Industry & Product News
Focus on Acoustics and the Best in Audio with audioXpress August 2020!
From audio development and product design to acoustics! Read the Acoustic Solutions Round-Up and expert articles. Check out the NAD M10 Masters Series Streaming Amplifier review, then learn about Sound Liaison, a recording label translating live acoustical recordings in the best possible quality. Jan Didden reflects on "The Internal Life of Vacuum Tubes," and George Ntanavaras introduces his APR-17 Aperiodic Loudspeaker design. Now available in print and digital .    Read More
Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook 2020 Is Online!
In the best annual tradition of the Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook, the 2020 edition contains updated company listings and so much more. In this edition, readers will find several must-read articles from some of the finest industry leaders, interviews with audio professionals on trending industry topics, and our annual industry reports about the state of the industry. Now more than ever, the Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook (LIS) is the most important resource for the loudspeaker industry !    Read More  
USB-IF Publishes USB Device Class Specification for MIDI Devices v2.0
The support organization for the advancement and the adoption of USB technology, USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), announced an updated USB Device Class Definition for MIDI Devices, Version 2.0 in support of MIDI 2.0 devices. The standard represents an industry-wide effort by the USB-IF, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA), and the Association of Musical Electronics Industry (AMEI) to provide MIDI users with an expanded MIDI environment connected by USB .    Read More

L-Acoustics Repackages Professional Audio Speakers as Luxury Home Audio Systems
L-Acoustics Creations, the separate division of L-Acoustics dedicated to leveraging its professional audio products and technologies for specification in state-of-the-art private, residential, cultural, and marine AV environments, announced an expanded range of home audio packages with the release of Archipel Sound Systems. With the live sound and touring markets globally on hold, the company is switching to in-home audio and entertainment experiences, where PA speakers are able to offer the impact and dynamics of a live concert experience .    Read More  

Audeze Announces the Penrose Wireless Planar Magnetic Headset for Xbox and PlayStation Consoles
Audeze, the headphone manufacturer from Los Angeles, CA, announced the launch of a new gaming headphone using its own planar magnetic drivers. The new Penrose wireless headset is aimed at console and PC gamers and extends the brand's success in the market segment that already includes the high-end LCD-GX and the Mobius 3D Surround Sound PC gaming headset. The Penrose is designed with Microsoft's Xbox Series X and Sony's PlayStation 5 in mind .    Read More  

Klippel Announces New dB Lab 210 and QC 6.6 Audio Analyzer Software Updates
The Klippel Analyzer System has received another software update with new features for both R&D and QC applications. The updates are free of charge for any users of dB-Lab major version 210 or QC 6, respectively, and provide new relevant tools for output-based testing of contemporary DSP-enhanced speakers, headphones, and other audio systems according to the IEC 60268-21 standard. dB-Lab is the software that hosts the various modules of the Klippel Analyzer Systems as well as the Klippel Controlled Sound (KCS) Technology, while QC is the dedicated quality control software .    Read More  

Origin Acoustics Takes Ambisonic Systems Worldwide Distribution and Announces New Ambisonic LSR6 Landscape Speaker
Origin Acoustics, an architectural audio manufacturer, is now the exclusive source for Ambisonic Systems, the Arizona-based company founded in 2009 by industry pioneer Jeff Coombs, specializing in high-output, high-quality ribbon line array designs for sound reinforcement. Now, Origin is promoting the new Ambisonic LSR6 landscape speaker, which the company believes will be "the next product that is certain to shape the path of custom integration."    Read More

New 19" Rackmount Surface Mount Back Boxes from Redco Audio
Redco Audio - the Connecticut specialist in audio and video cables, connectors, panels, and accessories - continues to expand its wide variety of professional solutions, now introducing new 19"-long Back Boxes in 1U, 2U, and 3U sizes. Designed to work with any rack-mountable panels, these new boxes are the perfect solution for easy surface mounting. The boxes 4" depth allows for plenty of room behind the panel, including for cable clearance .    Read More

Studio Six Digital Introduces Updated Surround Signal Generator with Dolby Atmos for Apple TV
Studio Six Digital has released an updated version of its Surround Sound Signal Generator for Apple TV. This app is available from the Apple TV App Store and is an essential tool for integrators. To install it, users just need to navigate to the App Store on an Apple TV, and search for "Surround Generator." When installed, the app offers a variety of test signals that can be used with Studio Six Digital's AudioTools app to help check speaker polarity, delay, and EQ to optimize the surround audio experience .   Read More

Fraunhofer IIS Licenses LC3 Audio Codec Software to Microsoft
The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS announced the licensing of its LC3 software implementation to Microsoft Corp. LC3 (Low Complexity Communication Codec) is the audio codec adopted for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Audio, a new audio architecture designed to boost the performance of Bluetooth Audio - for voice calls as well as for media playback including music. Following the news that Microsoft had licensed the xHE-AAC codec and MPEG-D DRC software implementation from Fraunhofer IIS, the addition of LC3 is a logical step .   Read More  

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

Intel Announces Thunderbolt 4 Specification
Technology Changes Fast, Reality Moves Slower
The audio industry is a small circle, that depends upon a small group of organizations to keep moving, even if at its own, slow moving pace. Unfortunately, as I wrote many times before, the audio industry increasingly depends upon technologies that it doesn't control.

The last few months of confinement because of the global pandemic, as I forecasted, generated extra time for research and development efforts. And research institutes, industry consortiums, technology alliances, and many important standard-promoting organizations have remained active while remotely connected, with internal work continuing and sometimes even intensifying. Unintended consequences are the lack of international cooperation due to restrictions in traveling.

Computers and mobile devices - with all the associated technologies and standards, from physical interfaces such as USB and Ethernet to wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi - and the many emerging technologies for the connected home and all the connected "things" are among the areas that are accelerating the pace of change, not necessarily in a coordinated way.

In September 2019, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the support organization for the advancement and the adoption of USB technology, published the USB4 specification, which had been promised in April that year. That specification intends to end a lot of the uncertainty surrounding the evolution of the Universal Serial Bus technology, which is one of the most important interfaces for the audio industry in the digital and networked age. I discussed the audio industry's perspective about it in an article following my meeting with the USB-IF at CES2020 - available here.

The ways things stand, we're going to need at least another year for products based on the USB4 specification to become available. The USB-IF Board of Directors and working committees - supported directly by Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Renesas, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments - did all agree on radical changes for USB4. The most interesting one being the integration and convergence with Thunderbolt, the technology created by Intel and adopted and promoted by Apple.

As I detailed in my overview, in March 2019, Intel decided to make all the innovation delivered with Thunderbolt 3 available to everyone. And the company announced that it contributed the Intel Thunderbolt protocol specification to the USB Promoter Group, enabling other chip makers to build Thunderbolt compatible silicon, royalty-free. As a direct consequence of that decision, the USB Promoter Group announced the release of the USB4 specification, based on the Thunderbolt protocol. The premise being that convergence of the underlying Thunderbolt and USB protocols would increase compatibility among USB Type-C connector-based products, simplifying the technology for consumers and putting an end to the existing complexity.

It was always clear that in professional applications, particularly for media creation, Thunderbolt (3) would remain a viable solution on its own, supported and certified by Intel, and available in systems available from Apple, and gradually expanding to Microsoft and the PC/Windows ecosystem (Lenovo being the main company that comes to mind). But for the massive consumer space and the mobile industry, USB4 would become the Thunderbolt-compatible standard.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, much of the dialog that is typical in technology forums and international standardization efforts was delayed due to the global pandemic, while on the other hand, internal R&D efforts inside companies big and small have continued or accelerated. Like with R&D, companies confirmed key strategic commercial decisions, many of which are not in line with what was formerly forecasted in those standardization efforts. Some of those can be explained for the changes in the market caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and predicted medium-term economic downturn.

Intel revealed new details about Thunderbolt 4, the next generation of its universal cable connectivity solution. delivering increased minimum performance requirements, expanded capabilities, and USB4 specification compliance.

The Apple Silicon
During its first all-online Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC20) event in Cupertino, CA, Apple confirmed important updates across all its platforms and operating systems, confirming a new radical transition for the Mac, paving the way for the company's transition from Intel-based Mac computers to Apple's own silicon chips. Apple Silicon is the name that Apple uses for its own system-on-chip (SoC) and system-in-package (SiP) processors designed using ARM architecture. This was long predicted and was the direct result of a long process of grievances originated by Intel's own inability to keep up its x86 processor roadmap on schedule, and at the pace required by Apple. This was also part of a process that started with Apple's entry to the mobile industry with the iPhone, the iPad, expanding its own chipsets, and the need to keep a significant lead over everyone else's efforts, including Samsung and Qualcomm.

Apple Silicon directly integrates the GPU and every other solution required in today's devices, from security and biometrics, to powering advanced artificial intelligence engines. And this is something that even Intel recognizes makes sense, since the company is moving (slowly) in that same direction. The difference is Microsoft will be its last remaining large client in the foreseeable future.

In part, all that explains the fact that Intel has now decided to renew its own efforts with Thunderbolt and announce a new Thunderbolt 4 specification. This means that even though USB4 remains the good-enough universal solution for all consumer devices, Intel intends to ensure Thunderbolt will remain on its own path to offer the most powerful and reliable alternative for power users - professional users, corporate and media applications. And that enables Intel to sell hardware, while keeping control of at least the certification processes.

This is also the first time Intel has announced an update to Thunderbolt technology, directly supported with the simultaneous announcement of the release of its own hardware - the new Intel Thunderbolt 4 controller 8000 series, which includes JHL8540 and JHL8340 host controllers for computer makers and a JHL8440 device controller for accessory makers. All complemented with readily available Thunderbolt 4 developer kits and certification testing.
Intel even confirmed that these solutions will become available directly in laptops to be launched later in 2020, using Intel's upcoming mobile PC processors, code-named "Tiger Lake," which will be the first to integrate Thunderbolt 4.

Thunderbolt 4 will introduce a multi-port architecture allowing docks with up to four Thunderbolt ports and universal cables up to 2 meters in length.

Thunderbolt Rules
And what is included in the new Thunderbolt 4 specification? Not much actually compared to Thunderbolt 3, but enough to make it clear that Intel is intent on following a different path. It reinforces the 40 Gbps capabilities by doubling the minimum video and data requirements of Thunderbolt 3, in video it supports two 4K displays or one 8K display, and in data it supports PCIe at 32 Gbps for storage speeds up to 3,000 MBps. More importantly, it adds support for dock solutions with up to four Thunderbolt 4 ports, with PC charging on at least one computer port (for laptops that consume 100 W or less). There's also the ability to wake a computer from sleep by touching the keyboard or mouse when connected to a Thunderbolt dock.

These updates are something that will be appreciated in all applications segments, since it enables Thunderbolt networking simply by connecting multiples devices to the dock. In existing Thunderbolt 3 and in future USB4 devices, there is the possibility to daisy-chain but not switch data bidirectionally between multiple ports (networking).

To reinforce the use of Thunderbolt 4 and create a differentiator from USB4 in professional/corporate applications, Intel added required direct memory access (DMA) protection (such as Intel VT-d and others) to help prevent physical DMA attacks. Certified Thunderbolt cables (both passive and active) will be available in longer lengths than possible until now - up to 2 meters in length for now, and 5 meters or more very soon. Certification is mandatory for all computers, accessories, and cables.

Thunderbolt 4's stricter testing and compatibility requirements will ensure the same set of functionalities will be supported, while in USB4 systems, a lot of things will be optional and depend upon the manufacturers' choices - and that will not always be obvious to the consumer. As Intel explains, "Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 products will use the same underlying protocol specification to improve compatibility for USB-C based products. Thunderbolt 4 will offer the most complete version of USB-C with a required superset of capabilities not required by USB4."

While the USB retro-compatibility requirements will dictate the need to accommodate a lot of technology compromises and the need for a large industry consensus to ensure flexibility, reliability, and security in USB4 solutions, Thunderbolt was created on a solid foundation from where it can freely evolve in multiple directions if Intel wishes. And this announcement shows that Intel seems determined to do it now. 

For the audio and media industries in general, Thunderbolt certainly offers a much more reliable fully working solution today, which is not dependent on the USB inconsistencies. A recording studio today is perfectly comfortable with Thunderbolt-based solutions, which offers total compatibility with USB devices and accessories, offering the best of both worlds. With Thunderbolt 4, studio and audio operations gain even more flexibility in the way devices are integrated - including with Ethernet - without any drawbacks.

Brand and Port simplification with Thunderbolt 4 in contrast with USB.

The Way Apple Likes
When implementing Thunderbolt 3, Apple established a benchmark for the way it ensures that all its systems work in the same way. With Thunderbolt 4, Intel is doing the same for any design that embraces the technology.

The obvious goal is to become a de-facto industry standard, leveraging the fact that USB4 will be much slower to supersede the technology's inherent limitations and mold consumer's perception. The challenge for this Intel strategy will always be how much support it will receive from the powerful mobile industry, which will naturally support USB4 with all its weight.

Future Apple devices that currently use USB-C, like the iPad Pro, will soon support USB4. And likely that will signal the transition from Lightning to USB-C on the iPhones, which is frequently the topic of uninformed debate. Previously, Apple didn't have any reasons to move away from Lightning, an optimized interface that it developed for its needs, and which was in fact the foundation - contributed by Apple - toward the existing USB Type-C connector (without Apple Lightning the industry would still be debating how to evolve Mini/Micro-USB). 

With USB4, Apple will have a compelling reason to finally leave Lightning behind, knowing there would be no penalty (Lightning is compatible with current USB and future USB4 devices). But unlike many other companies in the mobile space that will consider USB4 as the "good-enough" approach and will prioritize lower cost, Apple could decide to push forward and go straight to Thunderbolt 4, if it sees a benefit in the convergence within its own Apple Silicon and OS's ecosystem. There would be no penalty for doing so. Apple's volumes could bring Thunderbolt 4 higher costs to the current Lightning accessories level, plus all the benefits of its superior features.

And even though Apple's upcoming transition to its own silicon in two years would seem to point to a divergence from Intel, the reality is the strategy is much more concerted than anyone could imagine. Just a few hours after Intel released the Thunderbolt 4 announcement, Apple clarified that Macs - powered by its own chips - will support the full Thunderbolt 4 specifications.

Like Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 uses a USB Type-C connector to deliver audio, video, data, and power over a single connection, while staying compliant with USB4 specifications.

For audio manufacturers, this will also be an important transition, with companies in professional applications being the first beneficiaries, and consumer products remaining more aligned with the mobile industry's USB4 "good-enough" approach. Unfortunately for many consumers, too many audio manufacturers will simply opt to remain indifferent and continue to sell obsolete USB 2.0 solutions at absurdly expensive prices, unable to accept the idea that consumers, not them, dictate these changes.

Those companies that fear change and try to downplay evolution, justifying their decision by claiming they are against obsolescence, ironically don't realize they are the main source of obsolete products, even before they are sold.
Automotive Audio
Redefining Surround Sound in Cars
By  Birgit Bartel-Kurz (Fraunhofer IIS)
In its June 2020 edition, audioXpress explored the fascinating world of automotive audio technology, discussing relevant audio-related trends and opportunities. As part of that edition's contributed pieces, Birgit Bartel-Kurz (Senior Engineer at Fraunhofer IIS, Audio and Media Technologies Division) details the ongoing research at the Fraunhofer IIS institute on more immersive audio solutions for automotive applications. The article explores how to apply new audio processing algorithms in actual playback systems for cars, and how the Sonamic Panorama signal processing technology from Fraunhofer creates an immersive in-car sound experience from a simple stereo source. This article was published in audioXpress, June 2020 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Voice Coil  Spotlight
Comparative Studies on the Behavior of Beryllium, Titanium, and CN Fiber Hybrid Dome in the Last Octave
By  Peyu Vlaevski (Oberton)
This article by Oberton engineer Peyu Vlaevski details an interesting comparative study that took place directly within the research conducted by the famous loudspeaker manufacturer from Bulgaria. For some years, Oberton has been conducting efforts in the development of a new composite fiber diaphragm, combining a low relative weight and a high damping factor as in beryllium, with mechanical characteristics similar to titanium. The result lead the company to perfect a composite diaphragm material, combined with a suspension for the diaphragm periphery based on carbon fiber (CN fiber). This article details how this carbon composite dome - already implemented in Oberton's latest ND72CN and ND100 compression drivers - behaves compared with other 4" compression drivers that use beryllium and titanium diaphragms. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, May 2020 .    Read the Full Article Now Available Here

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