Industry & Product News
Quantifying Acoustic Sources Through Sound Power Measurement - White Paper Available
Andrew Barnard, Ph.D., INCE Board-Certified from Pennsylvania State University, touches on the basic source-path-receiver paradigm for white goods sound generation, focusing on the source in his latest research article. Understanding the source-path-receiver model is becoming increasingly important when determining proper measurement techniques for white goods noise radiation. With easy access to white goods data, consumers are more educated than ever on making their purchasing decisions. Download the White Paper Here
Spotify Uses Audio Weaver in Audio Front-End Development for Car Thing
Spotify partnered with DSP Concepts to build and deploy the audio front-end (AFE) software for its limited release of Car Thing, a dedicated smart player for the car. Spotify did the development for Car Thing using TalkTo, DSP Concepts’ proprietary AFE that acts as a “microphone cleaner” by combining advanced signal processing techniques to create clean audio signals so Car Thing can detect voice commands regardless of road noise and other in-cabin sound. Read More
Bang & Olufsen Reveals New Beosound Explore Bluetooth Speaker
Bang & Olufsen seems unstoppable this year. Shortly after unveiling two new flagship home speaker designs, the Danish company has introduced Beosound Explore, a tough and robust Bluetooth speaker, developed to be lightweight, waterproof, and provide excellent playtime. The perfect durable, outdoor speaker featuring Bang & Olufsen’s signature sound, and a stunning Scandinavian design, the Beosound Explore offers True360 omnidirectional sound anywhere. Read More
Orchard Audio Launches New Starkrimson 500W GaN Amplifier Modules
Orchard Audio, the innovative audio venture created by Leo Ayzenshtat, expanded its catalog of products for audio enthusiasts and integrators with the launch of Starkrimson Ultra Amp Modules. These high-performance audio power amplifier modules utilizing gallium nitride (GaN) MOSFET transistors, expand the highly praised Starkrimson amplification line and are available as completed modules or unpopulated PCBs. Read More
Global Uncertainties and Health Risk Force Cancellation of IFA Berlin 2021
Following other trade show cancellations already announced for the year in Europe, Messe Berlin and gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH have jointly announced that IFA 2021 will not take place in September as a physical live event as originally planned. The decision was made following detailed conversations with public health experts and multiple stakeholders. The leading trade show for consumer and home electronics will return in 2022. Read More
Audiodo Personal Sound Technology Powers New Fresh ‘n Rebel’s Clam Elite ANC Headphones
Audiodo has announced the newest product to feature its Personal Sound technology in partnership with Dutch lifestyle brand Fresh ‘n Rebel. Fresh ‘n Rebel’s new Clam Elite ANC headphones are the first for the Rotterdam-based brand to feature Audiodo’s personalization features. For Audiodo, they mark the fourth product and third over-ear headphones to include the company’s patented technology. Read More
IsoAcoustics Introduces New Aperta Subwoofer Isolation Solution
IsoAcoustics has expanded on its Aperta Series with a new Aperta Sub isolation stand designed for subwoofers weighing up to 80 pounds (36.3kg). The Aperta Sub provides a high degree of isolation, allowing listeners to discover greater bass definition from their subwoofer with less complaints from the neighbors. Each set of Aperta Sub includes the isolation stand and four carpet discs with spikes. Read More
Stenheim Unveils New Reference Ultime Two Speakers
Stenheim speakers are not for the faint of heart. Designed and built in the best tradition of extreme high-end Swiss audio brands, Stenheim aims to create only musical reference products for the ultimate music enthusiast. The company’s latest design brings the exceptional quality of the brand’s Reference Ultime speakers to smaller spaces and at the lower price point of a mere $150,000 USD for the pair. Read More
Editor's Desk
J. Martins
Lossless What?
High-Res Audio Is Great Even Compressed
And here we go again. Suddenly the rumors were confirmed and Apple made the announcement of fundamental changes to its Apple Music streaming service, by introducing lossless streaming as standard (ALAC instead of AAC) and also announcing the addition of spatial audio support with Dolby Atmos streaming (with MPEG-H soon to follow, I hope).

Did I feel like going back to the topic this week? Not really, particularly after what I wrote in my recent editorials in this space about the topic of Spatial Audio, Lossless streaming, and Hi-Res Audio. As it seems, my predictions and commentary in my article “What Will Apple Do Next?” published two weeks ago, were right on target. Particularly on my comments about the confusion and controversy that the announcement caused.

Anyway, we have now learned that Apple is going “all-in” on lossless streaming, hi-res lossless streaming, and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. On this last topic, for now, please feel free to read my article and I leave further explorations for another time.

As I predicted, even in the most unsuspected forums, confusion around the announcement abounded. Musicians and the music recording and audio engineering worlds tend to have totally different perspectives from that of the record industry, focused more on distribution, which currently means compressing and streaming. The audio engineering communities, particularly those focusing on mastering music, have a more technical and somewhat more realistic overview of this topic. But all also tend to have a short memory and complete disregard for what the industry practice has been for decades (remember, the CD was introduced in 1982).

So, inevitably, I decided to return to the topic, and share a few thoughts about the many questions that I saw repeated everywhere. The first ones are related with the differences - yes, the differences - between AAC, Lossless, High Resolution Audio (Hi-Res Audio) ALAC, and Bluetooth transmission. All were discussed in the recent Apple Music announcement and seem to be so confusing for many that I was forced to add a post-scriptum note to our original article. And that is where I start.
Apple announced this week that Apple Music will be offering Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos tracks, as well as offering its entire catalog in Lossless Audio, at no additional cost for subscribers, starting June 2021.
AAC (Advanced Audio Codec - MPEG-4 Layer 3) is a standard audio codec licensed by Fraunhofer. Licenses are for manufacturers only. No licenses are required to stream or distribute content in AAC format. AAC today is widely adopted across the industry, including by Sony, Google, and Microsoft, and supported by all major operating systems (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, WebOS, etc.).

ALAC or Apple Lossless Audio Codec, was introduced in 2004 and is a very similar lossless compression scheme to FLAC. And although ALAC was developed by Apple for Quicktime, it is open source since 2011 and available royalty free. It was introduced on iTunes and the iPod, and is supported today on the iPhone, and for wireless audio streaming over AirPlay (over Wi-Fi) on all Apple devices. The compression scheme (approximately 2:1) and the decoding is very power-efficient, ideal for portable players and smartphones. Being open source, any manufacturer (hardware or software) can easily add support for ALAC.

But it is important to note that, when discussing lossless, there are no “lossless” codecs available over Bluetooth. Even if there are codecs supporting hi-res audio (24-bit or higher than CD-quality) such as Sony LDAC and Qualcomm aptX HD, they are not lossless and all are constrained in the same way by the bandwidth available on the Bluetooth radio (990kbps for LDAC, 570kbps for Qualcomm aptX HD). That is not very likely to change, even though the Bluetooth SIG is working on new upcoming specifications that might determine support for new optional codecs. But any new codecs, as Qualcomm and Sony learned, need to be supported on the source and sink sides. For Apple that could be easier to do, but not as a “lossless” format over Bluetooth. It is always more effective to use AAC or even the new LC3 codec adopted in Bluetooth LE Audio, which might improve transmission efficiency but will not affect the subjective quality impression of the original stream (even with a few removed bits...).

The big advantage with AAC is in the fact that all services streaming AAC files (and it's not only Apple, but many others also using AAC) are transmitted via Bluetooth as AAC with no further compression/encoding needed. Sending a hi-res FLAC file via aptX HD or LDAC over Bluetooth always requires further compression and is not as power-efficient. Same with ALAC files, which are transmitted as AAC over Bluetooth (or SBC if it’s not an AAC-capable device). Note also that, even if a system supports multiple codecs, it’s not always easy for consumers to “choose” which ones they will use.

Audio originated in high resolution can be transmitted or streamed using an uncompressed format, lossless codec, or lossy codec (such as the ones supported in Bluetooth). So, ALAC streaming (like FLAC) and any uncompressed material are currently the “convenient” and practical solution for a streaming service played over a wired sound-chain to compatible equipment. Will it be possible to stream uncompressed audio - over 5G networks, as an example? Yes, but not practical for mobile devices, and that is were the industry focus is - mainstream services.
Showing that everyone was waiting for this announcement from Apple, the reaction from Amazon was swift, since the company actually needed to leverage the opportunity and follow Apple to position its recently revamped Music HD service against all the strong competitors
And that is always the most important perspective when discussing high-resolution audio or even codecs. Hi-res Audio for what? Recording? Storage? Transmission? File Downloads? Streaming? How? Over USB, Ethernet, Wireless Wi-Fi, Bluetooth? All are different discussions with different requirements and constraints. Also, it is important to always situate this debate within “digital.” (I do cringe every time I see a comment - sometimes from people I deeply respect - about how “analog media” stores higher fidelity, etc. That is not helpful for clarification of the topic in question. We are discussing audio that is already in the digital domain).

And to further complicate things, these days, every time there is wireless transmission of high-resolution audio formats involved, even over Wi-Fi or proprietary schemes such as DTS Play-Fi, users should check if the original source format is supported and if any decoding/re-encoding is required. Transmission of uncompressed audio is the ideal, but when the source media is already compressed, even if using a lossless codec, this needs to be considered.

I was also asked why some files stored on streaming services are better than others. There are so many variables to that question that it is hard to answer. But I would just start by differentiating from a file that was submitted by an artist or record company (normally a 24-bit/96kHz PCM/WAV file as defined in the Apple Digital Masters guidelines, for example,) and the file that is being made available for download or streamed. Two different things, which should never be confused, with many variables in between.

Also, different streaming services have harvested those music libraries from multiple sources, so the requirements have been varied and many early services did not care to request the “best possible quality master.” Many have accepted mainly only standard Redbook CD-quality (16-bit 44.1kHz). It’s even possible that a lot of music was delivered with some form of compression - and that is all there is in the library. The variables are just too many to detail.

What I would like to highlight is this. The original file that is stored by a music service and the file that we get on streaming services are different things. But if offered with lossless streaming, we know that what is offered at the source, is what I receive in my end. That is why it is “lossless.” If it’s hi-res, it’s hi-res, if it’s not hi-res, it’s not hi-res. Debates about “my FLAC is better than your FLAC” are pointless. If there is something about that to consider, I want to see the research.
High resolution digital audio has been around. Before music downloads was a thing, I stopped buying CDs and started collecting Super-Audio CDs, which offered not only high-resolution audio but also multichannel surround! (with no compression!). My Sony SACD player is still working fine today (side by side with my Blu-Ray player, which replaced the obsolete DVD), and I am lucky to have some of the best releases in the format. I find it amusing when I read comments downplaying hi-res audio qualities.
As I said in the Apple Music announcement published online, for many years, Apple was the only company storing only uncompressed 24-bit/96kHz digital masters of all the music that was uploaded to its servers. There is no question that the Mastered for iTunes guidelines and subsequently the Apple Digital Masters program - which included free mastering software tools - were decisive to encourage musicians and record labels to stop considering the CD-quality (16/44.1) deliverables as the "master."

Before iTunes (iTunes was launched in 2001, but its major impact wasn't felt until approximately 2007 with the DRM changes), many studios that recorded 24-bit, at whatever sampling rate, would mix and master for the Redbook CD standard and that was it. In the same way that previously, millions of records recorded in very high quality multitrack analog tape were mixed to 1/4" stereo tape masters, which is what was kept (multitrack 1" tape was expensive and studios recorded over and over again using the same tape, unless the client paid to keep the multitracks).

Only after Mastered for iTunes (2012) the mindset changed. Even independent labels switched to consider 24-bit/96kHz (or more but that was not for everyone) as "the master" and uploaded those files. The practice became mainstream at that time. Before that, of course, there was a lot of music recorded in 24-bit/192kHz and there was the DSD crowd, but together that doesn't make more than a small percentage of the music released. The catalog for hi-res only expanded dramatically from there. But thanks to Mastered for iTunes, Apple got the head start.

This also means that in fact, many of the best recordings we have now, are the few high-quality analog masters that were digitized directly into hi-res. Between the late 1980s and 2012, when CD masters were predominant (and the first 10 years of CD masters suffered from the really poor AD/DA converters available then) there is very little hope to improve the quality, unless some miraculous tape was kept. Why anyone would still be submitting CD-quality “masters” today is just stupid, since there will be no CD release. I’m not debating if it’s “good enough” or whatever. The point is - if I recorded and mixed in 24-bit/96kHz or more - I should always consider my master in that format, never bring the quality down. But not keeping the original hi-res recording sessions would be beyond comprehension.

In reality, for everyone working with DSD, Super-Audio CD in the 1990s, and henceforth devoted to exploring the possibilities of digital recording and distribution in the highest quality, this announcement by Apple seems to be many years overdue. And comparatively to what we had with SACD, having lossless streaming doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that was the price to pay for the transition from physical media to file downloads and streaming. Now, we need to take it from here and never look back.

Of course, the topic of high-resolution audio over Bluetooth needs to be saved for a future article. Yes, there is no high-quality “lossless” option for transmission over Bluetooth. But it’s important to highlight that AAC supports high-resolution audio since its inception. Useful reading on that topic is available in this paper.
Mastered for iTunes (2012) changed the mindset to consider 24-bit/96kHz PCM files as "the master,” and Apple Digital Masters consolidated the practice. Files submitted to Apple should ONLY be 24-bit PCM (uncompressed) sources, with no upsampling applied (this is easily detected). If a file only exists in 16-bit @44.1 kHz (which means only the CD master exists and the analog master was probably lost or isn't available), the file is not "labelled" Apple Digital Masters.
You Can DIY!
X-Altra MC/MM RIAA EQ Preamplififier
Part 2 - MM Preamplifier, System Gain Amplifier, Filter, PSU, and Measurements
By Andrew Russell
For all our readers who started following the X-Altra Moving Coil/Moving Magnet RIAA EQ Preamplifier DIY project published in the February 2021 edition of audioXpress, we have the final pieces. In this second article, Andrew C. Russell details the Moving Magnet EQ stage, system gain amplifier and filters, along with the system’s power supply unit. The article concludes with some measurements. And for those eager to add this impressive design to their systems and build the X-Altra preamplifier, full PCB sets can be ordered from the author's website. This article was originally published in audioXpress, March 2021.  Read the Full Article Now Available Here
Speaker Builder
David B. Weems - 1922-2021 - A Tribute
By Ken Bird
DIY audio pioneer and author David B. Weems passed away on April 4, 2021 at his Newtonia, Missouri home after a short illness. Mr. Weems is known to many in the speaker design and building community for his prolific authorship of DIY books including: Designing, Building, and Testing Your Own Speaker System; Building Speaker Enclosures; How to Design, Build & Test Complete Speaker Systems; Design, Building and Testing Your Own Speaker System; and Great Sound Stereo Manual with Projects. This last book was written in conjunction with the late G.R. Koonce. In addition to the books Mr. Weems wrote more than 70 articles for such publications as Audio, Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, Audio Amateur, Speaker Builder, and audioXpress. Mr. Weems also was briefly a consultant to a major speaker manufacturer in the 1960s. An interview with Dave Weems, published in audioXpress October 2009, is now available online.
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