January 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Harman Wants ‘The Internet of Cars’ to Sound Better, with Signal Doctor

We’ve come a long way since the first digital music fans scrounged around for bad-sounding MP3s to assemble from separate files from Usenet to play on their computer speakers. The first MP3 players fell to the splendor of the iPod, which begat the smartphone (really), whose apps put just about all the world’s recorded music on our phones in seconds, from nearly anywhere, for free or cheap.

We predicted that 2014 would be the year Internet- and app-connected speakers would hit the mainstream. Rather than relying on a cobbled-together mish-mash of iPod docks, legacy stereos, computer speakers, and so on, more of us will unify our listening experience between the home and our smartphones and computers.

So far, CES is proving us right. Everybody seems to agree that networked home audio is one of the major themes of the whole show. The only question is which competing system will be the iPod of this space. The new basic setup: music streamed straight to your speakers (either literally or through a phone), and controlled by an app.

The other big theme at CES 2014, as in all previous years I can remember, is “digital music in the car” — but this time it’s different, because app platforms are showing up in cars, with their own internet connections, so you don’t have to do everything through a phone. For starters, Audi debuted an impressive integrated Android tablet for the car as part of the Open Automotive Alliance.

To make all of that internet car music sound better, Harman announced (.pdf) a new technology at CES 2014 called Signal Doctor, which adapts to whatever wacky compression your music has been subjected to, and optimizes it to sound best in your car.

“We know from our research that listeners — even Millennials, who have grown up with compressed music as their reference — prefer the best possible sound quality from every audio source,” said Harman lifestyle president Michael Mauser in a statement.

Here’s how it works, according to Harman:

“Signal Doctor improves digitized audio file quality in a number of audible areas, returning all of the authenticity, ambience, warmth, and clarity that compression takes away: it removes unwanted added effects like echo and distortion; it restores the crisp detail and clarity of high frequency sounds like cymbals, which can be muddied in compressed sources; it sharpens dynamic sounds like percussion instruments, which can be smeared or dulled by compression; it takes a flat, compressed vocal and brings back the intimacy of the original performance; it rebuilds the stereo image that is often compromised by compression, creating a natural, wide soundstage; and it restores the musical depth that is lost when instruments and vocals are compressed to the same volume.”

Haven’t we heard this song before? Harman says Signal Doctor is different from other sound enhancement technologies, and not just because it’s for the car.

“In contrast to competitor offerings, Signal Doctor does not blindly add equalization, bass boost, or other effects that alter the intended listening experience. Harman has developed a proprietary predictive model that intelligently and accurately recreates the lost information based on the existing compressed content, unlike any similar offering.”

Perhaps best of all, when you’re driving, there are no settings, at all, to mess around with — not even On/Off.

“Signal Doctor works seamlessly and automatically. The technology is always on, and designed to run in the background without any user intervention.  In addition, Signal Doctor adjusts the amount of correction it applies based on the quality of the input signal.  For example, while it will add no correction to a CD-quality signal, Signal Doctor will add a heavy dose of correction to the most compressed signals, such as Satellite Radio.”

Stay tuned for more music news about what we’re calling “The Internet of Cars.”

(Photo: Flickr/thraxil)