In tune with the extended use of smartphones and smartwatches, headphones have been going cordless, providing users with freedom and flexibility in daily activities.
But some conservative consumers have shunned wireless earphones, as they tend to be wary of the battery lifespan and reluctant to learn how to connect the Bluetooth.
But once you go cordless, it is hard to go back.
Thanks to advancements in chip and battery technologies, these small earpieces are the epitome of cutting-edge audio (hence the higher cost).
To better understand how these tiny devices work, The Korea Herald looks here into the latest true wireless sound systems, Apple’s AirPods Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Plus.
Do chips matter?
As they do in smartphones, chips play the most important part in wireless earphones, acting as the brain that controls key features, such as voice-activated commands, management of sensors and power, a stable wireless connection and maintaining low latency.
The size of the chipsets also matters, as they determine the space for batteries -- the smaller the chipset is, the bigger the battery can be.
That is why both Apple and Samsung highlight their chipsets in their latest versions of earbuds.
Apple designs the main processors for its AirPods lineup.
The AirPods feature the W1 chipset, and the latest AirPods Pro sport the H1 processor.
With the chipset upgraded from W1 to H1, users can enjoy greater perks such as “Hey Siri” voice control, an extra hour of talk time, two times faster switching between active devices, 30 percent lower gaming latency, 1.5 times faster connection time for phone calls and wireless charging for the battery case.
According to Apple’s description, the H1 uses the system-in-package design, which stacks up different types of integrated circuits using separate dies, in order to take up less space in the earbud.
Compared to a system-on-chip, which puts all components on a single circuit manufactured on the same process, the benefit of the system-in-package design is saving space, as the circuits need not be spread across a printed circuit board.
“The SiP design is meticulously arranged, with the placement of each component based on the form of the human ear, maximizing comfort, fit, and stability,” the company underlined.
The package includes 10 audio core processors that enable low latency audio processing for real-time noise cancellation, combined with power-efficient wireless technology that delivers a fast and stable wireless connection to devices.
As shown in the diagram created, the AirPods Pro sport the relatively small H1 chipset and a larger battery underneath the chip, which provides over 24 hours of listening time and 18 hours of talk time.
As for Samsung Electronics and its Galaxy Buds Plus, the company boasts its all-in-one power management chipset MUB01.
On a single chip, Samsung has integrated up to 10 discrete components, including switching chargers and discharge circuits, enabling the chipset to occupy less than half the space of its predecessors.
The design has allowed more room to be allotted to the battery for longer playback time and more flexible designs, according to Samsung.
“Long battery life and small form factors are key requirements for these wireless earbuds,” the company said.
With the bigger space, Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Buds Plus with an 85-milliamphere-hour battery that offers 11 hours of play time and 7.5 hours of talk time on a single charge, and an additional 11 hours when quickly charged in the cradle.
Need noise canceling?
The most active debate concerning wireless earbuds is about the noise canceling functionality.
While Apple has differentiated the AirPods Pro from rival products by adopting the function, the Galaxy Buds Plus haven’t.
Noise canceling technology is not new to earpieces, though.
Bose originally invented the technology in the early 1980s to prevent ear damage for pilots and it was later used by tank crews in the US Army, according to a story from New Scientist published in 1992.
Noise can be canceled with anti-sound. A microphone is designed to pick up noise and an electronic circuit analyzes it and produces an opposite noise. Where the original sound wave has a peak, the anti-sound has a trough and vice versa, canceling each other out.
The AirPods Pro have three noise-canceling modes: active noise cancellation, transparency mode (which mixes in some ambient sound, enabling users to hear what’s going on around them) and off (not using the noise canceling).
Looking at the usual pros and cons of noise-canceling headphones, the transparency mode seems to be quite an advance.
Two widely known disadvantages of noise cancellation are making people unaware of their surroundings and posing the risk of hearing loss.
Also, the AirPods Pro have a much shorter battery life when the active noise cancellation mode is on.
Unlike Apple, Samsung has maintained its stance on adoption of the technology: Rather than adding the extra function, Samsung focused on enhancing the sound quality, according to President Roh Tae-moon, its mobile device business head.
“Considering that the inner space of the earbuds is very limited and they can be very uncomfortable for ears, which are more sensitive than other body parts, the Buds Plus has chosen sound quality over noise canceling,” Roh said.
However, rumors are circulating that Samsung is currently preparing to add noise cancellation to its next earbud product, which is rumored to come in a bean shape.
On a side note, about the notion that cordless earphones may expose users to greater electromagnetic waves, experts such as those at the National Radio Research Agency say they do not. They explain that Bluetooth earphones emit a minimal amount, and are hence not subject to regulations on systems releasing at least 20 milliwatts of electromagnetic radiation.
Ordinarily, cordless earphones exchange signals with a connected device within a distance of 10 meters, during which the transmitted output is around 2.5mW.
By Song Su-hyun (email@example.com)