San Francisco (CA) – Listening to music on the go always has to do with increasing the sound quality you can squeeze out of low bit-rate audio files. But the mobile results so far can be called just adequate at best. Run the same files through Creative’s X-Fi Crystalizer for example, and what you hear on an iPod is suddenly disappointing. Many mobile audio devices also lack an equalizer, which adds up to a forgettable music experience. However, there is a new player on the market: Dolby is making its way into this segment and has compelling answers.
Chihsan Ho, senior manager of worldwide mobile sales programs at Dolby, told us about a new set of software technologies collectively called “Dolby Mobile”. According to the company, the goal of this approach is to add depth to sound and adjust audio algorithms to enable hardware to provide the best possible sound.
The technology made waves just recently at the World Mobile Congress 2008, when Nokia announced that it would adopt Dolby Mobile and in fact showcased a demonstration of the software on one of its N95 smartphones. Given lack of openness of Apple’s devices, we are not really surprised that Dolby decided not to dance by Steve Jobs’ rules, but rather aim for the largest smartphone platform on the world – Symbian OS.
As an application for Symbian OS, Dolby Mobile includes a post-processing licensing package (Mobile Surround, Natural Base, and Sound Expander) supporting mobile audio, video and TV sources. “Mobile Surround” is backed by a fully-fledged software equalizer that works in conjunction with the “Sound Expander”, algorithms that simulate a surround effect.
We were able to play with this application on the N95 and we have to admit that it does sound much richer than what we are used to on such devices. Mobile Surround works like a charm on regular headphones, and positioning of audio in Spiderman 3 video (chase scene between Peter Parker and New Goblin) was subjectively very comparable to the experience we had during the same scene of Dolby 3D demo on the PC platform. Depth of Field effect works on regular headphones, but if you plug in high quality headphones, you will be rewarded with a sound quality that is miles ahead of your cellphone or iPod today.
Dolby representatives declined to provide details on how their technology works. The company apparently has to be very careful to protect its intellectual property, since Dolby Mobile works inside processing limitations of today’s cellphones, leaving little room for code protection. This, by the way, is the primary reason why Dolby Mobile Player will not come to market as a stand-alone application, but rather end up in a bundle with upcoming smartphones (Sharp and SonyEricsson are already offering Dolby Mobile-enabled cellphones in Japan).