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Better Acoustics: Smartphones' Next Frontier

Vesper to team up with AAC; Infineon rolls out MEMS mic with 66dB
2/29/2016 05:26 PM EST
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MattCrowley
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
MattCrowley   3/2/2016 10:07:32 AM
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One product segment I find intriguing is hearables. These would replace your headsets with high quality audio receivers and have enough processing to provide a voice interface AR experience. To really do this well would require 5 mics per set (1 voice, 2 exterior noise canceling 2 in the ear canal to monitor what you are really hearing) which should make microphone vendors happy. 

MattCrowley
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Re: 3D?
MattCrowley   3/2/2016 10:03:31 AM
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Yes you make a good point. With any new technology we need to strike a balance between doing something totally different that might not be compatible with incumbent architectures but still differentiated enough to give us a distinct edge with a given set of customers. 

Size cost and power are always going to be tricky for portable systems, but given some time we will get there. Check out my earlier article in EE Times to get a sense of how piezo mics enjoy some of the scaling laws as early planar semiconductors. 

http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1326431 

 

For VR/AR - yep having an array is the only way to record quality VR and it should be possible to do this in a smartphone form factor although a dedicated device will still be better. 

 

 

MattCrowley
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
MattCrowley   3/2/2016 9:57:26 AM
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Hi TanjB  I never used a carbon mic, but you make a really interesting point. MEMS mics today are honing on on 70dB in smartphones and with beamforming and noise cancellation it should be possible to match the best Bell system phones of yesteryear. 

 

TanjB
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
TanjB   3/1/2016 10:12:24 PM
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Ah, ok, just keep in mind your Panasonic operates off up to 800 mW with a 3kHz wide bandwidth at about 50db S/N, down a wire maybe a half mile before it meets a junction point that converts it to digital and adds it to a modern world.  Your cellphone can give you a 10kHz bandwidth at 60 db over several miles of free air at about the same power level, including an ability to move data and images.

What makes your cellphone sound poor is usually the earpiece.  Try plugging in some good headphones.  I was using Sennheiser plugged into my Nokia 1020 and my friend was using a Galaxy 5, I could hear so clearly that I could distinguish the acoustic changes as she walked into her garage and hear the change from stone to wood of her shoes as she walked.  The ability of the system to deliver accurate sound is phenomenal.

But it is really difficult to make a good speaker fit into a mobile AND keep things private, which is a whole set of problems your panasonic does not have.

The technology is fine.  The goals being solved are very different, which leads to various compromises.  Your panasonic is too big to fit in your pocket, and your cellphone is too slim to host a full range earpiece that couples well to your ear.

realjjj
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Re: 3D?
realjjj   3/1/2016 7:42:58 PM
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I get the choice here, you need to address the existing market and if your tech can do that, ofc it's the best way to go. Was just wondering about the future since it is something that will be needed and it looked like the multiple plates design could enable interesting solutions.  As to how to enable it, don't really know mics or MEMS, those were just some on the spot ideas inspired by your design. Now i wonder if an upside down pyramid/flower design wouldn't be better for what i was suggesting, as you have more flexibility in doing different SKUs with different plate sizes.


For VR/AR, i look at them as one, they got to become one and some of the most exciting products are somewhat that (HoloLens, Magic Leap). But the ideal glasses would mean huge power and volume constrains and somewhere in the next 10 years everything needs to get to good enough to be squeezed in the form factor. Microphones would be a key sensor not just something that records audio and don't see how using more than 2-3 will be feasable when every mm2 is essential.

VR cams seem to be very primitive ,some way to go before they reach both the quality and price required for them to be exciting.I hope to see 360 cams in phones soon. I imagine an all around bezel-less device with foldable screen that wraps around the device and a pop-up 360 cam. Decent 360 audio would be a must and in high end phones many microphones are doable. Bellow the high end , cost effective solutions would be needed and the volumes are high. A few years ago everybody was fighting over the high end AP in phones. Qualcomm, Intel, Nvidia, TI and a few others. While they were doing that, Mediatek and Spreadtrum took over the low and mid.  High end has appeal, higher ASPs, maybe better margins but the world, as it is today  can offer good opportunities bellow high end. Easy to implement cost effective solutions are always a great plus and maybe that's a key advantage for you that you can exploit with future generations in the mid and long term.

Anyway, thanks for the reply and eager to see what creative solutions your future products might employ.

MWagner_MA
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
MWagner_MA   3/1/2016 3:55:09 PM
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What was meant is I have a plain old telephone line in my house with a line powered panasonic phone.  The technology that is driving that is basically 100yrs old and sounds better than any cell phone I have heard recently.  You can still plug in a 50yr old phone to that line and it will work!

TanjB
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
TanjB   3/1/2016 3:33:10 PM
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If you ever used an old carbon mic or worked with the analog phone system, your memories have added a gloss the original never had.  The carbon mics hissed, the frequency range was narrow, and the system defined job well done at 40 db S/N.  It was terrible.  I used it, and I worked with it.

The modern mobile system with wide bandwidth high fidelity codecs is capable of delivering sound quality close to that of FM radio (if you want to hark back to analog days - 15kHz bandwidth at about 70 db S/N, about the same as typical vinyl 50 years back).  Now, not all the operators set their phones by default to use the good codecs.  Depending on your carrier and your handset you may need to look up some access code tricks to change defaults.  But that has nothing to do with "struggling to meet .. quality of .. 100 years ago".

People get the quality they ask for.  If consumers care, the technology today can deliver great results.  MEM microphones are very useful, their low cost and power enables us to look at array technlogies for voice capture in noisy environments using beams and cancellation.  No one would ever use a Bell Phone carbon mic at a concert...

MWagner_MA
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
MWagner_MA   3/1/2016 11:18:11 AM
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Thanks for the thoughtful reply.  Good point about noise cancellation.

MattCrowley
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Re: attempting to catch up to 100yr old technology
MattCrowley   3/1/2016 11:12:47 AM
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It is a great irony that voice quality has gone down so much with the advent of mobile phones but just because people tolerate this as a necessary tradeoff for mobility does not mean they like it. If you give customers a product that does not require a tradeoff between call quality and mobility they will opt for better call quality. 

In the past 5 years, mobile HD voice has been deployed by 117 operators in 76 countries soley to provide consumers better voice quality. Now that mobile networks can support high quality voice, the call quality bottleneck  is in the mics in the phone itself. Microphone quality also has a big impact on the effectiveness of active noise cancellation. 

Another point is that smartphones are used for much more than voice calling. Voice user interfaces are becoming ubiquitous and any technology that improves the accuracy of voice detection will be rapidly adopted. Smartphones are also being used to record video and audio and the quality of audio recording just isn't good enough. Adding advanced audio recording will mean the difference between clearly hearing a couple exchange vows at their wedding or hearing a child's lines in a school play and not hearing them. Selecting the best quality phone is a small price to pay to capture priceless memories. 

 

MattCrowley
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Re: 3D?
MattCrowley   3/1/2016 10:33:47 AM
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The current design is meant to be omnidirectional and can't be used as a standalone directional mic. But there are some other design concepts we have for the future but I can't discuss them in a public forum. 

I am a big believers in arrays and directionality but for now we think using multiple mics with good spatial separation is the best approach. 

One interesting point you bring up is the use of audio in VR and AR. For AR, some of the hearable devices coming out are very interesting. The VR developers we spoke to all agree that having spatially correct and immersive audio is needed to get the best customer experience. One application that will use very large arrays of mics are VR cameras which are currently using 8 mics and want to use more. 

One other point is that the Vesper mics can be made natively differential by routing the 4 plates into the two halves of the differential signal. This allows us to achieve best in class PSR, PSRR and AOP. 

 

 

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