Archives for November 1996

Massenburg Labs Adopts New Large-Market Strategy

Van Nuys, CA. George Massenburg, founder of George Massenburg Labs (GML), has announced that he is reorganizing his company to focus on new marketing, manufacturing and product support initiatives.

At the recent AES ’96 show in Los Angeles, Massenburg Labs introduced two new outboard modules, a parametric EQ and a digital noise filter, in keeping with the new strategy.

“These new products were entirely market-driven,” says Massenburg. “We just listened to what engineers asked us to make.”

The GML 9500 Dual Channel 5-Band Parametric Mastering Equalizer is an all-discrete design, similar to the SML 8200, will known for its detail, transparency, and headroom, as well as its broadly overlapping EQ bands. It differs from the 8200 in that all of its controls a fully detented, with frequencies accurate to 0.5% and levels to plus/minus 0.10dB. This makes the new unit ideal for tasks that require precise control and resetability, such as mastering. The 9500 fits a 3U 10″ rack space, and it will be priced at $9,500 (US). It will ship in the first quarter of 1997.

The GML 9550 Digital Noise Filter is also a rack-mount unit, supplied with a desktop controller. It’s a two-channel processor with digital I/O in AES/EBU, S/PDIF and Toslink optical formats. 8 front-panel controls adjust the threshold for each of eight bands from -96dB to 0dB. The 9550 was developed jointly with the Walt Disney Company, originally intended for enhancing sound in film post production, particularly the removal of noise from archival sources. It has specific applications in the restoration of deteriorated sources in music production, but it is also suitable for general removal of low- and medium-level noise artifacts. the 9550 is priced at $9,500 (US), and it is available now.

As well as introducing new products, GML has geared up to ship all of its established niche products in larger volume, including the 8200 EQ, the 8900 Dynamics Controller, and the HRT 9100 Mixing System. While beefing up the retail channel, GML will continue to upgrade its console automation systems, and carry on with custom product development for major pro audimanufacturers.

“Reorganization at GML is intended to better serve the industry,” says Massenburg. “We’ll have more new product announcements to make in the very near future.”

Aureal and VLSI Offer Full HRTF-Based Binaural Surround Sound for PC’s

Las Vegas, CA. 3D Audio is attracting a lot of attention at the COMDEX Fall’96 exhibition (Nov.18-22) in Las Vegas. The playing field is getting cluttered, as chip manufacturers and audio technology labs step up to grab a share of the add-on sound card market, which is projected to 160 million units by the year 2000.
[SoundBlaster Logo]

The Sound Blaster® standard developed by Creative Labs dominates the PC sound card market today, with about 70% of the installed user base. Most of Creative’s competitors are pitching “3D” sound of some form, supported by Microsoft’s DirectX and DirectSound API’s, to differentiate themselves from Sound Blaster’s dominance (the DirectSound API provides a hardware abstraction layer so developers don’t have to write hardware-specific code).

3D audio comes in several flavors. The standard implementation of 3D PC sound involves enhancement of the stereo field as heard through two speakers, and COMDEX has offered a look at new implementations of this approach from several companies, including Yamaha, Philips, Chromatic Research, S3, Oak Technology, SRS, QSound, and the Sound Blaster folks themselves (with “3D Positional Audio” on the new AWE64 series cards).

At the high end you get binaural simulation (requiring headphone listening for best results) of fully spherical sound localization. This requires complex realtime filtering of the audio signal based on detailed measurements of actual hearing response in the ear. For several years, this has been the domain of extremely expensive DSP systems: for example, a professional system introduced earlier this month at the AES Convention in Los Angeles by Central Research Laboratories (UK) was priced between $40K – $85K (US) depending on the I/O configuration.

At COMDEX, two manufacturers are demonstrating chips that offer HRTF-based spatialized sound for low-cost sound cards.

Aureal Semiconductor won good reviews for the sound quality of its chip set when it was demonstrated at the AES Convention, and the company is getting a similar response from the less-discriminating (audio-wise) audience at COMDEX. The chip set features Aureal’s ASP301, an optimized DSP engine that provides the company’s Aureal 3D (A3D) spatialization and accelaration support of the DirectSound API; and the ASP311 PCI bus interface chip. The chip set is positioned as an OEM upgrade to existing Sound Blaster cards.

A3D was originally developed under NASA funding, for use in flight simulators, and later developed commercially by Aureal subsidiary Crystal River Engineering (as the Convolvotron™). The 301/311 combo is capable of processing up to 32 DirectSound audio streams simultaneously, and up to eight independent 3D sound sources. Aureal is currently shipping reference design boards and samples, with production chips scheduled for February 1997.

Also at COMDEX, VLSI Technology Inc. introduced its SongBird 3D™ DirectSound Accelerator chip (VL82C829), featuring VLSI’s ActiSound™ positional 3D audio. Like the Aureal chip, this one functions as part of a set. The main SongBird processor is the DSP HRTF engine, with interfaces to Dolby AC3 and MPEG audio processors, plus a separate AC’97 codec made by Sigma Tel.

SongBird also comes with an audio hardware developer’s toolkit called SoundSuite™ (developed by EuPhonics Inc.). SoundSuite is supplied with DirectX drivers for the SongBird chip, supporting the Microsoft DirectSound API. The firmware provides 3D audio positioning, spatial enhancement, DVD audio decoding, wavetable synthesis, audio effects, and Sound Blaster compatible music synthesis.

A SoundSuite development environment is available now, and chip samples will be available in early 1997. The processor will be available in production quantities in the 2nd quarter of 1997, priced at $25 in lots of 10,000.

Shockwave, Audioactive, Capitol Records and George Clinton… Together At Last!

Los Angeles, CA. George Clinton, Capitol Records New Media, Macromedia and Telos Systems are ganging up to offer a live audio cybercast concert tomorrow evening (Nov.21).

Capitol New Media will use Telos’ Audioactive technology to deliver the cybercast of Clinton’s “Live From the Mothership” concert in live Shockwave audio over the Internet, direct from the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. The webcast begins at 8:15pm (PST), at the Macromedia web site.

Macromedia Shockwave, one of the leading standards for Internet multimedia, has been combined with Audioactive to provide the highest quality live audio on the web. The combined system delivers live audio via MPEG2 Layer III compression, encoded in realtime by Telos Systems hardware. Surfers can hear the webcast using the standard Shockwave plug-in with their favorite web browser. Macromedia claims that 12 million Shockwave plug-ins are in use.

Developers Get Added Support: Brian Eno Leads the Way

Creative also paid due attention to the all-important producers and developers, without whom the new hardware features won’t mean a whole lot to many consumers. The company will release a range of tools for developers, including API’s, hardware and software. The developer tools will provide support for DOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 environments.

Leading the way in creating new application capabilities for Sound Blaster, Creative’s COMDEX booth was showing off composer/producer Brian Eno’s “Generative Music 1,” a real-time computer-generated composition for the PC that creates evolving musical pieces each time it is played. Creative’s cards with the EMU8000 music chip (AWE series) are the only sound cards capable of supporting Eno’s piece, composed with SSEYO Ltd.’s Koan Pro authoring software.

Eno used the software to construct a set of automatic controls for more than 150 musical and sonic parameters supported by the AWE cards. “The works I have made with this system symbolize to me the beginning of a new era in music,” said Brian Eno. “Like live music, it is always different. Like recorded music, it is free of time-and-place limitations: you can hear it when you want and where you want.”

Software Upgrades for Current Owners

Not wanting to leave its user base of 30 million Sound Blaster owners out in the cold, Creative also announced at COMDEX that it will offer software upgrades to current users. The upgrades will be made available at retail, directly from Creative, and from Creative’s web site “Creative Zone”.

A trial version of the upgraded technology, called NetSynth, will be available from the web site in December. The plan is to make the new technology widely accessible to all PC users in order to raise the standard and broaden the installed base of Sound Blaster enabled users.

Upgrades for Sound Blaster 16 users will offer Creative WaveSynth, adding 32-note polyphonic wave synthesis and an effects engine. For Sound Blaster AWE32 owners (or SB32 with added RAM), the upgrade will also include the Sondius WaveGuide technology, effectively bringing