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Generate big sounds from small speakers

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:algorithms? DSP? psychoacoustics modeling?

When digital entertainment or data consumed via smartphone or tablet is frequently interrupted by background noise, users often try to adjust the volume manually to compensate. But such adjustments are inaccurate and can jeopardize the true listening experience. Human hearing is not a purely mechanical process; the concept of psychoacoustics comes into play each time a user reaches for the volume control buttons.

Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of the human psychological and physiological response to sound. It recognizes human hearing as a sensory and perceptual event. Our ears and brains work together, ignoring certain sounds and perceiving others in unique ways.

Using psychoacoustics modeling, developers can determine which parts of a digital audio signal can be removed without significant loss in perceived audio quality. Alternatively, it suggests what should be added or enhanced to improve the listening experience.

Portable entertainment is becoming a social experience as consumers meet up with friends and huddle around a phone or a tablet to share their favorite movie clip or music video. This use case transforms the handheld listening experience from being primarily headphone dependent to being dependent on small-screen speaker playback, with multiple listeners in close range of the device. But thin, narrow speakers, earbuds or headphones do not have the physical capability to reproduce a multidimensional sound field with high fidelity. Most small speaker components found in compact mobile phones have severe performance limitations, resulting in that boxy, squashed-fidelity sound.

Today's devices are simply not prepared for the audio experience consumers are demanding. Audio technology companies are scrambling to develop technology that greatly improves the outcome for listeners.

Immersive sound
So-called 3-D audio is quickly gaining the attention of manufacturers as a way to enhance music listening and gaming on mobile devices. With 3-D audio, the audio environment is expanded to provide an immersive, multilevel, surround-sound listening experience for users.

Several suppliers are making audio technology available that will analyze and process frequencies, volume intensity and time delay, while taking into account such physical variables as the distance between the listener's ears. This process results in a remarkable surround-sound experience from stereo speakers and headphones. It is an elegant and simple alternative that can greatly improve the user's listening experience.

Other available technology dramatically raises the level of perceived volume so that music, movies and games come through loud, clear and robust, staying true to the artists' original intent.

Furthermore, audio technology for smartphones is designed to enhance the voice frequency bands to improve the audio quality of dialog and vocals, broadening the soundstage with a phantom center channel for improved clarity and audio timbre.

With innovative DSP algorithms, manufacturers now have the ability to maximize the acoustic power of smaller audio speakers without additional BOM hardware costs, enabling a better product with competitive consumer pricing.

About the author
Geir Skaadenis vice president of strategic sales and business planning for DTS Inc. He was CEO of Neural Audio before its acquisition by DTS in 2009. Skaaden holds a BA in finance from the University of Oregon, a business degree from the Norwegian School of Management and an MBA from the University of Washington.

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