Qualcomm Updates Audio Portfolio With Two New Sound Platforms

April 01, 2024 by Duane Benson

The two new chips target mid- and premium-tier wireless earbuds, headphones, and speakers.

Qualcomm has announced two new chips, the S3 Gen 3 Sound Platform and the S5 Gen 3 Sound Platform, that pack more computing power and advanced digital audio features than their elder siblings. The S3 Gen 3 chips target mid-range earbuds, speakers, and headsets, while the S5 Gen 3 is designed for premium products of the same types.


Qualcomm S5 Gen 3 and S3 Gen 3

The new Qualcomm S5 Gen 3 and S3 Gen 3 sound platform chips

The S5 Gen 3 and S3 Gen 3 SoCs contain multi-core CPUs with CPU and digital signal processor (DSP) cores. The S5 Gen 3 also contains an AI-specific neural processing unit (NPU) core. 

Bluetooth Support and Snapdragon Sound

Both chips support classic Bluetooth 5.4 and Bluetooth LE. When used in wireless earbuds, the chips support mirroring. Bluetooth only allows one earbud to be connected to the phone or other device at a time. With mirroring, the other earbud mirrors the connection and can seamlessly take over the connection when the bud acting as primary is removed or if the signal becomes stronger in the bud that is mirroring.

Qualcomm designed the chips around the Snapdragon Sound platform. Snapdragon sound comes in three flavors: S3 for mid-tier devices, S5 for premium devices, and S7 and S7 Pro for ultra-premium products. Snapdragon Sound is Qualcomm’s mobile sound ecosystem designed to improve mobile audio development and application. The ecosystem products promise lossless immersive sound with low latency and solid resistance to RF interference.

One key feature of Snapdragon sound is Qualcomm’s proprietary compression/decompression audio CODEC, aptX. aptX uses compression algorithms optimized for Bluetooth transmission. It provides a compression ratio between 5:1 and 10:1 to deliver lossless streaming of 24-bit audio sampled at 48 kHz.

The two SoCs also use Qualcomm cVc echo cancellation and noise suppression (ECNS) technology to manage the reduction or elimination of echoes in the audio stream. When combined with active noise cancelation (ANC) technology, the listener is provided with an experience much closer to an ideal listening environment.

S5 Gen 3 for Premium Audio Devices

The S5 Gen 3 adds 50% more memory and greater DSP processing power over the prior S5 Gen 2 audio chip. It is driven by a 200-MHz CPU and 350-MHz DSP. The Gen 3 chip has 5 MB of RAM, up from the Gen 2’s 2.64 MB. It uses Qualcomm’s fourth-generation adaptive active noise canceling (AANC), an improvement over Gen 2’s third-generation AANC. The S5 Gen 3 borrows from the higher-end S7 architecture, allowing for greater development commonality among product lines.


Block diagram of the S5 Gen 3

Block diagram of the S5 Gen 3

Compared to the Gen 2's DSP-based AI processing, the S5 Gen 3 uses an NPU for faster AI processing and lower power. The S5 Gen3 adds support for Bluetooth Auracast, a proprietary Bluetooth sharing protocol. Auracast allows compatible devices to share Bluetooth audio with other compatible devices or listen to public Bluetooth Auracast sources.


S3 Gen 3 for Mid-Tier Audio Devices

S3 Gen 3 also significantly improves on the prior Gen 2 parts. It promises twice the computing power and greater overall processing capability. The S3 Gen 3 dual-core 32-bit CPU runs at up to 80 MHz and is complemented by two DSP cores running at 240 MHz. The Harvard architecture processor comes with 1408 kB data RAM and 384 kB program RAM.

The S3 Gen 3 platform comes with improved third-party support via the Qualcomm Voice & Music Extension Program. The program is designed to improve end-product performance and time to market by ensuring that developers can get the most out of the S3 Gen 3 products without excessive learning curve time.


Wireless Audio—Without Any Compromises

Not long ago, wireless audio meant a big compromise in quality for the listener. External noise could only be masked by turning the volume up to distortion-inducing and ear-splitting levels. With high-performance CPUs controlling the audio operation and DSPs and NPUs bringing advanced audio conditioning to small packages, these new-generation audio chips are delivering a sound experience previously thought to be impossible in a wireless setting. The additional focus on small component footprint and low power use only add to the usability and practicality of such advanced wireless audio capability.



All images used courtesy of Qualcomm.