Every sound makes a difference. This is of particular importance while playing today’s technology-powered and immersive video games. Since its inception, JBL has introduced countless innovative audio solutions that unlock unforgettable experiences. Today, it has disrupted the market again with the launch of JBL QUANTUM, the very first headset series from JBL specially designed for gamers. From detecting crossfires to the slightest enemy movements, the newly introduced headsets feature the most accurate soundscape ever, leaving you to truly feel like you’re playing inside the game. We caught up with HARMAN’s Director of Immersive Audio, Alfredo Fernandez Franco, to get the inside look at the JBL QUANTUM headsets.

Why is accurate audio so important to gamers?

In today’s video games, sound is survival. If you’re playing a combat game, you have to know where the bullet is coming from. If you’re playing a soccer game, you need to hear whether there are footsteps behind you. In the new gaming genres, audio accuracy is the key differentiator.

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Which technologies make the QUANTUM headsets so special?

Firstly, our JBL QuantumSURROUND™ sound technology adds a much wider, realistic spatial soundstage for truly cinematic game immersion. Instead of sound moving horizontally, our algorithms allow gamers to experience virtual worlds in added dimensions, outperforming the most popular surround sound technologies available for gaming headsets today. In the JBL Quantum ONE, our flagship headset, we have also built in JBL QuantumSPHERE 360™ technology, featuring proprietary algorithms and integrated head tracking sensors that enable gamers to detect sounds and movements around them like never before.

How do JBL QUANTUM headsets deliver accurate audio?

Defining accurate audio is a question of sound and space. If you put speakers in any given space and ask people in that space to guess where the sound is coming from, the accuracy rate is around 90%. Our goal with the JBL QUANTUM Series and our flagship product the JBL QUANTUM ONE was to see how close we could get to that same rate.

Ultimately, we needed three things:

  • First, we needed to develop a mathematical model of how sound sources in space interact with the users depending on their relative position in space.
  • Second, we needed to consider how the shape of the ear affects sound in order to study how to reconstruct those signals without any distortion.
  • Third, we had to learn how to recreate the difference in time of arrival caused by the distance between the listener’s ears and then adjust the algorithms to the listener’s anatomy. After three years of research, measurements, simulations, and prototyping, we reached 90% accuracy.
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How long did it take to develop this new series of gaming headsets?

The JBL QUANTUM Series development started end of 2017 from the ground up. Our immersive audio team has several years working on this technology, which allowed us to get to where we are in such a short period of time. The close cooperation between our research division and product teams was key to accomplish this.

To your knowledge, has anyone else put this much research, data and technical expertise into their gaming headphones?

No. I’ve been in the audio industry for a while, and the amount of research we’ve put into these headsets is pretty amazing. We had to figure out which head trackers to use, how to compensate for latency, measure head movements, send that data to the computer, get it processed, and send the audio back again. That’s a challenge, because if you don’t do it right – if the listener moves their head and the sound follows too slowly – the effect lacks accuracy. We had to ask ourselves how to get the algorithms to process the data fast enough to avoid delays, how many filters to use, which transducers to use... All of that required a lot of research, but we felt that we could only contribute to the gaming conversation if we were able to deliver the real thing, which really goes to show how committed, driven, and passionate everyone here is. That is what truly sets us apart.

What was the most rewarding experience during the development of these headsets?

When I finished my MSc. Degree, the technology to do head tracking and this level of digital signal processing was not available for a consumer product. I am excited to see a product with these features that is available to a broader audience. I am sure these new features will allow consumers to experience new use cases not only in games but also other types of media. Being able to individualize the behavior of a system to a specific user is a great accomplishment. It was extremely rewarding to work with our team to put all this technology together to create an amazing product.

And what was the most challenging?

One of the most challenging parts of this adventure was the development timeline combined with the number of SKUs and the geographical distribution of the team. Teams in 3 different continents were involved in the development of the software and hardware. There is work being done on the projects 24 hours a day.  This requires a high level of cooperation in order to be able to deliver highly complex software and hardware products. As you can imagine, this coordination involved a lot of traveling and days away from home, but completely worth it given the amazing products we were able to create.

At HARMAN, we are focused on delivering cutting-edge solutions that help create memorable experiences for our fans and as we head into CES 2020, we will bring our audiences with a glimpse of what they could see this coming year. Stay tuned to our newsroom, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn channels during CES 2020 to learn what’s next at HARMAN.