Qualcomm Announces Multiple New Audio Platforms to Support New Use Cases for Next Generation of Wireless Speakers, Headphones and Hearables

June 21 2017, 03:00
During its voice and music developer conference held recently in Shenzhen, China, Qualcomm made two exciting audio announcements. The company announced its new Smart Audio Platform to help manufacturers accelerate the development and commercialization of smart and networked speakers. Qualcomm also announced multiple new audio platforms for next-gen wireless speakers, headphones and hearables, each one uniquely tailored to support new market demands, particularly as consumers rapidly adopt wireless audio devices.

The combined announcements made by Qualcomm Technologies International, a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated, are an unprecedented multi-product launch, which builds on its proven connectivity and sound quality expertise to support growing demand for high performance, low power audio devices.

Later this year, Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform will support numerous assistants, including Amazon Alexa Voice Service, Google Assistant, and Android Things, also providing AllPlay networked audio support, and interoperability with existing and future AllPlay ecosystem products. 

Additionally, Qualcomm introduced its next generation Qualcomm DDFA audio amplifier technology for high-resolution audio devices including wireless speakers, soundbars, networked audio and headphone amplifiers (see separate story).

Smart Audio Platform
Qualcomm announced major additions to the company’s already broad portfolio of audio system-on-chip (SoCs) platforms. Each of the platforms is individually tailored to support new market demands, with one designed to offer significantly higher processing performance, another that supports flash-programmable memory flexibility at fixed-function ROM price points, and a third solution that supports the development of wired USB-C audio devices designed to deliver superior audio quality. The platforms are also designed for specific applications and use cases, including next generation high performance headsets and speakers, comprehensively featured mid-tier headsets and speakers and wired USB-C headsets.

According to Qualcomm, the company’s next generation high performance single chip Bluetooth audio flash-programmable platform - CSRA68100 - is designed for premium wireless speakers and headphones, and offers four times the DSP processing power of its predecessor, along with a powerful 32-bit dedicated developer application processor. The CSRA68100 is designed to provide OEMs with significantly more programming resources and freedom to develop use cases with unique and differentiating features. 

The highly integrated platform also supports a comprehensive selection of connectivity, system processing, audio processing and power management resources. The platform includes a next generation Audio Development Kit (ADK) ADK6.0 which is designed to provide developers with a suite of Bluetooth SIG qualified applications and profiles, alongside a multi-processor software development environment, tool chain, and audio DSP framework. 

This new tool kit is intended to simplify and enhance the development experience, accelerating the design of use cases that have multiple functions running simultaneously, with simple switching between functions to create rich end-user experiences. 

QCC3XXX is a new family of entry-level, flash-programmable audio SoC platforms at competitive price points for Bluetooth headsets and speakers. These devices support a rich set of features, use cases and customization, supporting OEMs in their development of unique products for market segments which have typically been restricted to fixed function ROM devices.

The QCC3XXX family includes eight SoCs – three which support Bluetooth speaker applications, and five which support Bluetooth headset applications. Coupled with Qualcomm’s development kit and tools, these devices are designed to provide a flexible platform for designing quality Bluetooth audio products. The QCC3XXX family is designed to provide consumers with access to advanced technologies at some of the most affordable price points for listening devices, including features such as Qualcomm aptX audio and Qualcomm cVc noise cancellation technology and enhanced Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo.

“There are seismic shifts taking place in the audio industry as consumers rapidly adopt wireless audio devices, use streaming as their preferred method of listening to music, and demand smaller form factors as well as increased portability from their audio devices. No other company is as uniquely positioned to help drive this evolution as we are,” says Anthony Murray, senior vice president and general manager, Voice and Music, Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd. 

“Our audio platforms have been widely proven for more than 15 years working with many of the world’s leading audio brands and our broad range of audio technologies including Qualcomm aptX audio, Qualcomm cVc and Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo have helped to redefine the wireless listening experience. With this expanded portfolio we are helping to meet future industry needs and bring next-generation speakers and headphones to commercialization by supporting crucial enhancements in sound quality, connectivity, processing performance and device size.”

“As the new category of ‘hearables’ emerges, there is a convergence of traditional audio device features with wearable technology in ultra-small form factor devices. Users of these devices want high-quality audio combined with advanced features including sensors for biometrics, voice recognition and support for cloud connected ecosystems, which poses a big challenge for traditional manufacturers,” adds Murray. “Hearables users also want all-day performance and battery life from their ear buds and personal assistants. In Q1 2018 we aim to launch a new family of low-power Bluetooth audio SoCs which are highly optimized for intended use in compact, feature rich devices, and are designed to reduce power consumption by more than 50 percent for voice calls and music streaming compared to our existing portfolio.”

At the Shenzhen conference, Qualcomm Technologies also introduced its WHS9420 and WHS9410 single chip USB audio SoC platforms designed specifically for USB-C connected audio devices. The USB-C connector is becoming standard on next generation smartphones for charging, but offers the added advantage of supporting high quality digital audio interfaces. 

As smartphone manufacturers move toward slimmer, monolithic handset designs and start to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack, the USB-C connectors offer an excellent option for those who want to continue to use wired headsets and speakers. These two SoC options are designed to address both the entry level and mid to high end sections of the emerging market. The WHS9420 with integrated ANC supports a superior quality digital audio consumer experience, with up to 192kHz/24-bit audio support over the USB connection and very high quality DAC output. The WHS9410 is an entry level solution designed to bring quality audio performance to lower tier products.

Smart Speaker Platform
At its voice and music developer conference in Shenzhen, China, Qualcomm also introduced a new Smart Speaker Platform to help manufacturers accelerate the development and commercialization of smart and networked speakers. The flexible solution offers two Qualcomm SoC options based on APQ8009 and APQ8017, with a range of software configurations that are designed to allow OEMs to create truly optimized smart speakers across various product tiers and categories. The integrated platform brings together a unique combination of processing capability, connectivity options, voice user interfaces and premium audio technologies to help meet increasing consumer demand for comprehensively featured, highly intuitive smart speakers.

The integrated high-quality performance voice solution is designed to deliver advanced multi-mic far-field voice capability with highly responsive voice activation and beamforming technologies. The platform’s voice software incorporates echo-cancellation, noise suppression and “barge-in” capability, supporting a reliable voice interface in loud or noisy environments even when users are far from the smart speaker. Beside the software support for virtual assistants, the solution provides support for high-quality hands-free voice calls over both VoIP and HFP.

Qualcomm AllPlay multi-room audio technology supports OEMs to utilize Qualcomm’s high performance open ecosystem for whole-home audio music streaming. AllPlay compatible speakers are designed to be easily configured to play synchronized music across multiple rooms, different music in multiple speaker zones, and multi-channel wireless surround sound to multiple speakers in the same room. Consumers can play music from popular cloud-based streaming music services including Hi-Res 32-bit/192kHz content, local music libraries on mobile phones, or DLNA media servers. The AllPlay ecosystem includes a growing number of manufacturers and commercially available speakers from OEMs including, but not limited to, Panasonic, Hitachi, House of Marley, and Magnat, providing consumers with the flexibility to mix and match different brands of speakers in their audio network. Moreover, the new platform supports Qualcomm aptX HD audio technology, which is designed to deliver 24-bit high-definition wireless audio over Bluetooth.

“The Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform combines high-performance processing power, world-class Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, advanced far-field voice capture and wake-word detection, AllPlay multi-room audio streaming technology, and support for major voice ecosystems in a single solution,” says Anthony Murray, senior vice president and general manager, voice and music, Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd. “This platform is ideal for traditional speaker manufacturers wanting to make the move to a connected platform as it is designed to bring together all the necessary hardware, software and tools needed to reduce development time. It also offers a great degree of flexibility for those manufacturers who want to push the boundaries when it comes to possible future applications for smart speakers.”

The platform’s combination of processing capabilities, voice user interface options, flexible wireless connectivity configurations, and premium audio technologies enables manufacturers to rapidly develop and commercialize high-performance speaker solutions. The platform combines advanced far-field voice technology, designed to significantly improve voice-based user interaction with voice assistants, and pre-integrates a range of high-performance Wi-Fi and Bluetooth solutions including improvements for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth coexistence. This flexible set of options are designed to allow developers to select from a of variety dual-band 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi chips with both 1x1 and 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2, and Bluetooth Low Energy.

The platform is also designed to deliver premium audio quality with a comprehensively integrated set of audio codecs including high-performance Bluetooth audio using aptX and aptX HD. The platform also supports the deployment of new premium DDFA audio amplifiers, as well as low-latency AllPlay networked audio technology for whole-home synchronized audio streaming.

To help reduce development time and overheads there are a number of system-on-module solutions and reference designs available now from ODMs including but not limited to Wistron, Compal, Quanta and Pegatron. Comprehensive Developer Platforms for APQ8009 and APQ8017 is expected to be available from Qualcomm Technologies International, for manufacturers who prefer more development flexibility.

The Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform is expected to be available Q3 2017 (planned, subject to change).
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