Industry & Product News
Sensory Privacy-Focused Custom Voice Assistants Power New-Generation Appliances
Deep learning voice AI is finding its way into everything from appliances to toys. Sensory believes that not all applications require Internet-based voice assistant platforms and that privacy is key for consumer acceptance. But so is reliability. For such requirements Sensory now offers its fully edge-based Custom Voice Assistants solution that offers total privacy. Read More
Grimm Audio Announces New SB1 Digital Motional Feedback Subwoofer
Grimm Audio introduced the successor of its LS1s-DMF motional feedback subwoofer: the SB1. The new design takes Grimm's Digital Motional Feedback approach to an entirely new level. This subwoofer uses a new and improved driver, over which Grimm Audio could build a better electronics implementation and leverage significant evolution in sensors and DSP, creating an even better match for its LS1 series speakers. Read More
Holoplot Launches Wavefield Synthesis X1 Matrix Array Solution
After years of research and development, Berlin, Germany-based hardware and software audio technology manufacturer Holoplot announced the launch of its X1 product line. This is the first commercially available wavefield synthesis solution specifically built for large conferences, concerts, venues, theme parks, immersive installations, and similar applications requiring high-impact, innovative 3D professional audio technology. Read More
Alango OnlyVoice Technology Now Available for Qualcomm QCC5141 Audio SoCs
Good news for designers of Bluetooth earbuds and hearables relying on Qualcomm’s audio SoCs and looking for differentiating features. Their products now offer improved voice clarity in noisy or windy environments using Alango’s OnlyVoice advanced technology for true wireless earbuds and high-performance headsets. Also available on the QCC5141 is VoiceFirst, which improves speech intelligibility in movies through de-emphasis of background sounds and music. Read More
Audix Debuts A127 Omnidirectional Metal Film Condenser Microphone
Delivering on the promise of significantly expanding its product portfolio for demanding recording applications, Audix confirmed it is now shipping the new A127 Omnidirectional Metal Film Condenser Microphone. For the Oregon-based microphone manufacturer, the A127 is the culmination of years of research and development in condenser technology, designed to capture acoustic instruments with transparency, accuracy and purity. Read More
VOXX International Corp. Agrees to Acquire the Home Audio/Video Business of Onkyo Home Entertainment Corp.
VOXX International Corp. announced that it has signed a Letter of Intent to acquire the Home Audio/Video business of Onkyo Home Entertainment Corp., along with Sharp Corp. as its partner. VOXX and Sharp have been granted exclusivity while discussions remain underway. VOXX had recently been confirmed as the exclusive distributor in the Americas of the Onkyo brand. Read More
Bang & Olufsen Introduces Beolab 28 Adaptive Stereo Home Speaker
Bang & Olufsen continues to surprise with a very strong series of new speaker designs. The Danish home audio innovator has now introduced Beolab 28, an adaptive, wireless speaker that combines advanced acoustical innovations with convenient smart speaker features. The slim Beolab 28 can be positioned anywhere in the home, stream anything instantly, and provides immersive, powerful studio-grade sound that automatically adapts to its space. Read More
Bose Expands DesignMax Installation Product Line with Four New Pendant Loudspeakers
Bose Professional expanded its DesignMax loudspeaker range with four new pendant designs - the DM3P and DM5P loudspeakers, the DM6PE outdoor-rated loudspeaker, and the DM10P-SUB subwoofer. Ideal for open-ceiling installations, each unit is attractively designed with sleek aesthetics and provides a recessed single-point suspension system, enabling hardware to be kept out of sight, and a service loop to be held and hidden for easy access in the future. Read More
Editor's Desk
J. Martins
AirPods, Bluetooth, Lossless, Hi-Res Audio…
What Will Apple Do Next?
With rumors intensifying about the next batch of product announcements from Apple, it seems there will finally be something to get excited about on the audio front.

For those of us who fail to get excited about a Purple iPhone - I like to think that someone at Apple actually has a refined sense of humor. Expect everything from China to be multiple shades of purple until the end of the year… Our next chance for something new is the traditional Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC21), happening June 7 to 11. This all-online program will certainly be something to remember just in terms of what Apple will do next in operating systems (iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS), now that it is riding the powerful wave if its own Apple Silicon.

Apple recently held a product-oriented event where it unveiled the AirTags (UWB, Bluetooth, NFC and a mesh of connected devices, implemented in a new and highly innovative solution that has left many technology companies scratching their heads about how they are going to follow up on that). And the new M1 iMac had a lot of interesting and not so interesting things, but in general is a great entry-level product that - it’s always good to remind - runs audio apps faster than even the latest Intel iMac supercharged with top memory and custom options, for probably one-third of the price. In fact, as many studio owners are finding out, even the modest MacBook Air M1 is able to do video editing and run complex audio multitrack sessions much faster than anyone could even have dream, when running updated software.

And Apple also introduced a new Apple TV, which shows how the company is able to both do everything right and still disappoint because it took so long. The new Apple TV 4K has exactly the processing power and the features the previous version should have had, and more importantly, has the remote that it should have had in the first place. At least, it shows that Apple is able to understand exactly what users want, what they are using… and not using, even if it takes a few years to change course. And the Siri voice button is now on the side - for the very few people who use it. (Uh… Siri! Play that show I was watching the other day that I don’t remember the name.”)

These non-audio references are just a reminder of the way Apple impacts the market in everything it does. Very soon, it seems, we will have another batch of announcements, this time focusing on audio. It might be in June, during the WWDC, or later. The certainty is that Apple is going to soon reveal the next-generation AirPods (third generation) and the second-generation AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds. Given that these two products are both some of the best-selling, and some of the most copied Apple products ever, this will be significant. I don’t know what Apple will change and improve, but I know that it will be a major event for all the companies that look at Apple for reference of what to do next. Particularly now that Apple is able to surprise also by simply updating the firmware of these earbuds, introducing exciting features that no one expects. Like it did with Spatial Audio.
In the last two years a lot of companies did launch many true wireless products in the market, and many introduced innovative features that Apple doesn’t do. But all that Apple does with the AirPods, it did well and that is why they sell (around 84 million units sold in 2020, according to Counterpoint Research). The loose-fit form factor of the original AirPods was certainly a big winner among all the millions of consumers who had never used a TWS product before and evolved from the original EarPods they received with the iPhone.

Few people even noticed that the second-generation AirPods improved the hardware and updated the Bluetooth radio, becoming the reliable workhorse so many of us depended on during the pandemic. And finally, the AirPods Pro, made ANC a thing among consumers, and introduced a new hybrid in-ear design that competitors are now realizing achieves the best of both worlds: effective for ANC processing, but comfortable enough for those who evolved from the loose-fit design of the standard AirPods. Together, the two form factors fit the ear shapes of more than 90% of consumers.

As always, Apple builds a lot of innovation inside each iteration of a product, even if sometimes it’s not always obvious. I kind of know what they are probably working with for the AirPods launch in 2023. What I know about the new 2021 models is that they will improve upon the things that people recognize instantly as useful - and enable one or two new things that consumers will not even notice, but will leave all other companies chasing after.

And one of the areas I think Apple is going to change eventually is not exactly hardware, but related to audio streaming - its Apple Music platform, and enabling a better experience with music streaming services. As I said a few times in previous articles, one of the reasons why the AirPods work better than all the other designs is the fact that they behave as a Class 1 radio with a range of 30 meters (3 times the standard Bluetooth Class 2 range) and yet still deliver the low power required for the battery to last a reasonable amount of time.
Now that we have Bluetooth 5.2, and some of the new LE Audio specifications - even if a lot is yet to be agreed and confirmed - Apple is in a position to leverage those features and step up a notch. I believe that will come with support for even higher quality audio than what the AAC implementation allows today. And if Apple is going to change anything there, it will be to support lossless transmission (ALAC most likely).

The problem is, those things will never be the “why” they will do it. If Apple is going to change Apple Music from what they have today, it’s not because of the clumsy attempts by other streaming services to launch HiFi subscription tiers that promise “HD” and “Hi-Res Music” but rely instead on very unefficient FLAC to just deliver 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD-quality) or 48kHz at best. Apple knows that consumers using mainstream audio equipment are perfectly happy with the AAC files at 256kbps streamed from its Apple Music service.

Apple knows perfectly well that the small percentage of consumers who actually care about very high quality audio, are not that concerned about streaming services or Apple Music (much less Bluetooth). They actually want access to 24-bit/96kHz audio, preferably uncompressed, and most are perfectly happy enjoying their current listening room audio systems. And they will always criticize any attempt to justify the use of any compression (lossless or not) on their audio chains.

On the other hand, Apple is the only company that for many years now - since they led the digital file download model with its iTunes service - has stored only uncompressed 24-bit/96kHz digital masters of all the music that was uploaded to their servers. Apple even offered the encoding and quality-check software tools that creators, studios, and recording companies needed to go through the submission process. So, if anyone is able to go beyond CD-quality audio streaming - high-resolution audio - is Apple.

And if something is going to change there, it should be new. Recently Apple suggested a change with spatial audio using Dolby Atmos content with head-tracking - something that is immediately recognized as “new” and “better.” To offer something like actual hi-res audio on streaming, Apple understands it needs to make sure that users with its wireless earbuds are able to hear it and appreciate a benefit - not easy to do with Bluetooth, as Qualcomm knows too well from its aptX efforts (and the latest aptX Adaptive is simply brilliant, but unfortunately not easy to sell to consumers).
A lossless streaming option for Apple Music “launching within weeks” is the latest rumor on popular Apple gadget websites and one just needs to read both the writers’ perspectives and the comments to understand how painful the whole thing will be. Articles mention “high-fidelity feature for Apple Music” to be introduced “alongside the launch of third-generation AirPods.” At least they envisage the two things might be related, but how that compares with what Amazon, Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, and other streaming services are doing, and how that relates to “lossless” is not explained.

The worse part comes in the comment sections, where even technology-oriented readers reveal how confused they are. There are all types. “Audiophiles” claiming that whatever Apple will offer will never be hi-fi, because no digital will ever sound better than analog cassettes using Cobalt Type II formula tape (!). Others debate DACs and how much they have to spend to hear “hi-res audio.” Others bring out the eternal discussion around “dynamic range” and loudness restrictions destroying music for everyone, showing how confused they are, when debating unrelated “music compression” (as in dynamic compression) and lossless data compression.

The most harmless comments actually focus on the discussion around prices and how Apple should not charge more for “lossless” and how that would be the only way to convince people, while others debate how much that could affect their existing data plans. Of course, the vast majority have no idea what those “HD,” “HiFi,” “Hi-Res,” or “Lossless” labels mean. Some say “I’d rather pay extra for Dolby Atmos music.” My favorite comment is the one that mentions Mastered for iTunes and states: “I’m trying to remember if it was lossless.”

No one seems to even remember how CDs were made, but many argue that CDs are worse than everything analog, others say that CD is the best, and others say there will never be anything better. No one really knows what AAC is, there is no idea of what “lossless” means in this context, and much less what FLAC is and why it “should be better.” Actually, even those more technically oriented seem to ignore the fact that the five major music streaming services actually store five different versions of the same songs and albums, many of which were digitized from consumer replicated media (including vinyl), and much of the music was actually remastered by the authors, producers, and record labels - and that is why it sounds “different” (never mind what’s “better”).

So… all that remains, is to wait and see what Apple will do (and having fun doing it). In my opinion, contrary to how well they do hardware and software, Apple is not doing things very well in content services. But I certainly don’t want to be limited to choosing between Spotify and Tidal.
R&D Stories
The Evolution of True Wireless Stereo
By Jean-Marc Luneau (7 Sensing Software)
Adding a valuable perspective to the topic of True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds and hearables development, Jean-Marc Luneau (7 Sensing Software) wrote an article for audioXpress detailing meaningful new features and improvements for brands to differentiate their products and make them stand out in today’s crowded market. It explores playback quality, ANC and transparency, voice calling quality, and battery life among other approaches, detailing the benefits of 7 Sensing’s own Pure Voice solution. This article was originally published in audioXpress, April 2021.  Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Voice Coil Test Bench
The AUGWL0006-JN01 Aluminum Cone Woofer from Eastech’s Punktkilde Line
By Vance Dickason
The product characterized in this Test Bench is the AUGWL0006-JN01, a new 2.25" woofer from Eastech’s Punktkilde lineup. With a depth of 7/8", the AUGWL0006-JN01 is part of the Ultra-Thin Series and is built on a proprietary die cast four-spoke aluminum frame. The cone assembly consists of a black anodized aluminum cone, with a 20mm diameter black anodized aluminum dust cap, and suspended with a NBR surround. Instead of using a spider assembly, this woofer has a 25mm round foam surround to supply the additional compliance and centering for the cone assembly. The inside diameter of the foam surround is attached with an aluminum collar to the underside of the dust cap, so fairly clever. This driver has a rather unusual motor structure comprised of a large (for a 2.25” woofer) 35.5mm diameter under hung voice coil that rides inside a double set of neodymium ring magnets. A chrome-plated return cup has four 3mm diameter vents for additional cooling. Tinsel leads connect on opposite sides the cone to a pair of solderable terminals. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, February 2021.
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