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Disruption in The Air - Audio Sector 2020 and Beyond

30th July - Valencia.

According to Deloitte in its Tech trends 2020 report today’s disruptors of the audio sector are digital reality technologies that are descendants of the experience, analytics, and cloud eras. As the change agents of the coming decade, the newer trends may no longer be considered novel, but they are on the cusp of becoming as familiar and significant as its predecessors.  

The Digital reality technologies of the Audio sector now include advances in AR/VR, mixed reality, voice interfaces, speech recognition, ambient computing, 360° video, and immersive technologies, which promote more natural user engagement by seamlessly extending a human-centric experience beyond the confines of keyboards and screens. The goal is natural, intuitive, and potentially imperceptible interactions with underlying technologies.

More specifically, in Nielsen’s MediaTech Trender Survey, highlights the ongoing proliferation of smart speakers (e.g., Amazon Echo or Google Home) as an interactive disruptive technology that offers consumers useful, cutting-edge capabilities. They state, a smart speakers’ ability to sync with various devices, as well as utilize a wide-range of apps, give users the power of choice in their media habits. Their propensity to be synced with mobile phones is amplifying their use in a seemingly infinite amount of ways—including playing music.


The Disruption is set to continue!

David Owens of Harman Embedded Audio suggests that disruption in the audio sector for 2020 and beyond will continue. He maintains, “It is likely we’ll see voice enablement adoption continue to strengthen, and show up in unexpected places like bathrooms, showers, toilets, couches, kitchen appliances and more.”

 “Audio is changing as voice has become front and centre as a UI for products. Voice is a lot more user friendly than touch therefore voice will radically change the way people interact with technology. This also means that the microphone will become a lot more important to capture commands and preferences. And another trend will be that 3D audio will become much more of an integral part of immersive experiences.”


3D Audio

In 2020, 3D audio or immersive audio is set to become a greater part of the consumer experience, as new 360° audio capable devices hit the market, including offerings from Amazon (the Echo Studio), Sony PlayStation and MacBook to name a few. Disney+ recently wowed audiences by making the Star Wars movies available to stream with Dolby Atmos surround sound audio.

Big brands are also pouring a lot of money into creating the most engaging experiences possible, but too often marketers focus solely on visual elements, failing to acknowledge the power of audio to engage, entertain and build a more human connection.

Importantly, brands have the opportunity to realise the potential of immersive sound to evoke emotions beyond the means of visual communication. 360° audio will soon become the norm on all devices and channels from headphones, Hi-Fi stereos and smart speakers to laptops, theatres and cinemas. And increasingly, more brands will begin creating their ‘own’ sound to help build brand recognition and trust in this era of immersive audio.

Dr. Bernhard Grill, Director of Fraunhofer IIS stated recently, “Immersive music is the next frontier for next-generation audio, building on the use of three-dimensional sound in cinema and TV. The inclusion of our MPEG-H decoder in the Echo Studio will allow mainstream consumers to experience immersive music with the convenience they have come to expect from today’s stereo music services.”


Noise Suppression

According to Owens, another key trend for 2020 will be the ability to control noise suppression. Whilst microphones and speakers have advanced, a noisy background, single or multiple interfering audio sources, and echo signals are still among the most common challenges faced by modern day systems using voice as an interface. 

While every voice solution is different, it is important that all solutions are flexible enough to adapt to the necessary requirements of their use case while still collecting and protecting user data. For this reason most voice solutions use algorithms to cover noise suppression, acoustic noise cancellation, sound separation and beam forming, as well as voice activity detection. When a keyword is detected, the microphone uses different noise suppression techniques and puts all its power towards the source. These algorithms work in combination with each other to capture the best possible clear voice command.


Blending of Software and Hardware

The final prediction is that as microphones and speakers become smarter, it will be necessary to provide true innovation through blending of software and hardware to enhance sound, reduce noise and more importantly improves the experience for consumers. 


Automotive –the leading edge of audio applications

New developments in the Automotive Sector offer some of the most advanced and interesting concepts where this combination in the audio sector can be seen. Through the developments in infotainment systems and growing automotive driving autonomy, high quality voice recognition and sound reception become an important requisite.

At the recent CES show 2020 Samsung launched the Digital Cockpit 2020  for the Automotive Industry.  When the driver activates Samsung’s Bixby voice recognition service, the display shows a Bixby animation that listens to the driver’s commands. Passengers sitting in the back seats can connect their personal tablets to the Digital Cockpit and use them to control things like air conditioning, ambient lighting and vehicle speakers. They will also be able to enjoy multimedia content and other services provided by the system on their devices once they are connected. The Digital Cockpit 2020 also features multi-zone audio, which allows each passenger to listen to their own music via speakers embedded in the headrests of their seats. Meanwhile, the Cabin Talk feature allows the driver to conveniently talk to the passengers in the back seats without needing to turn their head.

Also at CES, Continental and Sennheiser ditched speakers entirely to demo its speaker-less in-car sound system. The system features Continental's Act2ated sound technology, which uses special actuators to excite specific surfaces of a car's interior to reproduce certain frequencies. It works in tandem with Sennheiser's Ambeo Mobility processing to create a more immersive listening experience.

In 2020, the in-vehicle experience will undergo a major overhaul with the incorporation of voice-assistant technology, and drivers will begin to see new features including entertainment options emerge, which have hardly changed since the introduction of the radio," so says Niko Vuori, cofounder and CEO of Drivetime, an interactive audio entertainment company. 


You can understand then that there are many core engineering competences needed to bring these complexities together. Signal processing is essential and how you deal with the signal when receiving from a microphone or feeding to a speaker.  It’s routine to move audio data from one place to another, but the restrictions of embedded systems makes that a big challenge. Companies start with a mechanical product, and then they want to make it smart as well. That’s an excellent example of the challenges companies face when mechanical products meet the digital world. You need a much broader competence when it’s time to integrate electronics and the first microprocessor. 


Getting the right competences is a challenge in itself and requires experts in the field to seek out the most qualified and knowledgeable engineers to cope with these demands even though the pool of this resource is limited.


CIS Electronic Engineering are one of the market leaders in supplying highly skilled engineers to the Audio sector. Having been in the business for nearly 20 years they have cut their teeth in providing expert advice in contracting specialist skills for Audio R&D, DSP, 3D Sound, VR, AI, RF Filters, Noise Cancellation Algorithms, Speech Recognition, Computer Generated Speech Synthesis, Wireless, IOT, Cloud, Embedded Software, Firmware and Acoustics.


For more information on how CIS can help you, please contact Aleksandra Wisna at aleksandraw@cis-ee.com or telephone +34 960 038 631 to discuss your competence need.