Can be MEMS drivers the next big thing The first models with solid-state components in true wireless headphones still require a hybrid setup. These products combine a MEMS speaker with a dynamic driver to provide the necessary bass performance. The current-generation driver from California-based audio component developer xMEMS is called Cowell, and it’s already available in headphones like the one below. Creative and Noble Audio.
Next generation MEMS driver called cypressand although it won’t arrive in new products until 2025, I got a chance to hear the difference with Cowell. CES 2024 here in Las Vegas – and it’s pretty amazing. With Cowell, there’s bass, but it’s subdued and the emphasis is on the highs and mids. It sounds great on both full products and reference designs, offering highs, full mids and great clarity. Even though it’s only Cypress, there’s a warm, bassy low-end blanket that really fills the soundstage. This will be a huge improvement on what MEMS drivers can do for wireless headphones.
“We’ve gone from the principle of ultrasound to audio, where we have ultrasound modulation and demodulation to provide 30-40 times more low-frequency pressure for ANC headphones to generate anti-noise, while still offering all the benefits of our solid-state speakers.” Mike Housholder, xMEMS vice president of marketing, explained. “With wide dynamic range, deep bass and excellent low-frequency performance for noise cancellation.”
Indeed, 30-40 times higher bass response was evident in the Cypress reference design. The prototype was built to feature the MEMS drivers on their own, without the secondary dynamic driver that today’s true wireless models require for bass. The results are the crisp clarity you’d expect to see in high-end wireless headphones or even some audiophile-grade boxes. The extra bass isn’t loud and boisterous, but rather warm and full, inviting you to stay and listen for a while. And I did: I had a hard time putting the Cypress prototype down, even when I felt like I was beyond what I had come up with.
Overall, MEMS drivers offer a number of advantages over coiled speakers that lead to better sound quality in your headphones. They are more efficient in terms of mechanical response, where faster speeds contribute to increased detail and clarity – something I definitely noticed with the Noble Audio FoKus Triumph wireless headphones. This model combines the Cowell with a 6.5 mm dynamic driver, but the increase in fidelity in the mids and highs is obvious. Getting a set of headphones with MEMS drivers doesn’t mean you’ll pay more. The two models Creativity has already debuted at $130 and $150. According to Housholder, the same will be true for future products with ultrasonic Cypress drivers.
“We see ourselves as market leaders in cutting-edge products,” he said. “As with our existing products, we really see the sweet spot for our products anywhere around 150 and above. [which] easily accessible on the first day. And then over time and after volume it comes down to the $100 price point.”
And it really took a lot out of me. For years, companies have offered true wireless headphones that have some of the features of more premium flagship models, but usually lack the audio performance of more expensive options. With MEMS drivers, sound quality is greatly improved in affordable models that cost half the price of top-of-the-line Sony or Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones. And with Cypress, xMEMS can offer audio companies the ability to improve overall sound quality without raising prices.
It also developed what it called xMEMS DynamicVent to relieve congestion in the ear canals. The component can automatically turn on or off depending on whether the buds detect ambient noise, such as a snoring spouse. When open, the DynamicVent offers a semi-open fit like AirPods, but when closed, the ear will be completely closed. An open vent should also keep your sleep from being disturbed by your own breath or headphones rubbing against the pillow. xMEMS is demonstrating DynamicVent at CES in a set of reference sleep buds equipped with Cowell MEMS drivers.
We’re reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas, January 6-12. Stay up to date with the latest news from the show here.