As we have noted before, 2017 will a huge year for hearables. Our interest is primed for devices with hearing assistance features rather than those targeted to people most interested in streaming audio quality or mobile communications… although there will be overlap. With the expected barrage of products to come, quality and performance will be major differentiators, which can be an issue in a new field with a dearth of known-quality brand name components. One company stepping up with a brand name is NXP Semiconductors.
NXP has recently announced the first product in its new MiGLO line of hearables components, the NiGLO NFMI subsystem. Near-field magnetic induction is an ultra low power wireless system used here to send audio content between earbuds. NFMI isn’t necessary for headphones or wired earbuds, but when earbuds aren’t connected to power, audio sources, or even each other, that’s called “truly wireless.”
According to NXP, Bluetooth, and other 2.4 GHz wireless signals don’t do well transmitting from one ear to to the other. The claimed advantages of NXP’s NFMI, in addition to ultra low power drain, are reduced signal dropout, low latency audio transport (meaning what you hear comes so quickly after what you see that perceived lip syncing isn’t an issue), and tightly controlled left and right audio synchronization so all sound seems more natural, with no timing difference between ears.
NXP has a track record in producing components for the hearing aid industry including NFMI circuitry. The MiGLO NFMI component is the first of a full complement of hearables components the company intends to roll out, some in the next six months, according to a company spokesperson. It’s also noteworthy that several companies, such as Nuheara and Doppler Labs, that have announced competing, truly wireless hearing assistance hearables due in the first half of 2017. These companies were quoted singing NXP’s NFMI’s praises in the NXP announcement about the MiGLO NFMI product: a reasonable indication that MiGLO’s NFMI is the type of brand name component we will look for in other products. NXP also made it very clear the company does not intend to market hearables itself, just components.