New Japan audio tech packs sound of trillions and trillions of CDs

New Japan audio tech packs sound of trillions and trillions of CDs

TOKYO — As streaming replaces most other ways of listening to music, one Japanese company believes there are still audiophiles who want to push the limits of immersive sound.

New audio chips from Velvet Sound, a brand of Asahi Kasei Microdevices, combine to reproduce up to nearly 10 quadrillion times as much sound data as a typical CD.

This adds up to an “as if you were there” experience, the unit of Japanese materials group Asahi Kasei said.

To achieve this, Asahi Kasei Microdevices split its previous generation of technology into two. The new AK4499EX digital-to-analog converter will go on sale by this fall. Samples will be shipped this summer.

The chip works in conjunction with the AK4191 chip to be released this month.

Asahi Kasei Microdevices’ new audio chips go on sale this year. (Photo by Shoya Okinaga)

The chips are geared for high-end audio equipment. Asahi Kasei Microdevices anticipates a rise in demand as electric vehicles become mainstream. Because EVs lack noisy engines, drivers will be able to hear their music better — and want better sound quality. The chips will go on the consumer market by the end of this fiscal year.

Digital audio is described in kilohertz — the number of audio samples taken per second — and bits, which measure the number of levels available to capture the range of the sound.

The higher the values, the more detail and the bigger the volume of digital information. That amount of data is directly linked to the fidelity of sound that comes through the speakers

The standards for CDs are 44.1 kHz and 16 bits. This translates to a sampling rate of 44,100 times per second, and the ability to store sounds at 65,536 discrete levels.

For audio to be considered high resolution, the quality has to be at least 96 kHz and 24 bits. Asahi Kasei Microdevices’ chips achieve up to 1.536 kHz and at 64 bits, according to the company. In terms of sound data, that means a theoretical upper limit of roughly 9.8 quadrillion times that of CDs.

Asahi Kasei Microdevices’ chip redesign also reduces noise.

“High-speed digital signals of ones and zeros don’t exist in nature, so those signals themselves are the source of the noise,” said Jun Tokunaga, head of audio product planning and development at Asahi Kasei Microdevices.

While CD sales continue to decline, the streaming audio market is booming. Faster data connections mean that audio can be provided over the internet at higher and higher resolution.

Amazon Music supports streams of up to 192 kHz and 24 bits, easily exceeding the high-resolution threshold. The higher the quality of the sound, the closer the listening experience is to a live concert hall.

The Velvet Sound brand made its debut in 2014 and has been used by high-end audio equipment brands including Linn and Astell & Kern.

One hurdle in the way of wider adoption is data volume. For a five-minute song, a standard CD holds about 50 megabytes of data. But 7 gigabytes is needed for the same song with the Asahi Kasei group’s new chips, or roughly 140 times as much as with a CD. Even with the rise of 5G communications, this is hefty amount of data for streaming.

That said, the initial response from people who have tried the new technology has been music to the company’s ears. When the chips debuted at Germany’s audio trade show, High End Munich, last month, visitors said the sound produced was as natural as hearing live musicians.

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