In-depth analysis: Apple’s first noise-canceling headset AirPods Max is released, which will bring industry shocks and upgrade the industry chain

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Starting with the iPhone 7 series of smartphones, Apple completely cancelled the 3.5mm audio interface, and launched a new product line Apple AirPods series true wireless headphones. This solution that uses dual-channel transmission technology with charging case has quickly led the development of the industry, and many manufacturers have followed up and opened the TWS era.

After 4 years of development, the main control chip, power management IC, wireless charging receiver chip, charging case battery, headset battery, touch control, etc. TWS headset industry chain has been greatly improved, further promoting the stability of TWS headsets rapid development.

On the evening of December 8, 2020, Apple released its first headset AirPods Max. This product has reconstructed the headphone beam structure in appearance, using a stainless steel frame with canopy design; the configuration is equipped with Apple H1 chip, supporting active noise reduction , Wear detection, adaptive equalization sound effects, and spatial audio functions.

52audio conducted a preliminary unboxing experience for the first time, and rushed to disassemble it, and then released a disassembly report of 250 Apple AirPods Max high-definition pictures. At the same time, it analyzed the product characteristics of AirPods Max based on the evolution of the headset technology. The dual master chip solution adopted by this headset is analyzed.

As a giant in the field of technology, every expansion of Apple’s new product line indicates the future direction of the industry. The release of AirPods Max is bound to drive the rapid upgrade of the headset industry chain. Whether it is industrial funds, major brand manufacturers, industry technical talents, various supply chain manufacturers, etc., you should not hesitate to seize the opportunity.

After the release of Apple AirPods Max, 52audio conducted in-depth research on this product. At the same time, it has a comprehensive understanding of senior experts in the industry chain. The huge changes in the headset field will drive the rapid upgrade of the industry chain. At the same time, there will be many supply chain manufacturers Benefit from this, including:

Headphone appearance material upgrade, metal structure upgrade: CNC hardware processing factory, main control chip, ANC chip + noise reduction algorithm, noise reduction microphone, battery system upgrade, electronic components, headset noise reduction headset test equipment, generation Top ten related manufacturers such as factories, spatial audio + audio content service providers. Let’s analyze in detail the advantages and opportunities of these top ten manufacturers in this headset revolution.

1. The appearance and materials of the headset are upgraded

(1) Headphone Mould Factory

This time, Apple’s AirPods Max headset has broken through the previous mainstream headset design in appearance. It adopts a new architecture, which is completely different from the original headset and TWS headset mold requirements on the market. It is for the manufacturing capabilities of the mold factory. Put forward new requirements.

In branded headset products, molds are a very important part of headset design. The development of headset molds depends on product requirements. The cost ranges from basic 500,000 to 1 million, and 2 million. It can be seen from the dismantling report. This time, Apple AirPods Max has injected a lot of energy into product molds. It is conservatively estimated that the cost of the entire mold development is about 5 million RMB.

If the mold design is done well, it can bring stable performance to the headset and help realize the noise reduction function. From the disassembly picture, it can be seen that Apple AirPods Max is exquisite except for the A side that we can touch. Delicate, even the hidden side B is also made very exquisite. The material of the structural parts and the connection between each structural part have been carefully designed.

Apple has set a good mold benchmark for headset products this time, and the next market catch-up is about to start, which is very exciting.

(2) Earmuffs and earmuffs factory

Earmuffs are an indispensable part of a headphone product, as well as the part that directly contacts the human body. There are high requirements in terms of material and softness. At present, the two most common forms of earmuffs are the over-ear type and the pressure-on-ear type. The over-ear type has become the mainstream and is widely used.

As part of the headset, earmuffs are also composed of a variety of components, including earmuffs, fillers, mesh cloth, inner support brackets, and some magnets that support adsorption and fixation. Apple AirPods Max earmuffs also use the current mainstream earmuff design. The earmuffs are made of mesh fabric, which is different from the protein skin material used in most previous products. And it is fixed to the headphones by means of magnetic attraction, making it easier to disassemble and clean.

The release of Apple’s AirPods Max will cause many domestic and foreign related manufacturers to follow up. The output of headphones will increase, and the demand for earmuffs will also rapidly increase. According to industry sources, due to the epidemic, the growth rate of the overseas headset gaming headset market has exceeded that of TWS headsets, and the surge in sales of headset gaming headsets has driven the demand for earmuffs. Coupled with the release of AirPods Max headsets, demand has skyrocketed again. While market demand is driving sales, it will also usher in an upgrade in earmuff technology.

(3) Liquid silicone factory

Friends who have already got Apple’s AirPods Max headsets should find that this time Apple uses stainless steel on the head beam shaft, and uses a silicone material on the top. Apple officially introduced that the outer wrapping material is soft to the touch and has excellent strength, elasticity and comfort.

It is reported that the outer package of the Apple AirPods Max headphone head beam uses the same liquid silicone material as the Apple AirPods Pro earplugs, which brings a more skin-friendly feel. And compared with ordinary silicone materials, it also has the characteristics of safer, environmentally friendly, stronger elasticity, yellowing resistance, heat resistance and aging resistance.

Friends who have been in contact with Apple’s official phone case should have a good idea of ​​how comfortable it feels. At present, this material is mainly used in protective shell accessories in consumer electronic products. This time, Apple AirPods Max applied this material to the fuselage to effectively improve the product’s feel and comfort during wearing, or it will drive this material to more product applications.

2. Metal structure upgrade: CNC hardware processing factory

Apple’s AirPods Max headsets use different materials in their appearance design from previous products. The head beam uses a stainless steel frame and the earmuffs are precisely processed from aluminum. The head beam and the ear shell are connected by a unique suspension system to realize left and right rotation and a telescopic sleeve rod for adjusting the length of the head beam. Due to the use of metal materials, Apple AirPods Max uses a CNC molding process in processing.

The full name of CNC is “Computer numerical control”. The automatic machine tool is digitally controlled by a computer, and the blank material is processed into semi-finished products through cutting tools. CNC machining greatly reduces the number of tooling, and processing parts with complex shapes does not require complicated tooling. And the processing quality is stable, the processing accuracy is high, and the repeat accuracy is high. The disadvantage is that the cost of machine tools is expensive, so the processing cost of the product is also higher.

Previously, most of the headphone products used plastic materials in appearance materials. Only the flagship headphone products under the brand will use metal materials on the hinge and retractable structure, while non-brand manufacturers’ products even use plastic hinges and retractable structures. However, products such as Huawei FreeBuds Studio and BOSE NC700 have also adopted a more refined and stronger metal structure to enhance the texture of the product.

The release of Apple AirPods Max headset will further promote the reshuffle of the headset structure. The plastic hinge structure may be gradually reduced, and CNC hardware processing plants will follow suit, thereby promoting the industrial upgrading of CNC hardware processing plants.

3. Headphones enter the era of dual master chips

The release of Apple AirPods Max has not only reconstructed the headphone design, but also has become the headphone master in terms of configuration. It not only supports basic functions such as active noise reduction and wearing detection of current mainstream headset flagship products, but is also equipped with upgrade functions such as adaptive equalization sound effects and spatial audio on Apple AirPods Pro.

In terms of configuration, there are built-in optical sensors, wearing position sensors, headset case sensors, acceleration sensors and gyroscopes (left earmuffs), etc., as well as 9 microphone units for active noise reduction and calls. Perhaps in order to be able to perfectly implement applications with many functions, Apple’s AirPods Max uses a dual master chip design similar to TWS headphones. Both the left and right ear cups are equipped with an Apple H1 chip to enhance the computing power to ensure the output of the function.

52audio discovered the internal configuration similar to the TWS headset when it dismantled Huawei’s FreeBuds Studio  headset noise-cancelling bluetooth headset. The left and right headphones of Huawei FreeBuds Studio are equipped with Hisilicon Hi1132 bluetooth chip. The antenna design, battery charging management system, power path management IC, noise reduction DSP chip and noise reduction microphone are also the same. Only the right headphone has been added due to functional reasons. A touch IC and MCU are different from the left headphone.

Ordinary headphones use a master chip for many reasons, including cost and early technology immaturity. In this year, both Apple and Huawei have adopted a dual-chip solution. The main reason is the addition of the ANC active noise reduction function.

The head beam has always been a difficult point in the production of a headset, especially now that the ANC active noise reduction function has been added. On the one hand, the increase in functions will lead to an increase in the number of wires in the head beam and increase the difficulty of assembly; on the other hand, the signal is susceptible to interference, especially the noise reduction microphone signal is more susceptible to interference and noise.

The dual-chip solution not only minimizes these problems, but also provides stronger computing power in terms of functionality, enabling it to support more functions and a better user experience. But correspondingly, it also brings problems such as battery life and cost. However, Apple and Huawei have adopted the dual master chip solution, which also reflects the possible changes in the headphone market in the future, which will be a great benefit for TWS master chip manufacturers.

4. The ANC chip is upgraded again + noise reduction algorithm

(1) ANC chip
As mentioned above, Apple uses a dual master chip design similar to TWS headsets for applications that can perfectly implement many functions, including ANC active noise reduction. At present, the mainstream headset products on the market all use a single ANC chip, so the noise reduction effect that can be brought about does not actually achieve the best user experience. And the current noise reduction effect can no longer adapt to the needs of different scenes.

The dual ANC noise reduction chip design adopted by Apple, two noise reduction chips provide stronger computing power, combined with the upgrade of the noise reduction algorithm, increase the application space, and have the ability to optimize the noise reduction experience defects caused by the original single noise reduction chip , Such as obvious ear pressure, stethoscope effect, noise reduction effect is greatly affected by the environment and other issues.

In the field of headphone in the future, as users’ demand for noise reduction effects increases, there will be more and more application cases of dual ANC noise reduction chips, and the demand for ANC chips will continue to increase.

(2) Noise reduction algorithm
Active noise reduction is mainly to collect sounds from the external environment and the internal ear canal through multiple microphones. With the built-in noise reduction chip, the noise is automatically detected. After the internal noise reduction circuit is calculated, the sound waves with the same frequency spectrum and opposite phase are released. In this way, the original noise is cancelled and the purpose of noise reduction is achieved.

Among them, the importance of the noise reduction algorithm is no less than that of the noise reduction chip, and the two are complementary. Algorithms provide computing data, and chips provide computing power. The release of Apple’s AirPods Max has become a new standard in noise reduction effect. Therefore, in order to promote the noise reduction effect of their own products, other manufacturers will also increase their investment in noise reduction algorithms to promote algorithm upgrades and enhance product competitiveness.

5. Noise reduction microphone

In the noise reduction algorithm, we mentioned the noise reduction principle of the current mainstream headphones that support active noise reduction. The microphone plays an important role in collecting environmental noise and cooperating with the noise reduction chip to emit opposite sound waves to achieve the noise reduction effect. From the previous disassembly, we found that the microphone units currently used in active noise reduction headphones are mainly divided into ECM electret microphones and MEMS silicon microphones. Both products have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Electret microphones use electret materials that can retain semi-permanent charges, and most do not need to supply power to capacitors. And after a long period of development, the technology has matured and the price is relatively cheap. The disadvantage is that the volume is too large; the inconvenient SMT requires a long lead connection, which causes signal attenuation; and consistency issues, sensitivity issues, etc.

MEMS silicon microphones generally integrate preamplifiers, and even some silicon microphones integrate analog-to-digital converters to directly output digital signals and become digital microphones. It has many advantages such as small size, SMT, and strong stability. The disadvantage is that the price is relatively high.

However, due to the popularization of the active noise reduction function, the current ordinary microphones can no longer meet people’s demand for noise reduction effects of noise reduction headphones. Therefore, many manufacturers have begun to introduce noise-reducing microphone products dedicated to noise-reducing headphones, and use multiple noise-reducing microphones in terminal device applications to enhance the noise-reduction effect.

Because Apple AirPods and AirPods2 products are not equipped with active noise reduction, only two MEMS silicon microphones are configured inside the headphone handle for high-definition voice calls.

The microphone in the Apple AirPods Pro headset is a noise-reducing microphone used to pick up noise in the ear canal.

Apple AirPods Pro true wireless noise reduction headphones are equipped with a total of 3 microphone units inside the earbuds and headphone handle, and two front and rear microphones are used for active noise reduction to pick up ambient noise and noise in the ear canal. The microphone at the end of the headphone handle is still used for call pickup.

In order to achieve a more excellent noise reduction effect, Apple AirPods Max headsets are equipped with a total of 9 microphone units in the two headsets, two are located inside the sound cavity cover, and the remaining seven are distributed on the cavity wall. Among them, 8 microphones are used for active noise reduction, and 3 microphones are used during a call, one of which is dedicated for voice pickup, and two are used for active noise reduction at the same time. Multi-microphone synergy not only improves the noise reduction effect of products, but also increases the sales of noise reduction microphones, thereby promoting the upgrade of the noise reduction microphone industry.

6. Dual battery solution

The widespread popularity of bluetooth headset products is closely related to the advancement of battery technology. Battery life is a threshold that consumer electronic products cannot pass. The improvement of product performance and the continuous enrichment of functions require the support of high-capacity batteries. The space inside the product limits the battery’s capacity to accommodate the battery.

For TWS headset products, due to structural design constraints, the most widely used solution is to divide the battery into two, which can effectively use the internal space of the product, thereby increasing the battery life and supporting more functional applications.

Among the headphones, the aforementioned Huawei FreeBuds Studio  has adopted a dual battery design. Apple also adopted a parallel configuration of two batteries in the charging case of the AirPods Pro true wireless headset to improve product battery life.

Apple AirPods Max headphones also use a dual-battery configuration, which enables them to achieve a noise reduction mode of 20 hours of battery life while supporting many functions, but the difference is that both batteries are set in the right headphone. , Distributed on the left and right sides of the speaker unit, which also makes the weight of the headphones on both sides have a difference of about 22g.

Put the battery in the left and right headphones separately. During fast charging, the headset cable needs to have extremely low impedance. The wire that meets this condition requires a higher space for the head beam, and requires a larger space, and the structure of the head beam is therefore changed. Large, not conducive to the design of the headset. If there is enough space and the weight is close, two batteries are placed in one headset at the same time, there will be no such problem.

For brand owners, the dual-battery design makes efficient use of product internal space, improves battery capacity and battery life, and can provide richer functions to enhance product competitiveness. For battery cell manufacturers, it will quickly increase product sales, and then have the ability to develop battery technology and promote the upgrade of the industrial chain.

7. Electronic components upgrade: light sensor, power chip, antenna, sensor, etc.

In addition to the main control, ANC chip, battery, speaker, etc., the internal configuration of the bluetooth headset product also requires the support of many components such as charging chip, capacitor resistor, crystal oscillator, antenna, etc., as well as sensor chip, light sensor chip, sensor , Gyroscope and other components used to support special functions.

In recent years, the TWS true wireless headset market has exploded, and many supply chain companies have opened corresponding product lines to deploy the TWS headset market. With the release of Apple’s AirPods Max headsets, headset sales will increase rapidly. The existing electronic components on the market are all compressed as much as possible due to the limited volume of TWS headset products, so the performance pursuit is reduced.

When it comes to headphones, the internal space becomes larger, and the component design shifts from focusing on the balance of volume and performance to the development of technological upgrading. The original electronic component products cannot fully meet the needs of headsets, resulting in a vacancy in the electronic component market, which will drive the upgrade and development of the industrial chain. Other manufacturers in the market learn from Apple’s materials, and many alternative supply chain products will be valued, which will stimulate the development of various types of electronic components.

8. Upgrade of the noise-cancelling headset test system

Headphones must undergo rigorous product testing to ensure product quality and yield before starting mass production through a series of processes, especially noise-reducing headphones. Since noise-cancelling headphones are very different from ordinary headphones in terms of function, more tests are needed to ensure the normal operation of various functions of the product.

A. Introduction to the noise reduction test part in the production of TWS headphones:

The traditional test method is generally divided into four steps:
(1) Passive noise reduction test, the frequency response measured by artificial ears when the ANC function is not turned on when there is a noise source after placing the headphone under test in the test position.
(2) Backfeed noise reduction test, the noise reduction effect when only the FB microphone is turned on when there is a noise source, by adjusting the gain of the FB microphone, test the feedback noise reduction effect under the preset filter coefficients to find the best FB Mai gain.
(3) Mixed-feed noise reduction test. When there is a noise source, turn on FB and FF microphones at the same time. By adjusting the FF microphone gain, test the mixed-feed noise reduction effect under the preset filter coefficients to find the best FF microphone gain.
(4) Burn the FB and FF gains into the headphones to complete the test.

Single-feed ANC headphones can complete ANC calibration by only FB/FF microphone gain adjustment. To find the best gain, the full traversal method can generally be used, that is, the gain traversal calibration is performed at a fixed step in the adjustable gain range (usually -6 to +6dB). For well-controlled headphones, the fast search gain method can be used to shorten the test time. The test time of a typical ANC station is 40s (one box with 2 single ears), which is the bottleneck of the production capacity of the entire ANC. Therefore, the parallel ANC four test (controlling two boxes at the same time) has also been successfully promoted in the industry.

B. Introduction of noise reduction in the production of ANC headset:

Compared with the TWS ANC headset, the head-mounted ANC headset has similar test principles, but higher requirements are put forward in terms of the consistency of the pick and place in the test. The amount of expansion of the headband of the headset, the material of the earmuff, etc. will affect the positioning of the headset. , Leakage is prone to occur, so the design of the test fixture is very important. Head-mounted ANC calibration usually uses a human-like head stand. There is a noise source on both sides of the headphones for testing. Although the ANC test box is the largest in the headphone audio test, the space is still slightly insufficient for the head-mounted ANC test. , The noise source is too close to the headphones and will not improve the test effect, but will have a negative effect on the ANC effect test.

Although both TWS and ANC headsets can be designed for MC compensation, it is obvious that headsets will have more options to add this feature and test. Headphones are also easier to design as a bluetooth + external noise reduction chip, which has more room to play. At the same time, because the headphones reserve a Type C jack, the bluetooth address connection can be obtained through the serial port during production testing. And tested, it is more efficient and stable than the search address method.

Previously, the headset market was relatively niche compared to the TWS headset market. The release of Apple’s AirPods Max will drive the rapid development of the headset market, allowing more manufacturers to upgrade their production lines one after another, thus possessing a complete test capability for noise-canceling headphones , To enhance the competitiveness in the new opportunities for the development of headphones.

Brand manufacturers and foundries’ upgrades to product lines will quickly increase the demand for test equipment, and manufacturers of noise-cancelling headset test equipment will also benefit from it.

9. Assembly production, OEM factory

The process from product design to launch will go through many processes. The release of AirPods in 2016 caused a large number of manufacturers to enter the TWS headset market. Until today in 2020, the entire audio market has been manufacturing TWS headsets crazy during the past 4 years. . With the development of time, the technology is constantly updated, and the quality of products has reached a higher level. The entire supply chain of TWS headsets has gradually improved.

The main reason for the rapid development of China’s TWS headset industry chain is the cooperation of leading brands such as mobile phones, Internet giants, audio manufacturers’ guidance, chip platform support in place, supply chain, and foundry factories’ full support. This is very important. Most of them belong to assembly production and foundry factories. It is precisely because of the day and night operations of these factories that various products are exported.

The headset production line is currently capable of being built, but there are still challenges and difficulties that require consistent output products. Ordinary TWS headphones have a simple product structure compared to headphones. The product mold and structural design of the headphones are far more complex than TWS headphones. They also have multiple moving parts. These numerous structural moving parts also make the head The cumulative error possibility of wearing headphones increases, and the need to manufacture high-quality products has very strict error standards.

According to the dismantling picture of 52audio, Apple AirPods Max adopts a detachable headphone structure. The head beam and headphone can be connected independently by a suspension system, and the headphone cover and headphone can be independently separated by magnetic connection.

Modular design has always been advocated in industrial design to help optimize the later production process. As a mobile phone manufacturer, modular design and production have already formed a model. Therefore, when making headphones, you can see that Apple has also maintained this design. Claim. When the design and production of headphones also tend to be modularized, this will facilitate process control and quality control in the manufacturing process, and more automation equipment and assembly lines can also be used in the manufacturing process.

As consumer demand for headset products continues to increase, headset production lines will also face the test of product capacity, modular design will be put on the agenda, and the process of automated production will be gradually improved.

This will also mean that the production plant urgently needs to be upgraded quickly, whether it is the improvement of management technical personnel, technical knowledge, or the upgrade of production processes, production equipment, testing equipment systems, and quality inspection standards. After a series of optimization procedures are completed , To be able to effectively serve the headphone market.

The release of Apple’s AirPods Max headsets will not only increase the sales of the headset market, but also drive the upgrade of assembly plants.

10. Spatial audio + audio content service provider

AirPods Pro Spatial audio spatial audio function is an improvement of the sound effect of Apple audio products, which can give consumers an immersive audio experience as if they are in a movie theater surround sound. Mainly by adding directional audio filters, and fine-tuning the frequency received by each ear, so as to allow the sound to radiate from any aspect of the space, creating an immersive audio experience.

In order to achieve the same sound field effect according to the actual use scenes, the acceleration sensor and gyroscope are combined in AirPods Pro to track the head movement, and based on the movement data of the relative movement of the head and the screen to analyze such as vehicle turning, aircraft tilting machine Use scenes such as the body, and constantly remap the position of the sound field to achieve an immersive audio experience. The current spatial audio function is suitable for 5.1 or 7.1 channel coded content, including Dolby Atmos.

According to the truth, spatial audio is a hardware technology update, and it should be shared with the hardware technology category above. However, after in-depth research, various sources have learned that this function is more than just a technology update. It is an entire audio content service system.

When a product arrives in the hands of the user, in addition to the complete functional configuration of the machine itself, the software support that matches the hardware later is also a major factor affecting the user experience. For headset products, the later content services mainly include music, audio books, learning and education, and TV content. In this regard, Apple has a complete set of ecosystems, such as Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Book, etc., buying copyrights in large quantities and improving content construction. With the launch of AirPods Max, sales of related content will surely increase rapidly.

This is also true for third-party content creators, and with the addition of Apple AirPods Max spatial audio, the demand for authorized audio sources that support spatial audio functions will also increase significantly. This will also drive more content producers to follow up similar services and promote the upgrade of third-party content services.

Summary:

To sum up, the huge changes in the field of Apple AirPods Max headset will drive the rapid upgrade of the industry chain. At the same time, many supply chain manufacturers will benefit from it, including: headset appearance material upgrades, metal structural parts Upgrade: CNC hardware processing factory, main control chip, ANC chip + noise reduction algorithm, noise reduction microphone, battery system upgrade, electronic components, headphone noise reduction test equipment, foundry, spatial audio + audio content service provider, etc. Major related manufacturers.

Apple launched its new product line AirPods true wireless headset in 2016, which quickly detonated the market, enabling audio and mobile phone manufacturers to follow suit one after another, thus opening the era of true wireless headsets. For the headphone market at that time, it is undoubtedly entering a period of major reshuffle. Related manufacturers have begun to upgrade the industrial chain, and many new companies have entered the TWS true wireless headphone market.

After 4 years of development, although the existing brands are now showing their heads, the relationship between the brand and the supply chain has gradually stabilized. However, the stable and rapid development of the TWS headset market can still get a good share for small brand companies. The release of Apple’s new product line headset AirPods Max, although not in the same era and opportunities as AirPods, has also brought new vitality to the bluetooth headset market.

If 2016-2020 is the TWS era, how will the future develop from 2020-2025? Apple gave its own answer: consumer audio products are combined with charging peripheral products to provide a complete mobile phone service product chain, which increases new consumer demand while increasing sales and expanding market share.

The headphone product revolution has begun. This change is different from the emergence of TWS headset products, and there are traces to follow. The release of Apple AirPods Max headset will quickly drive the upgrade of the noise-cancelling headset industry chain. Among them, the manufacturers that take the lead in improving product lines, manufacturing, and technical capabilities will get the most benefits from new opportunities. I hope that all friends who read this article can find their own key points and seize the opportunities given by the times in the audio field.

With the continuous development of the noise-cancelling headset market, consumers as end users will also have more choices. 52audio will work with you to witness the development of the noise-cancelling headset market in the future.

Source: 52audio

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