New Audio Technologies Debut at COMDEX

Historically, audio has not received a lot of attention from the computer industry. That long tradition may be ending, judging by a couple of new technologies that debuted at COMDEX in mid-November. COMDEX is the year's biggest computer-industry bash, held in Las Vegas two months prior to the Consumer Electronics Show.

Of particular interest to audiophiles is a new type of digital audio amplification debuted by Apogee Technology. The company has developed a method for applying digital signals directly to output switching devices that drive loudspeakers, thereby eliminating most of the weight and heat of analog power amplifiers.

The patented Direct Digital Amplification (DDX) technique takes the digital signal all the way to the loudspeakers. Reports indicate that Apogee is employing a variety of class-D switching circuitry to produce audio without the need for a digital-to-analog converter. How the technique differs from that used in the TacT Millennium amplifier, or in any other "direct-digital" amplifier, is not clear, but Apogee claims its technology offers "up to three times the efficiency of analog amplifier designs," and solves "analog noise problems." DDX is being touted as the "solution" for PC multimedia, multichannel, or multi-zone audio, home-theater applications, remote communications, and car audio systems. Sound quality was not mentioned.

Apogee Technology demonstrated DDX in conjunction with Altec Lansing Technologies. Formerly a world leader in professional loudspeaker systems, Altec has in recent years reinvented itself as a maker of computer audio systems. Altec president Tommy Freadman said his company has evaluated Apogee's DDX technology and believes it "represents the next step in audio amplification." Altec has agreed to license DDX.

DDX demonstrations included Avio Digital's MediaWire home network. MediaWire can supply up to 100 megabytes/second (MBPS) of full duplex bandwidth, enabling a single telephone line to "simultaneously deliver thirty-two 24-bit audio channels, eight MPEG2 video channels, sixteen phone or ISDN lines, and over 12MBPS of serial control or TCP/IP (Internet) data." That's an incredible amount of information for two tiny wires to carry. MediaWire is said to be the first home networking technology that supports "all digital media and data types." Apogee and Avio Digital signed a cross-licensing agreement this past summer to bring their technologies to the consumer-electronics market.