We’ve reported on the CES trends of Android Auto and CarPlay and on power sports audio. Car audio trend number 3 may be seen as the explosion in digital signal processors (DSPs). Once a rare item, they’ve soared in popularity over the last two years and were on view everywhere in the car audio booths at CES.
JL Audio hinted it is working on a sound processor, Kicker and JBL added DSP processing to their amplifiers, Mosconi is planning two new models, Helix is adding a second model. And digital sound processors were shown by Massive Audio, Cadence, and startup Rare Audio (DSP amplifiers). A second startup OnCore is planning a DSP. Newcomer to the US Stetsom is offering one. Also Arc Audio will start pushing its PS8 sound processor in earnest as the controller for the device is due by Q3.
These join existing products from Audison, AudioControl, Rockford, Alpine, Soundstream and others.
DSP for the car started about a dozen years ago, but it languished as the competition scene favored sound pressure level versus sound quality.
Audison helped revive the category in 2008 with its bit One processor, and the market has grown steadily since.
Two factors are helping DSPs catch on: it’s a way to help drivers keep their factory radio but add better sound. Also, the DSP chips are now more readily available and offer more processing power.
Some industry members say digital processing can be more effective in improving sound than adding more amplifier power.
“I think the market is going to do nothing but grow …as Apple CarPlay comes into the vehicle, that interface between the car is going to improve but, the one thing [car companies] don’t do is improve the sound quality because it’s very expensive and very subjective,” said AudioControl’s Sean Reid.
Because DSP has become so prevalent in new cars, and in portable audio, and even cellphones, the chips are now cheaper (from $2 to $30), with the more expensive models offering more configurations.
“If you’ve got a Toyota Camry that’s going to run for 5 years, you’re going to make a couple of million cars…and if you’re the engineer that saves Toyota $15 because you used cheap speakers but was able to use DSP to make them sound good, you’re the new hero, because you just made the company a couple of million dollars,” explained Reid.
Nearly every supplier polled said they expect the category to continue to grow.
50-store retailer Car Toys, Seattle said sales are surprisingly good. “Car Toys is very pleased with the DSP processor category. We are finding that standalone OE integration processors up to $300 or so… are selling consistently and somewhat surprisingly well,” said VP Merchandising and Marketing Jim Warren. “We see a real need for these products in the marketplace. The processors are demonstrable at Car Toys and this makes a big difference.”
The processors adjust the sound system’s equalization, time alignment and crossover delays. And some also include OEM integration capability such as channel summing.
The better processors use proprietary software to control inputs and outputs and other features, while less expensive versions use generic micro controller processing now readily available from China, say industry members.
Note: If we failed to mention your company as offering DSP, shoot us a note at [email protected] and we’ll add you to the list.