Industry & Product News
Realistic Speech and Sound Testing of Voice-Operated Devices
Realistic testing is crucial when developing and incorporating smart speaker functionality into consumer products. A common approach is to use a standard loudspeaker and microphone, but this can give a false indication of the performance because it doesn't accurately reproduce the directivity and frequency response of a human voice. The precise method is to use mouth and ear simulators.
Brüel & Kjær offers market-leading products that facilitate more realistic speech synthesis and listening by faithfully reproducing human characteristics with very tight tolerances on accuracy to ensure repeatability. Our mouth and ear simulators - led by the new high-frequency Head-and-Torso Simulator (HATS) - accurately match human voice characteristics, thereby ensuring both quality and efficiency in smart device testing and development .   Read More
Audinate Confirms Dante AV Product Design Suite for Dante AV Available to Manufacturers
Audinate, the company behind the industry-leading Dante audio networking technology, announced that the new Dante AV Product Design Suite (Dante AV PDS), a complete development kit solution, will be shipping in Q1 2020 to manufacturers who who have placed their orders. This will allow even more companies to develop new AV-over-IP products that employ Dante AV technology, which combines a video signal with uncompressed Dante audio .    Read More  


Eminence's New N314X-8 Compression Driver Leads the Way with Textreme Diaphragm
Recently, Eminence announced that it has already successfully implemented and tested a new compression driver using the new thin-ply carbon diaphragm from Textreme. The announcement of the new Eminence N314X-8 Compression Driver confirms that the Kentucky-based company is now ready to offer the world's first driver using the new lighter diaphragm material, promising "goosebumps" for those who have the opportunity to listen to the latest in high-frequency driver technology .    Read More


Registration for Klippel's Sound Quality of Audio Systems 2020 Lecture Is Now Open
Sound Quality of Audio Systems: Modeling, Measurement & Control, is the title for the 2020 edition of the lecture presented by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klippel. Already an annual tradition, this three-day event combines both theory and practice, and will take place March 9-11, 2020, at the Technical University Dresden, in Germany. Registrations for the lecture are now open for a fee for general admission, and are free for students .    Read More  


L-Acoustics Introduces New Immersive Island Prestige Experience at ISE 2020
L-Acoustics Creations, a division of L-Acoustics, announced the introduction of Island Prestige, a new "sound space" solution for luxury residential and architectural installations at ISE 2020. This is a completely self-contained, personal auditorium, which L-Acoustics describes as a new high-performance and versatile approach to media room design. The French company also believes the concept will encourage home integrators to deliver the ultimate audio experience as part of their projects .    Read More  


New Single Contact Charging and Communication Solution for True Wireless Earbuds from Maxim
Designers of ultra-low-power portables and wearables can shrink the size of a power and communication interface to the charging dock by up to 80% with the new MAX20340, the industry's smallest 2-pin bi-directional DC powerline communications (PLC) device from Maxim Integrated Products. Each MAX20340 PLC IC is only 1.84 mm 2 and does not require any large external components, such as inductors, while hosting communication and power over the same line reduces potential points of failure and cost .    Read More  
   
 
iFi Announces New Hip-DAC Portable USB DAC/Headphone Amp
iFi introduced a new model to its already extensive range of portable DAC/headphone amps with an all-new design - the Hip-DAC. Looking like a pocket flask, the new portable device features an extruded aluminum enclosure with a distinct petrol blue finish and a touch of copper, offering an extensive set of specifications to support high resolution audio (HRA) sources, while keeping an affordable price tag at just $149 USD or €159 Euros .    Read More


DirectOut Introduces RAV2 OEM Ravenna Network Audio Module
German connectivity specialists DirectOut have become the latest Ravenna OEM solutions vendor with the release of its new RAV2 high-performance network audio module for integration into third-party products. Enabling manufacturers to implement high performance and interoperability into their products in a compact Mini-PCI form factor, the new RAV2 OEM module offers easy integration of Ravenna, AES67, and SMPTE ST 2110-30/31 media networking with support for all ST 2022-7 classes.   Read More  

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


The Road to USB4
...and a New USB Audio Device Class!
This year, I was really looking forward to meeting with the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the support organization for the advancement and adoption of USB technology, and discuss their projects for the USB4 Specification, the really big, gigantic update story on that front (at least in consumer electronics) since CES last year.

Reminding those who have been hibernating, the USB-IF announced the publication of the latest and greatest USB4 specification in September 2019, offering a major update to the USB architecture that complements and builds upon the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures. But this next-generation USB specification is also much more than that!

As formerly discussed when the development initiative was revealed, in March 2019, the USB4 architecture is based on the Thunderbolt protocol specification contributed by Intel Corp. to the USB Promoter Group. This enables the USB4 solution to evolve to a two-lane operation using existing USB Type-C cables and delivering up to 40 Gbps operation over 40 Gbps certified cables, with multiple data and display protocols efficiently sharing the total available bus bandwidth. And of course, all devices based on USB4 will be backward compatible with USB 2.0, USB 3.2, and Thunderbolt 3.

At CES 2020 I met once again with Jeff Ravencraft, Rahman Ismail, and Brad Saunders, and learned that things are actually well consolidated, with the work toward USB4 implementation well underway and the USB-IF focusing on some of the most relevant aspects and application areas for the technology, which is the Certified USB Fast Charger and the adoption of USB Type-C by automotive companies.

(Left to right) Joe Balich (USB-IF PR); Jeff Ravencraft, USB-IF President and COO; Brad Saunders, USB-IF Chairman, and Rahman Ismail, USB-IF CTO.

For this transition, the USB-IF also revised the USB4 branding, trying to create a unified brand look for the future of USB Performance. This includes creating the USB4 40 Gbps logo for products and packaging, adding to the USB4 20 Gbps logo, defining new "20" and "40" port and cable logos, and launching new USB Type-C Charging Trident logos, again branded "20" and "40,", indicating maximum aggregate bandwidth.

About the USB Charging Initiative, we learned that Certified USB Fast Chargers are seeing strong industry adoption, and that's the reason why the USB-IF decided to expand its USB Charging Initiative to include Certified USB Fast Chargers. The certification program is supported with a multi-million dollar annual investment and by 16 certified independent test labs across the US, Europe, and Asia.

According to Jeff Ravencraft, the USB-IF President and COO, there was a clear surge in implementation of USB Fast Charging, with 181 certified solutions to date, and Certified USB Fast Chargers now supporting the Programmable Power Supply (PPS) function of the USB Power Delivery 3.0 specification. This requires new USB hosts, devices, and chargers supporting PPS for users to take full advantage, but the benefits are clear, allowing the smartphone OEMs to better manage the thermals while charging, enabling a faster (and safer) charging experience for consumers, while optimizing the batteries. This is so clearly beneficial for consumers, that I have no doubt it will be one of the leading reasons why we will see extremely fast adoption.

The new updated USB branding for packaging, ports, cables, and chargers

This also adds to the USB Type-C Authentication Program, an optional USB security protocol, launched in January 2019, which defines cryptographic-based authentication for USB Type-C chargers and devices. This enables host systems to protect and mitigate risks against non-compliant USB chargers, devices, and cables and avoids maliciously embedded hardware/software from USB devices attempting to exploit a USB connection. Still, this is optional and not a requirement for USB-IF certification, and since it requires new hardware and software, the adoption has been slow. Anyway, another very important initiative.

Regarding the automotive market, we've learned that the USB Type-C connectivity standard is seeing rapid adoption among mass-market models, with mainstream OEM applications starting with the 2018 models and rapidly proliferating among premium and mid-market vehicles. Still the USB-IF knows that USB Type-C will be complementary to USB Std-A in the near future, with USB-C eventually becoming the predominant form factor over the coming decade. The USB-IF estimates that meaningful volumes will start in 2020, doubling the number of car models shipping with USB-C, and reaching half of all vehicles in 2026. Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, Ford, Jeep, GMC, Porsche, BMW, and Volvo are among the brands to ship all new 2020 models already equipped with USB-C ports.

The Big Audio Class Surprise
But the biggest news to come out of this CES USB-IF briefing - albeit still short on details - is the confirmation that there is actually advances work on USB Audio Device Class 4.0. Even though no official reference to this has been released so far, this is something we feel needs to be shared with the audioXpress audio developers and manufacturing community.

A new USB Audio Device Class 4.0 specification will finally reflect the ongoing work, basically since the release of the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 Specification in September of 2016 - and which has not progressed primarily because there were other pressing priorities. At that time, the 3.0 specification update focused on establishing USB Audio over USB Type-C for digital audio applications, efficiently delivering data, power and video over a single USB Type-C connector with USB Power Delivery. The updated specification also defined capabilities to reduce power consumption, and defined interoperability requirements across analog and digital solutions to minimize user confusion when not all hosts or devices consistently support audio. It was basically a "maintenance" update that made sense given the transition to the new connector and the new possibilities with USB Power Delivery.

Now, the upcoming USB Audio Device Class 4.0, will finally extend the interface capabilities including managing latency, dynamically changing data streams, changing number of incoming channels, data format, etc., handling sources that change format in real time, and introducing better support for DSD and High Resolution PCM formats.

This is just a partial list of some of the work-in-progress features for USB Audio Device Class 4.0. Manufacturers with relevant requirements should reach out to Rahman Ismail, who is leading the process.

Of course, most of these new features that were listed in the PowerPoint presentation we had access, need further explanation, which will only be available when the actual specification document is released. Until then, we learned that USB Audio Device Class 4.0 will also offer support for all the technologies that are currently being implement in wearables, and all voice-activated devices. This includes support for Smart Amplifiers, with IVT (Current/Voltage/Temperature) communication, support for Smart Microphones with always-on support, buffered audio with "seamless stitching" with streaming audio, and even sampling frequency changes after keyword detect (therefore, saving buffer space and power while performing passive listening).

The new specification also promises to pave the way for personalization, with support for a bank of digital filters, including enhanced user-defined equalizers, and will implement support for EN 50332 safe-listening levels. 

Until the new specification is released, work is still ongoing and new features are being considered, which means that this is good time for audio companies to get actively involved and reach out to Rahman Ismail, who is leading the effort.

We couldn't help noticing how much more confident in the message the entire USB-IF team seemed to be, as compared with last year. The confidence in the simple USB4 message is something that the team believes will translate to the industry and eventually to consumers, helping to dilute the complicated transition for the standard as it stood last year.

"Eventually, it will all be about USB4," Brad Saunders confidently said during our sequence of questions. Yes, for consumers, sooner or later, people will simply recognize USB4, even if in reality the underlying technologies in the market will continue to be in the vast majority based on USB 2.0 and USB 3.2, and of course USB Power Delivery 3.0, which is the evolution that's propelling the technology forward, currently.

"One of the key things that Thunderbolt implemented and mandates - and that USB4 does as well - is the time management system. That is all about time sync across the whole ecosystem, a critical chapter of the spec for very high precision applications with audio and video," explains Brad Saunders.

Regarding the timeline for USB4 implementations, the test and measurement companies and the ones that provide product certification were the first to kick start the process, and solutions are in place. Therefore, the compliance program is on track to be completed or in place by the end Q1 2020, as Jeff Ravencraft confirmed. The early movers in silicon - of which there are quite a few already committed, and there are FPGAs in development - are already doing some early interoperability tests. The expectation, the USB-IF confirmed, is for actual USB4 product announcements during the last half of 2020. 

This means that USB4 will be a reality in the mainstream market for consumer electronics and the mobile industry starting in 2021. Of course, this should not significantly impact the professional audio industry, which is strongly committed with Thunderbolt 3, and can commit even more confidently, knowing that USB4 will simply expand support for current investments. But, that's a story for another article...

Practical Test & Measurement
Testing Smart Devices
By  Steve Temme (Listen, Inc.)
 
Voice applications are currently fostering the largest growth in the audio industry. This article addresses the challenges and solutions for testing the wider class of " smart" - connected, voice-activated, and sensor-equipped - devices, proposing solutions to implement basic acoustic tests and real-world tests of greater complexity. This article was originally published in audioXpress, April 2019 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice Coil  Focus
The Impact of MEMS Speakers in Audio
By  Mike Klasco (Menlo Scientific, Ltd.)
 
In this article for Voice Coil focused on MEMS loudspeakers, Mike Klasco (Menlo Scientific, Ltd.), reviews a bit of the history of the technology and previews the evolution and impact on the audio industry in general. As Klasco explains, the consumer electronics industry at-large has been able to digitize and shrink most of the device components and electronics. But one of the last remaining barriers is the speaker - it remains comparatively heavy, bulky, and restrictive. But now, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are promising to change all that in the largest volume applications, such as smartphones, headphones, portable speakers and automotive applications. The article examines MEMS devices in general, provides a basic explanation of how the various types of MEMS speakers work, and what commercialization challenges are ahead. As the first MEMS speakers are now becoming viable commercial products, Klasco also discusses their practical applications, unit costs, and acoustical strengths and weaknesses. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, December 2019 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
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