7 December 2020

The best of 2020: advances in audio tech

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2020 has thrown up many new challenges, but despite this, audio has still managed to create a buzz.

When huge metropolitan cities begin to sound like peaceful suburbs, and the quiet of our homes is taken over by client calls and keyboard tapping, you know it’s been an unusual year. 2020 has thrown up many new challenges, but despite this, audio has still managed to create a buzz. As mentioned in our D&AD awards blog, the Creative Use of Technology category was filled with audio innovations this year. But audio technology has also been present in the fight against COVID-19, and helped us stay connected while further apart than ever before. Here, we examine how.


Taking over from touch

Touchscreen technology has dominated retail for over a decade now, but with the ongoing nature of the pandemic, businesses are reducing risk by working to reduce the number of touchpoints. As Rabbit & Pork points out in its article with The Drum, voice technology could be used to make many daily tasks like calling lifts or placing orders safer and more accessible. The only real question is how long it is until we see voice tech taking over the public landscape.

Circle K, Delaware North, Dunkin’ and White Castle are among the retailers that have reacted to this need for safer alternatives by partnering with Mastercard. With the payment technology giant onside, they plan to transform their drive-in and drive-thru experiences with vehicle recognition, voice ordering and artificial intelligence. The finished solution will be able to understand natural speech, and process complex orders to keep patrons as safe as possible.


Driving changes

The vehicle industry is another that’s put audio developments in the driving seat, almost literally in some cases. Sennheiser teamed up with Continental at the start of 2020 to announce their new concept for vehicle audio systems. Forgoing traditional ideas, their speakerless system floods the interior with immersive 3D sound that wraps itself around the listener and creates a vivid soundscape likened to sitting in a concert hall. And as well as advancing audio, their new sound system could help with electric vehicles, as it reduces the weight and space taken up by up to 90%.

While many industries look to the future and how sound can take them there, some are finding inspiration in the past. Movie theaters have been hard hit this year, but this has led to people drawing on a popular pastime of yesteryear in the form of drive-ins. Now that localized FM radio broadcasts are accessible in almost every vehicle, there’s no need for large speaker setups that favor those parked nearer to the screen. Moviegoers can enjoy a much better sound quality from the comfort and socially distanced safety of their own car.


Lost in music

Dolby Atmos has transformed our cinema-going experience with sound that surrounds us—and this immersive format will soon be widely available for music streaming, too. With Dolby Atmos Music, you’ll feel like different instruments, vocal tracks and effects are coming at you from different angles, essentially taking you into the song. And this won’t just be restricted to new releases—both Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group have partnered with Dolby to make classic recordings available. Only Tidal and Amazon Prime Music currently have compatible tracks, but you can expect to see this exciting audio development grow rapidly as it becomes more widely adopted.


A whole new caller experience

PHMG is another name driving audio technology developments this year. Our ECX service helps users of cloud telephony unlock the real communicative potential of these systems – capturing and engaging consumers old and new by introducing creative audio branding productions at key points throughout the caller experience. It joins the long list of recent audio advancements, and demonstrates the effectiveness of uniting technology with creativity to achieve the best results in caller communication.

Despite all the unique challenges 2020 has brought, it’s still been an exciting year for those involved with audio technology, and the consumers who will benefit. We’re looking forward to 2021 and will be keeping a keen eye on every new audio tech development while continuing to push things forward in our own sector.

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