Apple audio patent details ‘virtual acoustics audio systems’ for improved audio in MacBooks

Apple wins patents all the time, and this week heading into 2020 is certainly no different.

This time around it’s a patent for MacBooks. Specifically, the audio experience in Apple’s laptops. Patently Apple has the report. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently granted Apple more than 60 patents, publishing each today. One of them details a way for Apple to improve the overall audio quality on Apple’s laptops.

In Apple’s patent background they note that a virtual acoustic system is one that gives the user the illusion that sound is emanating from elsewhere in an indoor or outdoor space than directly from a loudspeaker (e.g., one that is placed in a room, one that is built into a laptop computer, etc. Audio signal processing for virtual acoustics can greatly enhance a movie, a sports even, a video game or other screen viewing experience, adding to the feeling of “being there.”

The process would see the process of the audio signal split into at least three different pathways — a change to seeing the process split between left and right speakers. It also removes crosstalk, which is similar to how noise-cancellation works:

For viewers and listeners that prefer loudspeakers, for example those that may be built into a laptop computer, a crosstalk canceller is employed in some virtual acoustic systems to produce sounds from multiple loudspeakers in such a way that for example a “left” audio signal is predominantly heard only at the left ear of the listener, and a “right” audio signal is predominantly heard only at the right ear of the listener (by virtue of sound wave cancellation in the air surrounding the listener.) This allows the left and right audio signals to contain spatial cues that enable a virtual sound to be “positioned” at a desired location between the loudspeakers.

Apple’s invention covers an audio processing system with one or more processors that process an audio signal that is split into at least three paths (versus simple left and right speakers).  The first path has a direct gain and a direct virtual source algorithm operating on the audio signal.

How Apple would roll this out for the general MacBook user remains to be seen, of course. As noted in the original report the easiest boost would come games played on a MacBook, as well as watching content from Apple TV+ and sports.

This is one of those patents that one can’t hope actually evolves into a real world product at some point down the road. Then again, it is just a patent, so we may never see this blossom into anything at all.