Industry & Product News
Accurate High-Frequency Headphone Testing Right on Your Desk
Building on the success of the high-frequency Head-and-Torso Simulator Type 5128 - and by popular demand - Brüel & Kjær has released a new tabletop HATS version, Type 5128-B to support customers looking to test headphones right on their desk or in small anechoic chambers. Tabletop HATS is a torso-less head that is supported on a foot. Its adjustable neck makes it suitable for testing all types of headphones, and it can be used free standing on a desk, fitted on a tripod, or on a turntable using a tripod mounting adapter. The head geometry complies with ITU-T Rec. P.58, IEC 60318-7 and ANSI S3.36-1985 .   Find Out More
Lencore Acoustics Sound Masking Business Acquired by Media Company
Emmis Communications Corp. has announced the acquisition of the sound masking business of Lencore Acoustics Corp., a leading manufacturer in high-quality sound masking solutions for offices and other commercial applications. Based in Long Island (Woodbury), New York, Lencore has 33 employees who will become Emmis employees, including the sound masking business' leadership team. The offices will remain in Long Island, New York .    Read More  


AKM Proposes Two-Chip D/A Solution for High-End Audio Product Development
Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corp. (AKM) has expanded its lineup of premium audio digital-to-analog converters (DACs) with the development of a two-chip solution that separates the digital aspect from the analog. While conventional DACs use a single chip to convert signals from digital to analog, the new AKM approach splits the conversion process between the AK4191 delta-sigma modulator and the AK4498 DAC. This results in an improvement in sound quality that is easily perceptible while listening to music, the company states .    Read More
 
WiSA Announces Support of Dolby Atmos Height Channels
WiSA, the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association founded by Summit Wireless Technologies and supported by more than 60 leading consumer electronics brands, announced support of Dolby Atmos height channels, allowing WiSA speaker partners to develop products that include immersive 3D audio experiences made possible by Dolby Atmos technology. WiSA users will be able to assign front height, side height, and rear height audio channels to WiSA Certified speakers, making it easy for consumers to configure their systems for Dolby Atmos content during set-up .    Read More  

Listen Releases SoundCheck 18 with Expanded Large-Scale Integration and Voice-Activated Device Testing
SoundCheck 18, the latest release of Listen, Inc.'s flagship audio test and measurement system, contains many new features focused on automation and simplicity. Some of these are specifically designed for large-scale integration in factory environments, while others are designed to accelerate R&D testing, particularly where multiple channels are required and/or voice-activated devices are being tested .    Read More  

Audio Research Announces Special Edition Reference Phono Stage Preamplifier
Audio Research (ARC) announced important updates to its highest-performance phono stage, the Reference Phono 3 Phono Preamplifier with the launch of the Reference Phono 3SE. Following the launch of the recent Reference (REF) 6SE Line-Stage Preamplifier, ARC's 50th anniversary product line continues with a special edition update of the Reference Phono 3 Preamplifier. The REF Phono 3SE ($17,000 USD) replaces the REF Phono 3, a product introduced in 2016 that has been recognized and awarded internationally for its incredible performance .    Read More  
    
Waves Expands Collaboration With Qualcomm to Enhance Audio on Next-Generation Mobile Devices
Waves MaxxAudio and Nx 3D audio processing technologies are now compatible with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 765, and 765G mobile processors targeting the latest smartphones and powering augmented experiences, gaming, and more. These Waves technologies have been, until now, mainly available on Intel and ARM processor-based platforms. This new combination will allow manufacturers implementing Snapdragon processors in premium smartphones and smart peripherals to also support expanded audio experiences .    Read More

Andover Audio Introduces PM-50 Planar Magnetic Headphones
The high-end headphone market continues to grow as the generic headphone product category expands globally. With wireless now sending mainstream consumers in completely new directions for personal audio, there is still room for brands to grab a share of the market in the wired, premium segment. The new PM-50 Planar Magnetic headphones are a way for Andover Audio to enter the space, proposing a relatively affordable ($500) design that still manages to surprise with walnut housings and replaceable ear-cushions .    Read More  

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


Hearing and In-the-Ear Applications
From Transparency Modes to Augmented Hearing
No, I'm not going to talk about the virus situation and cancelled trade shows again. I did that last week. audioXpress and Voice Coil magazines are determined to stay firmly on course, and double our efforts to serve the information for the audio community, globally. Thank you for your support!

Companies such as Jabra, which benefit from being part of GN Group, which owns a large hearing aid business, did not hesitate to take advantage of the ultra-low-power Qualcomm QCC5126 Bluetooth audio SoC from Qualcomm Technologies to design products like the Jabra Elite Active 75t


During the last few weeks I had to dive deep into a lot of information surrounding matters of headphones and earphones, true wireless, in-ear design, and everything that's happening around hearing-aids, hearing enhancing technologies, and all the connected topics around sensors and signal processing for active noise cancelling (ANC), selective frequency filtering and enhancing, etc. It's amazing how much activity there is currently in this application segment, encompassing multiple product categories.

The results (some selected perspectives at least) are now available in the latest edition of audioXpress April 2020, featuring my "State of the Headphones Industry" editorial, a Market Update looking at latest headphone technology, components, and materials - co-produced with Mike Klasco - and finally another Market Update, which examines what opportunities voice capture and processing technologies can bring for audio development.

In writing this content, there were a lot of topics I had to touch only superficially or leave for another article, since there's so much happening in personal audio. Also, even though I looked at countless new products that were recently introduced, I had no chance of even mentioning a small fraction. In fact, for the last six months we have been posting a lot of stories on true wireless for our product news coverage, updated daily on audioXpress.com. We've left out probably four times that amount - in most of the cases, because they're just more "me-too" products that most probably will not even make it to market.

Since CES 2020 in particular, there has been a stunning pace of news, technology, and product updates. And we would be probably discussing a lot more exciting developments as well if it wasn't for the fact that the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona was cancelled. Apparently, many companies who usually promote interesting demonstrations at this annual mobile industry gathering have decided to keep those announcements on the backburner for a while. On the other hand, there are announcements that I would like to touch upon in this weekly format.

Designed by Ausounds, a new US-based audio company, these AU Stream ANC true wireless earbuds ($149.95) combine a 13 mm titanium driver with Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, dual microphones, IPX5 rating, and AirPods-like form factor. Now available in the US, including a wireless charging case.

Living with ANC
One of the most interesting areas directly connected with the evolution of true wireless stereo earbuds, is the ongoing transition from traditional over-ear headphones to the miniaturized true wireless stereo (TWS) platforms that also support sophisticated ANC.

I finally received my Apple AirPods at the end of January (Apple must have sold an amazing number of those, considering I placed my order on the Apple Store as soon as they were announced). Since I got them, I had the opportunity to use them in many different situations and the experience has been nothing short of amazing (I found myself overjoyed many times, and I have not used other headphones since). 

An interesting thing for me was also the realization that I actually would like to have more features to play with. I know a lot of people who have tried ANC headphones only now - and more specifically in the more discreet true wireless models, which are more socially acceptable and can be worn anywhere - are pleasantly surprised by the "transparency mode" and how comfortable it can be. A lot of comments all over the Internet confirm that people find the transparency mode on the AirPods Pro extremely pleasant, and there's all sorts of original comments about how much "fidelity" that mode translates the environmental sound (compared to existing products, I'm not surprised), while others attribute magical properties to the way the AirPods Pro translate music and adapt to the changing external environment.

I think those comments confirm what I previously mentioned, which is that no one can really anticipate what features consumers will want from these new devices, since people are just now experimenting them in different circumstances, and the possibilities with ANC are just so new. After mainstream consumers get over the convenience factor, I believe the combination of active noise cancelling and adaptive filtering on earbuds will finally provide a clearer vision of where to take this technology.

And I say this because I have experimented with other ANC platforms that allowed evolving from full ANC on "transparency mode" to "other modes," and which allowed things such as eliminating selective background noises and enhancing speech only (as the original Microsoft Surface headphones did). And when I did, I knew I would like to experiment more with the possibilities of enhanced hearing. The effect this can cause in the hearing aid industry is going to be massive.

No wonder interesting announcements by the hearing aid industry, made during and after the CES show, are a glimpse of what's to come. The hearing aid companies are reacting to what is happening in the consumer space and to the massive advancements in TWS in just a short period of time. And they need to step up.

Phonak introduced the Virto Black, a fully-connected in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid, and the new Naída Marvel advanced hearing aid, expanding Bluetooth connectivity.

The Hearing Aid Counter Attack
Faced with repeated threats from a multitude of consumer electronics companies, from large multinationals to startups, and even technology platform providers drawn by the sales perspectives of over-the-counter hearings enhancers or "Personal Sound Amplification Products" (PSAPs), the hearing aid companies are fighting back. After all, they know the market better than anyone else.

As an example, Phonak surprised at CES 2020 with the introduction of the Virto Black, a fully connected in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid that combines the company's most advanced hearing technology with the style of conventional earbuds, challenging market perceptions. Shortly after, Phonak also announced the new Naída Marvel advanced hearing aid, which shows advanced Bluetooth connectivity and all the same features of the Virto Black in the traditional hearing aid form factor. Neither of these devices uses rechargeable batteries in order to support all-day use cases. As differentiating features, Phonak highlights the personalization and situational adjustment features that users can control with the myPhonak app, and the fact that the Virto Black can support up to five wireless protocols at the same time. Also, both products cost many times more than the price of AirPods Pro.

And Starkey continues to expand its Livio AI eco-system, and this year announced its Livio Edge AI platform, which combines advanced built-in sound processing, AI-based analysis of the acoustic environment, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and the same Bluetooth connectivity as consumer true wireless earbuds, allowing the use of a smartphone app for personalization, advanced features such as translation and even a voice assistant (Thrive Assistant). And Starkey makes this platform available in virtually all the formats from behind-the-ear to in-the-ear and invisible-in-canal.

Last year, I was positively surprised when Widex (WS Audiology) demonstrated a new fuel cell technology for standard hearing aids, which will be able to provide up to 24 hours of continuous usage after just some brief minutes of charging, while the company's latest generation devices are exploring edge-processing, sensors and Artificial Intelligence to power situational awareness and biometrics. And not surprisingly, Widex - like Phonak and others - are starting to promote the "high-fidelity" qualities of their new hearing aids, even claiming they will sound better than "the best headphones."

This is Olive Union's Smart Ear, $299 wireless earbuds that amplify hearing, now available for purchase on Amazon. At CES 2020, the Korean company promoted its smartphone app that performs a five-minute hearing test and calibrates the earbuds according to each user's personalized settings. They describe it as a "Cool, Affordable Wearable That Removes the Stigma from Impaired Hearing."


All that is not going to deter hundreds of companies from investing in the huge market potential of over-the-counter hearing enhancers. As SAR Insight & Consulting's study on "DTC Hearing Aids, Medical Hearing Aids, PSAPs & TWS Earbuds,"  points out, the decision to allow the sale of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids in the US (set to be released by the FDA by August 2020) will attract many companies to enter the market with hearing assistive devices for mild to moderate hearing loss, while also encouraging medical hearing aid companies to offer self-assessment solutions. Being clear that many direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies will simply offer true wireless earbuds with some amplification and enhancement features, hearing aid companies entering the OTC space will hope to encourage more individuals to test their hearing and eventually visit an audiologist.

It's an interesting challenge for the hearing-aid industry, which clearly is trying to absorb all the ideas currently being implemented in the consumer electronics industry. But there's another interesting angle to this. If I look back at my own posts and reports from CES 2019, with the announcements of previous generations such as the Phonak Virto B, the Phonak Audio Marvel, and obviously the original Starkey Livio announcement, they sound terribly similar to what they are announcing this year. Which means these things take time... 

It also means we shouldn't get carried away with CES announcements and especially with CES Innovation Awards Otherwise, we would be all wearing the MyManu Click earbuds since 2016, or even the Waverly Labs Pilot since 2014! (And yes, Waverly are still around and they were back at CES 2020!)

Bluetooth LE Audio hearing aid demonstration. "A major step ahead for hearing aid users," said the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA), which represents the major European hearing instrument manufacturers.

And next year, the same companies will all be back again with the same concepts, only this time they will be based on the new Bluetooth LE Audio specification that was finally announced and which will actually help a lot to make these projects a reality for both consumer devices and hearing aids. 

As we write in our Market Update article (audioXpress April 2020), there are many exciting areas of innovation happening around the dream of hearables and hearing enhancement, but while many companies work their way from ideas to actual products that perform as advertised, Apple will have time to sell a few more million AirPods. And we know Apple is seriously working on augmented hearing, voice assistants, and all those things that will keep consumers wanting more .  
                       
Fresh From the Bench
Cambridge Audio Edge W Power Amplifier. Amplification to Live With.
By  Oliver A. Masciarotte and Stuart Yaniger
 
Oliver Masciarotte and Stuart Yaniger tested Cambridge Audio's Edge series power amplifier, the Edge W, which the British manufacturer introduced in 2018 as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. audioXpress submitted this design, which claimed to be the culmination of the brand's audio engineering expertise, to extensive listening and measurement sessions. Masciarotte confirmed its qualities in the living room, while Yaniger discovered some very smart engineering with his inside look and measurements. While Masciarotte notes that the Edge W power amplifier "is remarkably detailed," and "the sound is finely balanced, with a musical depth and clarity that comes through with every note," Yaniger was pleasantly surprised with "some very smart engineering," that measured very well. "The Cambridge Audio Edge W is a gorgeously constructed unit whose measurements show a lot of attention to the engineering," adds Yaniger. This article was originally published in audioXpress, January 2020 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Voice Coil  Spotlight
LoudSoft Releases FINECone 2020 Simulation Software
By  Vance Dickason
 
As Vance Dickason notes in Voice Coil's Industry News, the new release of LoudSoft's FINECone 2020 software is a welcome and important update for the loudspeaker industry. FINECone is an acoustic Finite Element dome/cone simulation application to assist on the design of new drivers, calculating frequency responses and detecting problems in existing designs. High-accuracy calculations in FINECone only take 5 to 30 seconds, and the extensive Material Database allows streamlining the whole development and production process. "LoudSoft seems to have listened to its customers and added a new Geometry Modeler, which makes simulating cone frequency response much easier for engineers using FINECone," Dickason writes .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
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