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Noise-Cancelling Headphones: How Do They Work?

Noise-cancellation—a common enough term. We’ve all heard about it, and it seems like a perfect idea. But how do noise-cancellation headphones actually work? They don’t just merely block the sound—that’s what regular headphones do. So how do they do it?

It all comes down to sound waves. The headphones contain microphones that capture the sound waves as they reach your ear, and then electric circuitry generates an “antinoise” signal. This signal is an inverted copy of the original sound wave, which then travel together into your ear. The waves interfere with each other, called destructive interference, and no sound reaches your ear.

So why bother? It seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it? Regular headphones do a pretty good job of blocking the sound. Even if your surroundings are loud, you can just turn your headphones’ volume up, right? Well, yes, of course you can. But when you’re sitting on an airplane, trying to sleep next to the roaring engines, and you have a choice between turning up the volume—greatly—and cancelling the noise entirely, what would you choose?

Personally, I have no need for noise-cancelling headphones. I’m not constantly around loud noises, so normal headphones are enough. But then again, I live in a small town. Perhaps someone in San Francisco, or New York, or Los Angeles would find the occasion to use them much more than I would. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

Another alternative is the happy medium—noise-reducing headphones, like our vPulse In-Ear Headphones, that still block a great amount of ambient noise. They don’t require batteries, are lighter, and, of course, are much less expensive, while retaining very good quality sound. While the noise-cancelling headphones and the regular headphones have their own niches, the noise-reducing headphones are perfect for any occasion.

Then again, next time I’m on an airplane, I think I’ll be yearning for the noise-cancelling earphones all the same.

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Donald Dunn 1941-2012

I’m not going to lie—I had no idea who Donald “Duck” Dunn was until I saw the news story announcing his death. You probably have no idea who he is either. Upon further investigation, I learned that I have been hearing his songs all my life. You probably have been too.

A bass guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee, Dunn was a session musician, playing with Booker T. & the MGs, the Blues Brothers, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and many others. He lent his bass to The Mar-Keys for “Last Night,” to Otis Redding in “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” to Booker T. & the MGs for “Time is Tight,” and to Rod Stewart in “Tonight’s the Night.”

To pay homage to Duck Dunn’s memory, went on YouTube and found “Time is Tight.” I settled back in my chair to listen, eyes closed. The song began to play, and I started out of my chair. Yes, it was Booker T. & the MGs, but it was almost unrecognizable. The tiny, built-in speakers for my computer were woefully inadequate for Dunn’s complex bass. The sound became distorted, tinny, and hollow. It pulled all the soul out of the music, which horrified me. As a devout music lover, it pains me to hear such soulful music being mangled so carelessly. Turning off the song, I took out my vPulse headphones, plugged them into my computer, and eagerly waited for the beautiful and complex bass to begin. The song immediately came alive and I began to relax as I heard Dunn strumming his bass guitar, each a unique and separate sound, unlike the low, constant hum I heard before.

Donald “Duck” Dunn was a great man and a great bassist. Even in death, he taught me something valuable. A good set of speakers makes all the difference.

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Velodyne subs are the perfect canvas for up-and-coming Northern California artists

Multi-talented visual artist, FORCE 129, brings his vision to our sound

This week begins an exciting new chapter for Velodyne. We currently have some top-secret projects in the works that promise to deliver an innovative mix of audio technology and modern art. And I just got the go ahead to give you a preview of one of these projects.

Velodyne has been collaborating with art gallery Anno Domini to marry the world of audio with the world of art.

Located in San Jose, Anno Domini features exhibitions by renowned international and local artists, as well as up-and-comers in the art world. And we’ve been teaming up with hand-selected artists who are bringing their inspiration and passion to our audio products. These artists will be transferring their style and vision to our subwoofers by custom painting them, turning what has traditionally been a square box into a thing of beauty.

Artist Lacey Bryant explores the subtle tension between the beautiful and the unsettling

The first four of these experimental painted subs will be shown during the SubZERO Festival in San Jose, California. But this is the just the beginning. Get ready to see some incredible custom subs in the coming months, as we bring in artists from all over the world to create limited edition audio works of art. You’ll see a multitude of styles and techniques, from fine art to graffiti art to spray paint.

And we’re not stopping at subwoofers. But that’s one of the other special projects that needs to remain top secret…for the time being, at least

Check out some of the first hand-picked artists featured at the SubZERO Festival:

Lacey Bryant

“As is common in Lacey’s work, there is a subtle tension between beautiful and unsettling elements. Though the settings are usually very light and airy there is a certain heaviness in the atmosphere and a distinct melancholy about the girls with wild hair and confrontational stares. We are presented with things we are uncomfortable with-spiders, holes, crack and decay. This contrast is constructed to create a sense of mystery and mood, enticing the viewer to linger and embrace their own hidden dark sides or even to find the beauty in something that scares us.”


“His recent work has transitioned from abstract graffiti towards a more evolved version of his past letter based work. Creating a hybrid style of work that is able to bridge the gallery with the street. Abstract in nature yet structured in letter based form. Poesia’s work explodes with color and form, creating a cryptic version of his wall work. Layers upon layers of paint, Poesia is able to build a deep dialogue between fine art and graffiti with his pieces.”


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A Truly Plug and Play Gadget for People Who Like to Skype or use VoIP

Naturally, we spend a considerable amount of time discussing the way sound is projected from audio products like our DD-18+. But this spring a cool little gadget with an impressive ability to capture sound will be available to those who like to use Skype

I first saw Blue Microphones’s Tiki device a few months ago at CES in Las Vegas. This nifty little USB gadget is the size of a memory stick and it plugs right into your computer. It also listens with the intelligence of human hearing.

“It pulls your voice to the forefront and minimizes everything else…computer fans, keyboard typing, and cartoons in the background,” said Hillary Money from Blue Mic.

It also has auto-muting, which puts you on mute after you stop talking for three second. And as soon as you start talking again, it takes you off mute.

These are great features for using any VoIP.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Voice over Internet Protocol, it has actually been around for quite awhile. But the internet hasn’t always been ready to handle it with the speed and bandwidth necessary for having a “natural” sounding conversation with someone. In recent years, however, there have been great improvements to speed and bandwidth that make VoIP an exciting opportunity for technology companies, as well as consumers.

How does it work? VoIP is simply a method for taking analog audio signals, like the kind you hear when talking on the phone, and turning them into digital data that can be transmitted over the Internet.




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Composing the sound signature of your car: Audi R8 e-tron e-sound

So, does a car really have a signature sound? Yes. I know this because my father worked for Mercedes-Benz for 30 years. As a result, I’ve been able to tell when a Mercedes is driving up behind me since middle school. The engine has a very distinctive sound that I could easily pick out of an audio lineup. I couldn’t describe in words exactly what it sounds like, but I can instantly distinguish it from the sound of any other car engine on the road with 100% accuracy.

The automobile industry, however, has undergone many changes since my middle school days. One of the biggest is the advent of the electric car. It seems inevitable that every carmaker will be moving in this direction. And with the electric car, comes the silent engine. Does this mean car engines will lose their signature sounds forever?

ELVIN (The Electric Vehicle with Interactive Noise) is the brainchild of Warwick Manufacturing Group, which has been working with British car makers fine-tuning the sounds of vehicles for years

Absolutely not. In fact, creating a signature car sound could become an art in and of itself. Just ask the makers of Audi. The car company is currently working towards the debut of its electric supercar, the R8 e-tron. And Audi is bringing the idea of a signature sound straight to the gas pedal…and directly out of two speakers mounted to the front of this much-anticipated car.

Audi has spent over three years working on the e-sound audio system for its silent supercar. They started out by testing an R8 e-tron prototype in an 1,100 square-foot sound lab.

“The problem is you don’t have any tool that you can buy on the market. You have to develop the hardware. You have to develop the software. And you have to find a great sound for the car and this took us more than three years.” said Dr. Ralf Kunkel, Head of Acoustics for AUDIO AG.

Check out some of the results:
For the die-hard car enthusiast, the Audi R8 e-tron has four electric motors that, together, produce 313 HP coupled with an impressive 3,319.03 lb-ft of torque. It can reportedly go from 0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds and has a lithium-ion battery with 42.4 kWh of capacity. That means the cautious driver would get about 154 miles of driving on one charge. But I’m guessing whomever is behind the wheel of this car is not a cautious driver.

And while the idea of creating signature sounds for your otherwise silent engine may seem like nothing more than a unique marketing and branding strategy, it was born of something entirely different.

A silent car is a safety hazard for many pedestrians, bicyclists, and others on the road. In fact, just last year the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 was signed into law. It requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that electric and hybrid car manufacturers add noises that alert pedestrians to their approach.

This practical technology certainly presents a unique opportunity for some awesome innovations. Hmmm…I see downloadable car-tones in our future.

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Raising Lil’ Bow Wow: hiding my taste in music from my child

The little guy's first ultrasound at 16 weeks.

As soon as I got pregnant, I had to rethink many things in my life, including one of my most prized possessions – the small case of CDs mixes I had made in high school during the glorious days when Napster was alive. With the help of free downloads, every Friday night my friends and I would cruise down the streets of downtown suburbia belting out the lyrics to a new music mix blasting from our car speakers. But here’s where it gets weird – on our way to Uptown Yogurt, we enjoyed exposing our quiet neighborhood to the nastiest songs we could find – classics like Freaks of the Industry by Digital Underground and Give me that Nut by Easy E. Looking back, I realize how inappropriate this was. But we were otherwise such good girls, which is probably why we found this activity so hilarious and thrilling.

Fast forward ten years and I still know every lyric to Snoop Dogg’s Aint No Fun and still find great enjoyment in singing along to them – windows rolled up of course so I don’t overwhelm unsuspecting shoppers in the Trader Joe’s parking lot with references to Snoop Dogg’s balls. Maybe it sounds odd or even perverted. But my love affair with these songs isn’t really about the dirty words, it’s about reliving a carefree time when outings meant frozen yogurt not the grocery store, extra sprinkles not responsibilities. Speaking of which….I was now becoming a mother, which I had heard was the biggest responsibility of all. What did this mean for myself, my husband, and most importantly, my mix CDs?

I turned to for some answers, which had been sending me vital information about my pregnancy like when my baby was developing fingernails or had reached the size of a kumquat. I found an article called Music and your unborn child, and while there wasn’t much talk about the musings of Snoop Dogg, one obstetrician said he “observed a 33-week-old fetus pattern his breathing to the beat of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.” Well, perhaps I needed to get my sh*t together then! With a protective hand over my pregnant belly, I changed my Pandora radio station from Two Pac to Beethoven and read on.

“You may have heard that exposure to music makes kids of all ages smarter in math, but Gordon Shaw [a neuroscientist at the University of California at Irvine], who pioneered this type of research, says these studies focused on older children, not fetuses. “ Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist who studies fetal development at Johns Hopkins University adds, “There are no studies on the effects of stimulation before birth on intelligence, creativity, or later development.” The article cautioned against wearing headphones around your pregnant belly (those new mamas sure get creative!) because amniotic fluid is a good sound conductor. Luckily, I hadn’t thought of putting my vPulse anywhere besides my ears.

So I kept the classical station going for a couple of hours – feeling smart – but when Sunday rolled around and it was grocery time, I knew this was going to be the real test. Sure enough, the instant I was back in my car and stopped at a red light, my fingers itched for my CD case – craving to feel those inappropriate lyrics and heavy beats flowing through my body.  I thought, When do I kill this habit in order to hide from my child truths about the world and about myself? I took a deep breath – pregnancy could be so exhausting sometimes. Feeling my tension rise, I gave up and slid in a tattered disk titled “Rap Mix!” I turned up the volume (not too loud) and let myself be me. If the little one was bobbing his head to the Notorious B.I.G, I decided, for now, let him jam. 

Here's my son at 20 weeks, rocking out.

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4 ways American Idol is like the Hunger Games

Full disclosure: I love televised singing competitions, and American Idol is a regular feature on my DVR. Despite the overly-maudlin backstories and ubiquitous product placement, it’s hard to forgo the delicious pleasure of ruthlessly judging people from the comfort of my own home–especially since it lets me live their dreams vicariously and forget that I could never do what any of those kids do. The show creators have hit on an endless vein of drama centered around lifting up and then crushing very young, very vulnerable and very talented people, and I tune in every week to see who gets stomped on and who gets a stay of execution.

This description could apply to many shows on TV right now–the compelling nature of competition is that someone wins and someone loses. But the manner in which the kids on American Idol compete is evocative of a recent literary and cinematic phenomenon called the Hunger Games. You may have heard of the series, considering the book’s been lighting up bestseller lists for the last 140+ weeks and the movie grossed $600 million internationally so far. Just in case you haven’t, the series centers around 16-year-old Katniss, a resourceful and rebellious citizen of Panem who is forced into a cruel competition that pits 24 children (called “tributes”) against each other in a highly-publicized (and televised) fight to the death. Of course it’s fictional, but it features strong parallels to the cultural TV phenomenon that is American Idol. Quick disclaimer: I don’t mean to make light of children murdering each other, nor do I wish to accuse American Idol of crimes against humanity. I do understand the difference between a voluntarily-entered singing competition and a government-mandated, homicidal tragedy. I’ve just noticed some structural similarities between the US super-hit and the most popular show in Panem. Here are some elements the two share:

Left: Ryan Seacrest; Right: Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci)

1. Charmingly benevolent celebrity host. Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci in the “Hunger Games” film, is charismatic, fashionably dressed, and charged with putting the contestants at ease while sussing out their stories to win them sympathy from the audience. Sound like anyone on American Idol? Ryan Seacrest has been a fixture of American Idol since its first season, and is a natural as the harmless and popular master of ceremonies. It’s his job to root for everyone, even though almost all of them will fall prey to the whims of the nation. It’s also his job to encourage audience investment in the contestants, telling viewers that they “must vote for [their] favorites.” (As a personal aside, I’d love to see the site traffic analytics for on voting night.)

2. Elaborate strategies for winning over hearts and minds. In the Hunger Games arena, as on the Idol stage, the support of the public is vital to the success of the contestants. Gifts from sponsors often mean the difference between life and death for Katniss and the other tributes, while votes determine Idol contestants’ fates. And to win gifts or votes, contestants need to develop careful strategies for garnering favor. Your fashion choices, your touching backstory, your strategy in the competition–all of it matters, both in Panem and in the world of televised singing competitions. From song choice (Idol) to fabricated love stories (Games), moves are calculated. The thing is, it works; even though I know I’m being manipulated, I’m regularly moved to tears by the performances, just as the citizens of the Capitol wail and swoon watching the romance blossom between Peeta and Katniss. I vote for contestants who make me feel something.

Top: Eben Franckewitz, 15-year-old American Idol contestant; Bottom: Rue, 12-year old Hunger Games tribute (played by Amandla Stenberg)

3. Young and innocent contestants. The rules of the Hunger Games dictate that the tributes must be between twelve and eighteen years old, ensuring that they inspire maximal sympathy and emotional involvement from the citizens of Panem. The innocence of the contestants also contributes to the horrific cruelty of the Games, of course. The Idol rules allow for contestants between the ages of 15 and 28 (it used to be 16-24). The four remaining contestants this season are 16 (Jessica Sanchez), 18 (Hollie Cavanagh), 19 (Joshua Ledet), and 21 (Phillip Phillips). This gets to heart of the parallels I see; there’s a reason child actors are so often traumatized by the early vulnerability of the spotlight, and I feel for the youngest kids as they’re told they aren’t good enough. The guilt doesn’t stop me from tearing apart their performances or voting against them, though. Who do you think I am, a saint?

4. Cultural saturation. The Hunger Games are mandatory viewing in Panem, and much of the citizens’ lives are dominated by the ramifications of the event. Each of the twelve Districts sends two of its youthful citizens as tributes, and each District is consumed by the desire for one of their tributes to prevail. This fervor has a very different tone in the Idol contestants’ hometowns than in the fictional Districts; instead of dread, the Idol competitors’ neighbors look on with excitement as one of their own achieves fame. T-shirts, lawn signs and storefront displays are splashed with contestants’ faces; some town even have billboards made in honor of their finalist. And while Idol ratings have dropped off somewhat, the show still draws millions of viewers nationwide each week and is a regular source of water cooler discussion. Even after the show ends, many finalists achieve very real commercial success, dominating not only TV ratings but also radio waves and the iTunes charts. Idol is a cultural phenomenon 11 seasons strong, with no end in sight.


Benevolent Siren

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Getting your groove on…during your lunch break? Swedish “lunch discos” keep the work day fun

She may have to go back to work in an hour, but right now it's party time!

How do you stay motivated and keep your energy up during the work day? Do you listen to pump-up music through a pair of headphones? Take frequent short breaks? Sneak in a nap when the boss isn’t looking?


How does a midday dance party sound?


If your answer is “pretty freaking awesome,” you’re not alone. A new Swedish craze called “Lunch Beat” is another European trend that puts a spin on traditional dance club practices (see last week’s post by AudiOdysseus on the “silent disco”). It combines the best thing about the work week–lunch breaks–with the best thing about the weekend: getting your dance on. The concept was created in 2010 in Sweden, and has since spread to other European countries. The gatherings are not-for-profit affairs, though a small entrance fee is required to cover the cost of the venue and provided lunch.

The idea behind the lunchtime discos is to encourage “playfulness, participation & community,” according to the movement’s official website. An hour to let loose and get your blood moving has positive effects on the workday as well, giving workers a burst of energy and helping them avoid a mid-afternoon slump. Plus, in my humble opinion, dancing is its own reward. Who doesn’t need a little joy in the middle of their day?

If you’re inspired to organize your own lunch disco, check out the organization’s guidelines. If we start throwing these at Velodyne headquarters (and possibly give some DD-18+ subs a workout), you can bet offices in a 5-mile radius will want to join in on the party. Keep an eye on our YouTube channel just in case we start to get some blackmail-worthy videos of dancing Velodyne employees…


Benevolent Siren

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Join us in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge

GG and the 64E

Velodyne's LiDAR sensor ready to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge

All of us here at Velodyne are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our offices are located in Silicon Valley, a short driving distance from San Francisco and, arguably, the most famous bridge in the world. Of course, I am referring to the Golden Gate Bridge. And it just so happens that this American icon turns 75-years-old this month.

I was unaware of this birthday when I recently got to play hooky and take Velodyne’s 64E LiDAR sensor up to the city by the bay for a photo shoot. And I fell in love with the beauty of San Francisco and the Golden Gate all over again.

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

Now, let me say that I am a New York girl at heart. That’s where I was born and raised and it will always be at the center of my soul. But I spent over five years living in San Francisco and, in that time, there was one thing that always amazed me. After five years of pounding the San Fran pavement, it was a regular occurrence to stop dead in my tracks, amazed at the beauty of the scenery. Every day I felt like I was living in a painting.

And that bridge in the background of the city is, in my opinion, just about as close as something man-made can get to rivaling the beauty of nature.

So, if you are lucky enough to live in or near San Francisco, be sure to join in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Make sure you don’t miss the fireworks display. And if you aren’t local, I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve posted for you.

Here are some facts about the Golden Gate Bridge that you may not know:

  • In total, the bridge is 8,981 feet across and its tallest point is 746 feet.
  • It is famously “over-engineered and is four times stronger than it needs to be.
  • It took over four years to build and cost over $35 million.
  • Each of its twin towers weighs more than 44,000 tons and the total weight of the bridge is almost 900,000 tons.
  • It is the second largest suspension bridge in the U.S. and, if you untangled all of its cables, they would stretch around the world three times.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge is painted a deep shade of International Orange, which is specially formulated to protect the bridge from the danger of rust from the moisture of the fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean.
  • There is more than 10 million square feet of steel to paint on the bridge and painting it is hard work. It takes a team of about 30 painters. The only thing that stops them from doing their job is rain. But the bridge is wrapped in fog 70 percent of the time and the winds can blow 60 mph-which can cause problems because workers usually use spray guns.

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