EDINBURGH -- Wolfson Microelectronics, a privately held mixed-signal semiconductor company based in Edinburgh, has gotten a big boost from Microsoft Corp., which will use Wolfson's analog audio D/A converters in its Xbox videogame console due to launch next year.
The Scottish company has developed "a custom-designed audio subsystem composed of digital filter, D/A converter, analog filter and AC-Link interface that's optimized for Xbox specifications," said David Milne, cofounder, chief executive and managing director for Wolfson.
The custom WM9709 chip "offers much higher audio performance" than a regular AC'97 codec provides on a PC, Milne said. "It is as good as the hi-fi audio of a DVD player."
Wolfson supplies AC'97 audio codecs to the PC industry and high-performance audio D/A converters for DVD and CD players in the digital consumer space. Milne said the new WM9709 offers better than 100-dB signal-to-noise ratio, similar to that of the company's WM8716 device for DVD players.
Wolfson has worked closely with Microsoft in the last six to eight months, Milne said. "We looked at their spec, proposed an architecture and defined the chip with them," he said. "For a relatively small company like us, developing a custom product for Microsoft is an exciting project." At the moment, Wolfson is a sole source for Xbox's audio D/As.
Founded in 1985 as a design house, Wolfson now has about 60 employees and a focus on "analog-rich mixed-signal solutions" for everything from digital audio and digital imaging to mobile communications products, Milne said.
The company said its novel multibit sigma-delta converter architecture reduces out-of-band noise without using very high-order analog filters. Such an architecture offers extremely high sound quality without incurring additional cost, according to the company.
Given Wolfson's ability to ship 1.5 million chips per month with foundries in Europe and the Far East, Microsoft's Xbox requirement for volume shipments will "be significant, but we are not frightened by it," said Milne. Wolfson has already delivered an engineering sample of the WM9709 that "is functional," Milne said. Volume production is due to ramp up in mid-2001.