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Tech Talk: The Importance of Protection

By Kevin Becka. “Protection” as a theme covers more than just ears.

As I write this, everyone is getting back from—and getting over—NAMM. For me, show survival and protection start before travel begins. I always get a flu shot months before and wear noise-canceling, circumaural headphones on the plane. That way I feel less stressed after four-plus hours in the air. Whenever I wonder, “How bad could it be without these?” I slip them off for a reality check. It’s always a shocker. I’d guess it’s 20 dB louder without them.

Related: NAMM Show 2018: Pro Audio Edition, by Kevin Becka, Mix, Feb. 22, 2018

I usually wear silicon earplugs on the show floor, but this year was different thanks to the new audio hall, which was delightfully quiet compared to the old digs in halls A, B, C and D. The ceiling in the new hall is 25 feet tall and curved at the corners, which helps, but that’s not all that kept the SPL in check. NAMM has strict new rules for loudness, and I saw more than one booth alerted that they were not in compliance—everyone took it very seriously. The consensus among the exhibitors I polled was that they love being able to carry on a conversation without having to raise their voice.

Related: NAMM Pro Audio Exhibition Wing Debuts, by Clive Young, Pro Sound News, Jan. 26, 2018

Related: NAMM to Exhibitors: Keep It Down, Pro Sound News, Jan. 5, 2018

Another weapon in combating ambient noise at NAMM probably went unnoticed by most attendees. The overhead signs hanging on the aisles flagging each row’s number served as additional acoustic treatment for the hall on both floors. GeerFab Acoustics manufactured all the signs for the project. There were 101 signs in total, measuring 48 x 96 x 2 inches. Hanging from them at a 90-degree angle on aluminum t-frames were another 101 at 48 x 24 x 2 inches, along with an additional nine 96 x 36 x 2 and six 96 x 48 x 2 for the lower-ceilinged rooms.

The signs were printed on acoustically transparent fabric from Guilford called Paradise. About its dependability, GeerFab’s Eric Geer says the fabric “lets me sleep at night.” The fabric was custom-printed at GeerFab in Milwaukee using a dye sublimation process on both sides. Fabrics were then sewn together with seams along sides and then grommets punched through for mounting, fully encapsulating 2 inches by 2 pounds (pcf, or pounds per cubic foot) fiberglass. It worked!

“Protection” as a theme covers more than just ears. File protection was the topic at hand when I visited exhibitor Steve Curd, CEO of Scaeva Technologies. His company puts a new spin on the idea of protecting digital content. Curd has some great insights into what has made past attempts at copy protection fail. He says, “Prior to the content’s release, any encryption process must respect the workflow of the creative professionals: the artists, producers and sound engineers creating and managing the content. Most past attempts to ‘lock down’ content have failed primarily because they are frequently circumvented—and this is due to their unacceptable impact on the creative workflow.”

To that end, Scaeva has come up with a process whereby all digital content will be created in an encrypted form, with encryption and decryption capabilities built into the DAW, as well as simple standalone decryption modules. The innovation is an “on the fly” low-latency encryption feature using fewer than 64 sample buffers within the DAW’s signal path. Curd explains, “With this capability, a key can be designated at the beginning of a session, and tracks are automatically encrypted with this key during the tracking process. As the tracks are mixed and edited, they are decrypted in memory before processing, then re-encrypted before saving.”

The hope is that DAW manufacturers will embrace this process, which is both elegant and secure. According to Curd, several DAW manufacturers have shown interest in bringing top-level protection to their customers, with the goal of making the process as transparent as possible.

All that sounds cool, but there’s more: a hardware decryption component to the process that overcomes an inherent weakness in current encode/decode processes. Curd continues, “Regardless of the strength of any encryption method, audio content must be converted into an analog signal before it becomes sound. This ‘analog loophole’ exists because humans possess analog senses. Since the dynamic speakers we use today were invented in 1925, it turns out that the physics behind them creates an enormous vulnerability. A quality sound system results in a near-perfect analog signal at the speaker terminal regardless of any digital encryption, which can then be sampled and copied in full fidelity with ease.”

Enter the Scaeva ActiveMag speaker driver, which eliminates the common magnet and replaces it with a patented active field coil assembly. Curd says, “This results in a doubly-fed speaker motor, relying on two separate signals to drive the voice and field coils. From a content protection perspective, the relationship of these two signals can be derived from an infinite number of mathematical equations, as long as the product of these two equations results in the desired signal.”

The bottom line is the speaker won’t play audio unless it’s fed by the two signals through the decryption key from the DAW. Scaeva is also planning on having a decryption chip within the company’s MagPlanar headphone drivers, where the headphones and a corresponding key would be required to reproduce encrypted content—like a hardware dongle that’s also a headphone. Smart!

Using earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, acoustic treatment at a noisy trade-show, or high-tech digital file protection like Scaeva’s groundbreaking software and hardware, we can all benefit. In the end, it makes us all happier, healthier and better audio pros. You’ve got to love technology!