Photo by Jon Tyson.
As the price of professional audio equipment continues to fall and the sound quality rises, many pros enter 2020 with a renewed purpose to use the gear in more creative ways. With an increasing number of new users, creativity is driving our trends for the new year. These are our five audio trends for 2020.
Trend #1 — A sea of additional publisher content in the audio format is emerging and driving the industry. News publications and other producers of written content are now embracing audio as a major addition to better serve their readers in our mobile society.
This is not just podcasts, but a more comprehensive move to incorporate spoken word content into everyday communications. Audio offers greater opportunities for anyone to reach larger and more diverse audiences. Digital audio will continue to grow as a major trend with a vast range of users.
Coupled with this trend is the rise of smart speakers. Currently, about 22 percent of digital audio listening is now done via smart speakers and it is growing fast. These speakers have become a familiar part of many daily routines. They offer a dramatic new way for niche audio to be narrow-casted and consumed.
Trend #2 — Broadcasters have traditionally been slow to improve their audio. But streaming has changed that by improving streamed audio across the board. Today’s immersive audio tools and different mixing environments allow audio pros to dramatically alter how they tell stories and evoke emotions through sonic elements.
Streaming audio is not limited to feature films, but is now available on every type of programming. Atmos, higher bitrates and an increase in the number of projects produced in surround sound lead the way. The immersive theatrical audio experience has evolved to not only the living room and headphones, but to personal computers including laptops.
The technology for immersive sound production will get easier and cheaper in 2020. Audio pros will continue to transition from pure technicians to a new realization that telling stories through sound is what’s most important. Foley, an almost ancient technology, has emerged as a sophisticated new storytelling medium itself. In 2020, broadcast television will try to catch up with streaming media in the audio arts.
Trend #3: Immersive sound will explode into new areas. It may have begun by being targeted to virtual and augmented reality, but those experimenting with it have found new applications. Immersive audio can evoke emotional reactions beyond visual communication. It is a good bet that 360-degree audio will soon become the norm on all devices and channels from headphones, stereos and smart speakers to laptops, theatres and cinemas.
Music is also being impacted by immersive sound. Music is now expanding the lines between musical elements and sound effects. Experimenters have learned it can be interchangeable. In 2020, audio pros will try to better understand the story-telling element completely and sort out the technical aspects from the creative.
Trend #4 — On the technical side, cloud technology will continue to develop in pro audio. This includes storage, backup, archive and collaboration. Users still want all their files on a secure server that can be accessed anywhere. This would allow anyone to work anywhere on their own creative terms.
In 2020, A/V networking will continue to grow. Eventually, everything will be connected on converged data and media networks. Networking with an interoperable backbone is the enabling technology. A key goal is to refine an audio and video networking solution that can scale and evolve to meet future needs.
Trend #5 — Early in January, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced a standard called LE (Low Energy) Audio, designed for Bluetooth audio. This new standard, different from Bluetooth 5.0, includes a Broadcast Audio feature which is essentially universal audio sharing.
As 2020 begins, Bluetooth audio has finally come of age. Pro audio manufacturers are now touting their Bluetooth gear as meeting professional standards. This includes headphones for professional audio monitoring.
The new standard offers better quality, lower battery life and multiple streams. LE Audio includes a new high-quality, but low-power audio codec called Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3).
The Bluetooth LE Audio standard creates a universal system for audio, expanding it to a wide range of headphones and devices. And, in case you lose your hearing, LE Audio adds support for hearing aids. The standard will enable the development of Bluetooth hearing aids that bring all the benefits of Bluetooth audio to the growing number of people with hearing loss.
Due in the first half of 2020, Bluetooth LE Audio is expected to make a big dent in the traditional wired headphone market.
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