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3D headphones said to be first wearable home theater sound system

April 24, 2015
Oslo, Norway. Nordic Semiconductor today announced that in furtherance to a successful Kickstarter campaign, French startup 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 his or her head (for unstance, looks right or left) just like in a conventional cinema or home theater 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 center 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-channel version, 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 center 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° 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 theater 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 said that 3D Sound Labs selected the Nordic nRF51 Series as it was able to meet its ultralow 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.”



About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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