Power

How Syng wants to take on Apple’s HomePod and revolutionize whole-home audio

Key former Apple employees are helping the secretive startup build spatial audio speakers.

Renders of Syng's cell speaker

A new patent application features highly detailed renders of a speaker product in development at the secretive audio startup Syng.

Image: USPTO

Secretive audio startup Syng has a plan to take on smart speaker giants like Apple, Google, Amazon and Sonos: It's building immersive audio speaker technology that's meant to replace your 5.1 living room setup, make you feel like you're on stage with the band, and one day supply the soundtrack for apps running on your AR glasses.

Word of Syng's existence first surfaced in May, when the Financial Times reported that the company was helmed by longtime Apple designer Christopher Stringer as well as key HomePod engineer Afrooz Family. Now, a newly filed patent application reveals not only how Syng's technology works but also shows detailed renders of what may well be Syng's still-unannounced first product.

The application, filed in late November, explains how Syng wants to use spatial audio tech to replace physical devices with virtual speakers, how it may use AR platforms like Apple's ARKit to map out a room, and how it could recreate immersive 3D soundscapes. It also shows off Syng's deep roots in Cupertino: At least a dozen of the 18 credited co-inventors previously worked at Apple.

Syng did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Syng has been in stealth mode since its founding in 2018, with a website that includes little more than the company's minimalistic three-dotted logo. "We are committed to reimagining the world of audio by focusing on the future-state of sound as a gateway to the senses and a catalyst for new experiences," the company's LinkedIn page nebulously proclaims, while revealing little else about its technology. The Financial Times was equally vague in May, reporting that Syng's speakers would create "revolutionary sound" that was "indistinguishable from reality."

Syng's newly filed patent application fills in most of the blanks. It includes detailed renders and descriptions of a spherically shaped speaker that packs two woofers facing upward and downward, as well as three pairs of mid-frequency drivers and tweeters arranged in a ring for 360-degree beam-forming. The speakers, dubbed "cells" by the company, can be placed on a special stand, wall mount or hung from the ceiling.

It's worth noting that companies regularly attempt to patent products and technologies that don't ultimately make it to market, and that images in patent filings can be deceiving. However, the renders in the Syng patents are notable for their level of detail, down to the circuitry and the locking mechanism for a stand, suggesting a fairly advanced development stage.

The filing also offers some clues about how the company intends to market the product: A setup of Syng cells is meant to be modular and expandable, with the patent application noting that it "can be constructed using only a single cell and enhanced (potentially due to the acquisition over time) with additional cells."

Syng vs. 7.1 speaker setup Syng wants to recreate the sound of a traditional 7.1 home theater setup with just 3 speakers.Image: USPTO

Each cell setup is controlled by a master speaker that knows how many speakers are in the room, as well as other data about its environment. That master cell then renders incoming audio for spatial playback, and pipes it to the other speakers in the room, which is where the immersive audio magic comes in. For instance, if someone was watching a movie with 5.1 surround sound, Syng cells would be able to render the audio in a way that makes it sound like the listener was surrounded by multiple virtual speakers in addition to the physical cells.

"Given the spatial control of the audio, any number of different conventional surround sound speaker layouts (or indeed any arbitrary speaker layout) can be rendered using a number of cells that is significantly smaller than the number of conventional speakers that would be required to produce a similar sound field using conventional spatial audio rendering," the patent application reads.

In other words: Syng cells are meant to re-create 5.1 or 7.1 sound with just two or three physical speakers.

Syng AR functionality Syng may use mobile devices with depth-sensing capabilities to map rooms for spatial audio.Image: USPTO

The speakers shown in the filing include microphones used for both voice control as well as to map the sonic environment. A mobile app meant to control the speakers could also be used to aid spatial mapping, with one screenshot showing a mobile AR interface to facilitate 3D scanning of a room. Apps will also allow consumers to change the arrangement of audio in the room and place individual instruments within a space.

The functionality of Syng goes beyond music: The patent application also mentions ambient sound spaces, including audio re-creations of a jungle, complete with birds and monkeys. In addition to just providing these sound spaces as background audio, Syng envisions more utilitarian applications, including "functional directional alerts or beacons for guidance" for home safety and similar use cases.

Even more intriguing is the combination of Syng cells with AR and VR. Syng's filing mentions the ability to connect spatial audio with AR visuals. This could include cover art or more abstract sound visualizations.

Syng also envisions its technology to take cues from sensors in AR and VR wearables to reproduce audio in true 3D, thanks to an additional cell suspended from the ceiling for Z-axis coverage. "Audio can be rendered in a manner that tracks the head pose of a user wearing a virtual reality, mixed reality, or augmented reality headset," the filing reads. Immersive audio without the need to wear headphones could be especially useful for lightweight AR glasses.

To pull all this off, Syng is relying on an impressive talent roster. A third of the company's employees on LinkedIn indicate that they previously worked at Apple; other former employers include Harman, Bowers & Wilkins, Nest and ROLI. In addition to Family and Stringer, notable members of the team also include longtime Apple user interface designer Bas Ording and Chris Kyriakakis, a USC professor who has been teaching audio signal processing for more than two decades. Nest founder Matthew Rogers is a board member, and former Vevo CEO and Magic Leap CCO Rio Caraeff recently began advising the company.

It's still unclear when Syng will release its first product. The Financial Times reported in May that the company was targeting Q4 of this year, but that the pandemic may lead to delays. Still, there are some signs that Syng may be gearing up for a product launch: The company registered a trademark for "Cell Alpha" in August.

Workplace

Netflix’s layoffs reveal a larger diversity challenge in tech

Netflix just laid off 150 full-time employees and a number of agency contractors. Many of them were the company’s most marginalized employees.

It quickly became clear that many of the laid-off contractors possessed marginalized identities.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

After Netflix’s first round of layoffs, there was a brief period of relief for the contractors who ran Netflix’s audience-oriented social media channels, like Strong Black Lead, Most and Con Todo. But the calm didn’t last.

Last week, Netflix laid off 150 full-time employees and a number of agency contractors. The customary #opentowork posts flooded LinkedIn, many coming from impacted members of Netflix’s talent and recruiting teams. A number of laid-off social media contractors also took to Twitter to share the news. It quickly became clear that similar to the layoffs at Tudum, Netflix’s entertainment site, many of the affected contractors possessed marginalized identities. The channels they ran focused on Black, LGBTQ+, Latinx and Asian audiences, among others.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Fintech

Crypto doesn’t have to be red or blue

Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand are backing bipartisan legislation that establishes regulatory clarity for cryptocurrencies. This is the right way to approach a foundational technology.

"Crypto doesn’t neatly fall along party lines because, as a foundational technology, it is — or should be — inherently nonpartisan," says Diogo Mónica, co-founder and president of Anchorage Digital.

Photo: Anchorage Digital

Diogo Mónica is president and co-founder of Anchorage Digital.

When I moved from Portugal to the United States to work at Square, it was hard to wrap my head around the two-party system that dominates American politics. As I saw at home, democracies, by their very nature, can be messy. But as an outsider looking in, I can’t help but worry that the ever-widening gap between America’s two major parties looms over crypto’s future.

Keep Reading Show less
Diogo Mónica
Diogo Mónica is the co-founder and president of Anchorage Digital, the premier digital asset platform for institutions. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the Technical University of Lisbon, and has worked in software security for over 15 years. As an early employee at Square, he helped build security architecture that now moves $100 billion annually. At Docker, he helped secure core infrastructure used in global banks, governments and the three largest cloud providers.
Fintech

What downturn? A16z raises $4.5 billion for latest crypto fund

The new fund is more than double the $2.2 billion fund the VC firm raised just last June.

A16z general partner Arianna Simpson said that despite the precipitous drop in crypto prices in recent months, the firm is looking to stay active in the market and isn’t worried about short-term price changes.

Photo: Andreessen Horowitz

Andreessen Horowitz has raised $4.5 billion for two crypto venture funds. They’re the industry’s largest ever and represent an outsized bet on the future of Web3 startups, even with the industry in the midst of a steep market downturn.

The pool of money is technically two separate funds: a $1.5 billion fund for seed deals and a $3 billion fund for broader venture deals. That’s more than other megafunds recently raised by competitors such as Paradigm and Haun Ventures.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Entertainment

How Amazon built its kid-focused Glow video calling projector

Robots, laser pointers, talking stuffies: Amazon’s devices team went through many iterations while developing its very first interactive projection device.

The Amazon Glow is the first interactive projection device sold by Amazon, and it could be a stepping stone for the company to use the technology in other areas.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Cats love chasing laser pointers. So why not have kids do the same?

When a small team within Amazon’s devices group began exploring the idea of a kid-focused video calling device nearly five years ago, they toyed with a lot of far-out ideas, a laser pointer controlled by an adult calling from afar being one of them. The suggestion was quickly dismissed over eye safety concerns, but it did lead the team down a path exploring projection technologies.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories
Bulletins