Tag: USB Audio

USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

Windows 10 answers the problem of system sounds playing through that good sound sound system

This arrangement documented here will work with Windows 10 computers running the April Update (Build 1803) version of that operating system or newer versions.

I have just applied the latest feature update to my Windows 10 installation on my regular computer and it has come across with a feature that most of you will want to benefit from when you use your computer to play audio or video content.

This feature update called Windows 10 April Update or formerly Windows 10 Spring Update (Build number 1803 in the System dialog) implements the ability to determine which sound device a program uses. Some Win32 (traditionally-developed) programs, namely well-bred media editing and management programs or VoIP programs have the ability for a user to determine which sound device they want that program to use. But the Web browsers, along with Spotify or TuneIn Radio and most of the Microsoft Store apps don’t offer this ability.

HP Elitebook 2560p playing through Naim DAC-V1 USB DAC

Windows 10 April Update allows the speakers in this USB-based audio setup to play only the music while the audio alerts play through the laptop’s integrated speakers

This means that you could set things up so that the system sounds like that Windows error “ding” or the email alert sound don’t blast through the good sound system but play through the cheaper speaker setup like your laptop’s speakers. It is while Spotify or that other audio program plays through the good speakers or hi-fi system. Similarly, you may want that YouTube video or the game you are playing to have its sound come through your big TV’s speaker but don’t like the idea of the Windows audio prompts being a distraction by barging through those speakers.

Praise and worship at church

You can set things up so that the playout computer doesn’t play Windows audio alert sounds through PA systems like this church’s setup

This feature will be essential for those of you who use your computer with a PA system as an audio/video playout device and end up using baseline software that doesn’t offer the ability to manage the audio devices the software plays through. Here, you avoid having those PA speakers “magnifying” the audio prompts that Windows makes when a dialogue box pops up or new email comes in. Similarly, you could then have one audio-output device like headphones or low-powered speakers serve as a “cue” device that you use to verify or line-up the content you want to

Sound devices that you can send an app’s sound output through

play before you have it playing through the main speakers.

How do you go about this?

You would need to make sure that your computer is running with another sound device that is attached to the good sound system. This could be a separate sound card, USB sound module or DAC, or a Bluetooth audio adaptor. If you have the computer connected to a sound system equipped with Bluetooth, USB or similar audio functionality, you have effectively set up the secondary sound device. It also applies if you have connected it to the big TV or home-theatre setup using an HDMI cable.

Identifying the sound devices

Then you identify the two different sound devices – the one that you want as your “primary” device for monitoring audio prompts that Windows provides and the “secondary” one you want your multimedia content to play through.

The sound functionality that is built in to a laptop computer or a desktop computer’s motherboard will typically be represented by something like a Realtek, Intel HD Audio or similar chipset name. In most cases, this integrated-sound chipset serve the internal speakers in a laptop or a pair of cheap computer speakers connected to the audio sockets on a desktop computer’s motherboard.

Sony STR-DN1060 home theatre receiver press picture courtesy of Sony America

If you connect your computer to your monitor or TV through one of these home-theatre receivers using the HDMI connections on these sets, you will be using the separate HDMI audio subsystem facilitated by your computer’s graphics infrastructure for the sound that comes through the receiver

Display setups connected to your computer via HDMI or DisplayPort that have audio abilities will have those abilities seen as an audio function of the display infrastructure. Some of these cases like Intel integrated graphics chips will properly refer to the arrangement as “display audio” or “HDMI display audio” due to the function being separate from the computer’s main sound chipset. This arrangement also holds true if you are connecting HDMI audio devices like soundbars, HDMI audio adaptors and home-theatre receivers between your computer and your display using the HDMI cable.

Let’s not forget that USB or Bluetooth devices that use the Windows audio-device class drivers will still identify themselves by their device or chipset make and model. This is to avoid confusion that can exist if you connect multiple USB or Bluetooth audio devices to the same host computer.

Configuring your setup

Go to Settings (the gear icon in your Start menu) and click on the System option. Then click on the Sound menu on the left of the System menu page. Make sure the current sound device is the primary one that will drive your laptop, monitor or other cheaper speakers. Then click on “App volume and device preferences” to bring up the menu to determine which speakers Spotify or your other multimedia app will use.

If you added a new audio output device to your computer, Windows will automatically assume it is the default audio device. Here, if you want this device to be the secondary device, you would have to use the above-mentioned Settings – Sound panel to select the primary sound device to be the default device.

In my setup, I used my LG monitor which has an HDMI link and built-in speakers but yields laptop-quality sound as the primary sound device while a Motorola Bluetooth audio adaptor connected to an older boombox serves as the secondary sound device. Because I am using a traditional desktop PC, the Bluetooth link is facilitated through a USB Bluetooth modem.

Windows - System - Sound menu for app-based audio device selection

Spotify set up to play

Next to the app you wish to direct the sound output for, click on the drop-down box in the Output column. At the moment, this will say “Default”, but use this to select the output device you want to have the app come through such as the USB DAC or Bluetooth speaker.

Here, I tested the setup with a Win32 app in the form of the Windows Media Player and it does work properly even though that program provides the ability for users to determine the sound output device that they use. Then I tried it with a UWP (Microsoft Store) app in the form of Spotify’s Windows 10 port and this worked reliably. Subsequently, I also found that this setup worked with Google Chrome when playing a YouTube video. Through these tests, I made sure that the Windows sounds were playing through the primary speakers.

You may have to run totally different browsers if you want the sound from one Webpage to pass through one device while the sound from another Webpage passes through another. This can be of concern if, for example, you are running a YouTube playlist or something similar as background music while you are playing a Web-based social-media game.

Going back to normal operation

To get back to your normal settings, click the “Reset” button in the “App volume and device preferences” window to have all the sound sources work through your default devices.

You may find that some media content may stop if you switch audio devices while it is running. If you do use this ability to maintain a “cue” device and a “main” or “front-of-house” device for playout purposes, you will have to pause the media file before you switch audio devices or simply restart the media content after you switch.

Other abilities

There is the ability to determine which input device an app uses which can be good for Web-based, Microsoft Store or similar apps that don’t provide an option for you to choose which microphone device you are to use. This can come in handy if you want to use a more accurate microphone with Cortana, courseware apps or baseline notetaking apps rather than your 2-in-1’s built-in microphone.

In this case, you choose the Input device you want to use for each program or Web browser rather than choosing the Output device.

What improvements could be provided

This feature could be taken further through the use of a “Default Multimedia Audio Device” definition that is expressly used for media-player software and/or a “Default Game Audio Device” definition used for games.This could then allow a user to have an audio device work as the one to use for multimedia or gaming purposes while another is used for the system sounds. It can then lead to the ability to create an “audio device ladder” for each audio device class where connection of certain audio devices like headphones, HDMI-equipped TVs or USB DACs overrides other audio devices in a particular order.

Another issue that will crop up with this new ability that Windows 10 April Update provides is sending different audio content to different “jacks” served by the same audio infrastructure. It may come about through cheaper computer designs that only have one audio chipset for HDMI, internal-speaker and audio-jack output rather than allowing for a separate audio function that is part of a graphics infrastructure to support HDMI digital audio.

Conclusion

Now you are able to make sure that your Windows computer’s multimedia software can play through the speakers that would suit it best without having the various audio prompts that the Windows shell or office software creates blasting their way through those speakers.

USB Audio 2.0 now supported in Windows 10 Creators Update

Article

HP Elitebook 2560p playing through Naim DAC-V1 USB DAC

Windows 10 Creators Update now provides native support for USB Audio 2.0 to allow these devices to run at their best out of the box when connected to a Windows PC

Confirmed: Windows 10 now supports USB Audio Class 2.0 | GadgetGuys

My Comments

For those of you who run highly-strung USB audio hardware like pro-quality USB analogue-digital interfaces or those audiophile-grade USB digital-analogue converters, the latest version of Windows 10 offers something for you.

It is to provide native driver support for USB Audio 2.0, the second version of the USB Audio device class that handles sound over the USB bus. These audio devices work independently of the USB physical connection type therefore they could work with a USB 2.0 connection, the higher-speed USB 3.0 connection or the USB-C connection. This version can handle higher-definition master-grade audio beyond the 24-bit 96kHz digital-audio specification. It also can natively handle the DSD files that started off with SACD discs and are another way of distributing high-definition master-grade audio content.

This improvement to the USB Audio standard was supported natively by MacOS and Linux but wasn’t supported by Windows. Instead, people who wanted to get the most out of their USB DAC or USB audio studio hardware had to install a driver file that was supplied by the USB audio device’s manufacture, either through a CD or USB stick supplied with the device or something to download from their Website.

Now if your computer is running Windows 10 Creator’s Update, it will be a simple plug-and-play install process to have Windows Media Player or Tidal coming through that USB DAC. But this is facilitated through the Windows DirectSound or WASAPI software-hardware audio paths.

The drivers that will come with your device may offer a highly-strung experience such as to work via higher-performance audio APIs other than the two previously-mentioned paths. As well, they may offer a control panel that allows you to better manage how the sound is handled.

Similarly, there may be other drivers that map the USB audio device’s control surface to Windows 10 in a manner more consistent with the manufacturer’s functionality expectations for that device. Examples of this may include mixing desks and DJ consoles with media transport buttons.

For manufacturers who design highly-strung USB audio devices, there is less of a requirement to write up and maintain software drivers for these devices. This can same them money and focus their R&D efforts on improved sound quality.

Hooray! Your Windows computer now can work out of the box with that USB-connected premium audio device with the full sound-quality expectations.

Product Review–Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset which is a USB-connected gaming headset designed by SteelSeries on behalf of Dell.

This is a practice that a lot of manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the computing and consumer-electronics game have been involved in where they ask someone else to design and make the product to be sold under the client’s name. Infact, most of the Japanese consumer-electronics names had engaged in the practice themselves, either making “white-label” products for other companies to sell under their own labels or being the companies who called on others to design and build products.

One of the ways you would know that this headset was a SteelSeries design was the speaker cloth on the earcups had the label “Acoustics by SteelSeries” written on it. As well, I had a look through the product documentation and it required me to install the SteelSeries Engine software to be installed on my computer so I could gain more control over the headset.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Price

RRP: AUD$99 / US$49.99 / GBP£66.76

Shop Now – US / Australia / UK and Europe

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (covers the ear completely)
Driver Enclosure applies to circum-aural or supra-aural designs
Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in left earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Gaming
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Mic Mute

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Wired path USB Audio via Type-A
Supplementary adaptors None

The headset itself

Dell AE2 Performance USB HeadsetThe Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is designed like most circum-aural headsets and implements the USB bus as its way of connecting to host devices. As to appeal to the gaming community, each earcup has a glowing white ring which illuminates when you have the headphones plugged in to your computer. But, as I have said later on in the review, you can determine whether this glowing occurs or not or what colour is used thanks to a configuration program called SteelSeries Engine.

I have done most of the reviewing of this headset without using the SteelSeries Engine control software, which would represent requirements where you can’t or don’t want to add extra software to your computer to gain more out of these headphones.

Connectivity and Functionality

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

How the Dell AE2 headset connects to your computer

The Dell AE2 Performance Headset connects to USB-equipped computing devices using its USB Type-A connector and presents itself to them as a USB Audio input and output device. Windows 10 was able to even identify this headset as headphones and give this device priority over existing default audio devices like integrated speakers in a monitor or laptop. The headset has a maximum rated power draw of 150mA which means it shouldn’t place much demand on your laptop’s battery power as well as being able to work comfortably on a four-port bus-powered USB hub being used by input devices.

I had tried using this headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone by connecting it to the phone via a USB OTG cable. Here, it would work as a USB Audio device but I had found that this functionality didn’t extend to communications tasks like using the phone. Here, I would communicate with the caller via the smartphone’s speaker and microphone rather than through the Dell USB headset. The USB-based audio device as a mobile-phone accessory is becoming a reality thanks to USB Type-C connectivity and manufacturers doing away with the 3.5mm audio jack on their phones.

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen for Dell AE3 Performance USB headset

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen – graphic equaliser, DTS surround sound, etc

You can run the SteelSeries Engine 3 software on your Windows or Macintosh computer, which effectively allows you to gain more control over the headset. This program offers a DTS Headphone 7.1 surround decoder for headphone applications, a five-band graphic equaliser, a microphone-optimisation program along with the ability to control the lights on the earcups. You could even have the lighting change colour based on games events which works for some games thanks to API hooks that SteelSeries have published for game studios to use.

This program works properly as advertised and you don’t need to have it running all the time you use the headphones, which can be a boon for those of us who use laptops while on battery power.

Comfort

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - SteelSeries motif

SteelSeries design highlighted in earcups

These headphones are very comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time thanks to the circum-aural design and the fact that your ears are not touching anything hard. As well, they don’t feel sticky after that long time of use because of assuring some airflow around the foam surrounds.

Sound Quality

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is able to handle music in a similar manner to most circum-aural headphones by being able to put up some good bass response. It was also able to work well with the vocals and other instruments but you may experience a bit of reduction of higher frequencies – it is not really something with hi-fi credentials for listening to detailed music.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - glowing ring on earcups

Glowing ring on earcups

I have also tried these headphones with some video content in the form of watching an Inspector Morse episode (Sins Of The Fathers) from a DVD using my desktop computer. Here, the dialogue came across very clearly and I was able to hear the sound effects distinctly with the added bass response doing some justice to certain effects like the rumbling heard in the brewery that was part of the story. There were a few brewery scenes in that same show which represented a sound presentation not dissimilar from what would be expected from a lot of action-based computer games with people traipsing around the factory, the rumbling of machinery and the music score, with the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset handling them very well.

I had placed a call using Skype to someone I know and they had noticed that I was able to come across very clearly with the headset while I was able to hear them very clearly. The Dell AE2 headset can earn its keep as a communications headset for VoIP softphones and similar online calling platforms, especially if they implement high-quality voice codecs.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

The Dell AE2 headset offers a significant amount of noise reduction which can be a boon for those of us who are commuting or working in a noisy office. It may not be as effective as active noise cancellation but can suit most of us in these environments.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One of the problems that will need to be answered with these USB headsets is for all mobile operating systems to treat them as headsets when they are connected to mobile devices.

Another desirable feature would be to have a hardware switch on the headset that turns the lighting on and off so you can be able to reduce your laptop’s battery drain when you run them and avoid the need to run a configuration program to achieve this goal. As well, headsets of this kind could benefit from a volume control on the earcups that controls the host system’s volume using the standard USB protocols.

Similarly, Dell and SteelSeries could implement a USB Type-C detachable connection so that they can be provided with a detachable cable allowing them to last longer by allowing you to replace damaged cables. This would also cater towards the newer USB Type-C direction as more of the computers come with this connection.

Conclusion

Personally, I would position the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset more as suitable as a general-purpose computer headset for applications where you want to hear your computer software’s audio privately but are not expecting to pay attention to how music comes across through them. This is rather than just as something for chatting during games or hearing games effects privately and intensely.

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset also represents a newer trend for headphone construction where there is emphasis on “digital to the earpiece”, which can open up many points of innovation like optimised sound or active noise cancellation. The USB connectivity allows for this to work for wired-headset setups including allowing the host device to actually power the headset.

Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

Gibson releases high-quality fun-looking mics to go with your computer

Article

Gibson Wants Your Desktop Mic To Sound Better and Look Sleeker | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Neat Mics (Gibson)

Product Page

My Comments

Gibson, associated with making and enjoying music in many ways has brought out a colourful high-quality USB microphone which is pitched as a companion to your desktop or laptop computer or Android tablet.

This company, known for the Les Paul electric guitars has encompassed many music and audio brands like Baldwin pianos; TEAC, TASCAM, Onkyo and Integra audio equipment, Epiphone guitars and Wurlitzer juke boxes. They also integrated Neat Microphones who focus on microphones pitched for computer use.

The Neat Widget range of desktop microphones are built around a stylish retro-future look but are also about a high-quality sound for that podcast or Skype videocall. These microphones implement pop filters to handle sudden volume jumps and connect to your computer via a USB cable or your Android phone or tablet via the USB cable and a USB OTG adaptor, presenting itself to your device as a USB Audio device. This avoids the need to mess with many different preamps and cables to get them running.

The Neat Widget microphones come in green, red and blue and sell for US$99 from the “usual suspects”. They can be of benefit of you are wanting something better than a laptop’s or tablet’s integrated microphone or want to kit out your traditional desktop computer with a microphone other than the condenser microphone built in to that Webcam.

Sony enters the network CD receiver market as part of their new home AV lineup

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Sony Europe

Sony’s expanded High-Resolution Audio line-up brings you musical clarity you’ve always dreamed of (Press Release)

My Comments

Sony MAP-S1 CD receiver courtesy of Sony

Sony’s new entry to the CD-receiver scene

Sony had launched some newer hi-fi components in to the European market including the STR-DN1050 and STR-DN850 surround-sound receivers and the BDP-S7200 optical disc player which can play SACDs or Blu-Ray Discs. All of these can be part of the home network by implementing at least DLNA functionality and access to varying online-content services with the receivers even supporting Bluetooth and AirPlay functionality.

But what drew my attention to this playlist was Sony climbing on to the high-quality network-enabled CD-receiver bandwagon by offering the MAP-S1 CD receiver. These are systems that have a CD player, broadcast-radio reception, amplifier functionality and, now. access to network-hosted and online content like Internet radio but are optimised for high-quality sound. They take on the spirit of the late-1970s music centre or cassette receiver (casseiver) where a very good unit of this class could offer what a baseline component-based hi-fi system of the time offered in both sound quality and functionality.

Previously, I had given a fair bit of space to the network-enabled CD receiver, including my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 as well as a fair bit of commentary about this product type in my coverage of the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013. This is due to the “lifestyle audio” product class becoming more relevant as the small elegantly-furnished apartment becomes more relevant especially for those of us whose children have flown the family nest.

This product is different from their CMT-series micros systems due to the idea of users being optimised for high sound quality. One of the factures was that a user could supply their own speakers for this system or they could purchase a pair of Sony high-grade bookshelf speakers and use them, very much like Onkyo’s FR-435 CD/MiniDisc “music-centre” system.

The Sony MAP-S1 offers the network connectivity for DLNA, AirPlay and access to online music services like Spotify and Internet radio, and also offers the ability to work with Bluetooth smartphones using the NFC pair / connect functionality and the aptX codec. As well you can have it become a USB DAC/amplifier for a computer thus exploiting the high-resolution audio content available for download if you host that on a Windows or Mac regular computer.

One question that can be raised with this class of network-capable AV equipment is whether the equipment will support dual-band wireless networks whether using 802.11n or 802.11ac technology. Similarly, there will also be the issue of network and online functions not being available with developments that offer “headline” Wi-Fi Internet that implements Web-based login. In these situations, the Sony MAP-S1’s Bluetooth and USB Audio functions would come in to their own when it is used with a regular computer or mobile device to “pull in” online music services including Internet radio.

As more of these network-capable CD receivers come on the market and yield the high-quality sound, especially from mainstream as well as boutique AV-equipment manufacturers, a compact hi-fi system for that apartment or house could be about buying one of the CD receivers and buying or resurrecting from the garage a pair of good hi-fi speakers.

Managing multiple sound devices in Windows

A common situation that will face most of us who use Windows or Macintosh regular computers is the issue of dealing with multiple sound-output devices with these computers.

There are examples of this such as:

  • USB speakers with a laptop

    USB-driven hi-fi speakers with a laptop

    Desktop or laptop with regularly-used sound system (integrated speakers, desktop speakers served by installed sound card or integrated sound subsystem)

  • A hi-fi-grade “USB DAC” connected to or integrated in a hi-fi amplifier or home theatre receiver for high-quality sound reproduction.
  • Bluetooth speakers, headsets, and audio adaptors or AV equipment that has Integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality as I have covered in another article.

    Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

    A Bluetooth speaker that could be an extra speaker for a laptop

  • A media hub or “jack pack” in a hotel room that works with a flat-screen TV installed there, or a home theatre receiver or flat-screen TV that is connected to the computer via HDMI or DisplayPort
  • Virtual-sound-card programs like Airfoil or Jamcast that use network-connected devices as a computer’s sound card.
In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

But you can have problems with these kind of setups. Some programs like Windows Media Player, Skype or some games may allow you to determine the sound-output device they use but you may have to switch the default sound device you are using to suit most programs like Web browsers and Spotify where you can’t determine the sound-output device for the program. A few of the games may allow you to run a headset from a separate sound device for online game chat or voice recognition.

Similarly, a computer’s audio subsystem may have different output or input connections such as a line-out jack or an SP/DIF jack on a good sound card or an integral microphone and an audio-in jack on a laptop’s sound subsystem. These can be listed as separate sound devices depending on the device driver in place.

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices in Windows – the one with the green tick is the Default Device

Microsoft Windows from version 7 onwards allows you to determine two “default sound devices”:

  • Default Communications Device, which defines devices you would use for VoIP, video telephony and similar applications
  • Default Device, which covers all sound-output needs including music, video, games and system notifications as well as communications sound.

The idea behind this setup is that you could have a device like a mono Bluetooth headset or not-so-good speakers like your laptop’s speakers being used by a softphone application while a pair of good speakers or a hi-fi system is used for music playback or game sound-effects purposes.

It is feasible to determine a device as being a Default Communications Device or Default Device in the context of recording or sound-capture only. This is achieved in the Recording Devices menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon.

Selecting a Default Device in Windows

Right-click sound menu

Pop-up menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar

Windows 8 and 8.1 users will need to use the Desktop view rather than the Modern tiled view to select the Default devices.

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar
  2. Select Playback Devices
  3. You will see a list of audio output devices on the screen
  4. Right-click the device you intend to use and select Default Device or Default Communications Device depending on your needs.

How do you cope with temporary devices?

A temporary device like a Bluetooth headset or HDMI-connected TV is one you wouldn’t be connecting to your computer all the time.

Here, you make your temporary device the “Default Device” when you start using it. What happens when you disconnect the device, whether logically or physically, is that the computer will fall back to the sound subsystem it last used before you connected the temporary device.

Bluetooth devices

A computer will remember all Bluetooth devices that have been paired with it previously but those that aren’t logically connected to the computer are listed as “disconnected” devices.

If you use a Bluetooth device between multiple source devices, you will have to make sure you disconnect it from the existing source device before you logically connect it to your PC. Some source devices like iOS devices may require you to “unpair” the device rather than logically disconnect it. Then, when you want to use that source device with your Bluetooth device, you have to connect it or pair it again.

Bluetooth headset as two devices

A Bluetooth headset or other device with A2DP and Hands-Free functionality is represented as two devices

A Bluetooth headset, car Bluetooth subsystem or other Bluetooth with A2DP audio playback and hands-free / communications-headset functionality will be listed as two sound devices – a Headset device which represents its communications functionality and a Headphones device which represents its A2DP music-playback functionality. Here, once you have logically connected the headset, you make the Headset device the Default Communications Device if you just intend to use it as a communications headset for VoIP and similar applications. On the other hand, you make the Headphones in that device the Default Device when you want to play music and other audio content in private and this also makes the Headset in the same physical device the Default Communications Device.

Sony devices with NFC have simplified the process of connecting and disconnecting by allowing you to touch the source device to the output device to connect or disconnect them. But this may only work with computers that have the NFC functionality in them.

To connect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has introduced a “connect / disconnect” routine to Bluetooth audio devices so you can properly connect and disconnect these devices without having to go through a pair-up routine.

  1. Make sure the device is logically disconnected from your phone or other source devices and is paired to your computer or set up your Bluetooth device to work in Multipoint mode.
  2. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  3. Select “Playback Devices”
  4. Right-click on the device you want to connect
  5. Select “Connect” to connect the device to your system
  6. Once it says “Connected” under the device’s icon, right-click on the device and select “Default Communications Device” or “Default Device” to suit which of your computer’s sound output will come through that device.

To disconnect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  2. Select “Playback Devices”
  3. Right-click on the Bluetooth device you are currently using
  4. Select “Connect” to disconnect the device from your system

What can be done here?

Allowing a user to class certain devices as “temporary” devices or “permanent” devices.

A common situation that can happen here is the use of temporarily-connected devices like Bluetooth headsets, USB DACs or HDMI connections. Here, a user could class these as “temporary” devices and the computer determines them as default audio or communications devices when they are connected.

But when they are disconnected, the computer falls back to its “permanent” devices such as its integrated speakers or regular desktop speakers.

Other “default sound device” classes for audio-video playback, games or system notifications

It could be easier to implement an application-specific “default sound device” for applications beyond communications. Here, it could be feasible to implement an application class for audio-video playback or gaming so that you could make sure that system notification sounds don’t play through the hi-fi speakers for example but you have Spotify playing through those speakers.

A Tile or Charm on the Modern view for selecting sound output devices.

The Windows 8 Modern view a.k.a. Metro view could benefit with an option directly selectable from that interface for managing the sound devices. This could be in the form of a Modern-View app downloadable from the Windows Store that puts up a dashboard for managing your sound input and output devices.

Repost–USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

I am reposting this to make sure that the link to the product review is working properly for RSS, email and Facebook subscribers

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.

USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.