Engineering 101

Audio Industry: It’s All About Technology Choices

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In order to offer the most comprehensive and detailed understanding of the audio industry, System Plus Consulting has announced two new reports: ‘Infineon Sealed Dual-Membrane (SDM) MEMS in Goertek Microphone’ and ‘Consumer MEMS Microphones Comparison’.

‘Infineon Sealed Dual-Membrane (SDM) MEMS in Goertek Microphone’ is a full reverse costing study, focusing on the microphone developed by Infineon and Goertek for Apple’s AirPods Pro.
‘Consumer MEMS Microphones Comparison’ is an in-depth comparative review of the technology and cost of 19 MEMS microphones developed by leading semiconductor companies.

Both reports illustrate the growing interest in innovative audio technologies. Without doubt, many questions are pending today, and many players have strong R&D efforts driven by the attractive consumer industry. The consumer MEMS microphone market is expected to be worth $1.6bn in 2024, up from $1.2bn in 2018, announced System Plus Consulting’s partner, Yole Développement (Yole), in its audio technology & market report, ‘Microphones, Microspeakers and Audio Solutions Market and Technology Trends’.

Indeed, the market research & strategy consulting company intensively analyses the audio market and technologies and offers a comprehensive understanding of the supply chain in this report.

Yole’s analysts also had the opportunity to interview Dr. Roland Helm, Head of Sensors at Infineon Technologies, one of the two leaders in the MEMS microphone die industry. Discover how voice human-machine interaction is making noises in the MEMS industry on i-Micronews.

In order to understand the growing interest in the audio industry and its innovations, System Plus Consulting decided to examine Infineon Technologies’ dual membrane based on MEMS technology and developed for Goertek’s microphone.

Released in 2019, this technology is the newest development offered by Infineon Technologies for the audio industry.

“This MEMS microphone structure uses two movable membranes mechanically coupled by electrically insulating columns to enable a differential read-out process”, explained Amine Allouche, Technology and cost analyst for Power Electronics and Compound Semiconductors at System Plus Consulting.

“In between the two membranes, a reduced atmospheric pressure is present where the back-plate electrode is suspended: it is a sealed dual-membrane design.”

Compared to the previous dual back-plate MEMS microphone technology released by Infineon Technologies in 2014, the 2019 product uses one back-plate and two mechanically coupled membranes instead of two back-plates and one membrane, as in the 2014 design, in order to increase the signal to noise ratio up to 75dBA.

According to Infineon Technologies, this new design enables practically noise-free audio signal capturing. In its new report, System Plus Consulting delivers a detailed comparison of the MEMS microphone technologies: Dual-backplate and sealed dual-membrane in Goertek microphones, in terms of structure, process, and cost.

Based on 19 MEMS microphones selected by the analysts, this comparison highlights the technology choices made by leading audio players, with related manufacturing costs and a detailed description of each process flow.

The 19 MEMS Microphones come from the major microphone suppliers: Knowles, Goertek, AAC Technologies, STMicroelectronics, TDK-InvenSense, TDK-Epcos, Cirrus Logic, and Vesper,” said Audrey Lahrach, Technology and cost analyst for IC, LCD & OLED Displays and Sensor Devices at System Plus Consulting.

“At System Plus Consulting, we analyze each technology to provide insights about structures, processes and costs. We utilize a unique engineering approach to cost. Cost models and technology expertise are combined to provide accurate and objective estimation of manufacturing costs and selling prices.

“With this approach, System Plus Consulting analysts look at the packages’ structures, dimensions and substrates. ASIC technology and technology node are also well analyzed. And MEMS dies, dimensions, technology and internal structures are studied in order to determine each manufacturing process.”

Finally, the supply chain is described, together with the strategy of each company involved, and the cost of each MEMS microphones has been calculated. Innovations and technology evolution of each manufacturer have been underlined and compared by the reverse engineering & costing company.

The audio supply chain, including microphones, ICs and microspeakers, has been analyzed in-depth by Yole’s analysts and combined with System Plus Consulting knowledge.

Cumulatively, the total market for microphones, audio ICs and microspeakers is expected to increase from $14.1bn in 2018 to $20.8bn in 2024 with a 6.6% CAGR. For MEMS microphones, Knowles and Goertek are the market leaders. Market share for the two companies was 39% and 28% respectively, in 2018.

And what about Infineon Technologies? The German company traditionally supplied the microphone die to players such as Goertek and AAC but seems to be changing its strategy and has started offering complete MEMS microphones, explains Yole’s analysts in the audio report.

“Infineon traditionally designed and manufactured MEMS mic dies that were sold to other players, but now its business model is becoming more vertically-integrated, to include design, manufacture, and sell,” commented Dimitrios Damianos, PhD, Technology and Market analyst within the Photonics and Sensing division at Yole.

For audio codecs and amplifiers, Cirrus Logic is the clear market leader but is dependent on Apple. Cirrus Logic, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are the main players in a $3.4bn market in 2018 with 35%, 18%, and 12% of the market, respectively.

To complete the story, it is important to take into account AI processing in our global vision of the audio world and its evolution. Indeed, AI will clearly play a key role and will influence innovations behind the overall audio supply chain.

Therefore, AI processing will probably spread among players, and AP makers like Apple, Qualcomm, and HiSilicon could eventually integrate AI processing. No matter the approach, it is certain AI is attracting all the attention.

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