RINGR had the opportunity to speak with Matt MacBeth, CEO and co-founder of pi lab, a team of experts that produces special and engaging product lines. From napkin sketch to creation, MacBeth has designed a variety of electronics products that have sold in excess of one million units, and he has more than 1 Million app downloads on the iTunes Store to date.
An innovator, experienced technology architect and a self-described “recovering engineer,” MacBeth knows the latest in audio-visual technology—and he has more than a few ideas on where it’s headed next. With a knack for seeing audio/visual tech trends well before they arise, we spoke to him about digital audio and his take on sound quality.
Your Brain When Listening
When we listen to someone speak, our brain will filter out noise so we can best absorb the information being shared with us, explained MacBeth. This could be whether we are just having an everyday conversation or it could be when doing a radio or podcast interview.
“Our brains are subconsciously filtering out how bad the audio quality really is, often times. Because we’re participating in the conversation, we do that. But when we listen back, we’ll hear all kinds of sounds we don’t remember hearing. We wouldn’t even notice, say, a car driving by, during the conversation, but when we play it back in a podcast, then we can hear [that noise]. So, the difference between the line of interaction and the playback situation just makes the quality and the stability of the recording so much more important,” he said.
The Quality of Sound
Historically, getting high quality, phone call recordings has been a challenge. Think of having a conversation on a racquetball court where it can be hard to hear and decipher what another person is saying: “When you’re in a racquetball court, unless you’re right next to each other, it’s really hard to have a conversation,” says MacBeth. “But if you’re in one corner and I’m in the opposite corner, even though we’re in the same room, we can barely understand each other. What happens between our mouths and ears counts for some of the problems.”
There’s also a limitation of speech when it comes to our voices in general during many phone call conversations. “When you hear another person’s voice, there’s a high and low frequency in women. Your voice has this range that’s kind of a difference between female vocals or male vocals. Say you hear a TV reporter, like a male TV reporter who has this really chesty sound, and when you do an interview over the phone, notice how you lose a lot of the personality of the voice.” MacBeth said the challenge is not losing the character of that voice, and not ending up with an artificial sounding environment. “The trick is, how do you use these limitations and get around them to make it sound like real people talking at you?”
Another critical component: environment and tech. “It really comes from a limitation of not being in the recording studio, not having a great microphone, the environment that you’re in,” he said. “But, where it really comes down to a bottleneck is, shipping the data over the airways. Even with a wired connection, you’re still going to have some issues because of the data going over the airways.”
“And, that is part of the genius of RINGR. You could be in a recording studio right now, I could be in the best recording studio, you could be in New York and I could be in LA, and it’s still going to sound like we’re on a phone. You still have to get from New York to LA and tie the sound together, and until there’s infinite communication networks, bandwidth, there’s always going to be problems with that. So, the real issue is, what happens between the people having the conversation? So it’s more than just the studio quality.”
The Future of Recording & Content Collaboration
Leaders in video/call conferencing today include companies such as Polycom that make video, voice and conference call technology. The leader in content collaboration and communication technology in the future may be a company that we haven’t heard of yet, predicts MacBeth. “But a paradigm shift is necessary for growth on the hardware side.”
Every industry has its own challenges when it comes to getting high quality audio recordings, and part of the technology used today is dictated by devices that companies are already using. Startup-companies are used to used iPhones or laptops, where dedicated conference call phones are not a necessity, says MacBeth. Brands such as those may be more likely to adopt technology for the devices they are already working with.
For other industries, such as at larger corporations, implementing new recording technology has its challenges if it has to get through large IT departments in order to get new equipment installed—or removed.
MacBeth also talked about, now and in the future, there is great potential for processing thanks to the computing horsepower that is available. “The great thing about all of the computing horsepower we have is there’s millions of computers sitting around with nothing to do. They can make an awesome reproduction and filter things out, and that’s what the Amazon system is doing with RINGR,” said Macbeth.
“When we have this unlimited horsepower of all-based computing, you can really do amazing filtering and adaptive algorithms,” he said. “You have the real conversation, like we’re having now, and then we’re not going to play it back as we’re talking—we’re going to hear it 5 minutes later. All these computers that have nothing to do right now, in 5 minutes they can put all of their horsepower together and do some awesome processing to make it sound amazing.”
MacBeth says technology such as RINGR could also be impactful when it comes to video and video playback. “I do a lot of work with engineers in China, and trying to keep a sustainable video chat going is nearly impossible, especially in this day and age.” There is also opportunity for any kind of video cast; it could be a sporting event, a broadcasted TV interview, or someone who just wants to record part of a video chat with a loved one.
“In the future, if you were to use RINGR for the video chat, you can actually have the real time visual of seeing a baby’s first steps, but then you can record it into something you can actually put into a DVD or storage for later—something that is actually worthwhile watching in terms of quality. So these precious moments, or lifetime events, family things, things with kids, people travelling, grandparents and kids could be recorded.”
Better recorded visuals could even apply to the medical field, as well as other industries, said MacBeth. “Basically every surgical operating room in the world now has cameras for documentation and does live video feeds…so that at the end of the surgery, you can have the surgeon who sees patients, you can have high quality copies of those afterwards. And, you can actually make it useful for teaching afterwards.”
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About Matt MacBeth
Matt MacBeth CEO and Co-Founder of Edwin The Duck and the pi lab. As an innovator, visionary and engineer, he has designed several electronics products having sold in excess of one million units and has over 1 Million app downloads on the iTunes Store. Macbeth is now looking to create the next generation of educational products. Find out more about Edwin the Duck at http://www.edwintheduck.com