Tales of VELVET SOUND
A history of surpassing limitations

STORIES

Insider's guide to the development of VELVET SOUND and acoustic technology

HISTORY

Development History

The development of VELVET SOUND

AKM: over 25 years of design and development

The History of AKM's D/A Converters

Innovating DACs since 1989

AKM released their first delta-sigma D/A converter (DAC) in 1989. 

The first-generation Premium audio DAC, a multi-bit device based on DWA (Data-Weighted Average) technology, followed in 1998. 

The second generation was launched in 2007, beginning with AKM’s first Premium 32-bit DAC.

The VELVET SOUND brand launched in 2014, bringing with it a new generation of chip architecture. 

The third-generation Premium DAC, the VERITA AK4490, employed AKM’s enhanced low-distortion technology to achieve 120dB SNR, and an industry-best voltage output performance of -112dB THD+N. 

Further expanding the Premium DAC lineup, the AK445x family is available in 2-, 4-, 6-, and 8-channel configurations.

The Flagship AK4497 stereo DAC was released in 2016.  AKM’s original LSI manufacturing process, optimized for high-quality audio performance, yielded even higher performance, with 128 dB SNR and -116 dB THD+N.

The AK4497 also supports high-resolution sources up to 22.4MHz DSD.

In 2019, AKM introduces the flagship VERITA AK4499, its first current-output DAC.

The AK4499 is AKM's highest-performing DAC, with 140dB SNR and -124dB THD+N.

AKM’s years of experience in the audio industry have enabled them to create advanced solutions that have been adopted by well-established companies around the world, across products ranging from consumer applications to the high-end market.

The History of AKM's A/D Converters

Revolutionizing ADCs since 1987

AKM released their first-generation delta-sigma A/D converter (ADC) in 1987.

The quality of AKM's ADC solutions soon piqued the interest of the audio industry, and they followed up in 1992 with a world-class fifth-order delta-sigma A/D converter.

In 1996, AKM introduced its 2-2 Cascade Connection technology, which further enhanced ADC performance. 

Since then, AKM has consistently provided first-class ADCs with advanced features such as low power consumption, multi-bit delta-sigma modulation, and AKM's original bi-directional DWA (Data Weighted Average) technology. 

A worldwide leader in the field of cutting-edge audio capture, AKM has consistently improved conversion resolution, from the first generation of 16-bit devices to 18-, 24-, and now 32-bit ADCs, and has increased sampling frequencies from 48kHz to 768kHz.

The VELVET SOUND brand launched in 2014, bringing with it a new generation of chip architecture.

The first VELVET SOUND product, the flagship VERITA AK5397 ADC, was released with an unmatched SNR of 127dB. 

In 2016, the premium high-end AK557x series and premium AK555x series were released, each with 2-, 4-, 6-, and 8-channel variants. 

In total, nine products are available in the premium 32-bit ADC lineup.

AKM’s years of experience in the audio industry have enabled them to create advanced solutions that have been adopted by well-established companies around the world, across products ranging from consumer applications to the high-end market.

MEISTER

Words from the Audio Meister

The creation of VELVET SOUND

INTERVIEWS

The customers of VELVET SOUND

A conversation with engineers

INSIDE

The Inside Story

Insider's guide to the development of VELVET SOUND

Insider's guide to VELVET SOUND

Inside Story #01

The VELVET SOUND brand launched in 2014, bringing with it a new generation of chip architecture. 

The third-generation Premium DAC, the VERITA AK4490, employed AKM’s enhanced low-distortion technology to achieve 120dB SNR, and an industry-best voltage output performance of -112dB THD+N. 

What kind of thought went into the development of the VELVET SOUND family?

Some of our chip designers will share their stories, beginning with the process leading up to the birth of VELVET SOUND.

This is the VELVET SOUND logo, which debuted in 2014.

Inside Story #01

Ms. Seiko Nakamoto: VELVET SOUND chip designer

◆ When did the concept of the VELVET SOUND brand begin?

The name "VELVET SOUND" was being considered around 2011.

At first, we wanted to use a more technical name that was synonymous with AKM DACs, and we wanted to make it a trademark - not a brand name.

We were already in the middle of developing the technology, building on the idea of refreshing the previous generation's tech, so we wanted to present it in a good way.

Our marketing manager had a strong opinion on the matter: "Launch this as an audio brand, not as the name of a specific technology."

◆ Where does the name VELVET SOUND come from?

We were looking for a name that represented the feeling of the sound that we were aiming for. So we came up with "VELVET."

We looked into what the word "velvet" represents - luxury.  Luxury fashion materials, luxury image.

The raw material for velvet is silk.  Silk also represents some key aspects of what we aimed to create.  Silk is smooth, silk is glossy.  Real living material, Real Live Sound.

Velvet is soft, and in order to make something beautiful out of it, you need a skilled craftsman - an artist such as our Audio Meister.

Velvet has a direct relation to music, as it's often used to wipe down LPs before they're played.

So velvet is a perfect fit.

◆ Once you'd settled on the name, were the branded devices ready to go?

No. The challenge for our chip designers at the time was inadequate performance.

The distortion and noise characteristics of AKM's devices were 7 to 8 dB worse than competitors.  Our performance was only second or third in the industry; we couldn't launch the brand with those numbers.

Despite the measured performance, I was confident that the sound quality was comparable to our competitors.

Even though I thought "AKM's audio reproduction is better," that's just subjective.  Our product had to be number one in terms of measured performance.

◆ Why are you confident in the sound quality?

While I was working on the performance improvements, I was also working on sound quality improvement, and the results showed steady progress.

We looked to the past, to the early 2000s. There was a time when AKM was not particularly recognized for sound quality, even though we were number one in distortion and noise characteristics.

Based on that experience, I knew that just focusing on achieving the numbers would produce disappointing results, sonically.  I was convinced that if we could create a technology that both hit the numbers and improved sound quality, that would be a considerable strength.

The project was led by our Audio Meister, Mr. Sato.  After repeated experiments, we'd truly achieved a VELVET SOUND - the theory that had been our foundation had become a reality.

◆What kind of performance improvements had been made by the time of the brand's 2014 launch?

The answers are distortion characteristics and out-of-band noise.

The masterpiece of the brand release was AK4490, which achieved the world's best distortion characteristics and world's lowest out-of-band noise with our newly-developed low- distortion technology and OSRD (Oversampling Ratio Doubler) technology.

Our breakthroughs with these two aspects of audio performance made it possible for many other new technologies to see the light of day.

I am grateful to everyone in the development team who survived those hard times together.

◆ Did the AK4490's completion lead to a successful brand release?

Yes, it did.

It was integral to the process: "Let's make an audio brand!"  "OK, the AK4490 is done."  "Great, launch the brand!"

It was really challenging to develop that first device, so I was very happy to see its successful release.  At the same time, the pressure to surpass it has increased.

A one-shot success does not make a brand, so the feeling that we must continue to innovate and top ourselves is powerful, and ever-present.

◆ What was your goal for the launch of the VELVET SOUND brand?

I really wanted us to be known throughout the industry for audio that has a truly VEVET SOUND.  It's that simple.

When people think of AKM audio products, I want them to think of the world that we feel through sound, and to know that we're constantly working towards bringing that world to them.  That's the concept that I want to convey with our newly-refreshed VELVET SOUND brand website.

Ms. Seiko Nakamoto: VELVET SOUND chip designer
[OSRD Technology] AK4490's plot of out-of-band noise at 1 kHz, 0dBFS input. The noise floor up to about 200kHz is flat, enabling more broadband signal re-creation.
[Low-distortion technology] AK4490's spectrum plot at 1kHz, 0dBFS input Premium DAC, the AK4490, employed newly-developed low-distortion technology to achieve 120dB SNR, and an industry-best performance of -112dB THD+N.
VELVET SOUND was born in 2014 with the launch of the 3rd generation flagship DAC, VERITA AK4490EQ.


About VELVET SOUND

VELVET SOUND is a sound philosophy and brand concept for AKM’s next-generation audio devices, featuring new chip architectures and core technologies.

The new circuitry found in VELVET SOUND devices is designed to maximize dynamics and ensure pure, unaltered audio data, prioritizing the accurate capture and reproduction of the source material in order to achieve high performance and rich musicality. These devices were designed specifically for the high-resolution digital audio era.

*VELVET SOUND Logo™, Audio 4 Pro™ and Audio 2 Go™ are trademarks of Asahi Kasei Electronics Corporation in Japan, Europe and the United States.

velvetsound.akm.com by ASAHI KASEI MICRODEVICES