Audio zoning system

Greynomads get audio zoning systems

While travelling the huge expanses of the Australian landscape as a grey nomad couple is one of life’s greatest joys, it can have its downsides.

Few things can spoil the thrill of setting off on a big day’s Outback driving than the un­welcome sight of a husband, wife, or partner, fiddling with the vehicle’s audio system as they prepare to assault your ears with something you really don’t want to hear.

While some couples are lucky enough to endlessly agree on what sounds suit the journey, most do not. Many a grey nomad reports having a trip across the Nullarbor ruined by a repetitive combination of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, while others say they could pretty much repeat the day’s news verbatim after a torturous trip up the Centre with their current affairs-addicted partner.

However, it appears that an American company has identified this potentially catastrophic flaw in the grey nomad lifestyle, and has developed the technology to move the Big Lap one step closer to being utterly perfect.

Harman says it can enhance a vehicle’s existing sound system by placing micro-speakers in the headrests of each seat, and a set of thin loudspeakers inside the roof. By combining this technology with specially-designed software, the firm is able to let each passenger hear a separate source of audio while radically reducing the amount of ‘sonic clutter’ cre­ated by the other sources.

“We are able to play the desired source of audio in a particular seat but also simul­taneously play the opposite of the other sources of audio from the other seats, thereby cancelling their sounds out,” explains the project’s lead engineer, Christopher Lud­wig. “We can do that for any sources of audio in any par­ticular seat, thereby creating personalised audio zones.”

The company says it uses algo­rithms to create a noise-can­celling effect and, while the other sounds don’t completely go away, it is able to achieve about a 15 to 20db reduction in audio from zone to zone.

In practice what that means is that you still get a hint of what the other passengers are listening to, but it’s very much background noise.

A BBC journalist invited to test the technology reports a ‘surreal’ experience.

“To switch back and forth from loud commentators discussing a baseball match to the chords of a Bruno Mars track by simply moving one’s head between the car’s two front seats seems to defy past experience of how sound should work,” wrote Technol­ogy Editor, Leo Kelion.

Other than listening to com­pletely different sounds, the technology’s other benefits include people in the same car being able to listen to the same music at different volumes, and the driver hav­ing the ability to set his or her speakers to override the tunes with navigation prompts, while other passengers listen to the songs uninterrupted.

  • Do you disagree with your traveling companion about what to listen to? Do you have any systems to sort out the issues? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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