Forty years after Sony introduced the Walkman, the scoring of our younger lives with its own unique soundtrack often brings back sentimental memories: red-foamed headphones, pockets full of spare batteries and the game-of-reaction-time that was taping songs from the radio (thankfully, home taping didn’t kill music).
Unsurprisingly, nostalgia strips out the bad bits – from the utter dismay of finding a painstakingly-constructed mixtape chewed up by an ill-adjusted tape head to how muddy and lacking in audio clarity those recordings were.
Yet while Gen-Z embraces the cassette as the latest hipster curio (36,000 tapes were sold in the first half of 2019, 4,000 of these by 17-year old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish) those of us raised on a diet of tape hiss, trashy treble, muddy midrange and wheezy bass are rather more willing to embrace just how far the fidelity of personal audio has come.
Today, devices and the audio experience they enable have dramatically changed – and continue to enhance – the way we listen and interact with sound for the better. One company that has been pioneering this change since 1992 is Waves Audio, a developer and supplier of professional and consumer DSP (digital signal processing) technologies.
An average consumer won’t go through a day without being touched by Waves technology. Whether it’s helping produce hit records, improving voice intelligibility for smart homes, delivering immersive 3D audio for AR/VR and gaming, or turning one’s laptop into a cinematic surround sound system, Waves has spent almost 30 years improving audio, voice, and speech experiences with its intelligent adaptive audio tech.
The Arm Blueprint team recently sat down with Waves Audio’s EVP and GM, Tomer Elbaz, to learn more about the industry-leading provider of smart technologies for professional audio production and consumer electronics…
How do you define success at Waves?
At the heart, we’re musicians and engineers with a combined love for audio and sharing it. We knew the right software could improve audio and democratize it. We replaced racks of expensive gear with plug-ins, giving countless artists what they needed to create. We then evolved those technologies from the studio and into the home. Reaching more consumers furthered our original idea of success.
Today, success is collaborating with device makers to deliver great audio experiences. Success is helping these manufacturers overcome challenges using tools we refined to inspire generations of artists and producers. Success is seeing how that collaboration is connecting consumers to the music they love and the people they care for. Success is the next algorithm we haven’t yet invented to make the sound in all of our lives better.
Not long ago one of those algorithms was Waves Nx, which delivers immersive 3D audio experience for gaming, VR/AR, voice communication, and entertainment. Nx is forever changing the way device makers and consumers perceive audio. It epitomizes our idea of success and how it drives us.
How are you currently using Arm in your solution?
The wide adoption of Arm Cortex-A processors has enabled us to deliver our portfolio to a broad variety of customers. In addition, we hope that the rapid growth of the Internet of things (IoT) market and its wide adoption of Cortex-M based platforms will present us with opportunities to offer even more advanced audio solutions.
Since Arm processors are used in such a broad range of devices, we have implemented them to overcome acoustical challenges to improve the audio experience from smartphones to smart speakers.
The recent improvements to Arm processors, which includes the SIMD instructions, Neon, and floating point add-ons, have offered us the opportunity to keep pushing the envelope on advanced algorithms that were previously only possible to run on stationary devices with significant computing power.
Arm’s constant advancements have made it possible for Waves to continuously challenge the boundaries of what was thought possible on consumer platforms. We’re especially excited to be a key ecosystem partner for the latest signal processing technology – Arm Helium – for future Cortex-M processors.
Can you summarize any results about how much time or money you have saved a customer, due to your products?
Mainly, we save our customers time and money by offering partners real-time custom tuning with instant feedback versus time-consuming hardware re-designs that may or may not work. In addition, our algorithms are perfected to overcome the acoustical challenges device makers face to meet modern industrial design expectations.
We offer optimum acoustic performance through our tuning experts and proprietary technologies for various designs to vastly reduce design cycles, iterations, resources, and therefore time and money.
What do you think is going to be the most significant change for the industry in the next 5 years?
Audio is on the rise. Voice assistance is the most revolutionary user interface since the touchscreen: think just how many people you know today with an Amazon Echo, using Alexa multiple times per day. In the next five years, our intelligent technologies will be integral for voice assistance-based artificial intelligence (AI), not only for smart speakers, but for hearables, wearables, and other “in-your-ear” devices.
Within five years, picture a future where consumers will safely navigate and communicate while driving, walking, exercising, or working with all the information they now have on their smartphones but in their ear, where only a whisper is needed to interface.
Picture a future where audio is a user-centric data-driven experience tailored specifically for each and every individual. In terms of spatial audio and how we integrate Waves Nx, picture a future where immersive audio doesn’t just mean imitating real life, it means better than real life.