SoundChip, established in 2010, is a solution provider for active noise cancellation and product engineering. The team has decades of patents and product experience from its previous endeavors working with TI, Nokia, and at Phitek. SoundChip operates not as consultants but as solution providers and collaborators, enabling product development teams to access a vertically integrated portfolio of technologies, devices, tools, and services. Solutions and reference designs are available for analog, USB-C, and Bluetooth wireless noise canceling applications. Working closely with manufacturers throughout their products' lifecycles - from the concept phase through development, mass production, and onto long-term product performance stability.
|Noise canceling headphone projects involve substantially greater levels of commercial risk than conventional headphones.
For almost two decades, Asian headphone manufacturers such as Foster, Gamma i-Gear Infotech, Long Prosper
, and others have struggled to develop and manufacture high-performance noise canceling headphones for their OEM/ODM customers. Often at the start of their design and manufacturing journeys, they were not fully aware of the complexities associated with active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones. It is optimistic and ambitious for a headphone engineering team to possess the expertise in system-level audio, headphone electro-acoustics, network control theory, and signal processing needed to master this product category - and then hang onto it in the form of a cohesive team. To be frank, talented headphone engineers are a seller's market in Asia and a game of musical chairs. Every trip to Asia I see the same faces but in different places all of the time.
Many headphone factories' original core competencies were centered around the injection molding of cables and buzzer manufacturing. Best practices for passive headphones simply do not include consideration of aspects such as structural leakage between the headphone driver to the feed-forward ambient noise pickup microphone, or how plastic housing eggshell resonances influence active noise canceling, or the microphonics of microphone wires running through a baffle plate. The consistency of the passive attenuation of a headphone's fit on the ears with different wearers, or even the repeatability with the same wearer are also critical factors - especially with feed-forward designs.
Manufacturers have experienced these mysterious effects and the related complexities associated with noise canceling headphones for years now, and have begun to realize that they need support to excel in this product category. Even the most experienced headphone manufacturers have faced significant challenges when developing their products, including:
- Correctly specifying a headphone's acoustical-mechanical configuration such that it is conducive to delivering effective noise canceling;
- Optimizing a headphone's electro-acoustic performance such that it is conducive to delivering effective noise canceling;
- Managing the many complex cause-and-effect relationships resulting from a noise canceling headphone's "closed" loop behavior;
- Accessing design tools that offer a simple means to tune audio and noise canceling filters and observe resulting behavior;
- Specifying production test requirements and deploying suitable equipment for efficiently performing such tasks; ; including both test and calibration of production units, and identifying the root cause of non-compliant behavior and applying appropriate counter-measures.
Since overcoming these challenges often leads to longer product development cycles, higher product development costs, lower production yields, and disappointing performance outcomes, noise canceling headphone projects involve substantially greater levels of commercial risk than conventional headphones and represent a territory outside of both engineering and management's comfort zones.
Swiss-based SoundChip SA supplies reference designs and engineering support to manufacturers of noise canceling headphones.
The SoundChip ANC Program
SoundChip has spent five years working to address these challenges through the development of a close support package of reference designs and engineering support, ANC chips from its semiconductor partner STMicroelectronics, and the near-completed development of a second generation SoundStation Production automated high-speed test, calibration, programming, and diagnosis tool.
Such a comprehensive solution enables participating headphone manufacturers with the skills and experience needed to develop and produce, at scale, high-performance noise canceling headphones. To participate in this program, the manufacturer is required to embrace noise canceling headphone development best practices, engage SoundChip's technical resources to support new designs, and employ integrated components, acoustics, and software that have been qualified as being viable for ANC applications. This will enable those companies to establish a dedicated ANC production line and lab, equipped with the indispensable technology, services, and tools.
One last note. Noise canceling headphone projects involve substantially greater levels of commercial risk than conventional headphones not just from design and assembly, but due to intense patent coverage accompanied by aggressive patent protection. SoundChip's innovative and comprehensive hybrid digital-analog ANC patent portfolio provides a safe path through these woods and by partnering with major IC vendors, such as STMicroelectronics, it is capable of delivering innovation at speed and with confidence.
SoundChip is discussing opportunities to partner with prospective manufacturers as well as quality headphone brands and welcomes inquires.