From The Editor's Desk: Enhanced Audio Quality Frontiers
This edition of audioXpress offers a glimpse into an extremely important transition that is currently pushing the entire audio industry forward. In two complementary Market Update articles, we've tried to cover the technology and development platforms for true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds and hearables, as well as exploring examples in voice recognition and transcription (voice-to-text) and voice communication. There are multiple product and market segments for these emerging technologies and that is why we devoted two Market Update features, even if the underlying technologies are converging.
We are extremely honored to have two exceptional contributed articles from two relatively new technology companies in the voice and DSP space, addressing these emerging technologies and diversity of applications. First Jean-Marc Luneau, an audio DSP engineer and co-founder of 7 Sensing Software, discusses expanding voice communications and the frontiers of augmented audio in TWS earbuds. And Vikrant Singh Tomar, the founder and CTO of Fluent.ai, explains how his company is taking voice recognition even further by focusing on user recognition, personalized responses, and even addressing multilingual challenges. Both articles perfectly illustrate the exciting perspectives for their respective fields of research.
It was tempting to move full speed ahead and address the cutting-edge areas of voice engines and conversational AI, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and all that is propelling these disciplines in audio. We also had to resist the temptation of digging deeper into fascinating areas, such as advanced audio processing for active noise cancelling, exploring all the perspectives in spatial audio applications, and the potential implications in augmented reality and automotive applications, but we will address these topics in future editions.
All these new technology advances are moving the audio industry into a remarkable expansion, now employing more people and attracting more professionals to audio then ever. In 2019 that expansion was already clear, but it was remarkable to see how it has accelerated throughout the pandemic, with these new product categories now leading in consumer electronics. TWS earbuds and voice-enabled products (including smart speakers) are selling more units per month, quarter, and year, than practically all remaining audio product categories added together. The global smart speaker install base is forecasted to reach 640 million by 2024 (Canalys), while the number of TWS earbuds and hearables will grow to more than 970 million also by 2024 (Juniper Research).
As the mass adoption of wireless earbuds and smart speakers reaches new heights—precisely at a time when people's mobility is severely restricted—those concepts are just going to evolve and expand when we are able to return to traveling and freely visit public spaces again.
While being forced to stay at home longer, we all had to adapt to using new communication tools and create new ways of socializing and networking. And those new habits will carry on with us in the next few years, as we transition to new hybrid working environments and work from anywhere.
Certainly, no one wants to go back to offices as they were before, or to spend more time at home as mobility opens up. Which means taking our new technologies—that helped us all get through the pandemic — to new environments as we embrace more remote work.
In any given circumstances, I am confident that most people will now be more discerning regarding audio quality, and how technology delivers the impression of being closer together, no matter where we are. We will all be less willing to accept restricted quality in return for convenience or reliability.
The next few years will be about taking audio technology to new levels of quality, mobile, wireless, everywhere. Maybe just not defined according to former standards.
To design those audio products, countless more professionals will be involved. A new generation that believes as strongly in great audio quality but are now focused on working on completely new product categories and form factors. And while we have extremely talented people involved in advancing these emerging technologies, we cannot lose track of the essential audio knowledge. Now more than ever, the audio industry needs to engage the experience of audio industry veterans to help this growing number of professionals push their efforts forward, without the need to repeat past mistakes. We need to familiarize a new generation of professionals with the accumulated audio knowledge, and it is particularly important to involve people with a living memory of past research efforts. And that makes our work at audioXpress feel more important than ever.