Tech enthusiast and host, Nikita Sachdev had the chance to meet up with founder of AMM, Abhi Mathur and discuss the future of Audio.
What have you guys been up to and what is AMM?
I’ve been changing the future of sound!
AMM stands for Acoustic Meta Materials. It’s a fancy way of saying that we’re using the new field of metamaterials to create audio technology that wasn’t possible before. Is Audio tech developing as fast as other tech products such as mobile phones?
For long the audio industry seems stagnant. We have seen a large array of products emerge, and although the technology has improved in terms of sophistication, they still follow the same trend.
I think part of the reason for this is because the industry has focused on visuals like the screen and camera. What we hear can affect every sense in our body and has just as much of an impact on people as what we visualize. This is why innovating audio is a game changer. There’s been so much secrecy around what AMM was doing the past several years until recently. Tell us more about what we can expect to see now.
Our mission since the start was to bring speaker technology up to date with the rest of the smartphone. Without that, future devices can never really be the robust, standalone multimedia solutions we want them to be. We believed that if we could bring the performance of a 10 speaker surround sound stereo system into the tiny speaker that exists in your phone, then we could do anything….and that’s exactly what we’ve done, and more. By optimising the latest achievements in metamaterial technology, we’ve created a tiny amplifier that turns those micro speakers into stadium speakers good enough to DJ your home party with. They also, by the way, don’t use any battery power, so the old tradeoff between better performance and endless charging has gone forever. Why is that so important right now and why is there such a buzz around this?
Every aspect of the smartphone has improved, the screen, the size, the battery – except for the sound. The speaker technology that exists in our devices has seen little innovation since they were created. In fact, even standalone speakers have had few breakthroughs except for Bose 30 years ago. Bluetooth speakers have become a multi-billion dollar market because of this huge gap in performance in our devices. Think about it, the camera on my phone now beats out any camera I would have bought in the store 5 years ago and the processor is better than my grad school laptop. We use our phones and tablets to watch content and listen to music but the performance of audio has actually gotten worse while the graphics have gotten better.
Headphones haven’t been much different. Even those huge “deep bass” headphones don’t really deliver deep, rich bass because low frequency performance is difficult to deliver with small speakers. How will this shape future technology for the consumer?
Smartphone speakers were the target for our nano solution. We knew that when we could make those tiny speakers better, then any speaker could benefit from our technology and we would reshape the future of audio. The device itself ranges from 50 microns to 200 millimeters depending on the application. At the moment, we’re not only in talks with smartphone OEMS, but also car audio speaker companies and headphone manufacturers. TVs and laptops are future targets as well. Why are you so passionate about this business you’ve created?
I’ve been a student of music my whole life. I studied classical Indian music both in India and in the US whilst growing up and even during undergrad and grad school at UCLA. I also studied Western classical music and played piano for most of my youth. You could easily say that music is a core value system and a foundation of my life I’ve come back to over and over again.
Interestingly, my father is one of the world’s greatest acousticians and has helped acoustic design even for large tech giants like Boeing. It really makes me think about the nature vs. nurture debate, you know? I’ve seen how music colors the story of my favorite movie scenes, brings people together socially, and serves as the soundtrack to my life as I walk through the streets of Manhattan or drive through Los Angeles. It is the emotive content for everything we do – without which, what you see just becomes an awkward array of pixels and images. Now that this is ready for consumer application, what's next?
I believe that holographics – audio and visual are the future of home and portable content and media. This global quarantine has shown us how productive we can be at home – but there are cracks in the old system. Virtual conferencing with multiple people is far from feeling like a natural conversation because stereo audio only provides 2 channels – right and left. There’s no immersive audio solution for front, back, up or down, side to side and that’s where our ears and brains help us understand our environment and connect us with people. That’s also how we can have overlapping and natural conversations in person and why we can’t over video conferences. The acoustic holography system we’re designing has 64 channels of sound and all the directional data that bring real environments into your home – or wherever you are. Video conference is just an example of what makes holographic so great, however. We can recreate the acoustics of live music in your living room, or even a live action scene for a video game. The ability to almost touch and see a product in 3D will assuredly change the way we shop online forever. Better yet, about watching the super bowl or major sports in holographics right in front of your couch. For any environment you can think of, we can recreate the same geospatial sound arrangement into a single speaker. (The closest way to describe it is to imagine all the speakers it takes in a movie theater to give you an immersive and realistic recreation of sound - now all of that can be shrunk down into a single speaker that fits into your palm.)
Our next step is to work on optical holography, or the visual part. We’re building a one of a kind US-based and built, holographic lab where we will perfect the ability to create 3D holograms of light to replace physical screens. Some of this work is being done by others, but not as a replacement to screens.
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.