The hardware and software of sound

James Nesfield
May 2, 2018 · 4 min read

Advances in signal processing and a growing abundance of loudspeakers and microphones in everyday devices means there has never been a more interesting time to be in the business of making air molecules vibrate in interesting and useful ways.

Audio focussed software, and its associated hardware, are combining to foster an amazingly fertile time for sound based technologies.


Signal processing for audio has a long and successful history of major advancements. From Morse-code to DTMF, the dial-up modem, the mp3 file format — the echo cancellation that attenuates the sound of your own voice on a Skype call.

The innovation continues: pushing the envelop of what is possible using sound through digital manipulation, are companies creating the sensation of touch in midair using ultrasound, providing immersive VR experiences by digitally modelling acoustic and psychoacoustic phenomena, and listening for illegal logging in the amazon using machine learning running on smartphones.

The capabilities and value that sound based technologies can deliver via new methods of signal processing continues to expand.

Chirp’s own technology has consistently pushed forward the state of the art for reliable data transmission via sound. In the last year we have increased our data rate in a wide array of acoustic conditions by 8X whilst maintaining our industry leading reliability.

Through software the decades-old loudspeaker and microphone continue to be given new superpowers.


As well as new capabilities, we also see the fundamental infrastructure needed to create, control and analyse sound becoming ever more ubiquitous and capable. At some point sound based technologies always have to interact with the real world though a transducer: a loudspeaker or a microphone.

We need three things to manipulate, listen for, and understand sound: A loudspeaker, a microphone and a processor. With each of these components capabilities continue to expand, driven by the combination of material advances, faster more efficient processors. More recent innovations in each of these spaces include zero power microphones, ultrasonic loudspeakers used for physical levitation of objects, and ultra low power processing units.

When combined with DSP software, hardware’s sophistication and raw computing capability is unlocking new possibilities. For example, what happens when you combine 64 microphones with a super efficient custom processor? You get an incredibly accurate, but still battery operated and handheld ‘sound camera’ capable of detecting the precise location of any sound source in the environment around you.

Then there is ubiquity of the hardware components themselves. Over the last decades the advent of the smartphone combined these three items and placed them in everyones pocket — over the next decade voice assistants will make them truly ubiquitous within our everyday environments.

The history of interacting with computers is an effort to seek increasingly natural means to communicate and interact with our machines. Beginning with punch-cards, through to the cryptic command line, to the graphical user interface, the mouse and then the direct manipulation of on screen objects via the touchscreen — the history of interacting with these devices has been a slow but steady swing away from talking to them on their terms, towards a arrangement where we can talk to them on our terms.

This is in part why we believe that voice based user interaction is a not momentary trend — it is here not only to stay, but to become a constant presence to the point of being taken for granted in our domestic and urban environments. The strangeness once felt listening to a lone, early adopter, mobile phone user walk down the street taking a personal call will give way to general public acceptance and then of course reliance on the benefits that these new technologies bring. It will become a social norm around being able to access information and control your environment by speaking to it.

We believe voice interaction with devices will be everywhere. Their increasing ubiquity will usher in a set of opportunities by rolling out the hardware infrastructure that is a prerequisite for software audio technologies such as Chirp.

New software processes, more capable hardware and audio infrastructure that is evermore present in our environment.

Chirp is very pleased to be in a field with such an abundance of innovation and opportunity. The cooperation of hardware and software continues a long history of progress within audio. Our team is motivated every day to push forward the state of the art for data over sound and do our part to add to the innovation within an incredibly exciting, innovative wider field.

Thanks to Chirp

James Nesfield

Written by



Written by the team at Chirp, the world's most trusted data-over-sound technology used by the leading brands in over 90 countries. Find out more at

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