Ringing in the Years (and Ears): What I’d Like to Hear in 2016


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the visual side of this innovation.

Personally, I’ve continued to keep my ears open. I am an investor (and advisor) in Soundhawk, a venture-backed personal sound amplification product that has developed some interesting pieces to this puzzle.  And there are two San Diego companies that I’ve gotten to know. Comhear (which was a Velocity Growth client last year) uses advanced sound technology developed by UC San Diego to enhance audio quality and beam-forming hardware to create a 3D surround “soundbar” speaker. (Imagine hearing sound behind you from a soundbar in front of you.)  Ossic, a newer company looking to do a crowdfunding campaign this year, claims “hi-fidelity, 3D spherical sound” in a unique set of headphones that they believe will be popular with gamers and emerging virtual reality platforms. Their demo, married with a virtual reality headset, is very impressive.

The big guns in the industry, Dolby and DTS, are also active.  Dolby has their Dolby Headphone initiative, and has announced working with Lenovo to put Dolby Atmos on an Android Smartphone.  DTS has their Headphone X initiative, which they say provides a “11.1 channel surround sound movie theater” experience.

So what do I want to hear in 2016?

All the immersive 3D and surround sound promised above.  But I want more.  I want to have a sound isolated (i.e. in-ear) earpiece in each ear that lets me do some really, cool stuff:  Get messages without looking at my phone. Send messages via a bone conduction mike and ever-improving natural language voice recognition. Control my external sound environment via a smartphone app (louder, softer, more high frequency, more or less bass). In essence, “turn down the volume” when I want to. I would wear them all day, every day, in both ears, as the stigma of use rapidly wears off.

In a loud environment, I want to be able to intelligently screen out everyone—except the people I want to talk to.  Imagine a long dining room table, eight people on each side, and you and another person are on the ends. You can see each other; you can easily see verbal cues that assist communication, but you can’t talk without shouting.  I want to be able to have everyone in that room be able to speak directly or in groups, leveraging the power of the smartphone and digital signal processing to do the mediation for me. A friend in a loud room who tends to speak too softly, no problem, I’ll turn up the volume on their object-based voice profile.

It’s great to finally see increasing innovation in the sound space. Even as we devour more gigabytes and terabytes for “eye-centric” use, it’s clear that the information we get from a mere 20 kilohertz of sound spectrum is vital. More devices and apps are inevitable, and I for one can’t wait to hear about it.

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Jeffrey Belk was at Qualcomm for almost 14 years, in positions including senior vice president global marketing, and senior vice president, strategy and market development. He serves on the boards of the Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, the UCSD Alumni Association, and the EvoNexus advisory board. He is founder and chairman of Velocity Growth, and has invested several other local companies. Follow @

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