From big ambitions come bold innovations. Which is why when Red Bull Media House approached Jabra, the resulting project developed an entirely new microphone to record sound in high-wind environments, with potential uses that extend far beyond the world of professional sports.
The Red Bull challenge for Jabra audio research and development
Few brands have developed content as cutting-edge as Red Bull, and much of that is thanks to the emphasis on technological innovation in media. Having launched its content arm in 2007 and subsequently grown it into one of the leading global hubs for groundbreaking content, Red Bull Media House approached Jabra with an idea. “They needed live performance audio, and so we took up the challenge, doing something a little more extreme than our standard engineering,” said Leo Larsen, Jabra’s Senior Director of Audio Research.
Jabra’s expertise in noise cancellation and microphone development meant that the project’s research could potentially see adoption among our office and consumer products. The challenge was that the microphone had to be capable of clearly capturing everything from the thrill of extreme athletes’ breathing and commentary to the roaring heartbeat of a track car. As audiences demand more immersive content experiences, Jabra’s microphone has the potential to offer spectators a front-row seat to the action as athletes ski the Alps, plunge from the Stratosphere or rally across the Sahara Desert.
“They needed live performance audio, and so we took up the challenge, doing something a little more extreme than what we normally do”
As much as video and camera technology has managed to capture awe-inspiring footage, sound performance in extreme environments has technologically lagged, constantly coming up against the challenge of wind. “Working with wind noise is nothing new, and at Jabra we have a wind tunnel in our Copenhagen audio lab, but most often we test in wind conditions of around three to five meters per second, because that’s what you’ll experience when you walk around outside. The outer limit most will usually test to is less than 10 meters per second,” the Dane goes on to say.
Jabra is always seeking new ways to push the development of intelligent audio and this was an amazing opportunity to engineer new technologies through our product development. “So we looked at the opportunities and what we were up against, and looked to challenge ourselves to go from five or six meters per second to 30 meters per second, or even 120km/h. We started playing with the project and prototyping and testing in the wind tunnel on our simulators,” says Larsen.
In search of more extreme testing environments
Following initial material and lab testing, the Danish research team needed to venture outside in pursuit of more extreme testing environments. “After running high-speed tests on a motorbike, we had a clear enough audio recording, which we wanted to see if we could clean even further with signal processing. A lot of the time when we communicate in high-wind environments, it is as noisy as a recording ends up sounding, but our brain doesn’t find it challenging to understand in person because we have the luxury of being able to see who is speaking, which adds a lot to our brain’s cognitive capacity for understanding.” With video and audio recording, this changes.
The potential downfall
At Jabra, we then carried out further material testing and prototyping, trialing samples with Red Bull athletes before going back to the lab to do tests and looking at the low frequency increases caused by wind.
The next challenge was looking at how our researchers could design an audio solution robust enough to reduce that. “We couldn’t saturate the microphone or electronics, because if the diaphragm in the microphone crashes to one side, then it’s gone. So we had to design the system so that it could deal with that air speed; engineering a front-end system in the microphone that makes sure that these increased sound pressure levels don’t mess it up.”
“We couldn’t saturate the microphone or electronics, because if the diaphragm in the microphone crashes to one side, then it’s gone.”
Our engineers spent months developing a brand new algorithm capable of canceling extreme wind noise whilst capturing the intensity of extreme sports. And through countless design tests, tweaks, calibration, more tests and dozens of prototypes, they succeeded in creating a product that sets new standards for noise-canceling microphones.
A window into the future of sports audio?
The Jabra X Mic, developed for Red Bull Media House, is a one-of-a-kind device engineered for the extreme. Watch and listen for yourself as we put it through its paces.