Ina Fried

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Software Update Gives Jambox a Whole New Dimension of Sound

The clever folks at Jawbone have come out with a unique way to squeeze more sound out of their Jambox portable speaker.

With an advance the company is calling LiveAudio, the device is able to reproduce sounds that appear to come from any direction — as long as the listener is positioned directly in front of the speaker.

The ability to record audio in such a manner — so-called binaural recording — has been around since the 1960s. However, binaural effects could previously only be reproduced with headphones. That’s because otherwise both ears are hearing sound emanating from both speakers, albeit at slightly different times. Jambox, using a combination of noise-canceling technology and other techniques, manages to achieve a similar effect.

It’s difficult to describe the experience in words — suffice it to say it is both eerie and cool. One’s brain hears sounds that seem to come from the back right or front left, rather than just from one side or the other. For those who want to get a sense of it, check out this site with a pair of headphones (or your updated Jambox).

Part of the key, says Shawn Ellis — a former Apple employee who recently joined Jawbone — is that, like Apple, Jawbone makes both the hardware and the software behind Jambox. LiveAudio, he said, is only possible because the company knows exactly where each component of the speaker is located.

The best part for Jambox owners is that the innovation comes as a free software update — something Jawbone executives say is part of the reason their portable speaker is worth its not-insignificant $199 price tag.

Though some recordings already contain enough sonic separation to make the effect cool, Jambox is hoping that its technology, along with better headphones across the industry, will encourage artists and videogame makers to record more things binaurally.

LiveAudio is the latest fruit from the fast-growing company that has evolved from its specialty in Bluetooth headsets toward becoming a broader consumer electronics company. Jawbone has already announced plans for a health-tracking wristband called Up.

Ellis said that being able to offer a better sound experience could even open some doors for a recording industry that is struggling to make money.

“It is a challenging business,” Ellis said. “They are looking for ways to create new connections.”

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