Audio Roundup: Three New Offerings Amp Up Sound Performance
New products from Dolphin Design, Qualcomm, and Cirrus Logic work independently toward better performance, power consumption, and latency across the audio device industry.
Audio electronics continues to advance on multiple fronts—but not without trade-offs. Mobile and wearable sound system developers seek lower power and smaller circuitry, both of which traditionally compromise the ultimate goal of higher-quality audio.
Today, we round up three new offerings from Dolphin Design, Qualcomm, and Cirrus Logic that each demonstrate how designers are pushing the envelope closer toward a seamless audio experience.
Cirrus Logic's WhisperExtractor technology is described as always-on voice classification at µW-levels. Image (modified) courtesy of Cirrus Logic
Dolphin Design Creates Sound Classification IP
Always-listening devices have become a staple in modern life. A lot goes into a device's ability to recognize a key phrase like, “Hey, Google…” or “Alexa…” from unrelated conversation and background noise. To pick up a trigger phrase, the always-listening device must pass everything it hears on to a digital signal processor (DSP). While this isn’t much of a problem for AC-powered devices, it can take a lot of power from a limited-capacity wearable or mobile device.
Dolphin Design recently released a mixed-signal IP solution that directly targets this problem. It connects directly to an analog microphone and filters for the mel frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC) that are used to identify key phrases. The MFCC is then passed on for identification without the need for a power-hungry, always-on host DSP.
Power consumption must be reduced for a device to filter for audio key phrases. Image courtesy of Dolphin Design
According to Dolphin’s press release, this load shift to a more efficient IP block uses just 10 µWatts, delivering up to 99% energy saving for the MFCC extraction process over conventional methodologies with near equivalent accuracy. This level of power saving can be used to extend the battery life of existing devices and make always-listening voice commands an option for many more small devices that currently don’t have the power budget for this feature.
Qualcomm Introduces Low-latency Audio Platform
Lag is the bane of all high-performance gaming systems. Modern game designers aspire for subtleties in audio performance to be just as precise and sophisticated as the visual component—so much so that many of the highest-performing gaming headsets still tether the gamer with a cord.
To meet these real-time audio needs, Qualcomm announced an extension to its S3 Gen 2 Sound Platform Portfolio targeting improvements in wireless gaming audio performance. The extended Gen 2 platform adds Bluetooth LE Audio and Bluetooth Auracast to Snapdragon sound in dongles and adapters.
Qualcomm S3 Gen 2 Sound Platform. Image courtesy of Qualcomm
The extended platform promises less than 20 ms gaming lag along with 24-bit, 96 kHz high-resolution Bluetooth streaming for "audiophile-quality" music listening. This capability mitigates the headset cord-tripping hazard without compromising audio quality and gaming performance. It can also be used with video conferencing systems to improve the syncing between the image and audio.
Cirrus Logic ADC and DAC for High-performance Audio
Digital audio has made great strides in improving instrument-to-ear reproduction over the past few decades. However, digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) are still a weak spot in the process. It doesn’t matter how much signal processing power the system packs if it can't receive an accurate digital reproduction or produce a true analog signal.
Cirrus Logic recently announced a new product family targeting both ADC and DAC conversion points in professional audio equipment. A set of three ADCs are the first to be released in the family: the CS5302P stereo ADC, CS5304P 4-channel ADC, and CS5308P 8-channel ADC. These products cover applications in multiple markets, from home audio and video, automotive audio, electric instruments, mixers, amps, and professional recording equipment.
CS5304P and SC5308P block diagram. Image courtesy of Cirrus Logic
The devices are 32-bit ADCs supporting differential analog input at sampling rates up to 768 kHz. The THD+N for all three chips is lower than -110 dB. The ADCs are available in sample quantities today, and the DAC chips and enhanced codec will be available in December 2023.
A Greater Emphasis on Audio Fidelity and Precision
The decades-ago transition from heavy, power-hungry analog-to-digital audio was a painful one for audio purists. Improvements have been agonizingly slow due to restrictions in digital device power budgets and practical limits to ADC/DAC conversion technology.
Today, however, the effect of those limitations goes beyond the audiophile segment. The widespread adoption of video/audio conferencing means that audio performance is now an integral part of the corporate world. New game designs deliver fully integrated audio and video experiences. Further, consumer expectations demand high-quality and low-cost systems.
While these three offerings from Dolphin Designs, Qualcomm, and Cirrus Logic appear to address disparate aspects of audio technology, together, they signal a transition from audio being an optional accessory to an integral part of the human-machine interface.