Qualcomm upgrades Bluetooth audio chips to take on Apple's AirPods

April 28, 2020 // By A Delapalisse
Qualcomm Upgrades Bluetooth Audio Chips to Take on Apple's AirPods
Qualcomm is trying to take advantage of soaring demand for wireless earphones. Apple sold around 60 million pairs of its AirPods wireless headphones last year, giving it more than 50% market share, far ahead of Samsung, Sony, Bose and other rivals.

Qualcomm, the world's largest designer of chips used in smartphones, is bringing the flagship features of Apple's AirPods and other high-end earphones to more of the tiny accessories. Qualcomm rolled out a line of Bluetooth audio chipsets to challenge Apple's lead in wireless earbuds by giving manufacturers the ability to actively cancel out noises and talk to voice assistants with the tap of a finger or a wake word.

The QCC304x is ideal for budget lines of Bluetooth earbuds, according to Qualcomm. The flash-programmable processor adds hardware accelerators for active noise cancelling (ANC), which tends to burn through the compact batteries in wireless earphones. The system-on-chip (SoC) can also be used to control Google's Assistant, Amazon's Alexa and other voice interfaces—but only after tapping a button on the side of the earbuds. 

"We have added voice assistant support at all tiers," said James Chapman, vice president and general manager of voice, music and wearables at Qualcomm, in the announcement.

The audio processor is designed for a wide range of wireless earphones, which need to be paired with smartphones over Bluetooth to send voice commands to the cloud. The chip is based on a dual-core programmable CPU running at 32 MHz. The single-core Kalimba DSP serves as the audio subsystem, running at 120 MHz with more than 256 KB of RAM. It also incorporates 32 MB of integrated flash memory and 98dB Class D audio amplifier.

The chip also integrates Qualcomm's hybrid ANC technology, which can be used to delete disturbances and other sounds from the surrounding area while also supporting the "leak through" of outside noise—such as horns honking, brakes screeching or someone asking for directions—which is recorded and replayed through the buds. That opens the door for manufacturers to bring advanced audio features, including ANC, to more affordable buds.

Qualcomm released another audio chipset, the QCC514x, for high-end wireless earbuds. The Bluetooth audio chip pumps out more performance and reduces power consumption compared to its predecessors. The quad-core programmable CPU is capable of running at 80 MHz. The audio subsystem is based on a dual-core Kalimba DSP running at 120 MHz. It includes the same ANC technology and Class D audio amplifier as the QCC304x.

Next: interacts with Alexa, Google assistant etc

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