Samsung Research America’s Audio Lab is dedicated to developing new audio technology and improving sound quality while leading changes in audio market paradigms. Located in Los Angeles, the R&D lab takes up 18,000 square feet and is equipped with multiple anechoic chambers, listening rooms and other state-of-the-art applied research facilities. Allan Devantier, Vice President and Head of Audio lab, spoke about how it started out, its major contributions to date, and what it is targeting going forward.
Devantier started working for Samsung in October of 2013. By January of 2014, Samsung had acquired lab space and recruited four staff members, and by October of that year the staff had grown to number 10 engineers and research scientists and the Audio Lab had been made fully functional. From there, the lab was ready to begin working towards its mandate of ‘taking Samsung’s audio technology to the top of the industry.’
Devantier says that “The first product we worked on was the Radiant 360 loudspeaker – it was actually the first mass-market speaker to feature 360-degree sound. We were the industry leader, and now 360-degree speakers have grown very popular in the market.”
Cut to the present, when Samsung’s LA Audio Lab is staffed by more than 20 people with over 300 collective years of experience in the audio field between them. Eleven members of the team hold Master’s or Ph.D. degrees in audio technology, while eight are both engineers and musicians who continue to play in bands. The lab also collaborates extensively with Samsung’s audio engineering teams in Korea.
“Our focus starts at the ear of the listener,” Devantier explains, “then expands out to the listening environment – the transducers (woofers and tweeters), amplifiers, and digital signal processors (DSPs).” And this emphasis has led to a steady stream of important contributions coming out of the lab. Whereas, in 2014, industry publications awarded Samsung’s Soundbar solutions a rating of three-and-a-half stars out of five, by 2019 the average score for Samsung Soundbars had been lifted to four-and-a-half stars. What’s more, in 2019 the HW-Q90R premium Soundbar model received a perfect five-star rating from a number of industry publications. In addition to improvements in the pure audio sphere, the Samsung Audio Lab has contributed to remarkable advancements in TV sound quality as well.
The Samsung Audio Lab has proven its ability to discern changes in the audio market and act upon them swiftly, as is demonstrated by the nature of its recent innovations. The Q-Symphony solution announced at this year’s CES enables a TV equipped with a Soundbar to provide surround sound that closely reproduces the spatial feeling of original sound fields. Devantier explains that Q-Symphony “uses the top-firing speakers in the TV to improve envelopment and immersion.”
Another example of this cutting-edge innovation is Samsung’s OTS (Object Tracking Sound) technology. To improve upon Soundbar technology that allows sound to be delivered in fixed directions, the lab developed TVs that incorporate speakers not just on the bottom and sides of the screen, but in the top left and right sections as well. This allows OTS technology to make use of deep learning that can recognize what kind of content is being displayed on the screen and deliver multichannel sound accordingly. Thus, users can enjoy actual, physical surround sound that is not only immersive but is specifically tailored to whatever they are watching at the time.
What’s more, in 2020 Samsung’s Q-Symphony and OTS technologies are coming together to truly maximize the potential of both solutions. While OTS delivers multichannel surround sound through the TV speakers, Q-Symphony makes the TV-speaker-Soundbar combination possible, enabling the TV’s speakers to provide rich, lively surround sound while the Soundbar delivers powerful, absorbing bass.
Taking Audio into the Future
The inception of AI is set to reshape the audio industry, and Samsung is working to anticipate the changes it will bring about. Asked to outline what he sees as AI’s role in the audio industry, Devantier says, “I think we can use AI to help our loudspeakers play louder, with more perceived bass and less perceived distortion. AI will also help make old recordings sound better and allow our loudspeakers to adapt to different listening environments.”
Another way in which AI is empowering future solutions is by enabling features like Adaptive Video Acceleration (AVA). Samsung’s AVA feature makes it possible for the TV to recognize the audiovisual space environment and provide sound that is optimized not only for the content being displayed on the screen, but also for the viewing space that the consumer is in. In 2020, sensors embedded in QLED solutions will make optimized viewing possible, even in rooms with high levels of noise. For instance, if a user is watching something and a member of their family switches a blender on in the adjoining kitchen, the system will adjust to ensure that the dialogue remains audible to the viewer in real-time despite the unexpected peripheral noise.
As far as how his lab will contribute to delivering better audio going forward, Devantier reports that it will continue to meet the needs of customers who are looking for “high quality and portable sound” while improving and expanding its OTS technology. “Maybe one day we will develop a loudspeaker that sounds great, plays very loud and is nearly invisible or exceptionally small and portable,” Devantier concludes, “Until that time, we will continue to produce solutions that make incremental improvements to sound quality.