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The voice technology marketing revolution

MATT LANG

For those skeptical of the impact that smart speakers and voice assistants will have on the future of consumer technology and marketing, the numbers are not on their side. An August 2018 studyof over 1,000 U.S. consumers done by Adobe shows that 32% of consumers now own a voice-enabled smart speaker device and they predicted that by 2019 that number would rise to nearly 50% due to holiday sales. Additionally, December 2018 datafrom NPR and Edison Research states that there are 118.5 million smart speaker devices in U.S. homes, a 78% increase from the year prior. This trend isn’t confined to the U.S. either, similar growth can be observed at a global market level with Canalys reporting137% year-over-year growth in worldwide smart speaker shipments.

That’s a lot of smart speakers. This new era of voice-enabled devices and their rapid adoption signals a major shift for the digital world and consumer interaction models. Brands choosing to sit on the sidelines may think they’re waiting for the right time to apply market learnings, but they are actually setting themselves up to lose in the long-run. In order for your brand to win now, there are four areas that need to be taken seriously before it’s too late.

Building Brand Visibility through Voice Search

A few years ago, Gartner projected that 30% of search will be done via voice by 2020. Since then, ComScore has increased that estimate to 50%. Furthermore, at the beginning of 2018 Alpine AI estimated that there are over 1 billion voice searches per month already happening. The trend started with mobile voice search capabilities, was accelerated by the adoption of smart speakers, and looks to be here to stay.

Voice search is different than traditional keyboard-based search and brands that want to win here need to adapt. Major differences include thinking about conversational phrasing in content and prioritizing long-tail keywords. For now, smart speaker devices and their AIs are still learning and seeking out authoritative sources or experiences to provide users when asked certain questions. Brands that act now to develop a Voice SEO strategy, provide answers and surface in voice-driven queries will reap the benefits in the long-run.

Owning Your Brand’s RTBs through Voice Experiences

Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions, or “Voice Apps” as some call them, are a powerful way to connect users with your brand today. In an August 2017 study, Google found that a significant amount of smart speaker users were interested in receiving content from brands through voice including both promotions and utility such as tips and information. This is in line with what Amazon has found as well. At the latest AWS re:invent conference, Alexa Chief Evangelist, David Ibitski, sharedthat nearly 4 out of 5 U.S. Alexa customers with an echo device have used a 3rd-party skill and that customers engaging with 3rd-party skills have increased 150% year-over-year.

With more than 50,000 Alexa skills and over 1 million Google Actions available, brands need to be sure their experiences stand out. Aside from targeted promotion and discovery efforts, brands should be thinking about how best to service their customers in voice-first contexts. In fact, in September of last year Alexa’s VP and Head Scientist, Rohit Prasad, hinted thatskills as we know them will eventually be going away. Even today, Alexa and Google Assistant will point users to experiences from search if there is merit to do so. The new frontier will be focused on intelligently routing users to experience based on questions and personal data vs. having to locate, enable and invoke a new “app” every time. When your audience needs assistance or information, make sure your brand is there with a well designed experience to greet them (and their platform’s AI).

Enhancing Your eCommerce Practice with Voice

Commerce has been a controversial topic in the voice world. As The Information has found, the transactional volume generated by smart speakers is off to a slow start. However, projections indicate that voice shopping will increase to $40 billion over the next four years and that 18% of consumer expenses will be processed via voice in the next three. From a retail perspective, a 2019 playbookfrom RetailMeNot, Inc. reports that 16% of Americans have made a purchase through voice and that “96% [of] retailers are investing in [voice] technology to allow consumers to shop for their brand on smart home speakers.” An encouraging signal that sales volume is coming is that, in addition to some users completing purchases, many are turning to their devices for top-of-funnel product research and discovery.

Even if the market today is small, getting ahead of the game is critical for brand success. Currently, if your product becomes a top recommended item by one of the voice AIs, it islikely to stay there. In the immediate landscape, optimizing your product listings and improving visibility online with key retailers will help, but preparing for voice commerce will require brands integrating commerce across all voice-enabled channels. Brands that do this will find that a short-term investment leads to long-term advantages.

Supplementing the Smart Home Market with Your Brand

In parallel to the smart speaker market boom, the smart home space has exploded with expected device salesof 41.2 MM units in 2018, an increase of 43% YoY. Many, if not all, of these devices are (or will soon become) voice-enabled through the leading AI platforms. Alexa is already present in 20,000 device sand growing while Google is making their assistant available in 10,000 smart home devicesto-date, including new multimodal devices such as their Google Home Hubproduct. Amazon continues to lead the way having announceda slew of new Alexa devices recently including clocks, an automobile add-on device (which hadover 1 million pre-orders), speakers, subwoofers and even a microwave. Given Alexa’s big holiday sales boostand Google’s CES 2019 announcementsgeared toward smart home device manufacturers, voice is going to continue playing a large part in the new home experience.

Brands have an opportunity to use their voice experiences and voice-first content to target smart home applications. The challenge will be on them to educate users on when and where they want users to engage with their experiences, but the infrastructure and consumer behavior development is already well underway.

These four areas of focus can provide brands coverage in the early days of voice strategy execution, but they should be considered holistically. For example, a strong voice search presence will not only help build up brand visibility, but it will develop brand authority with the assistant AIs which could lead to more users discovering experiences or being exposed to ecommerce content. The more people that use the technology, the more connected your strategy will become. The battlefield is set and brands that move first to optimize their voice strategy for search, experience, commerce and the IoT will emerge with a well-covered beachhead to operate from.

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Voice-over and Dubbing Defined

So what is voice-over or V/O?  Voice-over, also sometimes referred to as, “UN style,” is mostly narrative in nature, does not lip-synch and does not transmit the tonality and overall richness of what is being said in the original footage.

Dubbing, also referred to as Language Replacement, is recorded by professional voice actors and the audio track of the original video footage is mixed with the alternate language recordings of the dialogue.  Word choice is extremely important as the translated video must be synchronized with the lip movement of the actors on-screen.  The result, as compared with voice-over, is much more precise, both from translation (and ADAPTATION) of the original spoken content, as well as a technical delivery point of view.  A well- crafted dub is unnoticeable to the viewer, as it is truly an “acted” voice recording that uses sound engineering and editing to ensure true lip synching – making the original actor seemingly mouth his/her dialogue in the target language

When to use Voice-over vs. Dubbing?

So, our clients ask, “When do you choose voice-over and when do you use dubbing?” 

Voice-over is frequently utilized in news-related segments, digital learning or documentary clips that are short and where translation is the primary objective.  Why? 

  • V/O has more of a “translation” only aspect to it, with less emphasis on nuance of tone and emotive content.
  • V/O tends to work best for shorter segments of content, such as footage from in-the-field reporting, or conference proceedings where the voice-over is really the recording of a live interpreter (hence the term “UN Style”).
  • V/O, by its very nature, constitutes an additional soundtrack to the original. While this conveys “authenticity” in a reporting environment, it also risks becoming distracting for longer form content.

 Dubbing should be used when information retention is paramount:

  • Well beyond spoken words, tonality, nuance, dialect, accents etc. combine to convey a richer message. For entertainment products, such as films and performance driven videos, dubbing is in fact the only true way to capture the totality of the original content’s intent.
  • When the video content is conveying a large amount of high-impact information, such as in high impact training environments or sophisticated lectures with information intensive presentation slides, the retention of the information presented to a foreign language audience is significantly enhanced when the audience is not distracted by competing audio feeds (such as V/O) or graphic localization (subtitles). Dubbing makes the content look like it is native to the audience’s ear.

La voz en off y la esencia del cine

La voz en off es uno de los recursos cinematográficos más conocidos por todos, aunque no estuvo exento de polémica durante buena parte de la historia del cine, al considerarse un elemento “no-cinematográfico”, y más de uno defiende que “si utilizas una voz en off es porque no eres capaz de transmitir con imágenes lo que deberías, y necesitas la explicación”. Otras veces, el recurso de la voz en off es utilizado sin necesidad, siguiendo la pauta que es una máxima en Hollywood según la cual el espectador no debe pensar por sí mismo, y hay que dárselo todo bien masticado, así que la voz en off acaba redundando en lo que se está viendo.

A partir de los años 30 empezó a utilizarse con cierta asiduidad este recurso, y son recordadas películas como El cuarto mandamiento (1942), Cantando bajo la lluvia (1952) o El Crepúsculo de los Dioses (1950), que además rompió los esquemas de la época, comenzando con la muerte del protagonista, y su propia voz en off indicando que había muerto. Toda una revolución para el cine de los cincuenta.

Hay muchos ejemplos de grandes películas que incorporan la voz en off y se confirma como un acierto, como pueden ser Apocalypse Now (1979), Amèlie (2001) o, la que yo considero (a título personal) la que mejor y de manera más creativa, utiliza este recurso, como es El club de la lucha (1999). Además de ser una espectacular película, la voz en off ayuda a crear esa ilusión que rodea toda la película, citando además frases literales de la novela en la que se basa (por cierto, también considero El Club de la lucha como una de las mejores transposiciones de la literatura a la gran pantalla). Otro ejemplo, bastante acertado a mi parecer, pero tras una película que no es tan genial, sería la reciente El Gran Gatsby (2013), que también posee una voz en off con fragmentos literales de la novela original de Scott Fitzgerald, pero nos ofrece una película más encorsetada y demasiado superficial (incluso para la novela de los años 20).

En definitiva, es un recurso arriesgado, a pesar de lo instaurado que se encuentra en la actualidad, y hay bastante más ejemplos de malos usos de la voz en off que de lo contrario. Personalmente, pienso que este recurso tiene que estar justificado, como podría ser el caso de novelas escritas en primera persona y adaptadas al cine (el caso de Los Juegos del Hambre, que no termina de explotar bien este recurso), para transmitir esa cercanía con el lector/espectador.

Professional´s Voice talent.The original voice of Siri.Bank of voices

‘I’m the original voice of Siri’ Susanne bennet

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Susan Bennett says she is the voice of the original U.S. version of Siri on Apple’s iPhone
  • Apple won’t comment, but other sources — including an audio forensic expert — confirm this
  • Recordings from 2005 were used for Siri; hearing herself six years later was a surprise
  • How CNN’s Jessica Ravitz, who had never used Siri, found Bennett is also shocking

Sandy Springs, Georgia (CNN)For the past two years, she’s been a pocket and purse accessory to millions of Americans. She’s starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. She’s provided weather forecasts and restaurant tips, been mocked as useless and answered absurd questions about what she’s wearing.

Behind this groundbreaking technology there is a real woman. While the ever-secretive Apple has never identified her, all signs indicate that the original voice of Siri in the United States is a voiceover actor who laid down recordings for a client eight years ago. She had no idea she’d someday be speaking to more than 100 million people through a not-yet-invented phone.

Her name is Susan Bennettand she lives in suburban Atlanta.

Apple won’t confirm it. But Bennett says she is Siri. Professionals who know her voice, have worked with her and represent her legally say she is Siri. And an audio-forensics expert with 30 years of experience has studied both voices and says he is “100%” certain the two are the same.

Bennett, who won’t divulge her age, fell into voice work by accident in the 1970s. Today, she can be heard worldwide. She speaks up in commercials and on countless phone systems. She spells out directions from GPS devices and addresses travelers in Delta airport terminals.

Until now, it’s been a career that’s afforded her anonymity.

But a new Apple mobile operating system, iOS 7, with new Siri voices means that Bennett’s reign as the American Siri is slowly coming to an end. At the same time, tech-news site The Verge posted a video last month, “How Siri found its voice,” that led some viewers to believe that Allison Dufty, the featured voiceover talent, was Siri. A horrified Dufty scrambled in response, writing on her websitethat she is “absolutely, positively NOT the voice of Siri,” but not before some bloggers had bought into the hype.

And there sat Bennett, holding onto her secret, laughing and watching it all. For so long she’d been goaded by others, including her son and husband, to come forward. Her Siri counterparts in the UKand Australiahad revealed their identities, after all.

Everyone was clamoring to find out who the real voice behind Siri is, and so I thought … what the heck? This is the time.

SUSAN BENNETT

So why not her? It was her question to wrestle with, and finally she found her answer.

“I really had to weigh the importance of it for me personally. I wasn’t sure that I wanted that notoriety, and I also wasn’t sure where I stood legally. And so, consequently, I was very conservative about it for a long time,” she said. “And then this Verge video came out … And it seemed like everyone was clamoring to find out who the real voice behind Siri is, and so I thought, well, you know, what the heck? This is the time.”

The Siri surprise

The story of how Bennett became this iconic voice began in 2005. ScanSoft, a software company, was looking for a voice for a new project. It reached out to GM Voices, a suburban Atlanta company that had established a niche recording voices for automated voice technologies. Bennett, a trusted talent who had done lots of work with GM Voices, was one of the options presented. ScanSoft liked what it heard, and in June 2005 Bennett signed a contract offering her voice for recordings that would be used in a database to construct speech.

For four hours a day, every day, in July 2005, Bennett holed up in her home recording booth. Hour after hour, she read nonsensical phrases and sentences so that the “ubergeeks” — as she affectionately calls them; they leave her awestruck — could work their magic by pulling out vowels, consonants, syllables and diphthongs, and playing with her pitch and speed.

These snippets were then synthesized in a process called concatenation that builds words, sentences, paragraphs. And that is how voices like hers find their way into GPS and telephone systems.

“There are some people that just can read hour upon hour upon hour, and it’s not a problem. For me, I get extremely bored … So I just take breaks. That’s one of the reasons why Siri might sometimes sound like she has a bit of an attitude,” Bennett said with a laugh. “Those sounds might have been recorded the last 15 minutes of those four hours.”

But Bennett never knew exactly how her voice would be used. She assumed it would be employed in company phone systems, but beyond that didn’t think much about it. She was paid by the hour — she won’t say how much — and moved on to the next gig.

The surprise came in October 2011 after Apple released its iPhone 4S, the first to feature Siri. Bennett didn’t have the phone herself, but people who knew her voice did.

“A colleague e-mailed me [about Siri] and said, ‘Hey, we’ve been playing around with this new Apple phone. Isn’t this you?'”

Bennett went to her computer, pulled up Apple’s site and listened to video clips announcing Siri. The voice was unmistakably hers.

“Oh, I knew,” she said. “It’s obviously me. It’s my voice.”

Seeking proof

It certainly does sound like Bennett. But proving who supplied the voice of Siri isn’t easy. It’s not like Steve Jobs sent Bennett a thank-you note, or a certificate to hang on her wall.

There are others who vouch for her. But the tech world — and specifically the text-to-speech, or TTS, space — is a complicated business, one that’s shrouded in secrecy and entangled in a web of nondisclosure agreements.

Bennett is not bound by such restrictions, which is why she’s talking. But the industry has a vested interest in keeping their voices anonymous.

“The companies are competing to create the best-sounding and functioning systems. Their concern is driving revenues,” said Marcus Graham, CEO of GM Voices. “Talking about the voice talent, from their perspective, is likely seen as a distraction.”

Bennett’s attorney, Steve Sidman, can’t breach attorney-client privilege to share documents and contracts, but since he began representing Bennett in 2012 he’s been intensely aware of her connection to Siri.

“I’ve engaged in substantial negotiations — multiple, months-long negotiations — with parties along the economic food chain, so to speak, that involved her rendering services as the voice of Siri,” he told CNN. “It’s as simple as that.”

And then there’s Graham, of GM Voices, a man who has built a career around providing voiceover talent for interactive voice technologies.

I understand the importance of accuracy. Rest assured: It’s 100% Susan.

ED PRIMEAU

Graham won’t divulge details about any deals he made back in 2005. But he has worked with Bennett for 25 years, has recorded “literally millions of words with Susan” and has installed her voice with clients across the globe. He knows her voice as well as anyone, and he doesn’t hesitate when asked if she and Siri are the same.

“Most female voices are kind of thin, but she’s got a rich, full voice,” he said. “Yes, she’s the voice of Siri. … She’s definitely the voice.”

A ‘100% match’

In October 2005, a few months after Bennett made those recordings, ScanSoft bought and took on the name of Nuance Communications. Nuance isthe company widely accepted to have provided to Apple the technology behind Siri.

When CNN contacted Nuance to try and confirm Bennett’s identity as a voice of Siri, a Nuance spokeswoman said, “As a company, we don’t comment on Apple.”

Apple, too, declined to comment.

So CNN took the investigation one step further by hiring an audio forensics expert to compare Bennett’s voice with Siri’s.

Ed Primeau, of Rochester Hills, Michigan, has been doing this work for three decades. He’s testified in courts, analyzed “hundreds, if not thousands” of recordings and is a member of the American Board of Recorded Evidence. He spent four hours studying our “known voice” — in this case Siri — with the unknown voice of Bennett.

“I believe, and I’ve lived this for 30 years, no two voices are the same,” he said, after finishing his analysis of the Siri voice and Bennett’s. “They are identical — a 100% match.”

To reach his conclusion Primeau created back-to-back comparison files, lifted and listened to consonants and reviewed deliveries. He took the hiss off the Siri sound, created in recording from a phone, and dropped it into Bennett’s file.

After studying Bennett’s normal speaking voice, he was about 70% certain of the match. But once he had audio of her saying the same words as Siri, he knew his work was done. Even so, he said he asked a colleague for a second opinion.

“I understand the importance of accuracy,” Primeau said. “Rest assured: It’s 100% Susan.”

How CNN got this story

This isn’t the sort of story I’d naturally go after. Technology isfar from my beat. In fact, the first time I ever spoke to Siri was on my work phone — the kind that’s plugged into a wall jack and has a tangled cord attached to the handset.

Tracking down the voice of Siri02:17

Bennett was a voiceover artist I was interviewing for a CNN special project on the world’s busiest airport— Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — scheduled to come out next month. I was tracking down the airport’s voices, and she, a voice of Delta terminals, was one of them.

In the course of our phone conversation, I asked her to rattle off some jobs she’s had over the years. She gave me a quick and general rundown and then added that she’s done a lot of IVR work.

“IVR?” I asked.

“Interactive voice response,” she answered. “The sort of thing you hear on a company’s phone system.”

For reasons I can’t explain — I was still struggling to understand my first iPhone — I blurted out, “Hey, are you Siri?”

She gasped. And then I gasped.

“Oh my God,” I said. “You’re totally Siri, aren’t you?”

What followed was a short, panicked flurry of non-denials and non-confirmations, and a promise from me that I wouldn’t do or say a thing.

That was months ago. About two weeks ago, after the confusion over the Verge video, Bennett reached out to me. She was ready to speak as herself and set the record straight.

‘My career as a machine’

As a child, Bennett’s favorite toy was a play phone-operator system, a big red block with a receiver and lines she could patch in to help imaginary callers make their connections.

Her voice has been everywhere throughout my life. I’d call my bank while I was in college … and it was my mom telling me I had $4.

CAMERON BENNETT

Years later, while singing jingles, she was tapped to be the radio and TV voice of First National Bank’s “Tillie the All-Time Teller,” the first ATM machine. Though that was about 40 years ago, she can — and does — still break seamlessly into the high-pitched song.

“I began my career as a machine many years ago,” Bennett said. “I’m sure that you hear my voice at some point every day.”

But the way she is heard was a surprise even to her.

Music and singing had always been a part of Bennett’s life. At Brown University, she sang in a jazz band and also with another group at the Berklee School of Music. After graduating, she toured as a backup singer with Burt Bacharach and Roy Orbison. Today, she and husband Rick Hinkle — a guitarist, composer and sound engineer — still play in a band, mostly at private events.

She fell into voiceover work by chance in the 1970s when she walked into Atlanta’s Doppler Studios for a jingle job and the voiceover talent was a no-show. The studio owner looked around and said, “Susan, come over here. You don’t have an accent. Go ahead and read this.”

She did, and a new career path was born.

Bennett wasn’t always accent-free, though. She was born in Vermont and grew up all over New England. Her voice — dropped Rs and all — was “SNL”-skit ready. Can she imagine Siri as a New Englander? “Neva! Neva!”

A stint in upstate New York helped her lose the accent. By the time she arrived in Atlanta in 1972, with her first husband, former NHL player Curt Bennett of the Atlanta Flames, she was ready to fight off the Southern twang. She fell in love with Atlanta and, after that marriage ended, stayed.

Even though her voice can be heard everywhere, she’s enjoyed being out of the spotlight.

“You have a certain anonymity which can be very advantageous,” she said. “People don’t judge you by how you look … That’s been kind of freeing in a lot of ways.”

‘Part of history’

Bennett works in a sound-proof recording booth in her home, a tin of lozenges at the ready. Her voice is transmitted to the world, while she — if she so chooses — sits in her jammies, or more likely her Zumba clothes. Auditions are done by e-mail. She can grocery shop and go unrecognized.

It’s not as though her natural speaking voice, heard out of context in the produce aisle, sparks reactions.

So the idea of coming out as the voice of Siri was one she pushed aside. It probably wouldn’t have even occurred to her if not for the goading of others, including her 36-year-old son — whom she, and he, jokingly refers to as “Son of Siri.”

“Her voice has been everywhere throughout my life. I’d call my bank while I was in college in Colorado, and it was my mom telling me I had $4,” said Cameron Bennett, a photographer in Los Angeles.

He first found out she was the voice of Siri while watching an iPhone 4S commercial on TV. There, on the screen, was director Martin Scorsese talking to his mother. When Cameron bought the phone himself, she began barking at him through its GPS feature, prompting him to yell, “Mom, stop!”

“She’s part of history,” he said. “It was funny trying to explain to her how big it was. She uses her cell phone for 8% of what it can do.”

When Bennett upgraded her phone and first talked to … well, herself, she says she was a little horrified. It was weird, to say the least. But she was blown away, she said, to play a part in such a technological feat.

Being the voice of Siri, though, doesn’t mean she’s immune to the sorts of frustrations others sometimes have with the technology.

“But I never yell at her — very bad karma,” Bennett said. That said, she knows not everyone is as gracious: “Yes, I worry about how many times I get cursed every day.”

Now, though, with iOS 7 she is passing the telephonic torch to a new Siri. Bennett would be lying if she said she wasn’t a bit disappointed, but in her field of work she’s learned to expect evolution — and even revolution.

As technology improves, and the concatenation process becomes less robotic and more human, Bennett thinks anything will be possible.

“I really see a time when you’ll probably be able to put your own voice on your phone and have your own voice talk back to you,” she said. “Which I’m used to, but maybe you aren’t.”

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Maybe you are looking for a voice for your company. If so, welcome to choosevoices.com  You can choose the language you want, and if you want male or female. You can request a quote for your project with one or more voices, or request quotes per person. 

Choose between more than 74 different languages and 2000 voices from all over the woh

Male and female international professional voices  in  different language

In choosevoices are voices overs for documentaries, e-learning, audiobooks, video games…, . We work with more than 2.000 male and female voices, professional´s international voices in dubbing, interpretation , storytelling, publicity, narration..providing also the possibility of creating the project in different languages. More than 50 nationalities are available in our voice bank

Adam Audio’s first studio headphones.Voicebank.Professional´s voice overs

Adam Audio’s first studio headphones 

By Ben Rogerson

Adam Audio has rarely put a foot wrong in the monitor speaker market, and now it’s bringing its expertise to the world of studio headphones. The Studio Pro SP-5s are the company’s first cans, and they’re designed to deliver a precise and accurate representation of how your music sounds.

The SP-5s have a closed-back design and a frequency response of 8Hz to 38kHz. They utilise Ultrasone’s S-LOGIC technology; this employs spatially-arranged transducers that are designed to  create the realistic spatial imaging you’d associate with a high-quality stereo monitoring system. The result, we’re told, is that it’s easier to mix with the SP-5s than it is using standard headphones that simply point directly at the ear canal.

These headphones are also said to require less SPL to deliver the same subjectively experienced volume, which means fewer distortion artefacts and less likelihood of listening fatigue. The hope is that this will make them more comfortable during long mixing sessions.

The Studio Pro SP-5s are available now priced at $499/£499/€549. Find out more on the Adam Audio website.

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Universal Audio present Apollo X interfaces

Apollo range upgraded and expanded with X6 — the most affordable rackmount interface from UA

How do you improve on some of the most highly rated audio interfaces on the market? Universal Audio’s answer is to simply give us more of what we like. The new Apollo X range takes the successful Apollo blueprint and adds upgraded 24?bit/192kHz A-D/D-A conversion and HEXA Core UAD plug-in processing.

With a total of six DSP chips on board — two more than any previous Apollo interface — UA promise 50 percent more plug-in processing power. Meanwhile, the company say their new “elite class” converters are capable of rivaling the most expensive dedicated A-D/D-A units.

The Apollo X range launches with four models, all 1U rackmounts and all using Thunderbolt 3, or Thunderbolt 2 via an adaptor. The Apollo x8, x8p and x16 follow the existing Apollo 8, 8p and 16 formats.

The x8 (£2700) and x8p (£3240) offer eight analogue inputs and 10 analogue outputs with four and eight Unison mic preamps respectively. Designed for line-level sources, the x16 (£3780) provides 16 analogue I/O as well as stereo AES3 I/O, while the Apollo x6 (£2160) — a new addition to the range — offers six analogue ins with two Unison mic preamps plus eight analogue outs.

Interestingly, along with ADAT and S/PDIF digital I/O, the Apollo x6, x8 and x8p also feature two headphone outputs. Surround monitor capabilities (5.1 for the x6 and full 7.1 surround for the other three units) are slated for a forthcoming firmware update to all four interfaces. The Apollo X range can also be switched between +20 and +24 dBu reference level to interface with professional mixing consoles or retro analogue gear.

The Apollo X interfaces will be available very soon and we will be bringing you an in-depth review as soon as we’ve had some time with them.

Audient offer UK students 20% off interfaces

Audient have rolled out an exclusive UK Student Discount offering up to £100 off their complete range of audio interfaces for all UK students for a limited period. This deal is valid across the entire iD audio interface series: iD4, iD14, iD22 and the newest addition, iD44 until 31st October 2018.

The offer is available to those in full-time education in the UK only and can mean savings of up to £100 on the award-winning iD range. Eligible applicants simply need to phone, email or visit their nearest participating dealer and provide a photo or copy of a valid student, teacher or lecturer ID – or their educational email address (.ac or .edu etc)

“At Audient we have always had a strong relationship with education and are proud to have consoles in educational facilities all over the world,” says Audient’s marketing manager, Andy Allen. “The majority of the Audient team have graduated from audio-focussed university courses themselves, so we know how important it is for students to have access to high-quality products at affordable prices early on in their audio careers.”

All the iD interfaces are bus-powered, right through from the 2 in/2 out iD4 to the 20 in/24 out iD44 with additional console style monitor control. They all also feature Audient console Class-A mic preamps, pristine converters and a discrete JFET DI input.

“Share this great offer with classmates and friends, don’t let them miss out on this amazing, time-limited deal,” adds Andy. “With this UK student discount, those world-renowned ASP8024-HE mic pres just got even more affordable.”

Offer valid until the end of October, terms and conditions apply so click here to read full details.

Steinberg team up with Rupert Neve Designs for two new audio interfaces

Steinberg’s latest pair of audio interfaces — the UR-RT2 and UR-RT4 — are the result of a collaboration between Steinberg, Yamaha and Rupert Neve Designs.

What sets the UR-RT audio interfaces apart from others is their implementation of transformer circuitry from Rupert Neve Designs, which was specifically developed for audio interfaces. Transformer design is one of Mr Neve’s obsessions, so it’s quite the accolade to have his Rupert Neve Designs transformers — known for imparting natural compression and saturation — built in.

The UR-RT2 comes with two analogue XLR/TRS combo inputs (with a Hi-Z switch on input 1 for electric guitar), plus 2 TRS line inputs, and a headphones jack with independent level control. Meanwhile, the UR-RT4 boasts four analogue XLR/TRS combo inputs (Mic/Hi-Z on input 1/2 and Mic/Line on input 3/4), plus two TRS line inputs for a total of six inputs, as well as two separate headphone buses with individual outputs.

Both interfaces offer +48V phantom power, USB 2.0 and MIDI connectivity alongside a range of I/O options for laptop and iPad, as well as providing DSP-powered effects for zero-latency monitoring. Together with the D-PRE preamps by Yamaha and the featured Rupert Neve Designs transformers, the UR-RT interfaces deliver an “expressive sound with rich harmonics” say Steinberg.

The UR-RT2 and UR-RT4 audio interfaces will come bundled with Cubase AI DAW software for Mac and PC (64-bit only) and the Cubasis LE DAW app for iPad. The interfaces will be available from the beginning of June and will cost €399 and €649 respectively.

AI is yet to find its place in music production.Voice bank

AI is yet to find its place in music production — but it’s only a matter of time…

By Dan Daley

Miquela Sousa, who goes by the nom d’artiste Lil Miquela, has everything a record label might want in a young recording artist. At 20 or so (her Wiki page has her born in 1997), the Brazilian is a model who lives in Los Angeles, has tracks trending on Spotify, and boasts over 600,000 Instagram followers. She’s also not human — not that you could tell that from the extreme vocal tuning on her lyrically clever mid-tempo ballad ‘Not Mine’, which would barely elicit a slightly raised eyebrow from most listeners now. But otherwise, she’s about as real as anyone else with those specs. And she might be your next client.

 

AI enables Lil Miquela to respond to posts on her social media feeds, and she’s as happy as Dua Lipa, Rita Ora or Grimes to sell you merch online. And while it’s clear that Lil Miquela is a figment of CGI at the moment, she also presages another era in music production: one in which AI is a fully fledged collaborative partner, or actually becomes the process itself, with little or no human input into the mechanics of creativity.

They’re Here. They will be the future voices

Lil Miquela is the logical outcome of a process that’s already underway. It began in labs, like the IBM Watson Beat project, but quickly migrated to desktops and laptops in things like Google’s open-source Magenta and AlphaGo, which used samples of classical music as elements to create new compositions and productions. Popgun, ALICE, JukeDeck and a small horde of other AI-based interactive compositional programs are already ready at work writing songs. LANDR, CloudBounce and other AI programs are mixing and mastering songs.

Amper Music last year released an LP entitled I AM AI, which they called the first album entirely composed and produced by an artificial intelligence. (Although they generously added that “the process of releasing AI music has involved humans making signi?cant manual changes — including an alteration to chords and melodies — to the AI notation.”) Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming distribution platforms are using AI and its older cousin, collaborative filtering, to determine what gets added to the playlists that are now dominating what gets heard. In what might turn out to become a viable operational model for the collaboration between humans and AI, Spotify last year hired the founder of Flow Records, a label created to produce music composed with AI and home to ‘artist’ Skygge — actually a combination of French producer Benoit Carré and the AI program called Flow-Machines — to advise the streaming company on AI’s place in music.

It’s Not That Hard

Algorithmic audio mixing isn’t difficult. In closely controlled live-sound environments, like corporate boardroom meetings or panels at conferences and conventions, automated mixers like the Dan Dugan Speech System can sense when a mic is not being used and mute it, and can dynamically balance several microphones at once when a number of participants are speaking simultaneously. But it’s far from creating anything memorable yet. More sophisticated AI uses a neural network that can learn tasks by identifying patterns in large pools of data; the same techniques are now being trained to automatically recognise faces and objects, identify commands spoken into smartphones, and translate from one language to another.

Much of what’s happening in the algorithmically propelled music production space is focused on what’s known as production music — near-generic soundtrack-type stuff that’s used to score the millions of homemade YouTube videos out there by auteurs aware enough not to just appropriate copyrighted tracks. It already reaches a standard that music industry consultant Mark Mulligan regards as ‘sufficient’, in terms of sonic quality if not artistic excellence. It’s not quite self-awareness, but it cannot be that long before it’s going to create (and I stopped and thought for a moment after typing that particular verb) a compelling production of an aesthetically pleasing song. Given that this generation of corporations is programmed to find ways to eliminate human cost and frailty at every opportunity, and that Roy Orbison, Elvis, Billie Holliday, and Ronnie James Dio are currently on tour (their holograms, anyway), be afraid, be very afraid. Think about that next time Alexa or Siri decide what you listen to next. This is not the shuffle function on your CD player.

We’re Only Human. Is dangerous for us?

Elon Musk has said AI is more dangerous than North Korea and that it is “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization”. Stephen Hawking stated ominously that “AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization”. Those observations may be a bit overwrought, but if you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, you’re probably already anxious about your economic future. You now have way more reason to be nervous, since on-demand rides will start becoming driverless in the next few years. AI is at the root of that and scores of other disruptions to come, and music production will not be an exception.

The Silicon Valley voices behind everything from self-driving cars to autonomous delivery drones like to coo that the sectors they impact won’t hurt the workers already in them. That’s right up there with “the cheque is in the mail”. Popgun’s startup team, mainly composed of software engineers, contends that the goal of their work is to foster collaboration and “not replace human abilities”. That’s what they told elevator operators once, too.

The beauty of the last 60 years of record production was that it created music that people didn’t know they wanted. What an AI-fuelled future of music production will likely do is give people exactly what they want, before they know it, just as the data that Amazon derives from their online portals lets them give their shoppers just what they’re looking for. I’m not sure which scenario will make people happier. Serendipitous discovery, in music or in love, maybe a luxury affordable when people feel good about the world around them. When you’re wondering if nuclear war is once again an actual possibility, you may want to go with the sure thing. Who could blame you?

Should I choose small speakers for a small room? Voice bank

Should I choose small speakers for a small room?

By Hugh Robjohns

In a small, broadly cubic room, it’s almost inevitable that there’ll be strong cancellation of bass signals from your speakers. Small but high-quality speakers (such as this Neumann KH120, with a five-inch woofer), used in combination with good headphones, are likely to be the best option in such a space.

I finally have a spare bedroom into which I can put some studio gear. It’s strictly an amateur affair, with no need for the perfect setup, but I will notice even if nobody else does! I mainly work with metal, rock, and folk. The room is approximately 2.7 x 2.8 meters, with an awkward L-shape formed by a cupboard above stairs, and measures 2.35m floor to ceiling. The external walls are blockwork, and the internal ones timber-frame partitions. While I’d prefer to spend less, I could look at new or second-hand monitor speakers costing up to about £1000. Assuming I’ve treated my room acoustically and sound leakage is not a concern, what size of monitors would it be worthwhile for me considering? Needless to say, Id like them to be as large as possible, but considering the size of the room, I’m wondering if anything greater than five-inch drivers will be a waste.

 

SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: Your room is almost a perfect cube, which is the worst case from an acoustics standpoint, and there will doubtless be a noticeable lack of deep bass in the middle of the room where, inevitably, you will end up sitting.

That being the case, it ends up being self-defeating to use larger speakers — they’ll pour more low-frequency energy into space, none of which you will hear! Consequently, you’ll get better results — by which I mean more consistent mixes — if you stick with good but smaller monitor speakers, combined with decent open-backed headphones to judge the low-end. I agree that the five-inch woofer is about the right limit for the kind of space you describe. Something like the Neumann KH120 should be a good choice, as it is very impressive for its cost and size.