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Tune on, Tune out, Tune in
Jan.10, 2017
Posted by Robert Schrager

In 1980, the Sony Walkman was introduced to most international markets. The Walkman paved the way for personalized portable audio consumption. Competitors existed at the time, but no one really remembers the Aiwa CassetteBoy. By the way, who are the ad wizards who came up with that one?

Prior to the Walkman, one could tune-in to portable audio with the transistor radio, but it certainly was not personalized. There were even radios with headphones including antennas extending from each ear cup. I vividly remember a neighbor wearing such headphones while he did his yard work. Back then, adults would do embarrassing stuff like that.   

The portable radio was a fantastic innovation. Portable yes, but not personal – we just hear what the broadcaster chooses to play. How special it was to take your Walkman wherever you wished with your favorite tapes, like a Maxell XLII90 chrome of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Parts 6-9 from the Japanese Master Sound album edition recorded off a Nakamichi Dragon deck. This was personal. And there’s a resurgence of interest in the audiophile culture of that generation with people spinning old vinyl in their plywood paneled basements. For the most part, the cassette tapes have not endured beyond a deadicated following of people trading in old concert performance recordings.  You know who you are. 

The Walkman allowed people to tune out. One could be in a crowd of people absorbed in their own special secret music. Whereas previously music was communal it now facilitated one to withdraw into thyself. Music, which had been an instrument of fellowship of shared enjoyment could now be administered to the individual to invigorate their isolation. Music, often composed by the lone brooding composer, could be consumed by the lone brooding listener.   

It’s a sad state. We are happy when engaged in fellowship, but we are lured by isolation and withdrawal. It cannot be blamed solely on technology, but it seems that most of what we make serves to isolate us. This goes back to the first fabrication of wooden tools and division of labor. More recently, think of how we used to interact with each other prior to radio and television. How was it before the internet? There are a lot of lonely people out there that have 1,000 “friends”. What’s particularly stunning is the tremendous growth of portable audio consumption, especially in just the past 5 years. Headphones are not solely for listening to music. They are a fashion statement and also a tactic used to make oneself unapproachable; the ultimate implement of withdrawal.   

Slip on a pair of headphones or earbuds and you can occlude the outside world and isolate yourself. Often times that is one's intention. But the outside world begs to be heard.  At Alango Technologies, we have developed a technology called ListenThrough™ - a “smart algorithm” for headphones that allow enjoyment of the music while staying alert to important environmental sounds (e.g., alarm, horn, etc.). Alango’s solution consists of pre-processing DSP software. Microphones on each ear-cup or bud capture the ambient sounds, which are then processed through various blocks or stages. Acoustic Feedback Cancellation ensures that there is no sound loop between the transducers (speakers) and the microphones. Ambient sounds are cleaned from stationary noises with Alango proprietary Noise Suppression. The ListenThrough processing selects important sounds to pass through while blocking unwanted sounds. Finally an Intelligent Mixer receives the audio (Music or a hands-free phone call) and the signal from the ListenThrough block and adjusts the amplitudes of the respective signals, which are then delivered to the transducers.  

As mentioned, ListenThrough is an alertness feature meaning one could listen to their music, but hear what is important around themselves. Wear the headphones while jogging through the park, but still be alerted to important sounds such as an approaching police car or somebody yelling from behind.  Or maybe one just wants to pretend not to hear or care about the public chattering. With ListenThrough one is able to tune in to the outside world. Whatever you fancy, whatever the reason - tune on, tune out, and tune in…or not.


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