We get a lot of people asking us what we think is going to be happening in the world of recording during any given year. You can check out how we did with our predictions for 2018.
In this article we share our 5 audio recording industry predictions for 2019.
1. Artificial Intelligence Will Impact The Studio Even More
In the last few years we have had a taste of how A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) or Machine Learning, which is what Mike prefers to describe it as, has started to impact what we can do in the pro audio sector as well as in the home.
Leading this development in the pro audio sector has been iZotope who have been able to bring the latest machine learning technologies to bear on some of the previously impossible audio repair problems including mic rustle, wind noise, and lifting dialogue out of noisy backgrounds when they released RX 6 and RX 6 Advanced.
Then with RX 7 and RX 7 Advanced, iZotope added even more machine learning based tools…
Dialogue De-reverb - iZotope has taken the excellent De-reverb module and produced a version designed to reduce or remove unwanted reverb from dialogue clips using a machine learning based algorithm trained to separate spoken dialogue from reverberant signal content.
Repair Assistant - iZotope has taken the ‘Assistant’ technology to produce what they describe as an industry-first intelligent repair tool analyses audio to detect defects like noise, clipping and clicks, then offer three processing suggestions, each with three different intensities to help make fixes faster than ever.
Music Rebalance - Using a machine learning based algorithm, Music Rebalance performs source separation by identifying vocals, bass, percussion, and other instruments. You can then individually enhance or reduce elements of a stereo audio track, making it possible to adjust a mix when you don’t have access to the multitracks or stems.
Ozone 8 has Mastering Assistant - iZotope brought machine learning technology to the mastering world with the introduction of Master Assistant, allowing you to reach an optimal starting point for your master in seconds.
Nectar 3 has Vocal Assistant, which is a one-click custom preset creation created with machine learning technology to help a vocal fit in the mix in seconds. It is even in the budget version Nectar Elements.
Other brands are also adopting machine learning like Sonible with their smart:EQ live, which is a machine learning EQ plug-in.
You may not be aware that POWAIR from Sound Radix uses machine learning to help with perceived loudness auto makeup gain compensation.
Back to the mastering world and you can see the impact LANDR has had with services like their "album mastering" feature, which is claimed to be able to master up to 20 songs all within a single and simple online process. We pitched LANDR, Cloud Bounce and iZotope’s Ozone 8 Mastering Assistant against each other to see how they would perform and 46% preferred the LANDr result.
Just a few days ago we showed how scientists at MIT have used a machine-learning algorithm to produce “2.5D” sound from a mono recording by watching a video.
We believe that even though these features and tools from the like of iZotope and LANDR are already making a difference by helping us to do things that were not possible before, that in 2019 we predict that we will see more and more products and plug-ins harness A.I. to help do tasks that are not possible any other way or tasks that are boring and detract from our creativity.
What would you like to see A.I. help you with? Do share your thoughts in the comments section below.
2. A New Mac Pro
2019 should be the year of the long awaited new ‘modular design’ Mac Pro. There was some speculation initially that the new Mac Pro would appear in 2018, however in April 2018 Apple’s Tom Boger, senior director of Mac Hardware Product Marketing explained...
“We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community, so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product. It’s not something for this year. We know that there’s a lot of customers today that are making purchase decisions on the iMac Pro and whether or not they should wait for the Mac Pro.”
What do we know about the new Mac Pro 2019? Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, under John Ternus and works closely with Apple's engineering team.
It Will Be Modular And Upgradeable
We know that Apple is focused on issuing a Mac Pro with a modular and upgradeable design. in the press release announcing the iMac Pro they said…
“In addition to the new iMac Pro, Apple is working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest performance, high-throughput system in a modular, upgradeable design”
We can only speculate as to what is meant by ‘modular’ and upgradeable. As far as modular is concerned Mike believes that we can safely say that it will NOT have PCI-e slots. Moving onto ‘upgradeable’, what is not clear is whether this means user upgradeable or only upgradeable by Apple or by their authorised service providers. What we do know for sure is what Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said…
"We have a team working hard on it right now. We want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we're committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers."
They went on to say that the new Mac Pro would be designed to handle VR and high-end cinema production. As to form factor, some people are speculating that it will be not much more than a headless iMac Pro with Xeon processors and graphics chips with plenty of onboard flash storage and RAM and thAT upgradeability will mean things like being able to add an external GPU via Thunderbolt 3. Others are speculating that the Mac Pro 7,1 will be different to the rest of the Mac range and will have slots for things like new graphics cards and slots for upgradeable internal storage, with the Mac Pro 2019 being heavily engineered and priced accordingly. Otherwise, they speculate, why even bother making it?
When it comes to processors, we can start by taking a look at what the iMac Pro has in the way of processors. The iMac Pro is shipping with Xeon W chips, which use an LGA2066 socket and Skylake-SP architecture, coming in 8, 10, and 18 core configurations with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 48 PCI Express 3.0 lanes, and support for up to 512GB of DDR4–2666 ECC memory. In August 2017 some benchmarks surfaced, which implied the new Mac Pro 2019 could use the new Intel 7900x processors but this seems to have been squashed by wccftech in favour of the Intel i9 X Series 18 Core 36 Thread Processors, which our own Alan Sallabank suggested would make an excellent choice for a new ‘modular’ Mac Pro 7,1.
However, in December 2018 Intel announced new 10-nanometer "Sunny Cove" Xeon chips, which maybe just the job for the new Mac Pro 2019 as these chips are set to be ready later in 2019, so Apple could still release a Mac Pro in 2019 and choose to go with the latest processor chips.
The other small piece of information that has come to light is that the Mac Pro 2019 is expected to launch with a co-processor, which would likely hint at the Mac Pro 2019 being an early part of Apple’s rumoured ‘Kalamata’ initiative that could see Apple replace all Intel processors with its own chips by 2020. This has been given some more credence as Apple has apparently hired a number of ex-Intel engineers to work on these new Apple designed processor chips. That said, this won’t be in the new Mac Pro 2019. What we will see is some tasks being taken off the Intel processors onto an Apple manufactured co-processor.
We could see the Apple T1 chip, which manages the MacBook Pro Touch Bar and Touch ID and/or the Apple T2 chip, which manages the hardware security and facilitates the automatic ‘Hey Siri’ command. It could be something different, maybe a T3 chip but whatever the Apple made co-processor chip looks like, it will offload critical tasks from the Intel processors that we expect to be inside the Mac Pro 2019.
However, one word of warning, the inclusion of the T2 chip might go against the possibility that Mac Pro could be serviced by users. Apparently Apple has prevented the iMac Pro and 2018 MacBook Pro, which both use the T2 chip, from being serviced by anyone other than Apple and its authorised service providers.
When it comes to what it might look like, leaks are even less likely than with some other Apple products especially if the Mac Pro is manufactured in the US like the current Mac Pro Trashcan. This leaves us to look at concept illustrations dreamt up by designers completely unconnected with Apple.
There was the design by Germany's CURVED Labs, that we brought to you back in May 2017, then there was Pascal's speculation as to what ports might be on a new Mac Pro 7,1 that we brought you at the beginning of February 2018. One design that we haven’t shown you yet is one that has only recently surfaced from Benjamin Monnoyeur which is another angle on the modular design.
When Will It Be Released?
Now we get to when the Mac Pro 7,1 might be released. Again this is complete speculation. What we do know is that there was nothing more said about the Mac Pro 2019 at the WWDC 2018, or either of the Apple special events held in September and October 2018.
Looking back, the current Mac Pro Trashcan was announced at the June 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and released in December 2013, although it took a while to clear the back orders.
Rolling back to the launch of the Cheese-grater Mac Pro, it was announced at the August 2006 WWDC and was released within a month.
So based on that track record, an announcement at the June 2019 WWDC would be favourite to present the new Mac Pro 7,1. However, Apple has dropped a few surprises recently and so could announce a special event like they did with the MacBook Pro 2018. In addition if Apple does chose to go for the new Intel "Sunny Cove" Xeon processors that aren’t due until “later in 2019” we might have to wait until at least Autumn 2019 to see the Mac Pro 7,1.
How Much Will It Be?
When it comes to price, Apple has given us no clues,. We do have the pricing of the iMac Pro, MacBook Pro and the Mac Mini to go on, all of which suggest it won’t be cheap. The current Mac Pro 6,1 trashcan had a starting price of $2,999 for the base model and $3,999 for the larger model. We believe that we can safely say that it won’t be less than that! That said, if the new machine is going to be as different as some people suggest, we may be asked to pay a premium for the modular, upgradeable design.
Only time will tell. What do you think about the Mac Pro 7,1. Are you waiting for it? What are you looking at in terms of spec and price? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.
3. More Smart Speakers Using DSP
In 2019 we predict that we will see more ‘smart’ monitor speaker systems using inbuilt DSP to improve the sound.
We have already seen the release of a number of systems, like the Kii Three Monitors, Check out our article when we asked Do They Really Live Up To The Hype? Julian said…
“They sound jaw-droppingly amazing, the full range directional behaviour which minimises the effect of the room significantly and the optional monitor controller is a very clever device.”
If you would like to understand more about how they work they check out our interview with Kii Speaker Inventor Bruno Putzeys in which Bruno chatted to Russ about speaker design, how they interact with the room, the challenges of designing good speakers and why he ended up designed the Kii THREE Active Monitors, the technology behind them and how these concepts are implemented.
Then there has been the release of the Genelec SAM range. Check out our article on the Genelec 8331 SAM & 8341 SAM "The Ones" Studio Monitors & GLM™ 3 in which we ask “Do They Re-Write The Rule Book?” Alan Sallabank said…
“Where these monitors absolutely excel is in the imaging. As well as hearing added detail in the sounds I've noticed the enhanced detail in the placement of these sounds in the sonic stage, and stereo mixes take on an almost immersive quality as if I were listening using a discrete surround system. This excellence in imaging doesn't come courtesy of the GLM 3 correction - it's deeply embedded in the base design of the entire "The Ones" series. So if you bypass the correction you don't lose the imaging”.
If you would like to know more about the technology behind the Genelec design then check out our interview with Genelec Chief Technologist Thomas Lund, who gave us a brief overview of the concept of "Ultimate Point Source" as well as our interview with Genelec R&D Director Aki Makivirta who was kind enough to talk us through the acoustic challenges of such a design.
Alan Sallabank takes up the story…
I would certainly agree that DSP correction is taking off. However, recent designs from PreSonus and Genelec prove that you still have to get the physical design of the speaker right, before you start “correcting” your listening experience with DSP. There’s nothing worse than witnessing a correction system attempt to effect a curve that you know that your speakers can’t possibly resolve. In these kind of circumstances, I’ve witnessed correction systems simply making the matter a lot lot worse, by breaking drivers trying to resolve the impossible. Yes, let’s exploit DSP, but let’s start with solid speaker design to begin with. In this field, Genelec are truly leading the way, squeezing the proverbial quart into a pint point with their incredible four-way concentric designs in the 8331, 41 and 51 monitors. PreSonus also continue to demonstrate that you don’t need a four figure DSP correction system to get great sound from a solid, cost effective, simple front-ported design.
Julian Rodgers takes up the story…
It is clear that correction is getting a foothold at all levels of the monitor market. As we have seen at the top end Kii and Genelec offer DSP capable monitors, the DAD AX32 and the Avid version - the MTRX offer a centralised and hugely capable solution via the DAD SPQ card, which needs skill and additional tools to be used when setting it up. Companies like Sonarworks offer a software only, semi-automated approach which needs no experience to set up. Some systems Like HEDD offer speaker correction, which uses correction technology to achieve a nominally flat response in the same way as live sound products for a long time have produced systems which electronically correct the output of the speaker to a flat response before the effect of the room comes into play.
There is choice about exactly where this processing occurs. In the monitor itself, in the monitor controller or in software in the host computer and while carefully engineered monitors in a well treated room is desirable, there is a place for DSP or software correction either instead of or in addition to doing it “properly”.
4. 2019 - More Smart Virtual Instruments
Samplers are good, in fact sampling technology is better than ever with libraries using gigabytes of data, clever algorithms and scripts helping to make sampling near as dammit as good as the real thing.
But the sound of an instrument is only half the story… or some may say less than half, performance is the essential difference between a great sounding instrument and an amazing performance. Many musicians find trying to replicate the performance of a talented player difficult if not impossible, but at the same time can’t afford to hire quality talent.
Some people resort to using loops which offer both sound and performance but of course they also have their restrictions. Tempo and tone are both baked into loops and although time and pitch technology are getting better than ever but they can only do so much.
Enter smart instruments, most of us are used to products like EZ Drummer and EZ Keys but brands like UJAM are now offering this in the form of Virtual Guitarist and Virtual Bassists. In 2019 we predict that we will see more of these smart instruments that offer great sounds and performance… what’s not to like?
What would you like to see in the way of smart instruments to help you be even more creative? Do share your thoughts in the comments section below.
5. 2019 - Object Based Audio Delivery Formats Uptake Will Increase Significantly
We predict that 2019 will see a major uptake in consumers using spatial audio formats based on object audio like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
Other surround formats like 5.1 didn’t take off as a consumer format so you might be wondering why we are predicting the take off of formats like Dolby Atmos in the consumer audio sector. The good news is that there are a number of significant differences now that we expect are and will continue to make a big difference.
One of the reasons 5.1 didn’t take of was the resistance to have multiple speakers in the domestic living space. With height channels and potentially even more speakers you would be forgiven to think that for formats like Dolby Atmos this would be an even bigger problem.
Following Fraunhofer's successful effort of demonstrating a "3D Soundbar" prototype, there are now products in production from a number of companies, like the consumer electronics giants Samsung and LG as well as Sennheiser. Other playback possibilities are being explored on TVs with smart speakers using 3D virtualisation technology such as Fraunhofer’s UpHear, enabling immersive sound to be delivered without using multiple speakers.
What we expect to make the difference is the combination of upward firing speakers and Dolby Atmos soundbars. Soundbars are already popular additions in a domestic environment and the availability of Dolby Atmos soundbars that can reproduce immersive audio with height will be a significant key to open up spatial audio into the consumer market. .
In experiments with consumers, one of those things that people notice most when spatial audio is taken away. If you play someone a stereo mix and then an immersive mix, they’ll notice the difference to some degree but when you switch back to stereo from immersive and it’s like everything went black and white. Everybody wants the immersive version back. This should also help with the uptake.
Content Is Key And Not Just Films
Available content is essential to drive uptake. The good news is that more and more content delivery platforms like Netflix, Apple and Amazon Prime and now producing and releasing content in Dolby Atmos. With these Over-The-Top (OTT) content delivery systems, as well as more conventional delivery systems like Blu-ray, taking up object based audio, the amount of content is already increasing significantly.
Then there are Satellite broadcasters like Sky who are now adopting Dolby Atmos but not just for their movie output . After successful tests, Sky first adopted Dolby Atmos into their UHD Premier League soccer coverage before rolling it out into other live Sky Sports coverage including boxing, rugby and darts. They have also introduced Dolby Atmos in a lot of entertainment, both live and post-produced, including the Isle of Wight Festival and their coverage of It’s Christmas Live From the Royal Albert Hall, as well as their own entertainment shows like Revolution and VOD coverage of movies and entertainment.
Gamers are also starting to see games produced in Dolby Atmos with games like Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront.
On the music front, we understand that there is a real move to start delivering music and album content in Dolby Atmos and we predict that we will also see a lot more music content in available in immersive formats like Dolby Atmos.
DTS and Dolby
But Dolby Atmos is not the only game in town. Dolby competitor DTS has its own 3D object-based surround-sound technology in the form of DTS:X. Unlike Dolby, who launched Atmos in cinemas first before bringing it to the home, DTS chose to launch DTS:X in the home first, with plans of bringing it to the cinema later.
Although the take up of DTS:X in consumer equipment is slower at the moment, it is changing with several manufacturers already offering firmware updates that add DTS:X compatibility and more and more new receivers that support Atmos also able to support DTS:X. Although DTS:X content is still thin on the ground, a growing number of Blu-rays now feature DTS:X soundtracks,
Multi-Dimensional Audio And MPEG-H
But the biggest development is something that is very new. Mike heard about it at AES NY 2018. DTS:X is also part of DTS’s licence-free open platform MDA (Multi-Dimensional Audio).
MDA has been developed to provide the industry with a methodology to create, export, author, store and render immersive cinema sound in a format that goes beyond closed proprietary systems. As such, MDA offers the industry a format that offers uncompressed PCM objects plus metadata that can be as universally accepted—and as easy and common to work with—as PCM channel-based audio is now.
MDA looks as though it will be possible to deliver different spatial audio formats in one delivery format, opening up what was a strong proprietary based delivery system dominated by one brand into a much more open delivery format. In a session at AES NY 2018, with representatives from both DTS and Dolby on the platform it would seem that there is a desire from both organisations to work together more to be able to deliver spatial content to the consumer.
Another important key in being able to deliver object based audio to the consumer has been the development of the MPEG-H Audio standard. MPEG-H Audio is already on-air in Korea and the US (ATSC 3.0), Europe (DVB UHD), and China.
Spatial Audio On Headphones
Recent developments have also meant that consumers can enjoy spatial audio without any speakers by using headphones. Both Dolby with Dolby Dimension & Dolby Access and DTS with DTS Headphone:X, have solutions for headphones.
What is interesting with Dolby Dimension is that Dolby are working their way into the consumer market but perhaps the more interesting thing about these Dolby Dimension headphones, apart from their price of $599, is that Dolby does not claim that these headphones reproduce Atmos sound or even mimic 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems, but instead claim that when you use them for “entertainment created in Dolby Atmos, you’ll automatically get the best sound for it over a Bluetooth connection.” The reviews have clearly pointed to these headphones being optimised to cinematic and TV content as the primary use.
DTS Headphone:X takes a slightly different approach by aiming to deliver an immersive, cinematic audio experience to your existing headphones “that you’ve come to expect from a full, 11.1 channel surround sound movie theatre. But it doesn’t just put a home theatre audio experience in your pocket, it works with music and games too”.
Dolby have a similar thing with Dolby Atmos for Headphones, which allows you to experience Dolby Atmos (on the Xbox and Windows 10 platforms) through any set of headphones. You can try out Dolby Atmos for free by downloading the Dolby Access app from the Xbox Box One or Windows 10 Store.
Object Based Audio Is More Than Dolby Atmos
But Object based audio is not just about Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It is possible to use object audio to deliver content to the end user where they can adjust the balance between content elements. Because MPEG-H audio also offers interactive and immersive sound, employing the audio objects, height channels, and Higher-Order Ambisonics for other types of distribution, including OTT services, digital radio, music streaming, VR, AR, and web content. Dolby and others are now offering personalised audio delivery systems based around the MPEG-H audio standard enabling the end user to chose what they want to hear or not hear. For example in tennis, maybe you don’t want to hear the shrieks from a player? You will have the option to run that down.
Another application of object based audio and personalised audio delivery is the research Lauren Ward who is a Postgraduate Audio Engineering Researcher with a passion for Broadcast Accessibility from Salford University in undertaking, whereby different audio objects in a piece of content, are scored for narrative importance. That is how important each object is to the narrative. If an object is essential to the story, like the dialog, or a door opening then they are scored as essential. Other sounds like ambiences and music that add to the narrative but if they weren’t there you would still be able to follow the story are scored less.
Then there is a single control that you can adjust from a full normal mix through to an essential only mix for the very hard of hearing. Mike has seen a demo and found it very simple and intuitive and the process of scoring of the objects would be very easy to do during the production process.
Object based audio offers the consumer a lot more control and it also offers the content providers with the technology to deliver one stream of object based content and then to use the metadata to render the most appropriate version for the hardware the consumer is using to playback the content.
This could allow, for example, the dialog to be more intelligible in more challenging playback environments.
How do you see the take up of object based content for consumers growing? Is object based audio the solution to our intelligibility issues and a solution to mumble-gate etc? Do share your thoughts and observations in the comments section below.
That’s It - Our 5 Pro Audio Industry Predictions for 2019
There are our 5 Pro Audio Predictions for this year. Do you have any predictions of your own? If so do share them in the comments section below and we can see how your predictions perform in 12 months time.