“VPA is the main driver for the audio industry today,” says Alexis Debray, Technology & Market Analyst, Optoelectronics, at Yole Développement (Yole). “An interesting feature of this new application is that it spreads through various systems: smartphones, smart speakers, smart watches, wireless earbuds, cars, smart TVs and their remote controllers. This application is based on traditional components of audio systems: microphones, speakers, audio codecs, and audio amplifiers. But it also relies on new components related to computing and analyzing voice data, fueled by the emergence of consumer-level AI," adds Dimitrios Damianos, Technology & Market Analyst, Photonics, Sensing & Display at Yole.
Cumulatively, the consumer market for microphones, audio IC, and microspeakers is expected to increase from US$14.1 billion in 2018 to US$20.8 billion in 2024 with a 6.6% CAGR. The volume growth of MEMS microphones offers an idea of the products involved. MEMS microphones in smart speakers will experience a 13% CAGR with volumes reaching 1.2 billion units in 2024, announces the market research & strategy consulting company. In wireless earbuds, MEMS microphones will have a 29% CAGR, reaching 1.3 billion units in 2024.
Yole's latest report, "Microphones, Microspeakers, and Audio Solutions – Market and Technology Trends, focuses on market forecasts and trends in the supply chain, and proposes a detailed technology roadmap for consumer microphones, microspeakers and audio ICs through 2024. Yole and its sister company System Plus Consulting closely collaborate to share their technical expertise and industrial knowledge and analyze this flourishing industry and related technologies.
Recently, System Plus Consulting conducted a full reverse costing study dedicated to the first mass-produced MEMS speaker proposed by USound, the Achelous UT-P 2016 MEMS Speaker. Much smaller than a classical microspeaker, with a volume of only 49mm3, this innovative solution has been built up for in-ear audio systems. But USound also developed a dedicated technology to bring together several MEMS speakers (up to 80), increasing the output sound power and providing better spatial distribution.
“The secret of the first MEMS speaker is not only in the silicon,” comments Sylvain Hallereau, Senior Cost Analyst for IC, power and MEMS at System Plus Consulting. “The packaging solution developed by USound is very important. Indeed the acoustic membrane is fixed onto the package, with a consequent impact on the sound quality. All package structures are designed to enhance sound quality and protect the silicon MEMS, the package is the speaker, as shown on the cross-section and disassembly pictures,” he adds.
Like USound, many other companies are today strongly involved in the microphones, audio IC, and microspeakers industry. System Plus Consulting and Yole have investigated this sector to provide a clear view of each player's strategy and understand their market positioning. So, who is eating the audio pie? “For MEMS microphones, Knowles and Goertek are the main players,” details Alexis Debray. “They have 39% and 28% market shares, respectively, of the US$1.2 billion market in 2018”. Knowles’ revenues might have peaked in recent years, however it is still holding its ground in an expanding market against Chinese players who offer lower cost solutions. In parallel, Infineon Technologies traditionally supplied the microphone die to players such as Goertek and AAC. Today, its strategy seems to have evolved, and the company started to offer a complete MEMS microphone range.
Yole’s analysts had the opportunity to discuss this new strategy with Dr. Roland Helm, Head of sensors at Infineon Technologies. In this interview, he confirmed that Infineon now offers the highest performance MEMS microphone modules in addition to the existing bare die model, is investing heavily in development of MEMS technology, executing technology innovation projects, and collaborating with research organizations as well as startups. "We currently see the advantages of capacitive sensing. The piezo value proposition is still not confirmed for signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), dynamic range, robustness or current consumption. Other technologies like optical may have advantages in niche applications, such as extremely loud environments. Infineon differentiates with high-end performance and low cost."
In this interview, Dr. Roland Helm also confirms that Infineon will soon reach 75dB(A) SNR in small analog interface modules. "All markets needing high SNR lowest hearable noise are hungry for this approach. The highest demand is from headsets, for example with active noise cancellation (ANC), laptops for conferencing, smartphones for high quality zoomed audio tracks of video recordings, as well as all high-quality audio systems."
Finally, the Head of sensors at Infineon Technologies confirms that the company is committed to offer sensors that are "not only designed for artificial intelligence, machine learning and edge computing, but also have the part of the audio processing integrated that is needed in smart low-power edge computing sensor systems."
According to Yole, for audio codecs and amplifiers, currently, Cirrus Logic, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments are the main players in a market estimated to be worth US$3.4 billion in 2018, and market shares of 35%, 18%, and 12%, respectively. A full analysis of the audio supply chain with the leading companies involved is available in Yole’s latest technology & market report.
"In the future, AI processing will probably spread among players, as AP makers likecApple, Qualcomm, and HiSilicon will integrate it. Knowles and Goertek are proposing dedicated audio chips integrating AI capabilities along with codecs and digital signal processing functions. On the other side, IP providers like CEVA and Xperi are working towards chip designs for AI processing. No matter the approach, AI is attracting all the attention," the market research firm states.
A detailed description of both audio reports powered by Yole and System Plus Consulting, is available in the two companies websites.