for a few weeks, Yaniger felt like "the coolest kid on the block." His article also explores how Audio Precision addressed the need to create new measurement routines, respond to the challenges of new classes of connected devices, and make the entire solution far more intuitive and simple to use. This article was published in audioXpress, December 2019 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Fresh From the Bench
Benchmark HPA4 Headphone/Line Amplifier
By  Gary Galo
In this article, Gary Galo reviews the Benchmark HPA4, a reference headphone/line amplifier designed to deliver amplification of analog sources for audio enthusiasts, mixing and mastering engineers. Resulting from Benchmark's collaboration with THX, the HPA4 features a THX-888 headphone amplifier for an output signal with high voltage, current, and power complemented by low distortion, noise, and crosstalk. The signal path in the HPA4 is entirely analog, with four stereo, line-level inputs-two fully balanced XLR and two unbalanced RCA. Outputs include stereo balanced XLR, a summed-mono balanced XLR, and stereo unbalanced RCA. The HPA4 is designed for full, professional operating levels using the XLR I/O, up to +28 dB, or 19.5 VRMS, in and out. This article was published in audioXpress, November 2019 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here

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