Audio is the main component of VERBA.
In other words, VERBA is made by audio files with some programming around them. For this reason, we set about creating a new form of audio communication that can give users the feeling of being immersed in a different universe. First of all, we had some notable examples, such as audio-dramas or the way radio usually adapts literature and novels to its formats. But that wasn’t the kind of thing we wanted. Indeed, in a radio-drama, the audio situation may be ideal for the listener, but it tends to sound artificial. We needed something different, because we are not a radio station but a social network. In a certain sense, VERBA is always “on the road”.
Technically speaking, for some unknown reason, each smartphone uses a different type of audio encoding. In fact, the audio production of each operating system is incompatible with the others. For this reason, we had to create some cloud processes that translate new incoming audio files from users into a standard MP3 file which can be used on every platform. Once we had the standard format, we started thinking about what kind of audio communication we wanted to offer VERBA users.
Words and music are the two main components of our audio layers, but in a different way compared to the layering of radio programmes. Usually, words take centre stage. We need to hear the words pronounced clearly with every vowel and syllable. But this rarely happens in reality. In real life, what we hear is a mix of lots of different sounds and noises, and even the speaker (source) and hearer (target) are continuously changing their state. Usually, our imaginations fill in the gaps and complete what we only partially hear. This effort of the imagination makes the situation real. Moreover, the music – which is usually reduced to the minimum volume to let the words be heard clearly – plays a key role in our concept of communication. It is a false assumption that our minds can only follow one single process at a time.
In our audio concept, music thus has the same relevance as the words, and the two layers have to compete with each other to dynamically push the listener to follow the different tracks together. Initially, this creates a strange feeling in our users, but once they discover that the brain is perfectly capable of following the different incoming signals and meanings, the impact of this new audio conception changes and becomes a pleasure. An enrichment..
A third layer is made up of sound design. This is not a musical score that intervenes when the two above layers are mute or require a specific sound. Noises are everywhere in our life. Sometimes they are connected to what we are directly seeing and experiencing. And sometimes not, because life is enormously varied.
A fourth layer is formed by undistinguishable human voices. This is because VERBA has been conceived as a social audio network. Our members are not outside our audio files, but instead form part of our communication. They constitute the background voices that sometimes emerge in the distance. But this is not for purely aesthetic reasons. These voices represent you, your presence, and the fact that we are creating all this for our audience. You are always our main focus.
VERBA uses smartphones or tablets.
Firstly, this is because each visitor owns a smartophone, probably equipped with a headset to improve the listening quality.
By using their own smartphones, visitors avoid having to rent some new and unfamiliar system from a tourist service, which normally requires leaving ID documents or other deposits. This solution also avoids wasting time queuing to obtain audio-guide devices. Hence smartphones are more intuitive, cheaper and indeed smarter than any other device designed to do the same job.
Because the smartphone is yours, you are already perfectly familiar with its functions, as well as capable of downloading, installing and using an app. Furthermore, your smartphone can always determine your position and orientation, thanks to its antennas connected to satellite, phone and Wi-Fi networks. That’s all that’s needed. VERBA apps run on three different operative systems, so you’ll be able to find the appropriate version of VERBA on your App Store.
The VERBA team is working with other companies in order to bring new contents to the audience. As a result, you will probably also find VERBA apps distributed by our partners, such as Mondadori Electa for VERBA’s first edition: VERBA Appia.
The Android version of VERBA Appia is downloadable from the app store for Android smartphones. Find the app store icon on your display, tap it and search for VERBA once you reach the store. Here you will find VERBA’s different content proposals, some free of charge, and others at a very affordable price.
The iOS version of VERBA Appia is downloadable from the Apple App Store. You can download VERBA for both iPhone and iPad, and it works on any version of these devices. We suggest using VERBA in combination with a high-quality headset due to noises present on the road, but especially because of the improved audio quality that will greatly increase your sensation of being immersed in our stories and narrations. Voices, sounds and music are combined together to give you the best possible listening experience.
The Windows Phone platform is the third version of the VERBA apps.
If you own a Windows Phone, you can easily access your store and download the appropriate VERBA app.
Once again, we strongly recommend using a good-quality headset. As mentioned for Apple devices, the feeling of diving into our stories is all the more exciting and immersive when experienced on a high-quality headset.
Above, we have introduced one of the main issues that prompted us to use a cloud. But the real reason to adopt this kind of technology lies elsewhere. Today, clouds represent the cheapest and most effective way to build and maintain a network system with the potential to deliver multimedia content to thousands of users at the same time. Not to mention the significant issue of security. We started our project using Microsoft Azure™, the new-born in the Redmond company. This was not because of its integration with development tools, nor for its connectivity or technological power, but because it is remarkably smart.
When just a few users are asking VERBA to deliver audio files, the cloud shapes itself as a single small server that performs as if it were connected to a LAN. But if the number of users increases, Azure is instantly able to pre-warm new computers and add them whenever VERBA requires more power, rapidly swelling to become a colossal supercomputer. Then – when the number of users decreases again – the “colossus” shrinks back to the size of a small server.
Of course, Azure is used to contain our processes, programs and solutions. But it also stores and delivers multimedia data. Even this social website is hosted on the cloud. Other Azure features were activated for VERBA, but these shall remain our little secrets...
Headphones turn sound into an experience. Smartphones can be treated and used just like old cellphones. But their true power and versatility fully emerges when we add some small devices that can transform them into incredibly powerful tools.
Can visitors listen to VERBA on a standard smartphone, with the internal speaker or built-in speakerphone? Can visitors use their smartphone’s internal microphone to leave messages in VERBA?
The answer to both questions is, of course, yes.
However, the same device was probably sold to you together with a pair of small in-ear or earbud-style headphones, which allow you to hear the person on the other end of the phone a bit more clearly. Usually such headsets also have an incorporated microphone. These are better than nothing, but there is an immense variety of solutions available that can improve the sound quality of what we hear and say, ranging in price from a few euros/dollars to several hundred for the more expensive models.
Bluetooth technology has allowed smartphones to be equipped with more advanced wireless headphones. Their quality usually depends on their price, but not only. Some specialised companies offer high-quality devices at relatively affordable prices, providing good value for money. Stereo sound greatly improves the immersive feeling of VERBA’s stories, so we strongly recommend using stereo headphones to obtain maximum enjoyment from our product.
Higher-end headsets include devices that are able to cancel out surrounding noises, isolating the listener and creating a noise-free zone. Some users dislike this solution as it limits their connection with the surrounding world. However, these kinds of headsets create a particularly impressive audio impact, improving the experience for VERBA’s listeners on many levels.
Surround sound is another step forwards from stereo. It improves the positioning of the audio source in our mind’s virtual representation of the soundscape. Assuming the stereo and surround zones act on a 30-degree band at the height of our ears, surround systems can better deal with the audio tracks and vary their location, intensity, levels, etc. Surround sound represents an excellent solution for VERBA’s listeners.
The 30-degree audible band is contradicted by a new generation of headphones. Connected via both wires and Bluetooth, these extremely new devices are able to reproduce and lock the position of three-dimensionally located audio sources. Therefore, when the listener turns their head, the position of the source remains fixed in the 3D soundscape, just like in reality. As you move your head, the sound source moves from one ear to the other depending on which ear is closest. We are studying these new devices with a view to exploiting them in the next evolution of VERBA.
Portable Speakers Type
If you are in a group, and would prefer to hear our stories without wearing headphones, you can use portable speakers. Such devices are available in every price range, from less the ten dollars to thousands of dollars. It is even possible to use your smartphone’s built-in speakerphone, although this will offer a very limited listening experience of VERBA’s stories. Here is an evaluation of some portable speaker options.
The first generation of portable speakers were wire-connected to smartphones. Usually they are not very powerful, but a good wire connection ensures that users have a stable and continuous audio stream, which can sometimes be interrupted with a wireless connection.
There is a wide range of very small mono portable speakers, also available from on-line stores such as Amazon and ePRICE. Mono can be an acceptable solution for music and chatting in the open air, but VERBA’s sophisticated audio files are best played on a stereo system, since the voices are spatially localised and sometimes animated by stereo or even surround effects.
Stereo is the minimum requirement to hear VERBA stories properly. If you purchase a portable speaker system, check the stereo feature to benefit from the audio effects included in the VERBA files.
Some specialised companies offer what we consider to be the best HQ speakers, capable of transforming the act of listening into a captivating experience. Such speaker manufacturers include Bose, Bang & Oluffsen and Marshall, for example. High-quality sound reproduction ensures you get the best out of VERBA, as well as every sound you play. Very good speakers, with a battery life able to deliver music for up to ten hours, can cost around 200 euros.
Recently, some companies have release 360-degree sound diffusers that can involve the surrounding audience with high-quality sound, but without privileging any particular position. By putting these speakers in the middle of your group, you will hear our stories perfectly regardless of your position.