3D audio headphones claim to be first wearable home theatre sound system

24-04-2015 | Nordic | Design Applications

Nordic Semiconductor has announced that further to a successful Kickstarter campaign, French start-up 3D Sound Labs is employing Nordic nRF51822 Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) to provide Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth low energy) wireless communications to smartphones and tablets in its Neoh 3D audio headphones that start shipping in June. The Neoh headphones are claimed to produce a truly immersive, 3D spatial sound using the company's binaural algorithms (3D sound over headphones) that use advanced 9-axis motion-sensing (comprising gyroscopes, accelerometers, and a magnetometer) to track even the smallest of micro-movements of the user's head. 3D Sound Labs says nobody remains completely motionless while watching a movie and compensating for the tiniest movements is paramount as the brain uses those micro-movements for sound localization. This means that in the Neoh headphones the sound field remains static even if the wearer moves their head (e.g. looks right or left) just like in a conventional cinema or home theatre sound system. The Nordic nRF51822 SoC is used to send the motion sensors' data to a free partner Neoh player app running on any Bluetooth Smart Ready smartphone or tablet (a laptop computer version is under development). Audio reproduction has evolved from mono (one speaker or 'channel') through stereo (two channels) and later into the original surround sound format used for film soundtracks: Dolby Pro-Logic. This comprised left and right stereo channels, a centre 'speech' channel (primarily used for on-screen dialogue), and mono rear channels used to produce 'surround' sound effects. 3D Sound Labs says this further evolved into 5.1 offering five separate surround sound channels (i.e. the rear channels are stereo rather than mono) plus a dedicated channel for a bass subwoofer (represented by the '.1' in 5.1); 6.1 (the rear stereo channels get an additional centre mono channel; and the latest 7.1 (the rear channels are split into two sets of stereo channels) formats; not to mention some upcoming 'true' 3D audio formats that promise even more channels for an even more realistic sound experience. With the Neoh 3D headphones, all these sound formats are 'converted' via complex audio signal processing done on a free partner smartphone or tablet Neoh player app (a laptop version is due for release soon) that, according to 3D Sound Labs, produces a 360 degree sound field of up to 30 unique channels so that the sound feels like it's really moving around the user and perceived to come from any distance or direction. "This not only creates a truly astonishing real life-like surround sound experience that is superior to any current home theatre sound system, it is also for the first time truly portable and can be taken and enjoyed by the user anywhere, anytime," said 3D Sound Labs co-founder and VP of product and operations, Dimitri Singer. "And what's great is that this immersive experience is also available for video games, and potentially gives the user an incredible tactical advantage by improving their perception of the gaming environment and giving them quicker and better reactions to game events." The Neoh 3D headphones are powered by a 3.7 V lithium-ion rechargeable battery and can run for at least 18-hours between recharges (about 12 movies). Singer says that 3D Sound Labs selected the Nordic nRF51 Series as it was able to meet its ultra low power requirements and offered the best compromise in terms of both hardware and software footprint including an embedded ARM Cortex M0 core that was able to run not only the Bluetooth Smart protocol stack but also 3D Sound Lab's application software. "Having worked with many semiconductor providers I have been amazed by the dedication of the Nordic Semiconductor team and how hard they work to provide truly best-in-class service to their customers," added Singer. "Every business and technical support issue we have ever had has been taken care of in a timely manner, with great efficiency. This has freed us up to focus all our energies on developing the best product we possibly can for our customers."

By Craig Dyball