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Boom! New chip adds more punch to mobile device speakers

Your next smartphone or tablet may have richer, deeper sound even with the small speakers usually found in such devices. On Tuesday, NXP Semiconductors introduced a new integrated circuit and algorithm that boasts five times more output power for sound. Even better, the sound boost won’t damage the speakers, claims NXP(s nxpi), because the chip uses a current-sensing amplifier to dynamically monitor and adjust for the speaker temperature and movement.

Here’s how NXP says this works, along with a short video to provide an idea of the chip’s capabilities:

“Because the speaker is fully protected, the system can deliver significant levels of extra power to make the sound louder and better than before. The TFA9887 optimizes the audio signal based on the movement of the speaker, something no other system is capable of, using the full capabilities of the speaker without pushing beyond the limits. An advanced clip avoidance algorithm monitors audio performance and prevents clipping, even when the power supply begins to sag. Bandwidth extension increases the low frequency response well below speaker resonance.”

The concept is appealing: As mobile devices have quickly evolved with advanced features and functions, some of the basics have been overlooked, particularly, I think external speakers. If I can get richer, deeper and louder sound on my phone or tablet speakers, I’m all for it.

One of the main drawbacks of my Galaxy Nexus(s goog) smartphone is the speaker. Music and voice calls sound great on headphones but terribly soft through the external speaker. Even with just a little background noise, I sometimes can’t hear the phone ring, for example.

I don’t expect music to sound great from the phone’s speaker, but even watching a movie or video is difficult without headphones due to the low sound output. While NXP’s hardware solution won’t address the low sound in my current smartphone, I’m looking forward to hearing it in a new one.

7 Responses to “Boom! New chip adds more punch to mobile device speakers”

  1. Dan Workman

    Louder? Probably. Sound better? Most probably not. This is just adding another layer of audio limiting/compression to audio that is already very over-compressed. More volume, less articulation. Makes you feel like you are being shouted at, when playing at any volume level.

  2. john h.

    Velodyne has been using this technique for 15 years in its design of subwoofers. I don’t know how they are going to be able to do what they cliam unless they also track the displacement of the speaker cone from the neutral position

    • NXP knows exactly where the speaker cone is because they’re driving it, and they have current feedback from it as well. (Reference: TFA9887 datasheet.)

  3. I wouldn’t buy into the hype these guys are creating Kevin. If they cannot provide a basic frequency response graph to back up their product then as an audiophile I am simply not interested. And I’m guessing the reason why they omit such fundamental details is because they are using DSP to mask the horrible frequency response curve in the first place – it’s been done before by many culprits, including Beats Audio. No algorithm or chip can get around the laws of physics when it comes to sound pressure.

    • I doubt that NXP is attempting to get around the laws of physics, since that’s not possible. I’m thinking that they’re making use of the fact that evaluation of sound quality is, in the end, entirely subjective. Your purely number-based view does not consider that truth, but people don’t listen to numbers.

      Anyone who is familiar with psychoacoustics knows that an apparent improvement in sound quality can be accomplished with skillful signal processing, and it’s beneficial, not wrong, to make use of an understanding of human hearing to overcome the limitations of a mobile product that the market demands be small (and therefore must contain extremely small speakers).

      BTW I have no financial interest in any manufacturer. I’m just someone who has loved and studied audio all his life.

  4. Steve K

    This technology has been used in sound reinforcement for years. I thought this might be about an implementation of the MaxBass algorithm that is used on some pop recordings to create the illusion of more deep bass than is really there by adding in higher frequency overtones.