Artificial Intelligence

The voice at the heart of new audio system applications

9th December 2019
Lanna Cooper

According to Alexis Debray, PhD. Technology and Market Analyst, Optoelectronics from Yole Development, VPA is the main driver for the audio industry today. Dimitrios Damianos, PhD. Technology and Market Analyst Photonics, Sensing and Display at Yole also said: “An interesting feature of this new application is that it spreads through various systems: smartphones, smart speakers, smart watches, wireless earbuds, cars, smart TVs and their remote controllers.”

This application is based on traditional components of audio systems: microphones, speakers, audio codecs, and audio amplifiers. But it also relies on new components related to computing and analysing voice data, fueled by the emergence of consumer-level AI.

Cumulatively, the consumer market for microphones, audio IC, and microspeakers was expected to increase from $14.1bn in 2018 to $20.8bn in 2024 with a 6.6% CAGR. Looking at the volume growth of MEMS microphones gives an idea of the products involved. MEMS microphones in smart speakers will experience a 13% CAGR with volumes reaching 1.2 billion units in 2024. In wireless earbuds, MEMS microphones will have a 29% CAGR, reaching 1.3 billion units in 2024.

As part of this enthusiastic and dynamic ecosystem, Yole and its sister company, System Plus Consulting, is closely collaborating to share their technical expertise and industrial knowledge. Both partners will deeply analyse this industry and related technologies and deliver a comprehensive description of the audio world.

Yole has recently announced its latest report, titled: 'Microphones, microspeakers, and audio solutions market and technology trends'. This new technology and market analysis focuses on market forecasts and trends and supply chain. This report also proposes a detailed technology roadmap for consumer microphones, microspeakers and audio ICs through 2024. It aims to study major technological trends, understand the value chain, infrastructure and players’ strategy and analyse the related issues.

In parallel, System Plus Consulting conducted a full reverse costing study dedicated to the first mass-produced MEMS speaker proposed by the European company USound: USound Achelous UT-P 2016 MEMS Speaker. Smaller than the classical speaker, with a volume of only 49mm3, this innovative solution has been built up for in-ear audio systems.

USound has developed a dedicated technology to bring together several MEMS speakers (up to 80), increase the output sound power and give better spatial sound power and give better spatial sound distribution.

“The secret of the first MEMS speaker is not only in the silicon,” commented Sylvain Hallereau, Senior Cost Analyst for IC, power and MEMS at System Plus Consulting. He added: “The packaging solution developed by USound is very important. Indeed the acoustic membrane is fixed onto the package, with a consequent impact on the sound quality. All package structures are designed to enhance sound quality and protect the silicon MEMS, the package is the speaker, as shown on the cross-section and disassembly pictures.”

USound and many companies are today strongly involved in the microphones, audio IC, and microspeakers industry. System Plus Consulting and Yole investigate this sector to get a clear view of the strategy of each player and understanding their market positioning.

So who is eating the audio pie?

“For MEMS microphones, Knowles and Goertek are the main players,” said Alexis Debray from Yole. “They show 39% and 28% market shares respectively, of this $1.2bn market in 2018.” Knowles’ revenues might have saturated in recent years. However it is still holding its ground in an expanding market against Chinese players who offer lower cost solutions.

In parallel, Infineon Technologies traditionally supplied the microphone die to players such as Goertek and AAC. Today, its strategy seems to evolve. Indeed the company starts offering a complete MEMS microphones offer. In this regard, Yole’s analysts had the opportunity to debate with Dr. Roland Helm, Head of sensors at Infineon Technologies. They exchanged about technologies, technical challenges, market opportunities and evolution of the industry.

For audio codecs and amplifiers, Cirrus Logic, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments are the main players in a $3.4bn market in 2018. Their market shares were 35%, 18%, and 12% respectively. A full analysis of the audio supply chain with the companies involved is available in Yole’s technology and market report.

In the future, AI processing will probably spread among players, as AP makers like Apple, Qualcomm, and HiSilicon will integrate it. Knowles and Goertek are proposing dedicated audio chips integrating AI capabilities along with codecs and digital signal processing functions

On the other side, IP providers like CEVA and Xperi are working towards chip designs for AI processing. No matter the approach, AI is attracting all the attention.

Finally, ever expanding use-cases are generating a wealth of new data that are fueling AI, giving much more functionality. And what’s better than one’s own voice to control these devices seamlessly? That’s the next battleground for the audio players across the whole supply chain: the voice arena...

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