New Japanese audio technology packs the sound of trillions and trillions of CDs

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

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

This adds up to a “like being there” experience, said the Japanese materials group unit Asahi Kasei.

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

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

New audio chips from Asahi Kasei Microdevices will go on sale this year. (Photo by Shoya Okinaga)

The chips are designed for high-end audio equipment. Asahi Kasei Microdevices anticipates an increase in demand as electric vehicles become mainstream. Because electric vehicles don’t have noisy motors, drivers will be able to hear their music better and want better sound quality. The chips will go to the mainstream 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 sound.

The higher the values, the more detail and the greater the volume of numerical information. This amount of data is directly related to the fidelity of the sound coming through the speakers

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

For audio to be considered hi-res, the quality must be at least 96kHz and 24-bit. Chips from Asahi Kasei Microdevices reach up to 1,536 kHz and 64 bits, according to the company. In terms of sound data, this means a theoretical upper limit of about 9.8 quadrillion times that of CDs.

Asahi Kasei Microdevices’ chip redesign also reduces noise.

“High-speed digital signals of ones and zeros do not exist in nature, so these signals themselves are the source of the noise,” said Jun Tokunaga, Head of Audio Product Planning and Development at Asahi. Kasei Microdevices.

As CD sales continue to decline, the audio streaming market is booming. Faster data connections mean that audio can be delivered over the Internet at increasingly higher resolution.

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

The Velvet Sound brand debuted in 2014 and has been used by high-end audio equipment brands such as Linn and Astell & Kern.

One of the barriers to wider adoption is the volume of data. For a five-minute song, a standard CD contains about 50 megabytes of data. But 7 gigabytes are necessary for the same song with the new chips of the Asahi Kasei group, that is to say approximately 140 times more than with a CD. Even with the rise of 5G communications, this is a considerable amount of data for streaming.

That said, the initial response from people who tried the new technology was music to the company’s ears. When the chips made their debut 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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