Industry Watch: March 2014

Harman Prelaunches New Infinity Home Audio Speakers, Teams With Linkin Park

HARMAN International prelaunched its new Infinity One Bluetooth speaker at the 2014 CES International.

HARMAN International prelaunched its new Infinity One Bluetooth speaker at the 2014 CES International.

At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), HARMAN International announced that the Grammy award-winning, multi-platinum alternative rock band Linkin Park will be Infinity brand’s new ambassadors. Suggesting a common history of pushing boundaries, challenging convention, and producing cutting-edge sound, the exclusive five-year partnership between Linkin Park and Infinity will go beyond advertising to include product design collaborations.

To mark the new relationship, Linkin Park helped unveil a CES preview of two all-new Infinity product lines—the Infinity Reference Loudspeakers Series and the Infinity One, the brand’s first portable wireless sound system. The Infinity One will feature wireless streaming and a built-in rechargeable battery with up to 10 h of playtime and offer consumers premium quality sound and the utmost in mobility (see Photo 1).

The Infinity Linkin Park gold-edition reference tower speakers were unveiled at the 2014 CES International.

The Infinity Linkin Park gold-edition reference tower speakers were unveiled at the 2014 CES International.

Linkin Park is working closely with new Infinity product portfolio’s design and engineering teams on development, voicing, and industrial design. For the launch of the new Infinity Reference Loudspeakers Series, the band collaborated with Infinity to create “gold-dipped” special edition floor-standing loudspeakers (see Photo 2).

The Infinity Reference Loudspeakers series features nine models with clean, contemporary looks, tapered side panels, and a black premium finish. The series will include two bookshelf models, two floor-standing models, two center-channel models, one surround model, and two powered subwoofer models. The series will utilize the latest HARMAN proprietary technologies to deliver amazing audio performance at accessible price points.

Although Infinity gradually morphed into a strictly car audio brand for the past several years, Infinity’s new Reference Series should re-establish its credibility in the living room. The home speakers all use a ceramic metal matrix diaphragm (CMMD) dome tweeter with a waveguide design borrowed from Revel’s great Performa3 series speakers. The three-way models also have a 3.25” flat-piston CMMD midrange driver, plus 6.5” woofers for the R263 tower ($1,099/pair) and 5.25” woofers for the R253 tower ($899/pair).

 


 

Klippel Presents Three-Day Lecture

Professor Wolfgang Klippel (Institute of Acoustics and Speech Communication, Dresden University of Technology, Dresden Germany) will present a three-day lecture (as a block seminar) from March 17–19, 2014 at the Dresden University of Technology.

On day one and day two, Klippel will lecture about audio systems—modeling, measurement, and control. On day three, attendees can choose from two different lectures—control theory or hands on training. For more information or to register, visit www.klippel.de.

 


 

Alma’s Hires New Association Manager

The Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing and Acoustics (ALMA) International recently hired Barry Vogel as ALMA manager (see Photo 3). He will succeed Carol Bousquet.

ALMA International selected Barry Vogel as its next manager.

ALMA International selected Barry Vogel as its next manager.

Vogel began his career in the consumer electronics industry in 1976 when he opened a CB radio and accessories store in Central Square, NY. Eventually transitioning into car audio, his store experienced strong growth for many years. He expanded his business from a 400-ft2 leased department in a larger store to a 2,000-ft2 free-standing building. He eventually bought a 6,500-ft2 building with eight installation bays and 3,000 ft2 of display space.

In 1993, Vogel became a founding member of Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA). He initially served as the Education chairman, later advancing to become President and Executive Director. Vogel is an active member of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). He is also involved with writing mobile electronics certified professionals (MECP) training and reference guides. In addition to his new duties as ALMA’s manager, Vogel maintains a consulting business that helps independent retailers remain growth oriented and relevant in today’s Internet world.

 


 

CE Revenues Reach Record High In 2014

Revenues for the consumer electronics (CE) industry are projected to grow 2.4% in 2014, reaching a new record high of $208 billion, according to “The US Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecasts,” the semi-annual industry report released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The forecast projects that new, emerging product categories will grow by 107% year-over-year in 2014.

These new technology categories, including 3-D printers, Bluetooth wireless speakers, convertible PCs, health and fitness devices, smart watches and Ultra-HD television displays, are cumulatively expected to contribute more than $6 billion to the overall CE industry in 2014. While these emerging product categories represent less than 3% of the entire CE industry, they drive 65% of the total industry revenue growth.

Sales of mobile-connected devices, specifically smartphones and tablets, will continue to contribute significant unit sales and revenue to the total CE bottom line in 2014. Although revenue growth has slowed, unit sales will continue to see steady increases.

Smartphones are expected to maintain their position as the industry’s sales leader in 2014, with unit shipments projected to reach 152 million, up from 138 million units sold in 2013. Additionally, smartphone revenues are expected to generate $41 billion in 2014, a 4.6% increase from $39 billion in 2013.

Unit sales of tablets are projected to reach 89.3 million this year, up from 77.4 million in 2013. Revenues for tablets will reach $27.3 billion this year, up by 3%.

Bright spots within the television category will help drive revenue growth this year, as larger screen sizes and innovative display features have consumers upgrading their video experience. Although total unit sales of displays are predicted to remain even with 2013 levels, total TV sets and display sales are projected to reach $21.3 billion in 2014, up 2% from 2013’s better than expected $21 billion revenue level.
LCD flat-panels continue to dominate the total number of sets sold each year. Both unit sales and revenues for LCDs are projected to increase slightly, with 39 million LCD TVs expected to ship to dealers in 2014, resulting in $19 billion in revenue.

Innovative features such as Ultra HD and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) within the display category are beginning to gain awareness. Unit shipments of ultra-HD displays are expected to surpass $1 billion for the first time this year, while OLED displays will reach $836 million.

Elsewhere in the industry, several other categories are expected to see positive growth in 2014. For the audio industry, soundbars, headphones, and Bluetooth wireless speakers remain the standout products. Soundbar shipments are projected to increase 22% to 3.5 million units and reach $676 million in revenue. Headphones are expected to sell 71 million units, earning $1.5 billion in revenue; while Bluetooth wireless speakers are expected to generate $430 million in total revenue in 2014, a 12% increase year-over-year.

For automotive electronics, the growth of new vehicle sales in 2014 will drive factory-installed systems to reach $11 billion in revenues, an increase of 20%.

For electronic gaming, the release of next-generation gaming consoles is projected to propel unit shipment growth, up 42% year-over-year, to reach revenues of $5.7 billion in 2014.

 


 

Bluetooth Speakers Dominate New Loudspeaker Product Releases

The consumer electronics (CE) market currently has a seemingly insatiable appetite for small Bluetooth-connected speakers, or at least that is the indication from several loudspeaker manufacturers. Several manufacturers released products within the last few months, including:

Boston Acoustics—Boston Acoustics launched its first Bluetooth speaker, the MC100Blue ($149 suggested). The MC100Blue is an AC-only single-chassis tabletop speaker that streams AptX over Bluetooth. It features NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, dual-ported 3.5” drivers, and BassTrac technology to maintain bass output at low listening levels.

The gloss-black speaker also features analog auxiliary input and headphone output. The 6” × 15.8” × 5.3” speaker is said to deliver a 70-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response. The wall-mountable speaker comes with a remote and it is available from the company’s website (www.bostonacoustics.com).

The speaker joins the MC200Air ($199), which is also a tabletop speaker. The MC200Air includes Apple AirPlay to wirelessly stream music via home Wi-Fi networks from Apple’s mobile devices and iTunes-equipped computers. The speaker system also incorporates embedded Wi-Fi, DLNA networking with PCs and smartphones, and an Apple-certified iPod/iPhone/iPad USB port to change Apple devices and play music when it is connected.

Harman Kardon—HARMAN International launched its first Harman Kardon brand AC-only Bluetooth speaker system. It joins two Harman Kardon-brand AC/DC Bluetooth speakers unveiled in September 2013.
The new Nova Wireless speaker system ($299) consists of two left-right two-way speakers with transparent spherical enclosures. The system doubles as a speaker system for TVs, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, and so forth via its analog and optical digital inputs. The Bluetooth pair features NFC, 2 × 20-W amplification, biamplification, a 1.25” tweeter, a 2.5” midrange/woofer, and a passive radiator to extend bass response.

The system delivers a 70-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response and uses HARMAN DSP to improve imaging and sound-stage depth. The brand’s AC/DC Bluetooth speakers include the flat, square Esquire with NFC ($249). Its targeted to business travelers and doubles as a phone-conference speaker with an omnidirectional microphone. The brand’s other AC/DC Bluetooth speaker, the Onyx ($499), is a spherical tabletop speaker that also incorporates Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, DLNA, and NFC.

Infinity—The Infinity One wireless speaker is part of the relaunch of the Infinity brand name, which also includes nine new home theater and stereo speakers. The Infinity One looks and feels like a Bluetooth speaker designed by the military industrial complex! Its aluminum body contains four 45-mm drivers plus a passive radiator at each end to reinforce the bass. The speaker’s internal rechargeable battery is rated at 10 A and provides 10 h of run time. The Inifinity One will be available in June, along with some “luxury type” accessories.

Kicker—Kicker, a division of Stillwater Designs and Audio is shipping its latest tabletop Bluetooth speaker as part of its 2014 plan to add more Bluetooth speakers in broader price range.

The Amphitheater Bluetooth BT2 ($299) joins three other tabletop audio products, including the Amphitheater BT ($249) with Bluetooth and a 30-pin connector made for iPod/iPhone/iPad docking speakers.

The other two models lack Bluetooth. They are the Amphitheater ($249) and the iK501 ($149), which both feature a 30-pin connector made for iPod/iPhone/iPad docking speakers.

The 2014 additions will include more Bluetooth-only speakers as well as Apple-docking speakers equipped with Bluetooth. All Amphitheaters are 50-W models with 5” woofers, 0.75” tweeters, and a square 6” × 6” passive radiator to deliver a 24-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response and ±3 dB. They also feature DSP to optimize sound performance. The Amphitheaters come with USB ports to charge external devices and an auxiliary input jack to connect non-Bluetooth devices.

With a free KickStart app for Android and iOS devices, users can adjust the speakers’ responses via the app’s eight-band equalization, bass and treble sliders, and wide or tight imaging. The app also offers the option to load and save sound presets for specific music genres or for different music sources.

Klipsch Group—Klipsch Group is expanding its Klipsch Music Center speaker selection with its lowest-priced model to date, the Klipsch Music Center Gig ($199). The new model, which arrived in stores in November 2013, is a Bluetooth-only portable AC/DC model that joins two other AC/DC Bluetooth-only models in the series: the Klipsch Music Center KMC1 ($299) and the Klipsch Music Center KMC3 ($399). Bluetooth is also a feature of the AC-only Klipsch Music Center Stadium ($1,999), a triamplified stereo speaker with Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Apple AirPlay, DLNA, USB compatibility with Apple mobile devices, and optical digital input.

The Klipsch Gig is the smallest of the speakers. It measures 3.6” × 7” × 2.1” and weighs 1.4 lb. The system features dual 1” full-range drivers, dual 2” passive radiators, DSP-based equalization, AptX audio decoding, NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5-mm auxiliary in, hands-free speakerphone capability, and international power adapters for AC operation.

Its built-in, rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers 12-h playback time with default volume and 4-h playback time at maximum volume.

Performance specifications include a 77-Hz-to-20-kHz frequency response with “usable” bass down to 64 Hz, 96 dB SPL at 0.5 m, and 2× 5-WRMS amplification with 20-W total peak power. The speaker features a silicone chassis in black or white and a perforated metal grille.

Panasonic—Panasonic expanded its portable Bluetooth speaker selection with the SC-NA10 ($199) and the SC-NA30 ($299). The compact speakers offer 20 h of playback time on their rechargeable batteries.
The two stereo models join the brand’s other Bluetooth-only speakers, including the portable AC/DC SC-NT10D ($99), the AC-only SC-NP10 with a tablet stand ($199), and the AC-only SC-NE1 ($199). Both models feature NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5-mm auxiliary in, and XBS master sound processing, which is said to improve clarity and accuracy. The SC-NA30 features two front 2” full-range drivers and two passive bass radiators. The SC-NA10 features two 1.6” front speakers and one passive bass radiator.

Yamaha—Yamaha expanded its portable Bluetooth speaker lineup with the NX-P100 ($199). The NX-P100 is a moisture-proof model that features NFC pairing and streams the AAC and AptX codecs.
It joins the brand’s PDX-B11 ($179), which lacks NFC and AptX streaming. The metal-body NX-P100 has a rectangular shape. Other features include a hands-free speakerphone capability, an internal rechargeable battery with 8 h of playback time, and a USB port for charging mobile devices. It is available in black and white.

Q&A: Engineer Takes a Chance on Start-Up Audio Venture

SHANNON BECKER: Tell us about your company Tortuga Audio. Can you also share the story behind your sea turtle mascot?

Morten Sissener used his engineering knowledge to open his own audio design boutique, which he named Tortuga Audio.

Morten Sissener used his engineering knowledge to open his own audio design boutique, which he named Tortuga Audio.

MORTEN SISSENER: Tortuga Audio is a boutique audio design, manufacturing, and marketing company located in South Florida. At present we only sell through the Internet via our website although we expect to add channel partners in the future probably starting in Europe.  We’re a little over a year old in terms of coming out with our first products—a line of passive preamplifiers built around light-dependent resistors (LDRs). We actually manufacture here in the US. While it may not hold much sway with customers, there’s something satisfying in being able to say “Made in the USA.” That’s the short and mostly dry of it.

Our mascot is the sea turtle wearing a set of headphones. People who know me wouldn’t describe me as being particularly religious or spiritual, but I’ve come to accept the sea turtle as my totem. A totem is an object or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of an individual, family, or tribe. You don’t pick your totem. Your totem picks you.

I’ve always had a fascination with a place called The Dry Tortugas. It’s a small cluster of islands about 70 miles west of Key West, FL. I first heard of this place in an adventure book I read when I was a young boy. I fell in love with reading, warm blue water, and The Dry Tortugas.

Years later, I bought a boat in South Florida. The first time I took that boat offshore I went out 20 miles, stopped, and turned off the engines. I was out of sight of land. The water was glassy calm. Thirty feet off the starboard beam a sea turtle surfaced and stared at me. I stared back. This lasted for over a minute. Then the turtle dove away. The name I’d already put across the transom of my boat was The “Tortuga Dreamer.” So when it came time to name my audio company you could say it named itself—Tortuga Audio.

SHANNON: What prompted you to start a company that designs and manufactures audio equipment, particularly in 2010 when the economy was so uncertain?

MORTEN: Starting an audio company that caters to a shrinking niche of audio fanatics as the masses continued shifting to low-resolution MP3 audio and inexpensive ear buds was arguably a questionable business decision. However, it was definitely a passionate business decision. Approaching 60, I figured it was time to pursue my passion rather than my resume. And I’ve always been passionate about technology, audio, and music. You could say the rational engineer decided to follow his heart.

SHANNON: What kind of audio products do you build? Can you share some of your design challenges?

As with all Tortuga Audio’s LDR passive preamplifier (LDRx) products, the LDR6 has unity gain passive (no active amplification) volume controllers that employ digitally controlled audio grade light-dependent analog resistors to provide neutral and transparent attenuation.

As with all Tortuga Audio’s LDR passive preamplifier (LDRx) products, the LDR6 has unity gain passive (no active amplification) volume controllers that employ digitally controlled audio grade light-dependent analog resistors to provide neutral and transparent attenuation.

MORTEN: While the business rationale behind the founding of Tortuga Audio may not win first prize in any business plan contest, the decision to pursue our flagship product was, and remains, highly rational and compelling.

Back in 2009, I was building a tube preamplifier mostly as an exercise to see if tubes could really offer more than solid state. I was less than impressed with the results even though I’d used a well recognized kit/design and top-of-the-line components.

At the time I was using a motorized Alps Blue Velvet potentiometer for volume control. Thinking that perhaps I could improve the sound by going to a stepped attenuator, I stumbled across LDRs. I cobbled together a very basic LDR volume control based on bits and snippets of information on the Internet, pulled out the Alps potentiometer and installed the LDR. The result was nothing less than a revelation!

The fact that this tube preamplifier went from disappointing to awesome simply by changing the attenuator made quite an impression on me and frankly I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s what engineers do. Especially this engineer. I can’t stop thinking of ways to do things differently or better. I’ve always hated that old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Can you imagine Steve Jobs saying that?

This led me to ask a simple question. Why do I need a preamplifier? Why preamplify and then amplify? Do I really need the additional gain? In most instances, the answer is no.

I looked at all the complexity of that tube preamplifier and decided to pull out the LDR attenuator, set the preamplifier aside, and use the LDR as a purely passive volume controller. The result? It sounded even better without the tube preamplifier. And not just a little bit better, a lot better! I was so impressed with this LDR attenuator that I couldn’t leave it alone. From that point forward, I dove into the deep end of LDR volume control.

SHANNON: What makes your audio equipment unique?

MORTEN: LDRs are challenging to work with because  they are both nonlinear and variable. Nonlinear means their relationship between control signal applied to an LDR and the resulting resistance level is not a simple fixed ratio. Variable means that this nonlinear relationship can vary from one LDR to the next even with LDRs of the same model, from the same manufacturer, and from the same production run. That’s a lot of variable nonlinear stuff and that makes it very hard to get consistent predictable behavior when using LDRs for volume control. No designer likes to work with audio components that behave like LDRs.

Part of our solution to taming the wild LDR was to design a programmable digital control unit that enables us to control the analog LDR with proprietary software algorithms. We combine digital control with a two-step testing protocol such that each LDR preamplifier we build has a custom set of software-based correction curves that ensures  predictable performance. This is neither simple nor easy, but we’ve put an enormous amount of time and effort into developing the software and hardware tools to do this cost effectively.

The result is a unique and game-changing LDR-based passive preamplifier (volume control) design that we believe rivals not only all other passive preamplifiers out there but also meets or beats even the best high-end active preamplifiers. While I happen to believe this personally, feedback from our customers and reviewers continues to reinforce this view.

SHANNON: Are you currently planning or working on any new product designs?

The Tortuga LDR3x is a preamplifier controller board designed around LDRs that enables DIYers to build a passive or active preamplifier including remote control.

The Tortuga LDR3x is a preamplifier controller board designed around LDRs that enables DIYers to build a passive or active preamplifier including remote control.

MORTEN: Our core focus continues to be advancing the development of our LDR-based volume controller products. In the third quarter of 2012, we came out with our LDR1 and  LDR6 passive preamplifiers, which are finished preamplifier products. In the third quarter of 2013, we introduced the LDR3x passive preamplifier controller board (the LDR3x), which we marketed to the DIY audio community. We plan on continuing to serve the high-end audiophile consumers with finished products and provide DIY products to audio enthusiasts who’d rather build it themselves.

In November of 2013, we introduced the HiZ upgrade to our LDR-based preamplifiers. The HiZ algorithm enabled us to raise the input impedance of our LDRx products resulting in a remarkable improvement to an already fantastic-sounding preamplifier/volume controller. As far as we know, nobody else has done anything like this.

In terms of what’s next, we are working hard on coming out with our new line of LDRx passive preamplifiers including our new LDR3B, which I believe may be the first-ever LDR-based preamplifier for balanced audio. We hope to release the LDR3B before the end of March. Since we are a relatively low-volume business and want to offer distinctive products that are not priced out of reach to most audiophiles, we’ve decided to manufacture our own enclosures in-house going forward. This will keep our costs down while enabling us to offer high-quality products and still retain the flexibility of small-batch production, quick design changes, and the ability to offer custom solutions.

Beyond our next generation line of LDR preamplifiers, we plan to introduce a buffer companion product to our passive preamplifiers that will expand the application of our preamplifier/volume controller to include sources and amplifiers where a pure passive may not be the best fit. We are also considering the introduction of an integrated amplifier product that will allow us to target a broader market. These will be second half of 2014 products.

Longer term, we are quite excited about the prospects for an OEM version of our LDR preamplifier controller product. Every active preamplifier or integrated amplifier sold and marketed to the audiophile community that currently uses a potentiometer for volume control would sound better with a Tortuga Audio LDR volume controller. And along with being the best-sounding attenuator available, it also includes input switching, IR remote control, and a built-in encoder control.

SHANNON: How did you become interested in audio electronics?

This 3-D CAD rendering shows the front (a) and the back (b) view of a prototype enclosure design for Tortuga’s new LDR3B balanced passive preamplifier, a new product line that will be coming out in March.

This 3-D CAD rendering shows the front (a) and the back (b) view of a prototype enclosure design for Tortuga’s new LDR3B balanced passive preamplifier, a new product line that will be coming out in March.

MORTEN: As a newly minted mechanical engineer, I started my professional career in the aerospace sector working with complex electromechanical systems. This segued into energy when the company I was with in California became interested in alternative methods of power production. This eventually led me into industrial construction, large capital project development, project finance, software, sales and marketing, wind, solar and biofuels, as well as several start-ups along the way. An interesting ride but all along I was remained very interested in technology, software development, audio, and music. I decided it was time for my true interests to rule the day rather than the inertia of my resume. Plus I’m just an unapologetic techno-geek with a big creative itch that needed scratching. I also like to run my own show.

SHANNON: Where do you see the audio industry in 10 years?

MORTEN: I believe the high-end audiophile market with many components costing $10,00 or more is going to continue to decline into obscurity. Many have argued that the high-end market may already be in a terminal death spiral of rising prices and shrinking volume. I tend to agree. If true, that’s not a sustainable scenario for high-end audio.

The audio listening paradigm of a big-rig stereo in the living room that the aging baby boomer audiophiles were introduced to in the 1970s is not the central paradigm of contemporary audio. Where only a few years ago you could go into a big box store and see racks of receivers, rows of speakers and even a “high end” listening room, today, most of that is simply gone.

Ironically, we are collectively listening to more music from more sources more of the time than ever before. Access to music is wide if not deep. The Internet has become the new radio. Online streaming is becoming the norm for most consumers while buying and owning music is slowly retreating, This is especially true for physical media such as CDs.

Despite this bounty of access, we’ve also experienced the concurrent dumbing down of audio quality (e.g., low-resolution MP3 files) and listening through lo-fi hardware, most of which has gone mobile. So it’s an interesting mixed bag of good and bad news for us audio nutters.

While the road ahead may be unclear, I believe that a significant percentage of all those 20-to-30-something Millenials and Xers are eventually going to raise the bar on their audio game as they grow older and their incomes rise. But you can forget living rooms filled with big, heavy, and expensive gear as the norm. “Personal audio” will continue to grow and evolve and that means computer centric audio.

For most, that will mean DAC->preamplifier (volume controller)->amplifier->speaker configuration in which the DAC/preamplifier/amplifier separates will trend toward being a single integrated component. Speakers will be smaller, but higher quality near-field units usually located on desks or bookshelves near where people sit and work with their computers. And yes, no doubt a subset of these folks will eventually go with some bigger gear as well. But I believe we’re talking a few thousand dollars of audio gear and not tens of thousands of dollars.

SHANNON: Do you have any advice for audioXpress readers who want to build their own sound systems?

MORTEN: I tend to be a minimalist and a skeptic and try to not get distracted by bright shiny objects.  What I recommend is forget cables, power conditioners, cryogenics, and ceramic outlet face plates. Focus first on what matters the most.

Nothing will affect your audio enjoyment as much as speakers. Poor-quality speakers can make a great rig sound awful. Great speakers can make a low-quality rig sound remarkably good but not great. My personal favorite these days are full-range speakers with alnico magnets. Full-range speakers are point sources with no crossovers or phase-shifting. They offer amazing clarity, articulation, and bass.

Second (self-serving statement alert!) get the best preamplifier/volume control you can. Every note gets squeezed through the bottleneck of your volume control and this is where the most irreparable harm happens to your audio signal, even if everything else you have is really good.

Third, choose the best DAC you can. DACs are evolving rapidly, which is fantastic news.

The last thing I would worry about in terms of main components is your amplifier. Not that amplifiers don’t matter, they just don’t matter that much compared to everything else. And the good news is there’s a huge selection of great amplifiers out there.

To summarize, if you’re deciding on how to prioritize your money, make it speaker->preamplifier (volume control)->DAC->amplifier. Of course, if you’re into vinyl then a good turntable and cartridge is critical, but don’t forget the phono preamplifier. This can get expensive fast. I’d expect to spend a few thousand dollars to get into the land of great vinyl audio. It will cost more for fantastic.

Once you’ve got a decent system you really enjoy listening to, you can begin the madness of tweaking this and that, trying various cables, power conditioners, and so forth. But remember that the purveyors of audio equipment will tell and sell you practically anything you can imagine to get that extra ounce of goodness out of your rig.

Despite all the changes happening in technology and the audio industry, music remains a wonderful art form and audio is still a great hobby. Enjoy!

Doing It Differently

Time moves quickly. We are already feeling the aftermath of 2014’s first two major industry shows. This is also a year when audioXpress is completing its transition to an expanded publication that addresses the needs of the audio engineering community—not only for those who have fun listening to music (there are plenty of magazines doing that) but mainly for those who imagine, create, and work with audio technology.

This year began with the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV, introducing innovations on all fronts. It was also the largest CES in show history. While some companies introduced products based on users’ needs, it appears many consumer electronics companies still prefer to throw hundreds of new ideas at the wall to see what sticks. I guess a major electronics show like the CES is the ideal place to test those ideas, but sometimes we have to wonder why the successful companies that only introduce market-ready products don’t even need to attend the CES.

Yes, we miss seeing Apple at trade shows and we miss the inspiring clear vision of the late Steve Jobs. Apple is one those companies with products that are the perfect combination of state-of-the-art technology and innovation that are available for purchase exactly as advertised. And while the company was not in attendance, Apple’s products still dominated the 2014 International CES. It is no surprise that many great ideas and reference designs were designed to complement the iPad, the iPhone, and even the new Apple Mac Pro workstation.

IK Multimedia promoted its iRing wireless sensors to control music apps (or any other apps) using only gestures. We’ve also seen great photography peripherals for the iPhone and many new charging and home-automation solutions. There are even iOS-device-controlled robots and drones. And of course, no audio company could ignore the huge market created for wireless speakers and headphones. Many were especially designed for Apple’s mobile devices, leveraging Apple’s push for Bluetooth Smart 4.0 and AirPlay technologies. Apple also effectively revitalized the worldwide home audio market.

Wireless speakers, headphones, soundbars, integrated A/V receivers and audio systems are experiencing impressive growth rates, according to recently published market reports. Bluetooth products, in particular, continue to bolster the wireless speaker market, offering the convenience of portability, while multi-room audio based on Wi-Fi is also on the rise. Among the 20,000-some products introduced at the 2014 International CES, there were a significant number of new headphones and earphones.

After every CES, we should also acknowledge those sparks of inspiration from obscure companies and the truly exciting technology announcements. For example, cars connected to mobile networks—actually talking and seamlessly interfacing with our mobile devices.

It’s always difficult to understand why, but clearly, in the middle of all the Internet-connected toothbrushes and forks, speech-recognition watches, and curved television screens, some innovations make complete sense and leave us asking ourselves “why did it take so long?”

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief

Audiofly Adds Quad Balanced Armature AF180 In-Ear Monitor to its Performance Series

Audiofly AF180

Audiofly AF180

Australian company Audiofly has launched its AF180 inear monitors (IEMs) with four expertly tuned balanced armature drivers and new crossover circuitry.

As Dave Thompson, CEO of Audiofly, explains: “We pride ourselves on the detailed reproduction of music and with the new AF180 we have pushed the boundary of in-ear audio technology. The AF180 features four balanced armature drivers geared to deliver ultimate separation in sound at an affordable price to all musicians within the pro audio market. Audiofly listened to user feedback and included the most requested in-ear monitor features: noise isolation; long-term comfort; on-the- road durability; and, most importantly, incredible sound reproduction. We have given musicians an essential tool to help master their craft, and music aficionados the chance to experience music like never before.”

Featuring a quartet of balanced armature drivers in each ear, the AF180 is equipped with a comfortable, noise-isolating fit and a choice of ear tips for long-term listening comfort. The Audioflex SL cable is geared for stage use, with a super-light twisted cable near the performer’s head and durable Cordura fabric reinforcing the remainder of its length. The cable is detachable via Audiofly’s Soundpatch connection, with a streamlined finish and practical, lightweight design. Suggested MSRP is $549.95.

What is a balanced armature? Compared to a dynamic driver that moves air to create sound, a balanced armature increases the efficiency of the in-ear monitor by producing more sound from less power than any other type of driver. The armature sits exactly centered within a magnetic field, so there is no force on the armature, thus the term “balanced.” The armature coil is held in the middle by two magnets until an electrical current stimulates it, causing the diaphragm to vibrate and create a sound wave. The sound wave then travels through the sound port of the driver, through the in-ear monitor into the eardrum for you to hear the accuracy and warmth of detailed sound. Balanced armatures can be tuned to focus on the highs, mids or lows or to reproduce the entire sound spectrum.

www.audiofly.com

The March 2014 Issue of audioXpress is Now Online

This month’s audioXpress brings a great article from our regular contributor Thomas Perazella, in which he revisits the art of studio reamping and the different approaches and implications of that two-stage studio process. During the process, we first record a dry or clean track and then re-record the track by sending the clean track back through amplifiers and effects. Naturally, he looks at different Reamp circuits and some implications for the different impedance audio signals and balance to unbalance challenges.

audioXpress March 2014Another highlight is our review of the Rockruepel comp.two tube stereo compressor, hand built by Oliver Gregor in Germany. As Miguel Marques discovers, this is one of the most versatile audio processors on the market, packaged in a simple but impressive design.

Following the first of a two-part article dedicated to Dante audio networks, our Standards Review revisits Audinate from the perspective of those companies who have licensed the technology.

And for our readers who have are interested in the recently introduced loudness standards, Jon Schorah returns with another great article about Loudness Meters and Measurements.

Don’t miss another take from Mike Klasco and Steve Tatarunis on the “Weird Science Woofers,” in which they discuss some market innovations and pure research on unique speaker mechanisms, from huge to ultra-shallow speaker configurations.

In this month’s Sound Control column, Richard Honeycutt explores predictive acoustics and how the results of such evaluations can be highly rewarding.

Certainly an entertaining read is Shannon Becker’s interview this month with Morten Sissener, founder of Tortuga Audio, a DIY-oriented audio company dedicated and committed to audio enjoyment.

On the subject of DIY projects, this month contributor George Ntanavaras explains how to build his MC100 high-quality moving coil RIAA preamplifier. It is a great read for anyone who would like to know more about the phono signal chain.

And for Audio Electronics enthusiasts, Ron Tipton shares a fascinating project on testing a Class-T or Tripath power amplifier. We also discuss the story of Tripath Technology, which was later acquired by Cirrus Logic who discontinued the company operations. We also speculate on reasons why the Tripath ICs are still popular among the DIY audio community.

And for those with a passion for tubes, columnist Richard Honeycutt looks at Tube Guitar Amplifiers and why distortion evolved from an undesirable effect to part of the established guitar amplification industry practice.

Your new issue of audioXpress is now available at www.gotomyxpress.com

Sony PHA-2 Named Best of Innovations at the CES 2014

Sony PHA-2

Sony PHA-2

Sony’s PHA-2 headphone amplifier was named Best of Innovations at the International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards event for its effectiveness and great listening experience when used with portable audio players or smartphones.

The PHA-2 headphone DAC/amplifier is part of Sony’s new line of High Resolution Audio products introduced in October 2013, along with the TA-A1ES integrated stereo amplifier. Both products offer superior sound reproduction and have been specifically designed to support the latest high-resolution music sources.

The new PHA-2 portable headphone amplifier is the first portable DAC/amplifier to be compatible with virtually every high-resolution digital file format, including up to 192 kHz/24-bit PCM and both DSD (2.8 MHz) and double DSD (5.6 MHz). It features a variety of advanced technologies, including refinements such as an Asynchronous Transport Mode using a dedicated signal generator to reduce timing errors for more accurate, jitter-free converter performance. It also incorporates a high-precision D/A converter, along with devices such as a custom headphone amplifier IC with high slew rate and ultra-low distortion operation; output capacitor-less (OCL) current feedback architecture; and a dual power supply operation for more stable and accurate reproduction.

All of these select components are enclosed in a durable aluminum chassis, fully protected from external interference. The PHA-2 headphone amplifier also has a variable gain headphone input that supports a wide range of impedances. It also has  Zinc die-cast bumpers to protect the volume control and headphone connector from external shock and vibration.

The PHA-2 can be easily connected to PC and Macintosh computers via its USB 2.0 interface, and also includes a dedicated digital input for iPod, iPhone and iPad products. Other portable audio sources such as Android smartphones and digital music players can be connected via the analog audio input. The PHA-2 comes with a built-in Lithium-ion battery, which runs up to 6.5 hours with a digital connection and up to 17 hours with an analog connection on a single charge.

The PHA-2 portable headphones amplifier will be available beginning March 2014 for $599 at Sony stores and other national electronics retailers.

www.sony.com

Linx Fusion Headphones Receive Best of Innovations Recognition at CES 2014 Design and Engineering Awards.

Linx Fusion HeadphonesThe Linx Fusion is the first multisensory, active noise canceling set of headphones to fuse patented Linx Audio with ViviTouch electroactive polymer (EAP) technology to simultaneously transmit sound through the skin, bone, and ear to enhance comprehension in noisy environments and to address specific tonal sensitivities.

Audiology expert Able Planet Incorporated introduced the Linx Fusion patented multisensory technology in 2013, working with Bayer MaterialScience’s ViviTouch 4D Sound technology to create accurate reproduction and intelligibility. ViviTouch 4D Sound uses EAP technology that enhances the perception of loudness without increasing volume. It also enhances the bass response without overemphasizing annoying, high-frequency acoustic elements. Simultaneously transmitting sound through three distinct and separate audio delivery channels (skin, bone and ear) results in a clear separation of the audio.

www.ableplanet.com

Prescient Audio Awarded at CES 2014 For Its Revolutionary ThinDriver TD-12

Prescient Audio ThinDriver

Prescient Audio ThinDriver

Prescient Audio, from Rockford, IL, a consumer and professional audio manufacturer of high-performance loudspeaker technology, was named an International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree for its ThinDriver TD-12, in the High Performance Home Audio product category.

Prescient Audio’s TD-12 is the thinnest and lightest 12″ subwoofer available on the market, boasting an energy-efficient design. The TD-12 is a high-performance, 1,000-W loudspeaker that repositions the components from behind the loudspeaker to its perimeter. With a mounted depth of 2.25″, the TD-12 is the shallowest subwoofer available.

Its futuristic design allows for a smaller cabinet, requiring only 0.5 cubic feet of box volume. It can easily fit between standard wall joints within a wall cavity or underneath furniture or car seats. While it’s the thinnest loudspeaker profile in the industry, it still provides a rich, superior true-to-signal sound and incredible bass throughout all audible levels, all while offering the largest power-to-weight ratio in the industry at 120-W per pound.

According to Paul Niedermann, CEO of Prescient Audio, the ThinDriver TD-12 has been three years in the making and is now available.

www.prescientaudio.com

Member Profile: Bob Cordell

Bob Cordell

Bob Cordell

Member Name: Bob Cordell

Location: Holmdel, NJ

Education: Bob has a MSEE from Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and a BSEE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY.

Occupation: He is a retired electrical engineer.

Member Status: Bob said he has been subscribing to audioXpress “since the beginning of time.”

Affiliations: Bob retains memberships to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Audio Engineering Society (AES).

Audio Interests: He enjoys working on amplifiers, loudspeakers, and test equipment. He also spends his time authoring books and articles about his various audio projects.

Most Recent Purchase: Bob recently upgraded his equipment with an OPPO BDP-95 CD/SACD player.

Current Audio Projects: Bob is writing the second edition of his book, “Designing Audio Power Amplifiers,” and working on his website, www.cordellaudio.com.

Dream System: Bob said, “I am not a dreamer, I’m a builder.” His current system includes a 3.5-way active loudspeakers, each with four 125-W MOSFET power amplifiers built into the cabinets.

Shure Brings New Entry-Level SE112 Sound Isolating Earphone to Market

Shure SE112

Shure SE112

Shure’s award-winning SE earphone line expands with an affordable $49 solution, ideal for musicians and music/audio enthusiasts. The new SE112 earphones will be commercially available in spring 2014 and provide a combination of great sound, noise isolation, and quality in a compact and comfortable design. Designed for everything from live performance to personal listening, the sound isolating sleeves help block ambient noise and prevent outside noise from interfering with the listening experience.

“Earlier this year we introduced our premium SE846 earphones with a truly groundbreaking low-pass filter. Now with the SE112s, we have a pair of quality earphones for an even wider range of users and preferences,” says Matt Engstrom, category director for Monitoring/Listening Products at Shure. “No other earphone line delivers the same level of Shure sound quality and comfortable fit—and, at just under $50, the SE112s are the ideal upgrade to the standard earphones you get with today’s popular audio players.” The SE112 comes equipped with a durable fixed 50″ cable and three sizes of soft, flexible sleeves that gently contour to ears for a comfortable fit. To further enhance the fit for long-term wear, and to keep cables out of the way, the earphones feature an over-the-ear configuration.

www.shure.com