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NXP's innovation in smart phone sound - any implication for the high-end?

Posted 2nd August 2012 at 05:13 AM by abraxalito

EET seems to be on a run of interesting articles of late - and here's the latest, about NXP's latest digital amp for smartphone speakers:

Achieving loud, rich sound from micro speakers

So yeah, smartphones are a long way from the high-end you say, so why talk about this at all? Well one sentence at the end caused me to pause and wonder how long before this kind of technology gets used where sound quality (rather than quantity) is paramount. I quote:

This leap in performance illustrates an important design trend. The days of stand-alone amplifiers and converters designed in isolation have gone.

The writer has put his finger on a major reason why the high-end of audio is a relatively stagnant pool for innovation. Pretty much everything's designed in isolation - players, amps, speakers. What if those days really are coming to an end, not just in smartphones but in quality audio too? Smartphones have the volume so there's economic justification for major investments like NXP's into melding intelligence into elecromechanical systems. This can't fail to travel up slowly by capillary action - just like chipamps have done for example.
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  1. Old Comment
    Richard Ellis's Avatar
    The Author at NXP seems to be dancing around the perceived problem..an engineers blinders so to speak. These devices need to allocate some truly large spaces within said devices. One cannot flog the drivers the size of a Pea and expect better quality sound. The space management within, needs to have a much larger priority...so much so as to have engineers saying"Why do you need so much space?" The old "brick-phones" had no problem whatsoever with sound quality...because of the driver size & the space allocated. Todays drivers within these devices are almost an after-thought, with engineers screaming "make it smaller".
    Posted 17th August 2012 at 04:45 AM by Richard Ellis Richard Ellis is offline
  2. Old Comment
    abraxalito's Avatar
    I suspect its not the engineers screaming 'make it smaller' but the marketing guys. The marketing guys are desperately trying to play catch-up with Apple with their fondness for ever thinner form factors.
    Posted 17th August 2012 at 07:16 AM by abraxalito abraxalito is offline
  3. Old Comment
    5th element's Avatar
    There have been all-in-one solutions for various different types of hifi components for a while now. TI have had their TAS series, some of the chips accepting up to 192kHz, providing DSP via biquad filters, with limiters and channels of amplification all one one chip. One per loudspeaker would easily facilitate a cheap active two way monitor, or one chip + power stage for a three way. These chips and their surrounding components aren't by any means expensive and allow you to easily design an excellent sounding loudspeaker for peanuts. I've done a two way with them and given the price they sound amazing.

    For those with better performance in mind Zetex has had its line of digital amplification + DSP out for a while too.

    It's as Richard said though, in mobile devices the lack of quality isn't within the silicon hardware, it's within the space allocated and the design permitted for the loudspeakers. It isn't even just in tiny mobile devices though, most laptops have rubbish sound quality too and most of them DO have the space for something like the BF32 from visaton.

    On that note though it just re iterates what I was getting at at the start of this thread. The weakness in probably 99% of the general publics hifi systems are the loudspeakers, it's the same with laptops and mobile devices. The technology has existed for many years to tackle the poor quality in laptops/mobiles/tablets, and to tackle the largest issue (cheap poorly designed xover) in mini system loudspeakers. The tech has also existed to do this cost effectively, yet it seems that sound quality takes a back seat again and again. What's funny is that this is also true in mini systems, where having more flashing lights and a bazillion EQ settings seem far more important then a competently designed pair of loudspeakers.

    If the hardware designers (like ASUS, Apple, Samsung, Dell etc) ever decide to allow the sound to take some sort of precedence over other specifications then we might start getting somewhere. But so far in every device I've ever seen or played with, the sound always seems to be an after thought. Kind of like, okay so we've added everything everyone would expect to get on the PCB and the fascia/bezel designs, now where can we stick the loudspeakers. And what do we get two 2x3mm loudspeakers with less surface area then then a pin head squeezed into sound random location.
    Posted 23rd August 2012 at 10:20 PM by 5th element 5th element is offline
  4. Old Comment
    The implications for "high end" were experimented with by Philips in the 1970's with their motional feedback system.

    Powersoft makes use of a similar concept in their IPAL module.


    Unless manufacturers of domestic audio can prove to the buying public that powered speakers using this technology sound better, and are equally economic to buy, compared to a passive speaker and amp combo, then this technology wont go far at all. Audiophiles seem to like showing off their big shiny amp. If the amp is tucked away inside a speaker it does not have the same effect.
    Posted 24th August 2012 at 12:22 AM by erin erin is offline
    Updated 24th August 2012 at 12:25 AM by erin
  5. Old Comment
    5th element's Avatar
    As far as I'm concerned the true audiophile sector and it's ways leave it stuck in a rut when it comes to real innovation.

    What I'm thinking of is great audio quality sneaking in from behind, from the point of view of the mass produced all in one systems, thus exposing the general public to very good quality sound more of a byproduct of technology advancing.

    It's no secret that class D is going to completely replace class AB etc at some point and with the chips becoming cheaper and cheaper and with better specs and additional features, I think it's only a matter of time until some company thinks - hey these chips are so cheap that adding in another one, and surrounding components, wont make the system that much more expensive, but it will enable us to do an amazing job with the crossover of the main stereo pair. If things end up going that way - which they could very well do - then the general public will be introduced to good sound almost as a a by product of technology advancing.

    Now these kind of technological advances have been around for a while now but more at a price that fits right into the audiophile market. The market doesn't want products like that though, which is a shame, but it's the way it is.

    Class D is becoming more accepted in audiophile circles, but it's going to be a long time before it ever becomes the norm. By their very nature the audiophile circles seem to be very attached to what they already know and dislike change whenever it threatens to overthrow what ideals the people within them hold dear. Some have and do try, but have somewhat limited success, at least in terms of getting others to change their ways and adopt a different strategy. What rules audiophile circles is the past. What rules the mass produced consumer market, is price and that generally boils down to the most recent tech, which also tends to be the most feature packed as the semi conductor manufactures try to outdo each other on specs, whilst trying to offer their version of more for less. I mean if all that exists to the market are predominantly multichannel digital input class D amps with integrated DSP capabilities then the designers would be stupid not to take advantage of them.
    Posted 24th August 2012 at 01:15 AM by 5th element 5th element is offline
  6. Old Comment
    rjm's Avatar
    I was genuinely surprised by my 1st gen iPad. The sound from the mono speaker is actually good, far better than any laptop or PC speaker I'd encountered. A very successful combination of large resonant chamber, rigid metal chassis, a decent amplifier, and a ton of DSP tuning and correction in the background I suppose.

    But turning to "hifi", the matter gets more philosophical: its quite easy to build a highly satisfying system from 20-30 year old technology with no fancy digital processing circuitry. What advantage do I gain from moving to class D, corrective eq? Flatter frequency response? Smaller, more power efficient components?

    The "three box" system: two speakers and a combined receiver/server/preamp/amp/headphone amp. Or a one box system: the diminutive gettoblaster of the 21st century. This is where your innovation is, and the sound quality per dollar or per volume or per watt, by whichever metric you care to use, the progress is real and ongoing.

    But the traditionalist system of separates has been codified and reached its peak many years ago. No leaf has been left un-turned. I don't think there is much to be gained from the new technology in terms of absolute sound quality, or the even more intangible "satisfaction quotient". At the back end at least. In terms of storing, choosing, and playing back music, the physical disk paradigm is utterly stone age, and even the various server-streaming solutions could stand a wealth of improvement.
    Posted 21st September 2012 at 12:30 AM by rjm rjm is offline
    Updated 21st September 2012 at 12:33 AM by rjm
  7. Old Comment
    PlasticIsGood's Avatar
    Encouraged by rjm's comments.

    Music is a moving target. It has continuously adapted itself to whatever means of production and presentation and other circumstances it finds itself in. So, when considering integration, the changing nature of music should be included in the schema.

    My idea of hi-fi is whatever the music expects, and vice-versa. Fully integrated systems will all be the same, there will be no point in DIY, music will be sophisticated but uniform, and nobody will care like we do.

    This will take a while though. For example, music changed a lot to fit the time limitations of vinyl, and even more, over a very long time, to fit the circumstances in which people listen to recordings rather than live.

    Eventually it will change to fit fully integrated headware such that, it will find room systems strange.

    No young people I know have any interest whatsoever in static hi-fi systems. AFAIK such things are not for sale in shops round here.
    Posted 28th December 2012 at 04:50 AM by PlasticIsGood PlasticIsGood is offline
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