MMW-31 -- The Direction of Sound Generation for Mobile Phones

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on the week's music technology news

Issue No. 31
Tuesday September 13, 2002



++ FEATURE: The Direction of Sound Generation for Mobile Phones

- Gracenote Raises $9.5 Million
- Madster Ordered to Shut Down
- Napster Sale Blocked

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in Shinjuku from 6-9PM and meet admissions directors from leading
international MBA programs including Cornell, Duke, and MIT/Sloan
School of Management. This is an event that serious MBA candidates
should not miss. For more information or to register in advance,
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++ FEATURE: The Direction of Sound Generation for Mobile Phones

In the desktop music community, the question of whether to use a
software synthesizer or dedicated hardware for sound generation has
long been a point of debate. For many years, the processing power of
most PCs simply wasn't up to the task of running any kind of software
synthesizer. Then in the mid- to late- 90s, CPU performance increased
dramatically, and we began to see soft synth packages that were
comparable in quality to all but the highest range hardware modules.
And while most DTM professionals still use at least some hardware, the
soft synth manufacturers are moving quickly into the high-end studio
market and are currently dominating the home-use market.

Sound generation for mobile phones seems to be following a similar
path, albeit at a much faster pace. Lacking in both processing power
and memory, the earliest four-voice phones in Japan incorporated
Yamaha's MA-1 sound generation chip to handle all sound processing and
generation. These chips can be found on DoCoMo's 502i series. The next
generation of phones, represented by the 503i series, featured
16-voice sound, and a wider range of sound generation alternatives.
NEC and Fujitsu opted to use Yamaha's MA-2 16-voice chip, which uses
FM sound. Panasonic and Mitsubishi, on the other hand, decided to use
a similar chip made by Rohm Corporation, which uses PCM sound.
Finally, Sony chose to go the software route, using a proprietary soft
synth for their SO503i model. This year, with the introduction of the
504i series, Sony switched direction and chose to use Yamaha's
32-voice MA-3 chip, while Fujitsu decided to forego the MA-3 in favor
of Rohm's chip.

So, while all of the 504i i-mode manufacturers have adopted
hardware-based approaches for sound generation and processing, the
argument for software synthesizers on the next generations of mobile
phones is nonetheless a strong one. The next wave of phones is likely
to have DSP chips with clock speeds of 200 to 300MHz. In addition to
sound synthesis, the new DSP chips will be able to run programs that
perform MP3/MPEG-4 decoding, Java acceleration. Perhaps the biggest
advantage of using a soft synth on the phone is that it saves valuable
hardware space. Software solutions are also far more flexible. Updates
can be released more quickly, and different companies can write
competing synths to run on the same DSP chip. From the manufacturer's
point of view, this increases their alternatives and decreases their
dependence on chipmakers.

With the obvious advantages afforded by software synthesizers, what is
stopping phone manufacturers from dropping sound chips altogether and
adopting a total software approach to sound generation? For starters,
even with the faster DSP chips, the next generation of phones may
still be a bit early for soft synths. The problem is that content
providers want to mix sound with other CPU-intensive activities such
as graphics synchronization, video and running Java applications, and
there simply isn't enough CPU power to support all of these features
together yet. Also, Yamaha has gone to great lengths to ensure that
its sound chip has features which are unique and difficult to emulate
in software. For example, the MA-2 and MA-3 chips allow ringtone
creators to edit the FM parameters for each instrument, which
effectively gives them an infinite range of sounds to work with.
Finally, the SMAF format itself is tied tightly to Yamaha's sound
chips, and it would require a large investment of effort to make
software which can play SMAF files without using a Yamaha chip.

Judging from how things have progressed on the PC side, it seems to be
just a matter of time before software generation overtakes hardware on
the phone. The question then, is how long this process will take.
Yamaha and Rohm are trying hard to convince manufacturers that the
best strategy is to use the added DSP power for graphics, video and
Java acceleration, while leaving sound processing to dedicated chips
such as the MA-3. Several major phone manufacturers, including NEC,
have already invested much in these sound chips and are in no hurry to
see them replaced. Also, there appears to be a fair amount of politics
involved in these manufacturers' decisions. Taking these factors into
account, expect to wait at least another two years before
software-based sound generation starts to mount a serious challenge to
the existing hardware-based approach.

-- Steve Myers

J@PAN INC magazine -- the premier journal of business, technology and
people in Japan -- invites you to participate in a special Call Center
ad section scheduled for the December 2002 issue.

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** Gracenote Raises $9.5 Million

In Brief: A few months back, we did a feature on Gracenote's
acquisition of Cantametrix, focusing on their wave recognition
technology. On Monday, Gracenote announced that it has raised $9.5
million in a third round of funding, which it plans to use for working
capital and development.

Recognizing the advanced state of 3G developments in Korea, "Korea
3G Wireless & Beyond" (10-11 October 2002) will assist you in
unleashing the full revenue potential of 3G networks by identifying
the most innovative & captivating applications & services that will
ensnare the IT-savvy consumers.
In addition, this premier event will also provide you with an unbiased
perspective of the issues around 4G business models, services and
applications and migration paths to 4G that will allow you to make
informed decisions on future network strategies.

Bringing together key operators, top industry players and academics
from around the world, 3G Wireless & Beyond 2002 is the DEFINITIVE
wireless technology event you cannot afford to miss!
Contact Denise Ho @+65 6835 5105 or email: or
visit our URL for more information.

** Madster Ordered to Shut Down

In Brief: On Sept. 5, a US District Court in Chicago ordered
file-swapping service Madster to shut down its service. Although the
company was given the option of implementing a filtering system to
screen out copyrighted material, it appears unlikely that Madster has
the resources to do this.

** Napster Sale Blocked

In Brief: Last week, a federal judge blocked the sale of Napster for
$9 million to German media company Bertelsmann. The halt of the sale
is not expected to have much impact on the other court cases pending
against file-swapping services, but does appear to mark the end for
Napster, which has laid off most of its remaining employees.

SUBSCRIBERS: 897 as of September 13, 2002

Written by: Steve Myers (
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies,
which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (


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