07 Dec 2023 -
 General

ROBOT ROCK! THE MAN BEHIND SPEECH SYNTHESIS 

c64 screenshot

Ever heard of Forrest Moser? The pioneer of speech synthesis and speech recognition, he made ‘Intruder Alert!’ and ‘He slimed me’ possible...  

Step into the neon-lit, joystick-wielding world of the 80s arcade, where Stern Electronics’ Berzerk became a shoot-em-up sensation! This arcade classic captivated gamers with its use of pioneering speech synthesis. Growing up in the 80s, the game introduced the novel thrill of being chased by a robot (Terminator didn’t arrive for a full 5 years after). It was like the robots had finally found their voice, even if it was just ‘Chicken. Fight like a robot!’.  

Berzerk was a phenomenon, embedding its laser blasts and robot hoards into the collective consciousness of a gaming generation with phrases like ‘The humanoid must not escape’, and ‘Coin detected in pocket’ – a brutal tease to play again. Its legacy didn’t stop at the arcade door either, banging its way into 80’s chart music and beyond… cue ‘Stakker Humanoid’  

Credit to Longplays.org for this

Energised by a blind student’s request for a talking calculator in 1970, Professor Forrest Moser, a space physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, was responsible for this revolutionary journey in speech technology. After a dedicated five years of innovation, Moser’s groundbreaking work culminated in the Telesensory Systems “Speech+” talking calculator. The heart of this device was the pioneering “CRC Chip,” also known as the catchy s14001a – the world’s first self-contained speech synthesizer chip.  

Moser’s invention went into a string of games, like one of the first POV shoot-em-ups, Wolf Pack (1978), and even Stern’s pinball machines, but the most notable application was the Commodore 64 — the home computer that dominated the lower-end computer market during the late 80s. Without Moser, C64’s Ghostbusters would never say “He slimed me!” Here’s a reminder of that

In 1984, Mozer co-founded Electronic Speech Systems (now ESS Technology) with his son, Todd, to develop and market speech synthesis systems based on Mozer’s patents. His work in speech synthesis led to ideas of how to create a single-chip speech recogniser.  

Thus, Forrest Moser, the brilliant mind behind ESS Technology, recorded his name in history as a pioneer of speech synthesis. There’s an interview with Professor Moser here. He modestly says his goal was never to be a big shot; he was just having fun.  

If you are attending NAMM, in LA, or ISE 2024, Barcelona, why not give Astute a call first? 

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Today, ESS Technology specialises solely in Audio DACs and ADCs, but what they manufacture continues to be amazing. They are #1 in Audiophile HiFi, and the acclaimed ESS Sabre brand is massive in that space, down to their HyperStream technology. This feat of engineering has set new industry benchmarks for the lowest distortion and noise levels. The patented Constant-Frequency Feedback Loop at its core transforms digital timing errors into a DC offset, which is elegantly filtered out in the analogue stages, ensuring audio purity that eclipses rival modulators. HyperStream IV, the latest evolution, showcases unmatched performance across various conditions and signals, solidifying its position as a leader in its field.  

2016 saw ESS elevate the industry standard with the launch of the SABRE PRO line, a new breed of audiophile products. The flagship ES9038PRO has been hailed as the finest-sounding DAC available, a testament to ESS’s unyielding dedication to audio excellence. 

2022 marked another significant advancement with introduction of the new SABRE PRO DACs. The ES9039PRO and ES9027PRO not only brought new features and improved power efficiency but also maintained outstanding performance, appealing to both audiophile and professional sectors. This progression of the SABRE series highlights ESS Technology’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of audio technology; these folks are seriously passionate about Audio. 

2023 saw the introduction of the ES9069Q & ES9039Q2M 2-Channel Digital-to-Analog Converters by ESS Technology, raising the bar in ultra-low noise digital conversion with their remarkable dynamic range and THD+N per channel. A candid and forthright European customer recently praised the ES9039Q2M, exclaiming its unparalleled quality thus: 

“Holy c**p, this one is killer! This is the chip we always wanted to have…finally!” 

Enthusiastic European customer

And, next year…  there are more Codecs, DACs and ADCs planned that use Hyperstream IV  

It would not be correct to end an article about sound without a graph, this one provided by ESS’ Dan Guerrero. The red trace shows the measured values. The purple shows the APx looped back on itself. It is clear when the red trace reaches -5dBrA it is running into the Audio Precision’s loopback measurement. Check the green trace for the calculated performance after subtracting the APx noise through root sum square analysis. Wow! 

Fig1: ES9039Q2M THD+N Ratio vs Measured Level compared with APx555B+HPSA

Fig 2: The ES9842QPRO ADC noise floor bandwidth @ -120dBFS/384KHz, applies to all ESS ADCs 

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