xMEMS Labs Debuts New Monolithic MEMS Speaker Designed for Better, Longer-Lasting Headphones and Earbuds
Audio technology developer xMEMS Labs revealed its new Montara speaker, a microspeaker designed for earbuds and headphones. The company claims the monolithic MEMS speaker can offer better quality sound and consumes less energy while being more durable than the standard models used today.
Montara, named for a beach park in California, builds the entire speaker out of silicon, making it smaller and easier to adjust for near-field speakers, the kind used in headphones and earbuds. The design makes it easier to replicate a sound more precisely and more often than other types of speakers. And despite being smaller, Montara can be louder than the market standard. Using Montara also reduces latency in hearables, so that active noise cancellation can operate across more frequencies and block more sound. And because it uses capacitors instead of a current, the drivers need less energy to run than existing headphones and earbuds.
“We know that people are consuming more audio content. [Montara] reduces energy consumption so that audio devices can last longer before needing to recharge,” xMEMS vice president of marketing and business development Mike Housholder told Voicebot in an interview. “That is a significant advantage for [Montara] in the current market. Right now, we are working on near field speakers, but in the longer term, we are [looking at] loudspeakers.”
For manufacturers, there are other benefits to using xMEMS’s creation. Because the whole system is built with silicon, the speaker is more resilient, able to resist water, dust, and other contaminants without needing painstaking drying. In other words, people will be able to trust their headphones and earbuds to survive what often requires replacement today. And while microspeakers are traditionally assembled in a factory using voice-coils. The Montara design uses a fabless model that Housholder said can operate more efficiently, with a tenth of the people needed for the voice-coil manufacturing process.
“Until now, the industry has relied on antiquated, centuries-old multi-component voice coil speakers requiring labor-intensive, high variability factory assembly lines,” said xMEMS CEO Joseph Jiang. “Our revolutionary Montara product is a game changer for delivering a
new combination of audio fidelity, size, energy consumption and uniformity not possible with traditional voice coil approaches.”
xMEMS, founded in 2018, has raised about $11 million from private investors. The company already has a couple of early clients, though Housholder couldn’t say who just yet. Still, Montara is entering an increasingly competitive race for the best, longest-lasting, and least expensive hearable tech. Gartner estimated late last year that consumers would spend $52 billion on wearable technology, including hearables, in 2020, while a study by IDC calculated that hearables make up almost half the volume of all wearables. The COVID-19 pandemic has added some uncertainty to any economic forecast, but the general trend is upward for hearables.
As for what xMEMS is up against, Qualcomm showcased two new Bluetooth chipsets in March created to lower the cost of making Apple AirPod competitors. The chips come with active noise cancellation, and one supports always-on voice assistant technology due to improved battery life, something Montara also brings to the table. There’s also high-end audio developer Klipsch, who announced it was building the smallest and lightest true wireless earbuds ever called the T10 model. Meanwhile, Jabra is going the software route to enhancing sound for its Elite 75t wireless earbuds customers, creating an audio test to generate customized sound profiles. Any advantage will be crucial for the next generation of hearables, especially as voice assistant developers hunt for hardware partners for their wireless earbuds. The next Amazon’s Echo Buds and Microsoft Surface Earbuds, Google Pixel Buds, or Samsung Galaxy Buds+ could have xMEMS tech within if it can live up to its promise.