J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on the week's music technology news
Issue No. 15
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
++ FEATURE: Sound Generation for Cellphones
++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
- RIAJ Presents Sticker Design For Copy-Protected CDs
- Gnucleus Review
- Korea's Burgeoning Market For MP3 Players
++ FEATURE: Sound Generation for Cellphones
Readers of last week's feature on the relative merits of
hardware- vs. software-based sound generation will recall
that we ended with a brief glimpse at the latest battleground
for this debate: the sound generation market for mobile
phones. Because ringtones have proven to be the highest-selling
content for mobile Internet service providers, it is not
surprising that sound quality has likewise become one of the
major selling points used by handset makers. In this feature,
we'll take a look at the current hardware/software options
available to cellphone manufacturers, and survey the largest
Japanese handset manufacturers to see which method is presently
used by each. We will also examine the influence of the carriers
(who generally set the sound format used by their services) on
the mobile sound generation market.
Content providers who create ringtones for i-mode are well
aware of the differences in sound quality among the various
handsets. Despite the fact that all i-mode ringtones are
made in the same MFi format, the same 16-voice ringtone
played on NEC's N503i sounds very different when played on
Sony's SO503i. In fact, of the three Japanese carriers,
DoCoMo's i-mode platform is by far the most fragmented in
terms of sound generation methods.
On the hardware side, NEC and Fujitsu both use Yamaha's MA2
chip, while Panasonic and Mitsubishi have licensed Rohm's chip.
The difference between the two lies primarily in the fact that
Yamaha uses FM sound, while Rohm has opted for a PCM sound
generation approach. The net result is that the instrument sounds
on a phone with the Rohm chip have a slightly more realistic
quality, whereas the phones with Yamaha's chip tend to have a
sharper sound with more punch. Sony stands alone on the software
side, having chosen not to license a sound generation chip, but
instead a synthesizer software program (soft synth) for its
SO503i made by Korg.
In contrast to i-mode, J-Phone makes life much simpler for
16-voice ringtone providers. All ringtones made for the J-Sky
service must be in Yamaha's SMAF format. Accordingly, all
16-voice J-Phone handsets currently on the market use the same
Yamaha MA2 FM sound chip found in the NEC and Fujitsu i-mode
handsets, which supports both MFi and SMAF. Furthermore,
differences in speakers and casing among the J-Phone models
are greatly reduced compared to the i-mode handsets. This unity
in sound quality can most likely be attributed to the fact that
Yamaha is J-Phone's primary sound partner and is able to provide
both the format and sound generation hardware for the handsets.
In contrast, DoCoMo has teamed with Faith, which created the MFi
format, but does not make sound generation hardware or software
for the phones.
Handsets for KDDI's ez service all take the hardware approach to
16-voice sound generation, but as with the i-mode phones, there is
a split between Yamaha's FM sound chip and Rohm's PCM-based chip.
Phones that use the Rohm chip play ringtones in a format called CMX,
which is virtually identical to MFi. Presumably, KDDI licensed the
format from Faith, but was prohibited from calling it MFi, as this
format technically belongs to DoCoMo. In any event, KDDI is the only
carrier to support multiple sound formats for its 16-voice ringtones.
As polyphonic ringtones become the norm in other countries, it will
be interesting to see which sound generation approach is adopted by
the major overseas carriers. Yamaha's FM chip appears to have scored
a major victory by way of its use in NEC's N21i model, the first
European i-mode phone. However, Beatnik recently announced a tie-up
with Nokia, in which it will provide its soft synth for Nokia phones.
It is no secret that Yamaha has also been courting Nokia, but so far
has only succeeded in getting a commitment for its chip to be used in
Nokia's ultra-expensive 'executive-class' handset. Rohm seems to have
taken the lead in the Spanish market, as handsets that use the company's
3-voice chip and C-Midi format are now appearing.
We'll continue to watch as new handsets and services launch this year.
Next week, however, we'll examine the state-of-the-art sound chip for
mobile devices in Japan: Yamaha's 40-voice MA3.
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This year, we're teaming up with Wireless Japan -- the only
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The event had more than 26,000 participants last year and is an
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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS
** RIAJ Presents Sticker Design For Copy-Protected CDs
Extract: On April 18, the Recording Industry Association of Japan
(RIAJ) unveiled the design of new stickers that will be used to
label copy-protected music CDs. The purported aim of the new labels
is to make it easier for consumers to determine whether or not a
particular CD employs copy-protection technology that prohibits
them from being played by a PC.
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or contact Fabien at email@example.com or 03-3499-2175 ext.1709
** Gnucleus Review
Extract: MP3 Newswire recently posted a favorable review of Gnucleus,
a spyware and adware free open-source Gnutella project. Increasing
attention is being given to P2P programs which have been stripped of
'parasite programs' that access and transmit information found on the
user's PC via other networks. In addition to the Gnucleus review, MP3
Newswire also reported that a new version of KaZaA Lite was released
last week; it is also free of spyware/adware.
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** Korea's Burgeoning Market For MP3 Players
Extract: The Korean Herald reported in a recent article that the MP3
player market in South Korea is expanding at an unexpectedly fast rate.
The article goes on to report that about 130,000 MP3 players were sold
during the first quarter of this year, up from around 60,000 units in
the same period last year. Korean MP3 player makers also exported about
300,000 units in Q1, up from 200,000 units last year.
SUBSCRIBERS: 591 as of April 24, 2002
STAFF Written by Steve Myers (email@example.com)
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies, which
specializes in the development of music-related software
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