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Wireless earbuds were about to make the big time even before a certain smartphone manufacturer took the bold step to drop the long-serving 3.5mm headphone jack from its latest offering. The surprising, but given time, I think sensible and clever step, will likely hasten the adoption of earbuds that are now, thanks to development of small, clever and ultra-low power audio processors, fully realizable. These high audio performance, consumer tech. products, are a logical and convenient accessory to support our ‘everything on-the-go’ ultra-convenient lifestyles.
The notion of the movement of the wireless audio market towards a period of rapid growth is reinforced by figures from a number of studies including research firm MarketsandMarkets who expect the sector to reach USD54 billion by 2022. Much of this future growth is linked to the market for smartphones and other portable devices, moving the area of highest growth away from home audio to the portable consumer segment.
Wireless earpieces, usually using Bluetooth have been around for a long time to enable hands-free call handling. However, consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and expecting more from their mobile audio experience. This is partly driven by some of the wired high-end headphones on the market today that offer great audio quality and have features such as noise cancelling and enhanced bass. Many users will tolerate large headphone and wires in exchange for an audio experience that does their favourite artist’s endeavours justice; therefore wireless earbuds have to really perform if they are to make inroads into the market.
Devices like ON Semiconductor’s LC823450 ultra-low power, high resolution audio processors offer standalone audio playback times in excess of 120 hours when used with two AAA cells. They also have the specification to enable them to punch above their weight and chip away at many sections of the wired headphone market.
They can be used in earbuds to give 32 bit, 192 KHz performance, and within their modest dimensions, incorporate an MP3 encoder, decoders for MP3, WMA and AAC formats, plus a Class D audio amplifier, asynchronous sample rate converter and a six-band equalizer.
Quality audio aficionados are a discerning and demanding audience, so wireless earbud penetration of the whole portable audio market may be some way off. Many ‘average’ consumers however will be more than happy to swap-out their wired headphones for the freedom and flexibility of earbuds without wires.
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