Category: Audio Accessories

Sony to offer game-grade peripherals under the INZONE brand

Articles

Sony INZONE logo monitor and headsets image courtesy of Sony Electronics

Sony INZONE monitor and headsets

Sony announces INZONE line of monitors and headsets for PC and PS5 gaming | ZDNet

Sony’s new hardware brand will launch with gaming headsets and PS5-optimized monitors | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Sony

INZONE Product Page (USA)

INZONE Press Release

My Comments

Sony is creating the INZONE sub-brand that is pitched towards young gamers. This will be primarily used to market monitors, headsets and other peripherals that are optimised for video gaming on consoles or regular computers.

At the moment, there are two 27” monitors that are optimised for gaming on computers or video games consoles like the PlayStation 5 or the XBox X. These are designed on a “horses for courses” basis to suit the kind of video games a particular gamer wants to play. The INZONE M9, which has 4K UHD resolution and 144Hz screen refresh will come in to its own with “massive multiplayer online” and strategy games that excel on visuals but are slow-paced. Then the INZONE M3, which has Full HD resolution and 240Hz screen refresh is optimised for fast-paced games like first-person shooters where it is critical that you can detect the enemies in the game. These screens automatically adapt themselves towards gaming-focused behaviour or movie-focused behaviour depending on what is played through them, allowing them to become entertainment screens for that bedroom or dorm room.

There are two wireless headsets along with a wired headset in the INZONE gaming product range. The H9 and H7 wireless headsets can work with Bluetooth or a dedicated 2.4GHz low-latency wireless link to the host. The H9 is based on Sony’s successful WH1000XM active-noise-cancelling headset platform which allowed Sony to answer Bose with high-quality value-for-money noise-cancelling headsets and kick off the “Headset Wars”. The H3 wired headset connects to the host device via a USB connection or an analogue 3.5mm audio connection. But they all support Tempest 3D AudioTech virtual surround as implemented in the PS5 console thus allowing for spatial sound.

I see the INZONE effort as being very similar to Sony’s XPLOD car-stereo branding. This is the creation of a sub-brand of products that are pitched towards today’s teenagers and young adults who don’t have children and put their money towards leisure pursuits. In the XPLOD case, this was about high-performance car stereo equipment that is installed in those cars that they like to trick out. INZONE would be about marketing a range of gaming-optimised peripheral devices so those young people out there who want to get the most out of video games.

But could I see this as Sony offering more INZONE-branded computer-peripheral hardware pitched towards gamers? An obvious case could be something like speakers or soundbars that have sound qualities that go well for video games. Or I would see something like a range of TVs with screen sizes of between 32” to 40” that have screen refresh rates and image responsiveness desired for “core” video gaming.

Bluetooth LE Audio–how I see this coming about

Bluetooth LE Audio

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Bluetooth LE Audio and its multicast audio abilities will still have to factor in headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4 to be considered worthwhile

As covered previously, Bluetooth LE Audio is considered as the next evolution of Bluetooth wireless audio for smartphones, tablets and computers.

It encompasses the LC3 audio codec that is more efficient than the traditional Bluetooth Classic SBC audio codec. This provides for increased power efficiency and battery runtime for portable setups thus leading to the design of very small hearable devices like earbuds or hearing aids, thanks to the ability to use a very small battery. There is also the ability to realise increased sound fidelity for Bluetooth audio links, something as good as at least CD-quality stereo audio.

Add to this reduced latency for Bluetooth-based audio links, which means that this mode of transmission can be seen as relevant for video-game sound or audio sent to multiple endpoint devices.

This codec is not bound to a particular device or chipset manufacturer which means that more devices can be legitimately built with Bluetooth LE Audio support without the need for a particular chipset for example. As well, Android 13 is expected to have this functionality built in to it if your Android phone can be updated to this newer version. I would also expect iOS and other operating systems to have support for Bluetooth LE Audio through an upcoming feature-level update.

Here I am talking about two features being introduced with Bluetooth LE Audio that will increase its market acceptance.

Audio sharing and broadcast audio

A potential killer feature for Bluetooth LE Audio is the ability to broadcast audio content to other devices. This could be in the form of you and a friend listening to the same audio playlist through your own headphones with the ability to have the sound level how you like it as well as hearing it in stereo. Or it could be multiple people hearing a common program source on their devices at their preferred sound levels.

Some of the use cases include providing assisted hearing arrangements in public areas without the need to use an induction-based loop that only works with telecoil-equipped hearing aids or proprietary stereo headsets. Or it could be about the “silent disco” where you can bring your own headsets to participate in the dancing. As well, it is also being seen as a way to, for example, provide audio from a particular TV set installed in a bar or cafe without needing to have a set of speakers associated with the venue’s audio system switched between the background music or the TV audio.

Even at home, it could be about enhanced audio setups for TV viewing where particular viewers could benefit from increased audio volume or access to audio description or dubbed foreign-language soundtracks. This is without impacting on what everyone else wants to benefit from and also facilitates access to stereo or “virtual surround’ sound for the same content.

The preferred Bluetooth LE Audio approach for establishing these setups is to use a control app or physical controller to “point” compatible audio devices to the shared audio content or audio stream. Typically such apps will be required to discover Bluetooth LE Audio broadcast streams and allow users to select their desired audio stream.

Use with legacy Bluetooth devices

This can’t be achieved with the large number of Bluetooth Classic Audio devices that are currently in use. It would be more of concern where there isn’t the possibility of manufacturers providing firmware updates to enable these legacy devices for Bluetooth LE Audio.

An example of this is the “headset wars” taking place between Bose, Sony, B&O and Apple where these manufacturers are outpacing each other with the best-value over-ear noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets. You may find that the you bought that Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Sony WH-1000XM4 headset but they won’t be compatible with Bluetooth LE Audio unless Bose or Sony offer a firmware update to fully support Bluetooth LE Audio.

Here, you don’t necessarily want to get rid of a set of perfectly good headphones just to benefit from Bluetooth LE Audio and its broadcast features. After I was reading material on the Bluetooth SIG site about this standard, I came across a suggested path for integrating this technology with wired headphones.

This was in the form of a Bluetooth LE Audio controller app or operating-system function which worked as a “sink” device for the audio-sharing / broadcast-audio features and stream what was received to the wired headphones. But this approach would also be about repackaging the incoming selected broadcast audio stream as a Bluetooth Classic (A2DP) audio stream for something like a Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-cancelling headset. That is although they reckoned that this approach may not be efficient due to “repackaging” the Bluetooth audio stream but would need to be achieved to allow the use of Bluetooth Classic Audio devices in this context.

This same app may also be required to provide software support for audio sharing especially where the device doesn’t have inherent support for Bluetooth LE Audio. It would be in the form of being a Bluetooth LE Audio source or target for audio-sharing setups.

Bluetooth speakers and car audio

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Bluetooth LE Audio apps may also be required to bring Bluetooth LE Audio broadcasts to Bluetooth speakers like this Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

The COVID-19 coronavirus plague gave drive-in movies a renaissance in some areas. This was because households could go out and watch the movies from the safety of their cars and reduce the spread of the virus. This had been extended to “drive-in” live entertainment like concerts except a stage for the live entertainment was used rather than a screen for showing films.

Even before, there has been some interest in drive-in movies as a form of “cinema al fresco” in countries that had balmy summers. This was about enjoying watching films in a cinematic experience while in an outdoor setting rather than going in to an air-conditioned cinema to watch films as a community.

But these setups would distribute the sound via FM radio so each household can hear the entertainment’s soundtrack through their car’s car radio or a portable radio tuned to a particular FM frequency. This was able to use the many-decades-old FM technology to deliver the sound in stereo to each vehicle. Bluetooth LE Audio could easily be seen as a logical successor to FM radio for this kind of use case.

As for Bluetooth speakers and Bluetooth audio-receive adaptors, these could be part of the Bluetooth LE Audio broadcast-audio concept. For example, Bluetooth SIG often suggested the TV, whether at home, in a hotel room or in a public place as a key use case for the broadcast-audio feature that Bluetooth LE Audio offers. This is in the form of assisted hearing or access to an alternate soundtrack at home, reduced volume for hotel-room TVs or the ability to hear the soundtrack for a show playing on a bar’s TV via headphones.

Here, a Bluetooth speaker could be about a group of people at a particular table in a bar hearing the call of a sports event shown on one of the TVs in that bar through one of these speakers. Or it could be about someone hearing the audio-described soundtrack for a show that everyone is watching through a small Bluetooth speaker while everyone else hears the standard soundtrack through the main sound system.

Firstly this could mean that there could be an incentive to support Bluetooth LE Audio functionality within newer speaker-equipped Bluetooth audio equipment or Bluetooth audio-receive adaptor devices. As for as legacy equipment is concerned, it may be about the previously-mentioned Bluetooth LE Audio controller app that repackages broadcast audio content delivered via this new standard as the legacy Bluetooth Classic Audio standards.

Announcement priority

A feature that will be wanted for Bluetooth LE Audio’s broadcast-audio feature is some form of “announcement priority” feature. Such a feature would be called for in relationship to emergency messaging but would also be desired for the transport sector.

Here, that would be akin to the traffic-announcement priority feature instigated with ARI and implemented primarily with RDS, where, with a suitably-equipped car radio tuned to a broadcaster supporting this feature, you can turn it down or have something else playing but you don’t miss out on the latest road reports. This is due to out-of-band subcarrier-based signalling that causes the radio to increase the volume to a particular level or pause the other program you were listening to while a traffic report is being broadcast.

If this was implemented in Bluetooth LE Audio, it could be set up to allow a transport-service announcement or building emergency announcement to override whatever you are listening to on your phone, but not override a phone call. Such a facility would have to have some form of “relevance filter” with metadata relating to the platform that you are waiting at or the vehicle you are riding on in a public transport system, or the language the announcement comes in. Like with the car-radio application, there would be a requirement to cancel the currently-playing announcement but be ready to hear the next one for further updates.

Multichannel audio

Another killer use case for Bluetooth LE Audio is to allow a single source device to deliver two or more audio streams relating to the same content as a multichannel audio stream to multiple output devices. This is with the sound in phase and in sync across all of the audio channels.

Here, it would be operated in a manner that doesn’t require vendors to reinvent the wheel when it comes to designing multichannel-audio equipment that exploits Bluetooth LE Audio technology.

The obvious use case is to have standards-based true wireless earbuds and hearing aids without manufacturers reinventing the wheel every time they design these setups. As well, the requirement would be to have the source device effectively stream each channel to each output device so that there is no retransmission involved thus assuring power efficiency for earbuds and hearing aids.

Bluetooth speakers

I would see the multichannel audio feature also benefit Bluetooth speakers. Here, a manufacturer could design their Bluetooth speakers so that if you buy two or more of these speakers, you could set up a pair for proper stereo-sound reproduction with increased separation.

There may even be a requirement to support multiple multichannel speaker clusters. This could be multiple pairs of speakers used to reproduce a stereo soundmix in different areas.

Use of subwoofers to pump up the bass

Some device manufacturers would be taking this further by having speaker setups involving speakers that have different frequency-response characteristics. The classic example is a pair of highly-compact speakers reproducing the stereo sound but not having much bass response while another larger speaker with a larger driver and housing like a subwoofer yields the bass notes. Such setups are desired as a way to have compact speakers yet be able to have that bit of bass “kick”.

This would require support within the standard for passing audio frequencies above or below a certain threshold to particular speakers that can handle particular audio frequency ranges. Most likely it may be facilitated through each speaker taking an audio stream that represents the full frequency range and passing it through low-pass or high-pass filter circuitry or its acoustic design doing the filtering.

Surround sound

Then there is the idea of using Bluetooth LE for multi-channel surround sound applications, typically associated with video content. This may be about a soundbar that represents the front and centre channels of a surround soundmix, a subwoofer representing low-frequency effects and two speakers representing the “surround” channels.

Most likely the source device will decode the Dolby or DTS surround-sound formats and allocate particular channels to particular speakers.

Speakers with own audio inputs or sources

There will be problems with this kind of setup where Bluetooth speakers typically have another audio input beyond the Bluetooth audio stream delivered by a smartphone or other device. This represents at least a stereo line-level analogue input with better setups offering one or more wired digital inputs of some form.

It may also extend to where a Bluetooth LE Audio speaker in a multichannel setup has its own programme source. Such sources can range from a traditional radio or TV broadcast source or packaged content medium like vinyl, CD or Blu-Ray. Or it could be file-based media on something like a USB device or simply receiving online audio or video content via the Internet. I would even encompass devices that are part of a network-based multiroom audio setup or smart speakers that have their own microphone and work with a voice-driven home assistant.

The common use case involving speakers and multichannel sound from a connected source would be a soundbar that is connected to a TV set via HDMI-ARC. This soundbar, expected to reproduce the sound from the connected TV, would typically work alongside a subwoofer that reproduces the bass frequencies, while it reproduces the midrange frequencies for the left, right and centre channels in an audio mix. Some setups may support additional front speakers for increased stereo separation or a set of rear speakers for full-on surround sound. Or it could be about extra speakers required to properly reproduce a Dolby Atmos soundmix.

Here, it will be about wanting to have one speaker that has the input or content source work as a Bluetooth LE Audio source device for these setups. This speaker will then be required to yield a multichannel Bluetooth LE audio stream to the other speakers as if it is a Bluetooth audio-transmitter adaptor. The other speakers would then pick up and reproduce the audio channel that they are assigned to.

This use case involving a Bluetooth speaker of some sort having its own audio input or source and working with a multichannel audio setup would be seen as the exception when it comes to having a Bluetooth source device stream each channel of a multichannel soundmix to different output devices.

In this case, it would be about streaming a stereo or multichannel Bluetooth LE audio stream from the connected or integrated audio source around multiple Bluetooth LE speakers. You would then have to set each speaker to receive the appropriate audio channel, most likely through the manufacturer’s app.

Conclusion

The broadcast audio and audio-sharing abilities of Bluetooth LE Audio will most likely appear in the form of mobile-platform “controller” apps that discover Bluetooth LE Audio broadcast / multicast streams and share them with audio devices associated with the mobile device. Here, there will be a reliance on these apps to “bridge” Bluetooth LE Audio multicast streams to the Bluetooth Classic Audio devices currently in circulation.

Most likely I would see the Bluetooth LE Audio multichannel support manifest in manufacturers who encourage us to buy two or more of a particular speaker product and set them up for stereo sound. As well, it could encourage in the short  term the supply of subwoofers and three-piece speaker kits that implement this technology to give that bit of extra bass kick.

USB microphones or traditional mics for content creation?

Blue Yeti Nano USB microphone product image courtesy of Logitech

Blue HYeti Nano – an example of a USB microphone pitched at podcasters

Increasingly as we create and post content online, we are realising that microphones are becoming a valuable computer accessory for recording or broadcasting our voices or other live sound. This is more so where we are making podcasts or videos or even streaming video games with our own commentary, with this kind of content creation becoming a viable cottage industry in its own right.

Even videoconferencing with Zoom and similar software has had us want to use better microphones so we can be heard clearly during these videocalls. This was important while stringent public health measures were in place to limit the spread of the COVID coronavirus plague but is now coming in to play with hybrid (online and face-to-face) work and education settings that we are taking advantage of.

What we are realising is that the integrated condenser microphone in your laptop computer or Webcam isn’t really all that up-to-scratch for this kind of content creation. This is similar to the days of the cassette recorder where people who aspired to make better live recordings stopped using their tape recorder’s built-in microphone and used a better quality external microphone.

But there are two ways of connecting an external microphone to your computer – USB port or a traditional microphone input.

USB microphone

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook Right-hand side - Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

The USB port on most regular computers is what you would plug a USB microphone into for plug-and-play recording

The USB microphone has at least one microphone element directly connected to an integrated audio interface. This converts the sound picked up by the microphone into a digital form useable by the host computer.

Some of these microphones have an audio-output function which feeds a headphone jack so you can monitor what you are recording or broadcasting with a set of headphones. You may even find that some USB microphones have a microphone-level analogue audio output so you can connect them to a traditional audio device rather than just a computer.

All of the USB microphones present to the host computing device as a standard USB Audio input device with those with headphone outputs also presenting the headphone jack as a standard USB Audio output device. This means that the USB Audio class drivers supplied with your computer’s operating system are used to enable these microphones without the need for extra software to be installed on the computer.

An increasing number of manufacturers will often supply audio-processing software that performs equalisation, level control or dynamic-range control on the host computer. Or the digital-audio recording software that you use on your computer will be able to do this function for you. All of this audio processing happens in the digital domain using your computer’s CPU or GPU.

The integrated audio interface allows designers of these USB microphones to set up a sophisticated array of multiple microphone elements in these microphones. This would allow for them to work as one-point stereo microphones or use microphone-array techniques to determine their sensitivity or pickup pattern. You may find that you determine how these sophisticated microphones operate through manufacturer-supplied software or perhaps a hardware switch on the microphone.

Traditional microphone

Behringer UlltraVoice XM8500 microphone product image courtesy of Behringer

The Behringer UltraVoice XM8500 microphone – an example of a traditional microphone

The common traditional microphone makes the sound that it picks up available as a low-level analogue signal. They are designed to be connected to an amplifier, recording device, mixing desk or other audio device that has an integrated microphone amplifier circuit.

This would be either a balanced or unbalanced signal depending on whether the microphone is for professional or consumer use. It is although most value-priced professional-grade mono dynamic microphones typically pitched for PA and basic recording use can work as balanced or unbalanced mics. That is thanks to the mic’s cable connected to the mic itself via an XLR plug even though the cable would plug in to the equipment using a 6.35mm mono phone plug.

There are electret-condenser microphones that work in a different way to the common dynamic microphone but these are dependent on a power source. This is typically provided by a battery that is installed in the microphone or through the associated equipment offering “phantom power” or “plug-in power” to these microphones via their cable.

If you use a traditional microphone with your computer, you would need to use an audio interface of some sort. The traditional sound card installed in a desktop computer or some basic USB audio interfaces that you use with your laptop computer would offer a 3.5mm phone-jack microphone input which would be mono (2-conductor) at least or may be stereo (3-conductor) so you can use a one-point stereo mic. These could work well with a wide range of microphones that have this connection type, typically those pitched at portable-recorder or home-video use.

Then the better USB audio interfaces would offer either at least one microphone input in either a 6.35mm phone jack or three-pin XLR socket, most likely offering a balanced wiring approach. You can still use a mic that has a 3.5mm phone plug if you use an adaptor that you can buy from an electronics store.

Shure X2U USB audio interface product image courtesy of Shure

Shure X2U USB audio interface that plugs in to the XLR socket on a common traditional microphone

Let’s not forget that a significant number of microphone manufacturers offer USB audio interfaces that plug in to their microphone’s XLR socket. These adaptors such as the Shure X2U are powered by the host computer USB interface and, in a lot of cases, provide the “phantom power” needed by electret-condenser microphones.

It is also worth noting that the better quality USB audio interfaces will do a better job at the sound-handling process and will yield a high-quality signal. This is compared to the audio interface in your laptop computer or Webcam, or baseline soundcards and USB audio modules which may not make the mark for sound quality.

For a long time there have been traditional one-point stereo microphones but most of them have been pitched at hobbyist or consumer use with stereo tape recorders. Most such microphones use a hardwired cable with a 3.5mm stereo phone plug or a 5-pin standard DIN plug if the recorder has a stereo microphone socket, or two 6.35mm or 3.5mm mono phone plugs if it has a pair of mono microphone sockets. But some professional stereo microphones have a 5-pin XLR or Neutrik connection and come with a breakout cable that has two XLR plugs to connect to a pair of microphone inputs.

What microphone type suits your application better

A USB microphone is valuable for laptops or small desktop computers and is only intended where you are using the software on your computing device to record or broadcast.

You may end up getting more “bang for your buck” out of a USB microphone purchase due to the integrated audio-interface design that they have. This may be of value to people starting out in podcasting or similar audio-recording and broadcasting tasks and want a low-risk approach. As well, you may find them easy to set up and use with your computer especially where the microphone relies on class drivers supplied by the operating system rather than proprietary driver software.

USB microphones are considered to be more portable because you don’t need to carry a USB audio interface with you when you intend to record “on the road” with your computer.

Another advantage is that you have a very short low-level unbalanced analogue audio link between the microphone elements and the signal-processing electronics, This means that you end up without the risk of AC hum or other undesirable noise getting in to your recording due to a long unbalanced low=level audio link.

You may find it difficult to use a USB microphone with a digital camera or camcorder. This is because not many of them provide USB Audio device support for microphones and similar devices and they may not eve have a host-level USB connection for any peripherals. Similarly, you may find it difficult to use them with most mobile-platform devices because of the way some versions of iOS or Android handle them.

A traditional microphone with a common connection type excels when it comes to versatility. This is more important where you intend to use them with a wide range of audio devices like recording equipment or mixing consoles. Similarly they excel when it comes to microphones that have particular sensitivity and audio characteristics out of the box.

It also comes in to its own when you want to record with a tape recorder or other standalone recording device to assure recording reliability. This use case includes the use of external microphones with your video equipment to have better sound on your video recordings.

Some users may find that connecting traditional mics to their computer via a mixing console of some sort may give them better hands-on control over how their recordings or broadcasts will sound. Here, you may find that some of the newer mixing consoles are likely to have their own USB audio interface to connect to a computer especially if they are more sophisticated. As well, some users who have used mixing desks or standalone recording devices frequently will find themselves at ease with this kind of setup. This is because these devices offer the ability to adjust the sound “on the fly” or mix multiple microphones and audio sources for a polished recording or broadcast.

Conclusion

A cardinal rule to remember is that you will end up having to spend a good amount of money on a good-quality microphone if you are wanting to make good-quality recordings or online broadcasts. No digital processing can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear when it comes to audio recording.

Here, the USB microphone will come in to its own if you are just using a computer. On the other hand, a good-quality traditional microphone used with a USB audio interface could answer your needs better if you want pure flexibility.

A highly compact Bluetooth audio transmit-receive adaptor from TaoTronics

Article – From the horse’s mouth

TaoTronics

TaoTronics Bluetooth Transmitter for TV 2-in-1 Wireless 3.5mm Adapter (Product Page)

My Comments

Another highly-portable Bluetooth audio adaptor worth mentioning is the TaoTronic Bluetooth Transmitter for TV. This device sells for USD$21.99 in the USA direct from TaoTronics through the product link above but Kogan are selling this in Australia for AUD$55.00 with tax and shipping included to Australia.

Bose QuietComfort QC35 II noise-cancelling headset optimised for Google Assistant - Press picture courtesy of Bose Corporation

Can be used to stream TV audio to a pair of good headphones like these Bose QuietComfort headphones for private late-night listening

Like the Twelve South AirFly that I covered previously, this battery-operated device can stream audio content from a headphone jack that it is plugged in to to a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The obviously comes in to its own when using your Bluetooth headphones on the plane to watch a movie via the in-flight entertainment setup; working out at a fitness centre which implements an audio distribution setup for TV sound or workout music fed to headphones; or watching TV late at night with the sound via headphones.

But this device also is about being a Bluetooth receiver adaptor where you send audio content from your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer to a sound system so you can use its speakers for that music. Here, the TaoTronics adaptor has a 3.5mm stereo phone jack and comes with a patch cord with a 3.5mm stereo phone plug at each end as well as an adaptor cord that has a 3.5mm stereo phone jack at one end and two RCA plugs at the other end.

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A cassette adaptor being used to play a smartphone’s audio through a car cassette player – the TaoTronics Bluetooth transmit-receive adaptor can even be about a wireless link between the phone and the adaptor

But you can use other connection devices like longer or better cables to achieve the same goal in a better way. You could even plug a cassette adaptor in to this TaoTronics adaptor and effectively stream your smartphone’s multimedia audio through that cassette player installed in your 1970s-1990s classic car. As well, for newer cars, this would be about using the car stereo’s AUX input to stream multimedia audio from your phone to the car stereo even if the Bluetooth setup is only about communications audio.

This is powered by a battery that is quoted to have a 10-hour battery runtime or via a USB power source fitted with a USB micro-B plug. Product pictures even illustrate you powering the device from one of the USB sockets on your TV that will typically be used for a Wi-Fi adaptor to to play video from a USB memory key. You can even have the device’s battery charging while you are using it to transmit sound to your headphones or play a Bluetooth audio stream through your favourite audio system.

It is user-friendly in the context that you don’t have to perform a special rigmarole with the pairing button to switch between transmit or receive modes. Rather you just flick a mode switch between “transmit” and “receive” modes. There is still a button to instigate device pairing where necessary.

The size of this device is smaller than the typical smartphone which, along with battery / USB operation, incentivises you to take it on the road more frequently. A good travel scenario that may come about is to use the adaptor with your Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headphones to hear a movie on the inflight entertainment system during the flight. Then, when you are at the hotel, you plug this device in to the “audio input” jack on your hotel room’s TV to play Spotify music through that TV’s speakers.

In-room AV connection panel

The TaoTronics Bluetooth transmit-receive adaptor can even work well with your hotel-room TV if it has an AV connection panel like this with a 3.5mm stereo mini phone jack for audio input

The TaoTronics Bluetooth audio transmit-receive adaptor supports Qualcomm aptX operation but only for one device at a time. Otherwise, it can stream audio to two headsets which can come in handy where two people are listening to the same audio source like a TV programme. It also works according to the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard thus allowing for increased audio stability and battery efficiency along with the ability to run two headsets.

TaoTronics could have a variant of this device that works in a “communications and multimedia” mode like the Sony SBH-52 headphone adaptor that I used previously. This could earn its keep with wired headphones or automotive setups where you need to have full-on handsfree communication and audio playback with the same device.

But this is an example of a highly-compact easy-to-use device that can be about either streaming audio from your phone via Bluetooth to an existing sound system or using your favourite Bluetooth headphones to hear TV sound in private.

Are noise-cancelling headphones relevant during the COVID-19 lockdowns

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset – still relevant as we stay at home

When we see the likes of Bose and Sony launch new active-noise-cancelling headphones during the time of coronavirus-driven isolation, we may think that headphones like these are totally irrelevant now.

Such thoughts will come across our mind when it comes to portable technology like laptop computers where it is seen as an unnecessary expense. It is as we see these COVID-19 stay-at-home requirements as a time of slowing down and contemplating the need for any perceived flamboyance.

This is because we aren’t travelling at all or travelling very infrequently as a measu re to reduce virus infection. But these headphones are still very relevant nowadays in some way even during the short term.

If you have heating or air-conditioning at home that becomes noisy during active operation, they can come in very handy.This may also apply to those of us with older desktop computers that have noisy fans as well.

Here, the operating noise associated with these devices can become annoying and distracting and these headphones can mask it out just like they can when it comes to transport noise. If you find that your equipment changes its operating noise level during use, usually in order to answer actual heating or cooling needs, you may find that change of noise level distracting. Again, the noise-cancelling headsets can come in to play here.

Even though the cities are quieter now, you may find that there is some excess noise from remnant vehicles moving around the streets past your place. Add to this people using tools powered by small engines such as during the weekends when most households are maintaining their lawns and gardens. Here, these noises can be very distracting especially if you are listening to podcasts or engaging in videocalls.

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

They can come in very handy with those Zoom calls

Let’s not forget that most of these headsets excel as communications headsets which will be of benefit for those Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams videoconferences. Here, the newer headsets are about improved intelligibility during these calls. The newer better noise-cancelling headsets even use microphone arrays to capture your voice more easily even while there is background noise around you.

Over-the-head-type noise-cancelling headsets do perform well with music thanks to larger drivers that allow for improved bass. This may also be of benefit with other content like video content you watch through Netflix or similar video-on-demand services, or whenever you play games and you want that bit of extra punch on those sound effects.

There is also the fact that the COVID-19 plague will be tamed through the use of vaccines and medical treatments that are proven to be effective. It is in addition to better knowledge gained through experience on how to deal with particular outbreaks.  Here, we may be then in a position to travel longer distances whether by land, sea or air. The noise-cancelling headphones will then come in to their own while you get back to travelling.

I would still consider active-noise-cancelling headphones very relevant for most people even through these uncertain times where we are at home more.

Sony releases the WH-1000XM4 headphones to put themselves ahead in the headphone battle

Article

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset

Sony Has Practically Perfected Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Sony Electronics

WH-1000XM4 active noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset

The best just got better – Sony announces WH-1000XM4 industry-leading wireless noise cancelling headphones (Press Release)

Product Page

Announcement Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Promotional Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Initial price: AUD$549

My Comments

Sony has now raised the bar when it comes to the ideal set of over-the-ear Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. This is with the fight that is going on between Bose, themselves and Bang & Olufsen to achieve the ideal active noise-cancelling headphone experience with their entry being the WH-1000XM3 headset.

This successor, known as the WH-1000XM4, follows on with what the previous model offers like Bluetooth (Hands Free Profile, A2DP, AVRCP) and the optimised active-noise cancelling. But the Bluetooth audio functionality has support for Sony’s codecs that permit playback of high-resolution audio along with audio optimisation for lossy compressed-audio files.

The active-noise-cancelling has been improved to increased useability in real-world scenarios. This includes optimisation of its functionality for situation-specific requirements like hearing transport announcements or background music played over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s audio setup.

There is even the ability to set the Sony WH-1000XM4 cans up to pause your music and admit ambient sound whenever you want to engage in conversation with other people. This can be done fully automatically when you start speaking or semi-automatically when you cap your hand over one of the earcups.

As well, you have touch control for your device so that you swipe in particular directions to switch tracks or raise and lower the volume or tap the headset to start and stop the music or answer and end a call. There is also a button that can be mapped for use with voice assistants or to manage the active-noise-cancelling function.

But Sony has improved on the multipoint functionality that allows the headset to work with two Bluetooth devices concurrently. Here, it switches automatically between the devices based on whatever audio signal is being offered by the device.

But by following the review chatter, Sony has been able to refine the successor to the WH-1000XM3 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset in order to create the ideal product in this class. Who knows what the competitors will have in store when they revise their products.

Why use headphones during that Zoom or Skype video conference?

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Headphones and earphones can improve the sound quality during that Zoom video call

Increasingly most of you are taking part in a multi-party videoconference using Zoom, Skype or similar platforms as part of working or learning from home or keeping in the loop with distant relatives and friends. This has been driven by necessity due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and the requirement to stay home to limit the spread of this bug.

But you may find that your correspondents’ audio has that unnecessary echo or reverberation that can make the videocall sound fatiguing and awful. The excessive noise from the reverberation or echo may cause you also to speak louder as a means of dealing with a poor signal-to-noise ratio. As well it can also make a participant harder to understand especially if they have a strong accent that doesn’t cope well with poor signal quality.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

… no matter the kind of headset you use like this JBL Bluetooth headset

This is caused due to latency imposed by the different home-network and Internet connections each party uses and the fact that the sound and vision are being sent around as data packets. As well, most of the parties in the videoconference will typically be using a microphone and set of speakers integrated in or connected to the device for the sound.

Here, the reverberation or echo is heard due to your voice coming out of the participants’ devices’ speakers at a later time thanks to the videoconference setup with its limitations. It can also be magnified if someone is using a speaker setup that is very loud like most desktop speakers or a hi-fi system used as audio output for your computer.

By using headphones during that video conference if you are the only person calling in to the videoconference from your endpoint, you are effectively minimising the echo and reverberation. This is because when a person uses headphones for the videocall, the sound from the other parties is being “funneled” through the headphones exclusively to the device’s user, not likely to be picked up by their device’s microphone.

You will also find that you can hear your participants more easily when you use headphones. This is due to the headphone’s speakers located very close to your ear therefore leading to very minimal audio leakage that can cause further reverberation or echo. Those of you who use active-noise-cancelling headphones may also be at an advantage due to reducing fan or air-conditioning hum interfering with what your callers are saying, allowing you to concentrate better.

Here, any headphones or headset would do, whether they be in-ear, on-ear or over-ear types; or whether they are a wired or wireless setup. For example, if you are using a smartphone or tablet and you have its supplied in-ear wired headset, you can get by with it. Or a pair of good Bluetooth headphones may even do the job better.

This won’t be of use for a group situation where many people like a family or household are joining the videocall from the one device at the one location. It is because they want to talk to the rest of the videoconference as if they are one person. This situation would require the use of the device’s loudspeakers and microphone to be of value.

When you alone are participating in that multi-party videocall and you want to get the best out of it, your headphones may serve you better through that call.

The cassette adaptor has been and is still an important audio accessory

Article

Cassette adaptor

A cassette adaptor that allows you to use your smartphone with a cassette-based car stereo

The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age | VICE.com

My comments

An audio accessory that I still consider as being important and relevant even in the day of the smartphone and tablet is the cassette adaptor.

What are these cassette adaptors and how do they work?

This is a device invented by Larry Schotz during the mid 1980s to allow one to play CDs in the car using their car’s cassette player and their Discman-type portable CD player. It has a cassette-shaped housing that has a head that faces the cassette player’s playback head along with a mechanism to prevent that tape player from acting as though it’s the end of a tape side.

The head in this housing is wired to the portable audio device using a cable that is attached to the adaptor itself in a manner to cater towards different tape-loading arrangements, and plugged in to that source device via its headphone or line-out jack using the 3.5mm stereo plug. When in place, the audio content from the source device is transferred in to the cassette player’s audio electronics using a simple inductive-coupling process between the head installed in the cassette adaptor and the player’s head.

Even if the tape player ended up being mechanically defective typically by “chewing-up” tapes, the cassette adaptor was still able to work. This is because it is not reliant on tape that is at risk of being pulled out of the cassette.

As well, the same arrangement was able to work with home or portable cassette equipment like boomboxes or low-end “music centre” stereos by enabling its use with other audio sources. This was more important as the omission of a line-level audio input was seen as a way to cut costs when designing budget-priced equipment.

How did these cassette adaptors become respected audio accessories?

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A cassette adaptor being used to play a smartphone’s audio through a car cassette player

At the time this device was introduced, the cost of a car CD player was way more expensive than what a Discman-type portable player would cost and these car CD players were out of the league for most people. It was also a reality that if a person installed a car CD player or any other advanced car-audio equipment in their car during that time, they had to pay more for their vehicle’s insurance coverage and, perhaps, install a car alarm in their vehicle. This was because of a high frequency of “smash-and-grab” car break-ins where the advanced car-audio equipment was stolen from the vehicle.

For that matter, I had made sure that if I bought a Discman-type portable CD player, I would buy one of these cassette adaptors as an audio accessory for that unit. Gradually, consumer-electronics manufacturers offered Discman players with a car power adaptor and a cassette adaptor as accessories that came with the unit.

During the 1990s, the in-car CD changer became popular as an original-fitment or aftermarket car-audio option. This setup had the user place CDs in to a multiple-disc magazine which was installed in a changer unit located in the back of the car. Then the user controlled this unit using a radio-cassette player that has the ability to control the changer with the sound from the CDs emanating from the speakers associated with that unit.

But a portable CD player along with the cassette adaptor ended up being useful as a way to play another CD in these changer-based setups without having to swap out discs in the changer unit. This approach became relevant if, for example, you bought a new CD album and are eager to listen to it or have temporary use of a friend’s car but want to run your own CD-based music without worrying about discs you removed from the changer’s magazine.

The rise of MiniDisc and file-based MP3 players and, in the USA, satellite radio assured the continual relevance of these cassette adaptors as a way to play content hosted on these formats using your cassette-equipped car stereo.

Infact I was following an online discussion board about the MiniDisc format and one British member of that board, who was in a position to buy a new car, preferred a vehicle with a lower trim-level rather than a premium trim level that he could afford. In this case, the vehicle builder offered the cheaper variant of the car with a cassette player as its car-audio specification while the more expensive variant had an in-dash CD player as its only car-audio option. This is in order so the forum-participant can continue listening to MiniDiscs in the car with their MD Walkman player and cassette adaptor.

Different variants of these cassette adaptors

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

There have been some variants of the cassette adaptor existing with one unit being an MP3 player that work as a stand-alone portable player along with units that worked as Bluetooth audio endpoints. This included one of these adaptors being a Bluetooth handsfree with a microphone module that was linked by wire to the cassette adaptor itself in order to facilitate phone calls or voice-assistant operation.

The Bluetooth cassette adaptors will become very relevant with newer smartphones as these forego the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Here, they use a Bluetooth link between the smartphone and the cassette adaptor fir the audio link. Let’s not forget that the ordinary cassette adaptor can be used with a full-on Bluetooth audio adaptor equipped with a 3.5mm stereo output jack on the unit itself rather than a flylead that plugs in to a 3.5mm AUX socket.

How are they relevant nowadays?

These cassette adaptors still maintain some relevance in this day and age primarily with vehicles built between the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s being welcomed in to the classic-car scene. This is very much underscored by the Japanese cars of the era acquiring a significant following amongst enthusiasts.

That same era saw the concurrent rise of the audio cassette as a legitimate mobile-audio format and car cassette players of that era represented a mature piece of in-car audio technology. Here classic-vehicle enthusiasts are preferring to keep working cassette players, preferably the original-specification units, in these newly-accepted classic vehicles. This is also about keeping the vehicles as representatives of their generation.

Similarly, there are a significant number of vehicles built from the late 1990s through the 2000s, especially in the premium sector or at higher-cost trim levels, where an integrated audio system with a CD player and cassette player is fitted in them by the vehicle builder. Here, these vehicles don’t necessarily have any auxiliary input for other audio sources and it is hard to fit aftermarket equipment in to these vehicles without doing a lot of damage to their looks and functionality.

These devices have effectively converted a car cassette player’s tape-loading slot in to an auxiliary input so other audio devices can be used in conjunction with these players especially on an ad-hoc basis.

Conclusion

The cassette adaptor has highlighted the fact that some accessories do still remain relevant to this day and age and has stood the test of time.

Product Review–Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Introduction

When Creative Labs launched the Stage Air desktop soundbar, they were positioning it as a single-piece soundbar to exist on your desktop under your computer monitor. This is in the same vein as those soundbars or TV speaker bases that are connected to larger TV sets to improve their sound. This unit isn’t just a desktop soundbar but able to work as a portable Bluetooth speaker thanks to it having its own battery power.

I then organised to review one of these desktop soundbars to find out how they perform as a desktop computer speaker system or portable Bluetooth speaker and am now reviewing one of these units.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar speaker

Price

The Unit Itself

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$79.95

Form Factor

Single Piece soundbar

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Analogue Inputs 1 x 3.5mm stereo line input
Digital Inputs Bluetooth 4.2 A2DP wireless connection
Network
Bluetooth A2DP with AVRCP

Speakers

Output Power 5W per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 2 speakers in one cabinet 2 x full-range speakers
Enclosure Audio Qualities Use of one passive radiator

The unit itself

Setup and Connection

Creative Labs Stage Air connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

Connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

The Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar sits just under my monitor properly and would be able to fit under most of the monitors or all-in-one computers easily. The connections are in a recessed space on the back of the speaker with a 3.5mm stereo jack for your computer, a USB Micro-B power connection and a USB Type-A connection for use with a memory key full of MP3 audio files.

The controls are located on the right-had-side of the speaker with the power / source button located on the right near you. Here, you press this button until the lamp on the front turns green to use the line input connection for your computer sound.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar controls on right side - Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

Controls on right side – Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

To use it as a Bluetooth speaker, you would press this source button until the lamp turns blue. If no device is paired to this unit, the light will flash and the speaker will announce an invitation to put your Bluetooth host device in to pairing mode to complete the setup.

To have the speaker work with a new Bluetooth device. you would need to hold down the  Bluetooth-icon button to start the pairing process. This may be a procedure you need to do whenever you want to have it work with a new Bluetooth device and there is no knowledge of whether the Creative Stage Air soundbar can work in a multipoint fashion supporting multiple Bluetooth devices.

Useability

It is easy to tell which input source you are using by the colour of the front light – blue for Bluetooth and green for line-in. As well, the voice prompts for the Bluetooth setup process make it easy for new users to enrol a new device with the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar.

Initially adjusting the volume may be confusing with the + button located towards you and the – button located away from you where you may be used to setups that have buttons in the reverse order. But you can still feel the controls to identify which ones they are when adjusting the volume from the speaker.

Network Performance

While I was using the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar with my smartphone as a Bluetooth speaker, I noticed that it didn’t take long to pair up with the smartphone. As well, there wasn’t any jitter in the sound while I was playing music using the Bluetooth connection.

Sound Quality

What really shows up with a speaker system is its sound quality including whether it is too bassy or too brittle in the sound.

Firstly, I had run some audio content from my smartphone and from the computer with it coming across with a tonal quality that has a rich bass sound and a treble sound that is bright enough. It can cope with bass-heavy electronic dance music and yield the appropriate amount of “punch” in that music.

I have played some video content through my desktop PC and have found that the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar does treat the audio mix properly. This is to assess how a speaker or headphone setup can handle speech, sound effects and music with it affecting its prowess for viewing video content, playing games, engaging in videocalls or similar activities.

The speech comes across clearly with male voices having a deep rich sound. The sound effects come across with some authenticity, something I had noticed while watching an episode Julie Zemiro’s Home Delivery on ABC iView with the sound of the car engine whenever they went anywhere. It is while the music in the video content contains the right balance of clarity and depth. I also watched an episode of a police drama and found that some effects like the gunshots had that bit of punch in them, something that would be of importance when playing a lot of first-person shooter games.

Achieving the right amount of bass response for a small area is facilitated using a passive radiator which is like a speaker driver but not driven by the amplifier circuitry. This was used in some “ghetto-blaster” designs to increase the bass response in a power-efficient manner and is commonly used on many Bluetooth speakers for the same purpose.

As part of testing speaker setups, I take the volume setting up to as high as it will go before I notice any clipping or distortion in the sound. This is to identify how powerful the amplifier circuitry really is and I could take it up all the way without it distorting.

The sound output would really be loud enough for close-up listening at your computer desk or to fill a small area while there is still a rich tone.

Other issues

The unit can run on its own battery for what would be expected for a portable Bluetooth speaker but if you are using it regularly with a computer, I would have it work with a USB power supply.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One design improvement I would like to see is the implementation of USB Audio as an audio pathway for this device. This is rather than just using the USB Micro-B port for providing power to the speaker. It would then mean that one cable can be used to provide sound and power from the host computer to the speaker rather than using another connection method like Bluetooth or line-level analogue for that purpose.

Similarly, Creative Labs could move towards using USB-C for power and audio connections especially where more computers are being equipped with this connection. It can also lead to them evolving the Stage Air desktop soundbar towards an elementary USB hub function especially where laptops and small-form desktop computers are being equipped with fewer USB connections.

Other alternative connections that can be looked at include the use of an HDMI or DisplayPort input and output connection so that the speaker can be connected between a host computer and a monitor that uses one of these connections and you want to use the “display audio” function that is part of the host’s graphics infrastructure.

The side controls could be made easier to identify by touch so you can know which one is which quickly without looking at them. This could be through raised O, + and – symbols for the power / source and volume buttons or through other means. It is because most of us may he simply used to using the speaker’s volume controls to quickly raise and lower the volume of our computers.

If Creative wants to support playback of file-based audio content from a USB Mass Storage device, they could have the Stage Air also work with other file codecs, especially FLAC and AAC. This is more so as these codecs, especially the FLAC codec, gain traction as higher-quality alternatives to the MP3 audio codec.

As well, if the Stage Air desktop soundbar is to live under that monitor or all-in-one’s screen most of its working life, I would recommend the use of a headphone jack or Bluetooth headphone support. This would avoid the need to swap out the speaker cable for your headphones when you want to connect them to your computer.

Conclusion

I would position the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar as something that can serve as a portable Bluetooth speaker or as a single-piece alternative to a modest two-piece desktop computer speaker setup. It can also include improving your DAB+ or Internet radio’s sound output, something you may want to do with a small unit that has a headphone connection on it.

But you may find that its sound output is more so for use in the office or at home where you aren’t placing value on a heavy bass response.  The idea that the Stage Air is battery powered may come into its own when you are travelling and want something powerful enough to fill a small room like your average hotel room with music from your laptop, smartphone or a portable audio device. This is while it doesn’t take up much room in your luggage.

On the other hand, if you place value on stronger bass response, most of the three-piece desktop computer speaker setups with a dedicated active subwoofer may answer your needs.

Major improvements expected to come to Bluetooth audio

Article

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

The Bluetooth connectivity that the Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar benefits from will be improved in an evolutionary way

The future of Bluetooth audio: Major changes coming later this year | Android Authority

My Comments

One of Bluetooth’s killer applications, especially for smartphones and tablets, is a wireless link between a headset, speaker or sound system to reproduce audio content held on the host computing device.

At the moment, the high-end for this use case is being fought strongly by some very determined companies. Firstly, Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are competing with each other for the best active-noise-cancelling over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that you can use while travelling. This is while Apple and Sony are vying for top place when it comes to the “true-wireless” in-ear Bluetooth headset. It is showing that the Bluetooth wireless-audio feature is infact part of a desirable feature set for headphones intended to be used with smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Let’s not forget that recently-built cars and recently-made aftermarket car-stereo head units are equipped with Bluetooth for communications and multimedia audio content. This is part of assuring drivers can concentrate on the road while they are driving.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

.. just like headsets like this JBL one

But this technology is to evolve over the second half of 2019 with products based on the improved technology expected to appear realistically by mid 2020. Like with Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies, the host and accessory devices will be dual-mode devices that support current-generation and next-generation Bluetooth Audio. This will lead to backward compatibility and “best-case” operation for both classes of device.

There is an expectation that they will be offered at a price premium for early adopters but the provision of a single chipset for both modes could lead towards more affordable devices. A question that can easily be raised is whether the improvements offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio can be provided to current-generation Bluetooth hosts or accessory devices through a software upgrade especially where a software-defined architecture is in place.

What will it offer?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

… like with the upcoming generation of smartphones

The first major feature to be offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio technology is a Bluetooth-designed high-quality audio codec to repackage the audio content for transmission between the host and accessory.

This is intended to replace the need for a smartphone or headset to implement third-party audio codecs like aptX or LDAC if the goal is to assure sound quality that is CD-grade or better. It means that the device designers don’t need to end up licensing these codecs from third parties which will lead to higher-quality products at affordable prices along with removing the balkanisation associated with implementing the different codecs at source and endpoint.

A question that will be raised is what will be the maximum audio quality standard available to the new codec – whether this will be CD-quality sound working up to 16-bit 48kHz sampling rate or master-quality sound working up to 24-bit 192kHz sampling rate. Similarly, could these technologies be implemented in communications audio especially where wide-bandwidth FM-grade audio is being added to voice and video communications technologies for better voice quality and intelligibility thanks to wider bandwidth being available for this purpose.

Another key improvement that will be expected is reduced latency to a point where it isn’t noticeable. This will appeal to the gaming headset market where latency is important because sound effects within games are very important as audio cues for what is happening in a game. It may also be of benefit if you are making or taking videocalls and use your Bluetooth headset to converse with the caller. Here, it will open up the market for Bluetooth-based wireless gaming headsets.

It will also open up Bluetooth audio towards the “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction applications where multiple endpoints like headsets or speakers receive the same audio stream from the same audio source. In these use cases, you can’t have any endpoint receiving the program material reproducing the material later than others receiving the same material.

A key application that will come about is to implement Bluetooth in a multiple-channel speaker setup including a surround-sound setup. This will be a very critical application due to the requirement to reproduce each channel of the audio content stream concurrently and in phase.

It will also legitimise Bluetooth as an alternative wireless link to Wi-Fi wireless networks for multiroom audio setups. As well, the support for “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction will appeal to headsets and hearing-aid applications where there is the desire to send content to many of these devices using a high-quality wireless digital approach rather than RF or induction-loop setups that may be limited in sound quality (in the case of induction-loop setups) or device compatibility (in the case of RF setups). There could even be the ability to support multiple audio-content channels in this setup such as supporting alternative languages or audio description. In some cases, it may open up a use case where transport announcements heard in an airport or rail station can “punch through” over music, video or game sound-effects heard over a Bluetooth headset in a similar way to European car radios can be set up to allow traffic bulletins to override other audio sources.

A question that can be raised with the “many-endpoint” approach that this next-generation Bluetooth-audio technology is to support is whether this can support different connection topologies. This includes “daisy-chaining” speakers so that they are paired to each other for, perhaps a multi-channel setup; using a “hub-and-spoke” approach with multiple headsets or speakers connected to the same source endpoint; or a combination of both topologies including exploiting mesh abilities being introduced to Bluetooth.

Conclusion

From next year, as the newer generations of smartphones, laptops, headsets and other Bluetooth-audio-capable equipment are released, there will be a gradual improvement in the quality and utility of these devices’ audio functions.