From Her to here: The voice behind Xperia Ear
Xperia Ear is the in-ear ‘hearable’ that went from concept to reality when it launched in November last year. Not much bigger than a regular earphone, this tiny box of tricks helps users stay up to date with their schedule, make and receive calls, and plenty more. Hands-free, eyes free, Xperia Ear is really interesting from a design perspective.
In November we spoke to the designer of Xperia Ear, Otani-san, to discover how you go about designing something that needs to sit in your ear all day and remain comfortable.
But there’s another element to the design of that intrigued us – the actual voice you listen to. The voice of Xperia Ear needs to be one you can listen to all day without finding it grating. You don’t need to fall in love with it Joaquin Phoenixstyle, but it needs to be pleasant enough.
To discover more we spoke to Ryu Aoyama, the Product Planner behind Xperia Ear who worked on the voice assistant in Japan, and Haruka Tomatsu who has just provided a new voice for Xperia Ear in Japan.
Thanks for speaking to us both. Aoyama-san, how do you go about choosing voice actors for Xperia Ear?
RA: The most important aspect of Xperia Ear’s voice assistant is a comfortable voice for everyone, even if you hear it 24/7. Here in Japan, Sony’s voice assistant talks to users with hybrid voices; both recorded human voices and machine voices created by a text-to-speech engine.
We auditioned many voice actors and finally chose Minako Kotobuki as she has a mellow and comfortable voice even when mixed into machine voices. In addition to that, her voice sounds natural even if you hear all day with Xperia Ear.
What qualities does an ‘assistant’ style voice need to have?
RA: It needs to be comfortable. A voice you can listen to all day. The comfort of an assistant voice is as important for hearable devices as display quality is for a TV.
How many phrases do the voice actors have to record and how long does this recording process take?
RA: We’ve recorded over 500 sentences per actor in the studio. The process takes several days.
We hear you’ve just released a special edition anime voice in Japan. Tell us about that.
RA: Sword Art Online is a massive anime property with novels, videogames and in February they released a movie. Right from the early planning phases we had the idea to create character collaborations and this series felt like a good fit. We worked with Sword Art Online and Tomatsu-san to record the voice of Asuna (the main heroine) and have just released a special edition Xperia Ear that includes this.
Tomatsu-san, how did you find the process?
HT: It was honestly one of the best professional experiences of my life. I got excited in the recording booth because it was something entirely new for me. It’s cool to think about my voice supporting people’s daily lives and I hope even people who don’t know the Asuna character enjoy my voice as well. Also, I think the special package for this collaboration is really attractive.
Finally, do you think there might be more special voices created for different regions worldwide?
RA: We continue to see how the reaction is in Japan and see if we can expand this technology to other regions at some point.
Find out more about Xperia Ear here.