Industry & Product News
Technics Introduces Reference Class SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier Leveraging Low-Resistance GaN Devices
In the midst of a busy week for new audio products in all market segments, Technics unveiled the SU-R1000 - its first Reference Class integrated amplifier. As Technics explains, its Reference Class products are developed in pursuit of the brand's insatiable desire to deliver ultimate sound quality to customers and offer the premium musical experience for which the Technics brand is known. The SU-R1000 follows design references of the classic hi-fi components from decades ago. But inside, this is a technical evolution of the brand's 2014 rebirth.  Read More 
Amazon Music and Twitch Combine Live Streaming With On-Demand Listening
Amazon Music and the live streaming service Twitch have partnered to integrate Twitch's live streaming functionality into the Amazon Music app, enabling fans to engage with artists in new ways and move seamlessly between live streams and recorded music. Launching today on iOS and Android, artists across the globe will now be able to connect live with Amazon Music's more than 55 million customers across all streaming tiers.  Read More 
iZotope Releases RX 8 Audio Repair and Enhancement Software and Announces Updates to Flagship Software Suites
iZotope continues to lead in advanced audio processing solutions and delivering a consistent program of relevant software updates. The intelligent audio technology company from Cambridge, MA, now released RX 8 - the latest update to iZotope's flagship audio repair and enhancement software, as well as the RX Post Production Suite 5. Additionally, iZotope has announced that Music Production Suite 4 will be coming this fall.  Read More 
Bowers & Wilkins Celebrates 25 Years with New 600 Series Anniversary Edition Speaker Range
Among the uncertainty of Bowers & Wilkins being acquired (apparently a negotiation process is ongoing with Sound United, the parent company to Denon, Marantz and Polk Audio) and the certainty of the recent restructuring, following the separation from Eva Automation, the famous brand is celebrating 25 years in the audio industry. The brand has six generations of engineering, and more than a million products sold. To signal the anniversary, B&W launched the new 600 Series Anniversary Edition, the seventh generation of 600 Series loudspeakers from Bowers & Wilkins.  Read More 
beyerdynamic Announces Third-Generation T1 and T5 Headphones
beyerdynamic officially launched the third generation of the high-end T1 (open) and T5 (closed) headphones today. Both headphones are powered by transducers based on beyerdynamic's Tesla technology, are certified for high-resolution audio, and improve the sound experience yet again, with a focus on the authentic reproduction of sounds, tuned for high-end realism especially in the upper mids. And they come with improved replaceable cables!  Read More
Yamaha Introduces Eight Wireless Headphones with Adaptive Technologies to Optimize Sound
Yamaha unveiled an extensive new line of wireless headphones and earbuds that intelligently adapt and respond to listeners and their environment. In total, Yamaha released eight new designs, relying on Qualcomm's audio platforms and technologies to create an impressive lineup with advanced audio features and multiple form factor and price points. The lineup includes truly wireless earbuds using Qualcomm's ultra-low-power QCC30xx Bluetooth audio SoCs, and a range of wireless stereo headphones  based on the advanced Qualcomm QCC5124 SoC with aptX Adaptive technology.  Read More 

Rotel Launches A11 and CD11 Ken Ishiwata Tribute Special Editions
Rotel Electronics revealed two special editions of the company's popular A11 integrated amplifier and CD11 CD player, each model named as tribute versions in celebration of the company's partnership with the late audio legend Ken Ishiwata. The A11 and the CD11 were chosen as two of Ishiwata's favorite products and the Rotel team felt that the Class AB 2 x 50W A11 integrated amplifier & CD11 CD player represented the perfect base for elevating products that were already excellent and updating them into something even more special.  Read More

Global Professional Headset Shipments to Reach 65.7 Million Units by 2026 According to Frost & Sullivan
Frost & Sullivan's recent analysis, "Growth Opportunities in the Global Professional Headset Market, Forecast to 2026," predicts that the professional headset market will witness robust growth due to the increased popularity of cloud meeting services and remote working practices. In 2020, in particular, the demand for professional PC USB and UCC headsets has surged to unprecedented levels to enhance software communications experiences.  Read More 

Philips Announces New Active Noise Cancellation Wireless Headphone Range
Sound quality, superior active noise cancellation (ANC) performance, and excellent passive isolation are the key focus for the new three-model premium-performance ANC headphone range from Philips TV & Sound. The 2020 range will include two high-performance true wireless (TWS) in-ear earbuds and an over-ear ANC headphone. The T8505 and the T5505 true wireless models will be available in October, and the H9505 over-ear model to be available in November 2020.  Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

Actively Smart True Wireless Earbuds
How to Augment Your Hearing
With most of the trade shows around the world effectively cancelled and converted into web conferencing meetings, China is pretending that it has controlled the virus and is again promoting trade shows like nothing happened - even if only local companies and visitors from China attended, defeating much of the purpose. Meanwhile, the audio industry is learning to deal with a new extended calendar, where products can effectively be announced and launched anytime. A trend that I signaled in my editorial just two weeks ago.

This week, Europe is waking up to a dramatic reality of seeing new coronavirus cases and fatalities rising again, as a direct result of allowing people to travel for the Summer holidays and some countries pushing the tourism economy. While in Berlin, Germany, IFA 2020 is claiming to be holding "the first major global fair for consumer and home electronics that will physically take place since the pandemic." Well, not exactly, because American and Asian companies have not been able to travel to Berlin, in the same way as American and European visitors were not allowed to attend the recent trade shows in China. This, of course, converted the large annual consumer and home electronics show into a series of questionable hybrid press conferences and promotional meetings that certainly don't justify the risk of causing more people contracting the virus.

Nevertheless, this push to promote a trade show again, lead some major consumer electronics and appliances companies and brands to converge their announcements in the week from September 1-5, with showcases streamed to the world live from the Berlin exhibition grounds. This serves no practical purpose, and is exactly what the world doesn't need right now. Opposite to what IFA director Jens Heithecker states, the industry doesn't need this type of platform in order to present its innovations. Yes, virtual events lack the networking and emotional connections for the trade, but for consumers who have adjusted to digital behaviors during the pandemic, it makes no difference at all.

Maybe next year, if we get the vaccine, and the pandemic is under control, we can get back to that model in some way, but for now, companies are better by refocusing their marketing efforts digitally and reinforcing their messages working with media that reaches their markets. As for trade show promoters, they should focus on promoting "safe" online networking B2B opportunities exclusively. Yes, this year's IFA "non-virtual live events" promotes mainly B2B core functions. But the limited number of people who are able to attend defeat the purpose. So, better to move to totally digital platforms for now.

The Qualcomm 2020 "State of Play" is an excellent annual survey into consumers preferences of the latest wireless audio technologies.

Significant Technology
Anyway, as result of this effort, since September 1 there were a number of significant announcements that are relevant to the audio industry. And one of those events was promoted by Qualcomm, which used the opportunity to make important announcements on the technology front. Since there was no Mobile World Congress (MWC) this year (or any other important event), Qualcomm used the broadcast facilities of IFA to announce the company's latest 5G solutions, new Snapdragon 4-Series mobile platform solutions, and more Snapdragon processors to power the new generation of tablets and laptops, now evolving from smartphones to a whole new generation of Android-based devices. (It's a bit sad to see Microsoft being squashed and Windows made irrelevant, even if they behave as though adopting Android would be the best thing in the world for them.)

More important for audioXpress readers, Qualcomm announced a new generation of system-on-chip (SoC) platforms for developers to implement even better active noise canceling true wireless designs. Called Qualcomm Adaptive Active Noise Canceling or Adaptive ANC, the new technology available in Qualcomm's latest premium tier Bluetooth Audio SoC, QCC514x was designed to improve the user's experience with ANC TWS earbuds, provide a more consistent sound quality by adapting its performance to meet variations in how an earbud fits in a user's ear, and adapt in real-time to changes in fit as the earbuds are in use.

This, no doubt, is a very important evolution. Much in the same way as Qualcomm's latest Bluetooth SoCs have enabled dozens of much improved true wireless ANC designs (with very little differentiating in the most affordable cases, unfortunately), Adaptive ANC will sort the very real problem of dealing with different earbud form factors - in-ear with tight seal, loose-fit with non-sealing channeling, and totally loose-fit - all causing major variations in the way ANC becomes effective.

The image includes the latest JBL Tune 220TWS earbuds, side by side with the latest models from TCL, Vivo, and OnePlus. Discover the differences.

While Apple continues to have the leading TWS ANC product in terms of volume, value, and share with the AirPods Pro - establishing a golden reference for the whole industry - the truth is, implementing ANC on the previous loose-fit design of the original AirPods is not easy to do. Austrian company ams AG knows this too well (they are one of the leading vendors in the market) and they have been trying to improve ANC for loose-fit designs.

As the company's own market research found out, around 45% of TWS users prefer "tight-fitting, in-ear earbuds because they are perceived to stay in place (67%) and feel more secure when exercising (51%). However, consumers noted tight-fitting earbuds are not comfortable for extended periods or they do not fit correctly (44% across all regions surveyed). Respondents also reported that tight-fitting earbuds can make them feel less aware of their surroundings (21%) and that they hear their own footfalls when wearing them - particularly during exercise (11%)." ams also notes that all those problems "are remedied with the loose-fit earbuds, which have ANC. In addition to being more comfortable than tight-fit earbuds (26%), the ability to hear what you want to hear with augmented hearing allows users to hear necessary surrounding noise and activity (20%)." 

As in the previous years, Qualcomm also announced its own "State of Play" annual report, the fifth in a serious of consumer surveys into the ways consumers use their audio devices and what drives their purchases in the truly wireless age. According to this latest consumer audio research report, 43% of respondents either already own or plan on buying true wireless earbuds. And significantly, 71% of consumers surveyed said they're interested in active noise cancellation (ANC) as a feature for true wireless earbud purchases - and improved sound quality is the top reason they're seeking it.

Apparently, those consumers who have experienced it, are now aware that ANC can also make their experience more comfortable by minimizing the need to raise volume (to possibly unsafe levels) to drown out unwanted background noise, and enhance overall music enjoyment or productivity. As the report notes, as consumers are using their wireless devices throughout the day - at home, the office, or on the go - they are also learning that as ANC can help to filter unwanted background noise, it can also increase safety awareness by allowing key sound cues to pass-through. Interestingly, users discovered that ANC also enhances conversations in difficult environments, by filtering out all frequencies outside of the voice intelligibility range.

This Qualcomm 2020 "State of Play" graphic shows the main purchase drivers for true wireless earbuds.

And Qualcomm's new Adaptive ANC technology solves a very new problem, of ANC not working correctly when there is no tight seal, or the earbuds not being ideally placed. This could allow improved loose-fit designs like the original Apple AirPods, while still allowing ANC to be effective and solve a major consumer complaint that tight-fit, fully occluded designs cause discomfort when worn for long periods of time. The 2020 "State of Play Report" clearly indicates that 53% of consumers identified comfort as one of the top three purchase drivers for selecting true wireless earbuds.

With Adaptive ANC, users don't need to push or twist the earbuds into place, don't need to insert the earbuds in the same way every time, and the level of outside noise leak-through will not affect performance so much. And Adaptive ANC is designed to work well across all modes, and as users transition from one activity to another. For example, during a voice call, some leak-through is needed to allow the user to hear their own voice and Adaptive ANC will allow automatic leak-through of voice to support a natural call experience, while still actively reducing background noise.

This will mean that we can expect to see all manufacturers currently depending on Qualcomm's low power SoCs for effective true wireless designs with ANC, to finally experiment with new designs and not simply insisting on familiar well-tested form factors - many of which have already been rejected by large numbers of consumers, and are still present in many announcements from IFA 2020. Qualcomm's Adaptive ANC technology will at least offer greater flexibility and freedom to designers and manufacturers.

Growth of the truly wireless category. According to the Qualcomm 2020 "State of Play" survey, next-generation truly wireless headsets need to support a growing range of features and applications and continue to deliver customer satisfaction with seamless wireless connections.

What We Want
As Steve Jobs famously stated, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them." I would add in the very specific case of true wireless earbuds with ANC that, "People only know what they want when they need it." The product category is so new, that the large majority of consumers still haven't experienced different options. Even developers and product designers are still struggling to establish the basics in completely new form factors and what problems they need to solve. Praise justified to the efforts of pioneers like Bragi and Nikolaj Hviid, who understood the challenges earlier on and are still around to tell the story.

I really think that all the technical, design, and marketing discussions we are having regarding the booming category of true wireless audio and TWS specifically is still being veiled by the whole discussion of "what will consumers do with this?" Or "how will consumers react if..." And that, like designing solutions looking for a problem, is never the best way.

I believe that we will "know what we want" when we truly have access to actively smart true wireless earbuds that adapt to the moment and the activities. I do believe that like sophisticated active audio processing is truly essential now (ANC in reality is just an obvious first step into intelligent environmental hearing enhancement and awareness), so is the ability to combine biometric and health sensors, or having sophisticated edge processing, able to run complex AI algorithms and inference on devices. That will enable the differences between "hearables" and the current true wireless earbuds category to blur away and disappear, finding ways to truly enhance our hearing abilities in ways that consumers will want - and need.

Yes with that evolution - which I predict should take no more than 3 to 5 years - there will be health benefits for consumers with partial hearing problems, opening up a whole new category of over-the-counter opportunities for the hearing-aid industry. But just as important will be the convergence of those hearing enhancing technologies in the true wireless hearables consumer electronics category, expanding it even more toward active hearing enhancement.

That, and the fact that voice assistants will be an essential part of that convergence. Instead of being in the way, as happens in its current implementations, Voice will help to solve many current user interface dilemmas, and will gradually evolve to become a part of the personal device architecture. Currently, everyone is focusing on developing virtual assistants that are able to respond to our most sophisticated questions, which demand access to a vast repository of knowledge. But I don't think that asking "What was the first toy to be advertised on television?*" is a priority in a true wireless device - and that can be done with a two-second delay with a query to an online search engine anyway. The key for hearables will be in having our new earbuds talking to us, and telling us "Your mother-in-law seems to be home. I'll activate the high-pass filter now" or "Your heart rate seems to be increasing, want to hear the 'Totally Stress Free' playlist?"

*Answer: Mr. Potato Head.

Fresh From the Bench
Audeze Mobius Headphones Reviewed - Almost Essential, Almost Wonderful
By Luke McCready
High-end planar magnetic headphone manufacturer Audeze broke the mold with the Mobius: a wireless Bluetooth headphone capable of LDAC high-resolution playback, virtualized surround sound with built-in head-tracking, and a number of surprises Audeze continues to invent. In his review, Luke McCready shares what he learned about the fantastic Audeze Mobius Headphones, explores what this headphone can do, the use-cases for its unique features, and the limitations of this boldly conceived product. A great overview of a very sophisticated platform to which Audeze keeps adding new features. This article was originally published in audioXpress, March 2020.  Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Test Bench
Oberton ND45 Pro Sound Compression Driver
By Vance Dickason
For this Voice Coil Test Bench, Vance Dickason characterized the ND45 compression driver from Oberton, which has been in development for some time, and is an improved version of the company's previous ND2545 design. Oberton is internationally recognized for its innovative work in high-frequency drivers, offering a strong combination of multiple diaphragm materials, which include composite formulas perfected in its own research. And Oberton is probably more vertically integrated than a lot of pro sound OEMs, producing all the important parts (e.g., voice coils, diaphragms, and metal parts) for all low-frequency loudspeakers and high-frequency drivers in its own factory, with 100% quality control. The Oberton ND45 1" compression driver was submitted to Test Bench along with the H-960 1" throat PBT-PET 90x 60º constant directivity horn. The ND45 has a 44 mm (1.75") diameter two-layer voice coil wound with aluminum wire wound onto a Kapton former driving a polyester sandwich diaphragm and vented surround, with the entire assembly being field replaceable. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, September 2020.  Read the Full Article Now Available Here
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