Since the iPhone 4, Apple has been including Audience earSmart voice processors in devices to improve both receive and transmit audio for handsets. The iPhone 4 started the trend with a discrete Audience voice processor, and with A5 Apple made the unique move of integrating that IP into their own silicon, something we have yet to see be done with any of the other handset vendors. Since then I've seen Audience in a host of handsets for suppressing noise, reducing echo, and cleaning up audio in both near (phone on your head) and far field (speakerphone and hands free) modes. Getting clean audio is important not just for understanding voice calls, but also maximizing any potential silent gaps in normal speech which in turn enables a significant power savings on voice calls. In addition recent emphasis on handset voice recognition furthers the need for cleaned voice audio.

iPhone 4S Noise Rejection Demonstration - GSM/UMTS - AT&T by AnandTech

iPhone 4 Noise Rejection Demonstration - GSM/UMTS - AT&T by AnandTech

iPhone 3GS Noise Rejection Demonstration - GSM/UMTS - AT&T by AnandTech

Recording demonstrations of what the transmit audio sounds like has been a regular feature in our smartphone reviews, and I've included a few comparisons above just as a refresher. 

Yesterday Audience provided news to investors that although it had developed and licensed a new voice processor for use by a particular major OEM (which was noted as Apple in a follow up conference call), it does not believe it will see inclusion in the OEM's next upcoming product. 

Pursuant to a statement of work under the MDSA, amended in March 2012, Audience developed and licensed a new generation of processor IP for use in the OEM's devices. However, the OEM is not obligated to use Audience's processor IP.
Audience now believes that it is unlikely that the OEM will enable Audience's processor IP in its next generation mobile phone. Audience is not aware of any intended changes by this OEM to its use of Audience's processors or processor IP in prior generations of the OEM's mobile phones.

In the follow up conference call, Audience notes that it had met all its deliverables for a new IP block designed to Apple's specifications, finished tape out, but is confident that it is not implemented in the next upcoming product due to a lack of final testing or confirmation.

There are a number of other players in the noise rejection game, and most are solutions from the SoC vendors themselves. For example, both Qualcomm (Fluence) and Texas Instruments have and license their own noise reduction technology usually alongside purchase of any SoC and PMIC combo, though these implementations either use blind source detection with an array of microphones or a beamforming technique. In addition audio codec players such as Wolfson also have solutions for handset makers.

Whether Apple has gone with an in-house solution of its own or licensed one of these other blocks is unknown. A number of carriers have voice quality standards which much be met to get approval or subsidy, I've been told by a number of players that AT&T's voice quality standards are some of the highest out there, so it will be interesting to see whether some other IP has been selected or if an Apple-proprietary solution is included. I look forward to running our noise rejection tests on any upcoming device and seeing what differences emerge. Interestingly enough, Apple recently shipped its own two-microphone beamforming system in the Retina MacBook Pro. 

Also of particular interest is what implications this has on making an accurate prediction of what SoC will be in the noted upcoming iDevice. Audience's earSmart IP was previously integrated into the A5 SoC (S5L8940) directly, and to the best of my knowledge was inherited into the 32nm A5R2 (S5L8942) revision. As a result it isn't a logical jump at all to suppose that we'll see a new SoC entirely for this upcoming iPhone launch. Commenter ltcommanderdata points out as well that another possibility is that the IP block is simply not enabled in favor of another solution or for cost reasons.

Source: Audience

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  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Apple could still be using the 32nm A5R2, but move back to a discrete audio cancellation chip leaving the Audience block unused. A little bit of a waste, but less so with the 32nm shrink. I guess Audience would still get paid since their IP has been integrated even it's unused.

    Is there a way to add the 2012 iPad into the comparison to see if anything changed in the A5X?
  • Brian Klug - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    And avoid the royalty that way? That's a good point as well. Interesting.

    I haven't played with the 2012 iPad enough to know whether it is present, and haven't seen anyone do enough of a detailed floorplan analysis with that block fingered either.

  • dagamer34 - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Since the iPad 2 doesn't need noise cancellation, Audience IP may already be missing in the A5R2.
  • eanazag - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    I don't read the announcement like it alludes to a new SOC in the next iPhone. What it reads like to me is: Apple bought new IP from this company and they are not going to include this Ip into the next iPhone because of lack of time to test.

    This doesn't mean Apple is not using the the iPad 2 SOC on the new manufacturing process with AudienceEar's older IP from "previous generations". From what I have read here: the iPhone 4S uses the same SOC as the iPad 2 down-clocked. On the new process Apple could raise the clocks and still get power savings compared to the iPhone 4S. And market it as faster and more power efficient.

    I would also argue that the AudienceEar IP (old) is active in iPad 2 and 3. Think about Facetime and cellular Facetime coming in iOS6. Facetime would benefit from this technology as well as video recording.
  • futrtrubl - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Exactly what I think too. Based on "Audience is not aware of any intended changes by this OEM to its use of Audience's processors or processor IP in prior generations of the OEM's mobile phones." what was in previous mobile phones will be in upcoming phones.
  • UpSpin - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    The old iPhone models mostly had a superior SoC to the ones found in Android smartphones. The GPU was much faster (only the latest Android smartphones can top the year old iPhone 4S GPU), the CPU was cutting edge at the time of its release.

    The new iPhone 5 must survive another year. But this year is the year of the ARM A15 processors. If Apple uses old A9 SoCs for the iPhone 5 it won't be competive. I doubt that they release an iPhone 5S in four months with a A15 based SoC. Adding further cores or increasing clock speed to the existing SoC doesn't give that much perfomance improvement and might cause shorter battery life (the SoC in the new iPad gets hot already)

    If the iPhone 5 doesn't use a new SoC based on A15 design, Apple will face a hard year. Because that means that SoCs used in Android smartphones will be noticeable faster than the ones used in the iPhone 5, both CPU and GPU. They will fall back in benchmark results by magnitudes. Game developers will switch to Android, the iPhone won't be the standard to which every new smartphone gets compared to, ...

    I don't think an A9 SoC is an option for Apple at all.
  • A5 - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Apple will sell a bajillion phones no matter what SoC is in it. I'll eat my hat if they have an A15 design ready to ship in volume this month.

    The iPhone CPUs have always been competitive with what launched around them, but they've never held up the whole year. Apple stays competitive on performance by having a stronger GPU than their competition and a highly optimized OS designed solely for their hardware.
  • tuxRoller - Sunday, September 9, 2012 - link

    You're forgetting it can go with something like the s4 pro. The new krait architecture is essentially @ what a15 levels are expected to be.
    Anyways, doesn't ti have the guarantee of being first out with the new architecture?
  • gunblade - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    That is not true. TI is said to be in front of most of the apps processor vendors in terms of licensed standard ARM A15 design. Qualcomm has it now but they are architecture licensee and doing their own design.
    Apple who is also licensed standard A15 core could have it out before others due to their in house use and limited validation criteria set. I don't want to be quoted but there were multiple tape out last year from rumors on the street. A new SOC on the phone is almost set in stone.
  • GotThumbs - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Of Apple pulling from their IPAD (Gen3) parts bin for the CPU/GPU? Apple does have a history of using it's newest upgrades in its other IProducts.

    I don't know enough about the feasibility of this since the Gen3 Pad needed a larger battery for the GPU. Perhaps a slightly crippled GPU to reduce power consumption?

    Any thoughts on this?

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