Industry & Product News
audioXpress Opens Up During Lockdown! Free Access to Digital Editions
As everyone adjusts to the pandemic challenges and a stay-at-home routine, here at KCK Media we've been looking at how we can contribute by helping everyone learn, stay connected, and be entertained. We've already offered free digital access to all our print subscribers, and we are offering 12 free issues with any 1-year digital subscription purchase, but we thought we should take it one step further. So, we've decided to offer our publications - Circuit Cellar and audioXpress - to everyone for free for the next 3 issues, and we are making the May, June, and July issues available in a dedicated digital subscription viewing platform. Read. Learn. Build. And perhaps discover a new passion. Get access here .   Read More
Purifi Audio Unveils Investigation about Hysteresis Distortion
Purifi Audio, the Danish company founded by Bruno Putzeys, Lars Risbo, and Peter Lyngdorf together with a remarkable engineering team, promises Class D amplifiers with record-breaking performance (as well as speakers). Now, Bruno Putzeys has made available a detailed report of his investigation on hysteresis distortion, which motivated the development of the company's products. As Putzeys describes, hysteresis in the ferromagnetic material of the amplifier output filter coil is what causes "a recognizable grainy texture in the sound."    Read More  

Wavio Receives Industry Support to Develop Visual Alert Home Device for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Wavio, a Deaf-owned software company, announced that they have entered into a strategic partnership with AREA 23, an FCB Health Network Company, which includes a major investment deal for the development and product launch of See Sound, a revolutionary home device that alerts people who are Deaf and hard of hearing to various household sounds, such as a baby crying or a fire alarm. Created by AREA 23 and Wavio, See Sound is scheduled to launch later in 2020. The partnership provides the Network with company equity in Wavio and revenue share on product sales .    Read More

Sonarworks Launches SoundID Listen to Bring Personalized Sound to Headphones on Mac and PC
After Sonarworks introduced the SoundID concept at CES 2020, the expectations couldn't be any higher. After all, Sonarworks is the company behind the Reference Studio and Reference Headphone software used extensively by musicians, producers, and studio engineers to generate a consistent reference monitoring environment. By anticipating the launch of its new SoundID Listen app for Mac and Windows, Sonarworks is reaching out to consumers with a solid technology proposition for personalized sound on headphones. But will consumers recognize the value as professionals do?    Read More  

AKM Releases Low Latency Four-Channel A/D Converter for Automotive ANC Applications
Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corp. (AKM) has developed a new four-channel A/D converter (ADC) targeting automotive applications. The AK5734 is a complementary solution for microphones, aiming at active noise control systems (ANC) and road noise control (RNC) systems, which are increasingly being installed in vehicles. By combining with the previously released six-channel ADC the AK5736, the system can accommodate various microphone channels. Besides ANC and RNC, AKM says the solution is ideal for the microphone input of a wide variety of in-vehicle systems .    Read More  

Waves Maxx Audio Sound Enhancement Technology Now Available on Knowles Advanced Audio Processors
Waves confirmed that its MaxxAudio Sound enhancement technology is now available on the newest Knowles AISonic Audio Edge Processor, the IA8201. The joint solution makes it easy for design engineers to integrate studio-quality sound into consumer electronics products. Knowles joins an expanding list of chip partners for Waves, supporting developers working to enhance sound on mobile devices, premium smartphones and smart peripherals featuring augmented reality (AR) and gaming .    Read More  

Audio & Loudspeaker Technologies International Changes Ownership and Structure
A member referendum on April 14, 2020 produced a unanimous vote to turn ownership and management of Audio & Loudspeaker Technologies International (ALTI), formerly known as the Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing & Acoustics (ALMA) International to longtime Executive Director Barry Vogel, effective July 1, 2020. According to the announcement sent by the association, this is being done to streamline operations and decision making as well as opening the door to more opportunities to help the Membership with new programs and services .    Read More

Luxman Announces D-03X CD/Digital Media Player with Hi-Res DAC Featuring MQA Full Decoding
Luxman's latest digital player, the D-03X, includes a host of new features such as Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) full decoding for MQA files and MQA-CDs, support for DSD files up to quad rate 11.28 MHz, PCM up to 32-bit/384 kHz, Bulk Pet USB transfer and fully balanced output. It looks very much like a standard CD player, but it truly is a 21st century device, with clever display features, and most importantly, with a chassis design to last including an oversized power supply and meticulous circuit selection .    Read More  

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

Communications and Working Remotely
How Did We Get Here?
I received a ton of feedback to my previous editorial regarding Audio Quality in Communications. And I also received a ton of suggestions about products and solutions that people are using - and the most important message is clearly that people are, for one, discovering the superior qualities of recent consumer products, including the latest headphones and earbuds, while also realizing the value of using proper professional communication solutions - which unfortunately not many could use at home. Evidently, superior Bluetooth 5 radio designs, the latest generation built-in MEMS microphones, beamforming, and processing abilities, all work toward improved communications, whether they are applied to consumer products - including those for gaming - or for "office" and professional use.

But my aim with the previous editorial was not - at all - to highlight any specific product or brand. I used a few familiar references as examples, and I certainly left out many others because I was not trying to write a guide or anything of the sort. Otherwise, as explained, my considerations aim purely at discussing the current audio quality problems we all have to face in this unpredictable circumstances.

I do need to reference an error in the caption of the first photo I used, which showed a Poly Voyager 4200 UC headset, and not the Blackwire 3300 Series model. Apologies to Poly. 

And that reference to Poly (the company that resulted from the merger of Plantronics and Polycom) is a great introduction to the topic I intend to address this week. Because current "professional" Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) products are a nice way to illustrate how the industry was focused on providing solutions to existing practices. And those solutions didn't always evolve the way they were supposed to.

The Bell Labs PicturePhone developed in the 1950s and brought to market in the 1960s was clearly ahead of its time. Or was it?

Traditional communication systems work mainly based on a few existing protocols agreed upon by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which were largely challenged by the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, and the massive transition to a global system of interconnected Internet Protocol (IP) networks and Internet services. With mobile networks, the IP convergence, and consumers changing devices almost every year - all happening faster than any other transition in the history of telecommunications - we could even say that the surprise is that things even work at all!

With the fast pace of changes in standards and technology solutions, quality assurance on the connections was an unfortunate result. And profit-centered strategies also dictated that telecommunication systems set a relatively low bar for voice quality, even though technology progressed immensely on that front. Telecom companies mostly ignore progress, and continue to offer a "good-enough" voice quality standard (GSM quality, basically). Even after the introduction of the 3GPP Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) audio codec for VoLTE, which allowed super wideband (SWB) audio quality for mobile phones, only a handful of telecom operators globally introduced the service - surprising given device support was in place, including from the world' best-sellers and main equipment brands.

Even before 3G cellular networks, when the world communication lines were transitioning from "digital" (ISDN anyone?) to IP, the industry already had improved voice codecs that didn't require increased bandwidth and not much additional investment in infrastructure to telecom operators. Yet, these remained stubbornly firm on their "no one is going to tell the difference anyway" attitude.

The Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) codec was a multi-industry effort, optimized for operation with voice and music/mixed content signals, with extended bandwidth, and was standardized in 2014 as part of the 3GPP project. Its potential remains to be discovered by consumers. Source Fraunhofer IIS

While at least ISDN offered some QoS for conference applications, with the predominant IP-based solutions we use today there is much less chance of QoS. That's clearly visible in video issues, but it is much more disruptive in audio quality issues. Today, communications over the Internet has adapted to the variable network conditions. We are supposed to have more bandwidth than we need for voice communications - after all we stream music on-demand in high-quality stereo in the same network. But since communication systems need to happen in real time, we use VoIP codecs that quickly adapt to variable bandwidth conditions, often resulting in a lower quality.

In the early years of cellular networks, while people adopted mobile phones for the convenience, they never trusted the reliability and the quality of the connections enough to truly consider it the only option. But regular landline phones were gradually forgotten, first and foremost because some telecom companies insisted on maintaining the cost formula of fixed communications, and also because there was a "free" alternative with voice-over-IP software or Internet Telephony. In fact, the pressure that should have been placed over QoS and the adoption of high-quality voice communications was quickly replaced by the excitement of moving to IP services, even if at the cost of quality.

Skype, a company founded by a group of Nordic entrepreneurs and a group of Estonian programmers and software developers who had create Kazaa, a peer-to-peer file sharing application, was not even the first solution available. But Skype was certainly the first Internet-based communication solution to be massively adopted by everyone who had a computer and a broadband connection - and it certainly took the office world by storm.

The reality was that, by using available software for PC and Macs, users were for the first time able to experiment with the extremely high-quality audio of modern voice codecs. The variables - not so network dependent - depended more on the microphone, the presence of bad quality speakers (beige Windows PCs with $30 plastic speakers, remember?) feeding back the signal, poor audio cards on old PCs, etc. That's why anyone using an Apple Mac, could quickly feel the quality difference, because Macs were always a fully integrated solution with built-in microphones and speakers that work particularly well for VoIP - no headphones even required.

Skype and all its competitors also used a mix of existing technologies and protocols, combined with new and more or less proprietary solutions, including audio codecs. The difference with Skype was that it was built over a peer-to-peer model - which was the reason it was so successful, but also the reason why it later had to be revised for security concerns. With the subsequent acquisitions of Skype by eBay and later in 2011 by Microsoft, Skype quickly evolved its audio codecs from G.729 to SILK, which was developed in-house. SILK is now open-source and available royalty free, and was included in Opus another open-source effort. SILK and Opus, are now widely used, and the voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution adopted by everyone, from WhatsApp to Zoom. (The story of these codecs would make for an interesting book that I hope will be published one day).

Oh the wonders of telepresence over ISDN connections! Pictured is the HP Collaboration Studio. At least the room acoustics were supposed to be good.

Remember Videoconference?
It's important also to revisit how we got to the success of Skype, Zoom, and similar all-embracing communication tools. While consumers were playing with message boards and Internet forums, before social media, the professional world was betting everything on a concept that would enhance telecommunications from voice to video. Having already forgotten the lessons of the Bell Labs Picturephone, telecom companies wanted to sell the videophone again, and encouraged some hardware companies to develop videoconference solutions for governments, big multinationals, and others.

The videoconference market initially started with some naive concepts about creating "hyper-sophisticated" rooms using dedicated hardware and telecom-led infrastructure and services, where people would gather to have important group discussions, of course assuming that a dedicated staff at each end would coordinate the connections and make sure that everything was functional and ready to go when the "important people" would enter the room(s). How did they established the coordination to make sure those rooms were connected and functional? They exchanged emails and of course made regular phone calls to make sure the "other side" would turn on the equipment and accept the connection.

Governments, multinational corporations, and basically any organization where security is critical and a dedicated closed system is the best option (no matter the price or the inconvenience) did use those solutions - and still do. But soon people started using Skype directly from their desks and the corporate communications concept changed radically. Shortly after, regular folks had iPhones with FaceTime, laptops and tablets with Skype, and those million dollar investments in "videoconference" systems started to look absurd.

And from dedicated videoconference terminals for the top management to Skype on every company PC, things changed very quickly.

Then, the videoconference industry was reborn under the designation of UC&C - a work in progress concept that not even the leading players are very certain what it's all about. Following an intense period of corporate recycling through mergers and acquisitions, UC&C migrated to technologies offered by the big Internet and IT giants. Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and others offered software and technology to support the concepts, which of course migrated fully to web-based and cloud services. 

Very quickly, the corporate world created its own version of "office-oriented" tools (because security is always a great motivation) and the modern "meeting rooms" market was born, followed short after by the "huddle rooms" concepts (the same thing, but basically happening in any corner and with little or no concern for acoustics, where people connect their own devices to a big screen, a camera, and a soundbar). With Internet and cloud companies also trying to get definitive control of those markets through services, they allowed hardware companies to sell and support the needed screens, webcams, microphones, and speakers, while they focused on "Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)".

Throughout the process, it was clear that progress was based on a distorted view of "communications" and "collaboration", which tried to ignore the potential for disruption coming from bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) and consumer convergence with web-based calls. And that will be the topic next week :)

HEAD acoustics is promoting webinars, published a white paper and created a highly recommend website dedicated to the topic "How to Optimize Audio Conferencing Solutions to Improve Communication Quality." Click the image to visit.

R&D Stories
MPEG-H Audio Brings New Dimensions to TV Sound
By  Stefan Meltzer (Chief Business Development Manager at Fraunhofer IIS)
Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS designed a way to significantly improve immersive sound reproduction capabilities on consumer playback devices, based on MPEG-H decoding and rendering and Fraunhofer's upHear soundbar processing. In its June 2018 edition, audioXpress included an exclusive article on MPEG-H Audio, written by Stefan Meltzer, who at that time was working as Technology Consultant for the Fraunhofer IIS, one of the world's leading application-oriented research institutions. Following multiple articles published online by audioXpress detailing the development of new MPEG-H audio applications, and a more detailed magazine article explaining the technology (Considerations for the MPEG-H Audio Standard, by R. Bleidt and J. Martins ), in this article Meltzer explains how research efforts lead to the development of a new MPEG-H audio soundbar reference design and new efficient methods for 3D audio rendering. This article was originally published in audioXpress, June 2018 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice Coil  Test Bench
Radian Audio 835PB 1.4" Ferrite Compression Driver
By  Vance Dickason
This Test Bench explication focused on the 835PB ferrite 1.4" aluminum diaphragm compression driver from Radian Audio Engineering, the company that was incorporated in 1988 by Dr. Richard Kontrimas and is now entering a new expansion phase under new ownership, having recently relocated to new facilities in Pomona, CA. After reviewing several of Radian's neodymium series of compression drivers, Vance Dickason has characterized one of Radian's ferrite 1.4" aluminum diaphragm compression drivers and noted also how the 835PB continues to have the expected rich feature set that is the hallmark of the company. Renowned for its mastery of diaphragms, compression drivers and coaxial loudspeakers, with the 835PB, Radian Audio shows how the company continues to offer excellent performance in a fairly high power handling package (200 W continuous power handing). Features for the 835PB 3" diaphragm, 1.4" exit, compression driver includes a 3" polyimide voice coil former with a copper clad aluminum edge wound ribbon wire voice coil, a self-aligning field replaceable diaphragm assembly, and the most important feature, a proprietary processed and hardened aerospace-grade aluminum alloy diaphragm over a three slit phase plug. The 835BP is also available with a beryllium diaphragm. Since Radian does not produce horns for its compression drivers, the measurements were made with a FaitalPro 1.4" LTH142 elliptical tractrix horn, which has a 60° × 50° coverage pattern and the same recommended crossover frequency of 800 Hz for the Radian 835BP. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, February 2020 Read the Article Now Available Online Here
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