Blending hardware and software for better audio

Article By : Nikhil Rathod

Optimizing both hardware and software is essential to deliver quality sound systems but the complexity of state of the art audio systems makes implementation difficult.

There’s no doubt that as technology gets smarter and more sophisticated, product applications become smaller and thinner. Take TVs or laptops, for example – the expectation is wider and thinner, to the point where they are so slim that it’s hard to integrate quality sound systems. Yet, as voice increasingly becomes the preferred interface, audio is more important than ever. So how do you meet the requirements and price points for consumers, while still delivering on the quality sound they are used to and demand?

The blending of hardware and software to improve audio within products is the answer, but it’s complicated to implement. The current state-of-the-art in audio transport and rendering, as well as voice capture and processing, has a highly complex operation involving many layers of hardware and software. Making matters more complicated, as microphones and speakers become smart, we must also provide true software innovation that enhances sound, reduces noise, EQ’s automatically, and more.

PCs are a great example of this need. No longer does a PC only need to have great sound, but also needs to be a conferencing system that provides 360 audio, which has to be solved by the integration of mics, speakers and software. The issue we run into, though, is that end user expectations are for both a thinner device while having better audio. As PC sizes shrink, so does space for audio components. To improve audio through spatial surround sound in these systems, audio tuning tools like Harman Embedded’s AudioEFX combine multiple audio algorithms with optimization features to enable audio that meets end user expectations.

Harman AudioEFX is suite of algorithms, each defined as a block that Harman Acoustics engineers can use to create a unique signal flows for each different application. While designing this flow, Harman engineers take care of how much memory and power is required for that application. In particular, for portable products, these engineers work to reduce power as much as possible to improve the battery life.

Using Harman AudioEFX, Harman engineers can achieve up to 50% improvement in audio output performance from existing hardware, while offering a wide range of adjustments to audio quality without distortion and lower power consumption.

With software integration into hardware, it’s possible to achieve significant improvement in frequency response, bandwidth and linearity, which can be seen in the graphs below. As shown in the top graph in Figure 1 below, it is clear that when the PC is measured in the lab, frequency responses are above the limits, which leads to distortion in audio. However, after tuning using Harman AudioEFX, the sound is optimized through multiple audio algorithms packages as shown in the bottom graph in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Computer speaker measurement playback frequency response — before (top) and after (bottom) tuning. (Source: Harman Embedded Audio)

Another example is in the television market. All new TVs are smart TVs, and as they get thinner and smarter, audio quality is hammered. According to future source market data, 60% of Americans still rely solely on sound coming from their TV, which means the audio issue of not having enough space within the device itself needs to be solved from within.

Using software is one solution. Additionally, it is possible to solve this problem through hardware within the TV. Audio systems design needs to take a variety of things into account, such as diaphragm size which needs to meet the loudness and frequency response, motor design, motor power simulation for heating and suspension design for stiffness and maximum excursion. In order to have the best audio experience, though, both this software and hardware can be combined to improve audio quality.

Each product application will have a unique hardware and software solution depending on your goals, consumer demand and ultimate end use of the product. It’s important to approach challenges with a holistic methodology and keep this in mind during the design process so that you can achieve maximum acoustical performance from the transducer and adjust accordingly. Whether it be within your PC, TV or other piece of equipment, you can still have great sound quality no matter the size of the device.

This article was originally published on Embedded.

Nikhil Rathod, Product Leader at Harman Embedded Audio, is a hardware and software innovator committed to helping people realize the full potential of technology. He has over 12 years experience envisioning, developing, and managing mass-market technology solutions with a passion for defining viable solutions and exceptional user experiences. He holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from California State University, Northridge.


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