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The impact of COVID on Audio USB, Voice activation and XMOS Processing power... and why it changes our lives forever


24th May - Valencia.

The Covid pandemic has had a significant influence on the way that people work. More and more are working from home and using remote communication greater than ever before. The rise in speakerphones, headsets to support modern communication needs are booming as a result of conference calls and meetings organised from home. Key brands have reported a significant surge in sales from businesses equipping their workforces during lockdown, and many anticipate significant changes in communication culture against the backdrop of an already fast-growing market will be sustainable even after Covid restrictions recede.

Similarly, convenience and COVID-19 — an unexpected duo — are driving us further and further towards voice-based, touch-free interfaces that deliver real utility without compromising on security. This is leading to a major growth in voice activation applications. With artificial intelligence feeding into the exponential growth in IoT, the resulting AIoT devices that incorporate this technology, from the smart home to the smart city, can have a revolutionary impact on our day-to-day lives.

Audio USB

For Audio USB, according to consulting firm FutureSource, not only are these trends driving the demand for company investment in headset solutions for their employees for their audio and communication needs, they are also leading to increases in the value end-users place on their headset as an essential occupational tool. Now being used for a considerable amount of time per day, for higher bandwidth audio communication and even for video and audio content consumption, office hearables are experiencing a revolutionary focus on product quality, flexibility and comfort amongst a more executive user-base. This is driving significant trade-up demand from an end user perspective, as well as increasing the relevance of technologies such as Bluetooth, software integration/certification, noise cancellation and even smart integration. This demand is resulting in a significant number of sales through online retail channels, where end-users need more specific solutions than those given as standard.

The reason why many people choose an Audio USB accessory is that most of the overall budget in a computer is on the processers and screen, leaving minimal budget for the built in DAC and audio outputs. By utilising Audio USB you are bypassing the internal soundcard of the computer and allowing the USB DAC to perform the Digital to Analogue conversion in much better quality.

There are two classes of Audio USB, Class 1 and Class 2.

The difference is in the resolution of music they can deliver. Class 1 will give you a BIG improvement in sound compared to your computers own headphone output, however class 2 will take you one step further. Class 1 can send up to a maximum of 24-bit/96kHz hi-res files, but if you want to play those studio master quality files you’ll need to step up to Class 2. This supports up to 24 bit/192 kHz resolution files, for those seeking absolute audio perfection.

Asynchronous timing for USB Digital Analogue Converter (DAC)

A computer and a USB DAC both have their own internal clock which dictates the timing for both devices. One of the problems with USB audio transfer is that these clocks are not running at the same time. This can result in glitches or gaps in streaming when Digital music is sent as USB packets from the computer down the USB cable to the DAC.

Asynchronous type of DAC is the most complex to implement but it is a huge improvement on the other types. This is because it requests the data packets to be sent in time with its own clock’s timing, thus providing the lowest jitter and sounding by far the best.

The capacity to use it for professional tasks, as well as the number of features you have available, ultimately depends on the model you purchase. These audio interfaces have become essential if you want to set up your own music studio at home, conferences, meetings etc. Besides, you can easily take them with you for live recordings. In addition, since USB ports are found on virtually every electronic device out there they allow you to connect headphones, speakers, and monitors. They are generally quite compact and easy to carry around, while remaining more affordable than other alternatives. And virtually all operating systems support some Audio USB standard. 

Flexible Microcontrollers

Flexible microcontrollers are ideal for rapid product design and innovation in the professional multichannel audio and consumer Hi-Res Audio USB markets. Whether you require audio playback, recording, or a combination of both, multichannel and Audio USB solutions enable on-time bit-perfect audio from multiple inputs.

Although there are several options when it comes to implementation, the XMOS processor is probably the most flexible and efficient one. It comes with Audio USB 2.0 reference software, which can be modified and customized to meet additional requirements.

The aim of the most highly sophisticated of these processors is the provision of high audio call quality. Echo has one of the most disruptive effects; it can range from merely distracting, to rendering conversation unintelligible. Echo is suppressed using an Acoustic Echo Cancellation algorithm, which models the delay and transfer of transmitted audio and applies a corresponding calculation that suppresses the echo. 

Another element to consider is transmission delay in the passing of audio from near-end to far-end. This is usually driven by network latency rather than device or processing, but minimising latency though the voice processing is an important aspect of system design because it solves for any larger network delays which may be encountered. 


Covid and the Acceleration of Voice Activation in AIoT devices.

Alongside the growth in Audio USB applications, another area to be greatly influenced by COVID has been the rise in voice activation applications and the acceleration to develop processors embedded at the heart of IoT smart devices.

In a recent seminar by CEO of XMOS Mark Lippett outlined a future of Intelligent Connectivity where everyone will communicate with technology naturally. Artificial Intelligence and connectivity are converging to deliver relevant, personalised experiences when and where you want them.

From Smart cities where voice based interfaces are growing in importance to smart applications for the home including health, washing machines, phone calls and power saving features AIoT devices will require high performance processing power with efficient energy usage and economic price.


Crossover processors providing unique flexibility for a multitude of functionalities in Audio and Voice are likely to pave the way for convenience in the future way of living and working.

With this proliferation of smart devices in our homes, the privacy issue and related consumer concerns are going to move increasingly into the spotlight. Smart device manufacturers are uniquely positioned to offer an alternative solution to cloud security issues. They can help protect their customers’ privacy while still embracing the convenience of smart technology, like voice control.

The only solution that can vastly improve privacy levels is to ensure that as much data as possible stays within the walls of the consumer’s home. This is where edge computing comes in — providing a firewall between the consumer’s privacy and the large corporations, while continuing to deliver valuable utility. Devices make decisions for themselves, and only send data to the cloud when the service absolutely needs it. A crossover processor like, xcore.ai, delivers just that — enabling devices to make smart decisions for themselves without needing the cloud to act as a decision-making brain unless completely necessary.


Finding the right skills to tap innovation in product development

As Mark Lippett says, “Our flexible microcontrollers are ideal for rapid product design and innovation in the professional multichannel audio and consumer Hi-Res USB audio markets and AIoT opportunities.”

What will be key however will be how to find the right skills to help in the embedded electronic engineering needed for these advances?

Companies such as CIS have had over 20 years in the Embedded Engineering market seeking the best engineers to fit complex projects. To make sure your next project is covered, contact Aleksandra Wisna on aleksandraw@cis-ee.com or +34 960 038 631.