Unveiled: Audience powers iPhone 4′s impressive noise cancellation

May 17, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle

When we analyzed the Nexus One last January, the big news was its Audience voice processor. The Audience chip takes advantage of two microphones (if you’re counting, that’s one more than most cell phones) to cancel out ambient noise. This dramatically improves audio quality in noisy environments, and the Nexus One’s impressive microphone performance has been a major selling point. (The Nexus One’s other selling point is regular Android updates, but it’s probably best to leave that sore point for another time.) The Nexus One design win was a major coup for Audience, and landed their A1026 Voice Processor on the world stage. You can see the Nexus One’s Audience part highlighted in yellow in this image:

Fast forward to last summer, when our iPhone 4 teardown revealed that the iPhone also had two microphones! At the time, we rather ambiguously reported that it was “used to cut out ambient noise and improve sound quality.” What we didn’t know was whether Apple had invented their voice processor or was licensing third-party technology.

There was one small, 3mm x 3mm chip that we weren’t able to identify during our teardown. It was white-labelled, meaning Apple asked the manufacturer to remove their branding from the package to make it difficult for folks like us to identify. The markings on the chip ’10C0 01S8 0077′ didn’t match any existing part in our database, and we didn’t pursue it further. This part turned up again this February when we got our hands on the Verizon (CDMA) iPhone 4. You can see it here to the right of the A4:

We like mysteries as much as the next guy, so we decided to dig further. Our friends at Chipworks just decapped the chip, and guess what they found? That’s right, an Audience low power audio signal processor. As conclusive proof, here’s the Audience die marking they found inside the chip:

The package has an embedded digital signal processor with accompanying analog front ends. You can see the innards here, courtesy Chipworks:

The iPhone’s audio cancellation capabilities are very impressive, outperforming every non-Audience powered cell phone we’ve tried. You can hear the cancellation in action in this test by PocketNow:

This is a huge win for Audience. They’re seeing impressive traction in other smartphones. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple decides to integrate the technology into the A5 (as they have with other subcomponents) or if this relationship with Audience is long-term. Clearly Audience is betting on the latter—and thus far, they’ve shown impressive execution.

15 Comments

  1. That certainly is impressive, I would love to hear a comparison with Motorola’s Crystal Talk and other noise canceling systems.

    Comment by penguirl — May 17, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  2. good!

    Comment by dyaco — May 17, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  3. phase cancellation!?

    Comment by audiogeek — May 17, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

  4. I’ve used my iPhone 4 standing next to air conditioning units, and the person on the other end didn’t even know it. I could barely here them, but they heard me loud and clear with no background noise at all. It’s amazing.

    Comment by Narg — May 17, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  5. Could someone give me the link of that video? Because the s#%*+= safari on ipad can’t give me the youtube link…just play only…

    Comment by Mike — May 17, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  6. Does the noise cancellation work when we’re using a wired or bluetooth headset? Haven’t tried it out though…

    Comment by Eric — May 17, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  7. It’s a reimplementation of the auditory cortex’s algorithms in silicon. The designer was a neuroscientist and the auditory cortex calculates the location of all the sound sources in the room to enable you to focus on a single speaker in a noisy room

    Comment by susan — May 17, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  8. Too bad it doesn’t work on the headsets…. Or does it?? I doubt it though

    Comment by Gabe — May 17, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  9. No, it certainly doesn’t work with the headset. Which is logical because the headset only has one microphone and the distance to the iPhone mics is not fixed…

    Comment by Elkman — May 17, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  10. Here’s a direct link to the video, via a mobile YouTube link that should work on an iPad:

    (Though, FWIW: The video loaded fine, right in the web page, via Safari on Mac OS X with no Flash plugin.)

    Comment by Marc Farnum Rendino — May 18, 2011 @ 2:33 am

  11. Ah; I guess links are sanitized out – so here’s one last try:

    m dot youtube dot com
    -slash-pound-slash-
    watch
    -question-mark-
    v=UdUtsAA1y2k

    Failing that, the video’s ID is UdUtsAA1y2k – and you can search for it via the mobile YouTube site; that works too.

    Comment by Marc Farnum Rendino — May 18, 2011 @ 2:36 am

  12. Thanks Marc, I tired to search before on youtube too but unfortunatly I didnt know the video name. Apple really need to fix this on iOs Safari with like a double-click to open the video on the Youtube app…because here we can only play… no video link and name either.. thanks again

    Comment by Mike — May 18, 2011 @ 4:05 am

  13. That’s great.
    Of course, he is my son.

    Comment by Donald G Watts — May 18, 2011 @ 9:22 am

  14. Hi, I’m actually surprised after watching the video that the noise suppression works so well in the test. I call my significant other every night, but whenever there is rain (even just drizzle) she could hear it clearly, so for me, the noise suppression does not work too well. When I’m at a construction site, this also happens as the background noise totally drowns out my voice, and the other party could not hear me at all. That got me thinking – is this noise suppression just a hype or does it REALLY work in real life? Let me know guys. Thanks.

    Comment by Dennis — May 19, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  15. Maybe your headset only has one mic. Checkout the Jawbone series of headsets. They are nearly this good, though in practice (I’ve owned 2 now) they seem to have some small difficulties with percussive sounds and raw noise like water running.

    Comment by Markian — May 25, 2011 @ 3:33 pm


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