Market researchers forecast strong growth for the global microelectromechanical (MEMS) microphone market over the next several years, thanks in part to high quality audio requirements for handsets and tablets, the biggest consumers of the tiny devices. The biggest buyers of MEMS microphones are Apple and Samsung, according to IHS Technology, which forecasts the market to grow 24 percent in 2014 to reach $1.04 billion, up from $836.9 million in 2013.
Market analysts expect strong growth to continue over the next several years. IHS projects revenue to reach $1.37 billion by 2017, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent from 2012 to 2017. This translates into 5.4 billion unit shipments in 2017, up from 1.9 billion in 2012.
Similarly, Yole Développement expects a CAGR of 13 percent, increasing from $785 million in 2013 to $1.65 billion by 2019. Shipments are projected to grow from 2.4 billion in 2013 to 6.6 billion units in 2019.
Despite the differences in growth rates and unit shipment projections, both market researchers would agree that smartphones have been a major driver behind the growing requirements for MEMS microphones. In some instances, smartphones are using three microphones for voice capture (1), noise cancellation (1 or 2), and voice recognition improvement (1), according to Yole.
"The huge worldwide adoption of smartphones, each using more than one MEMS microphone, creates the wide integration and rocketing growth of the MEMS microphone market," according to Yole's MEMS Microphone Market, Applications & Business Trends report. (Click reports for more info.)
"Two of the main measures for MEMS microphone quality are signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and the maximum sound-pressure level (SPL)," according IHS' “MEMS and Sensors Report – Microphones – 2014.” "These define the lowest and highest sound levels, respectively—or dynamic range—that can be gauged by a microphone with a linear response."
“Especially in an age in which devices are increasingly uniform, sound can be a real and important differentiator, in features such as voice command or crystal-clear audio in high-definition video—qualities that are possible only through high-performance MEMS microphones, said Marwan Boustany, senior analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS, in a statement.
SNR and SPL apply to both analog and digital MEMS microphones and are used to rank microphone quality, according to Boustany. The highest performing devices are very-high-SNR microphones that feature a signal-to-noise ratio level of greater than, or equal to, 64 decibels.
IHS expects these very-high-SNR microphones to have the greatest growth over the next several years, estimated at a 40 percent CAGR from 2012 to 2017. In 2013, Apple and Samsung made up 96 percent of the revenue for these devices.
One of the most recent introductions in the high-performance segment is Akustica's (a Bosch Group company) new AKU346 line-up of four analog microphones that achieve 64db SNR in a small 6mm2 footprint, aimed at smartphones and wearable devices. In addition to the small size and high SNR, the HD voice microphones feature tight sensitivity matching, and a super-wideband frequency response to improve intelligibility and speech-recognition accuracy.
The new device meets a need for consumer-electronic device manufacturers that incorporate more than one microphone along with noise suppression algorithms into their devices, said Akustica. "These algorithms generally rely on well-matched, high-performance microphones for optimization of noise cancellation and speech recognition accuracy." Samples are available for lead customers with mass production planned for Q2 2014.
“The need for the highest-performing multi-microphone solutions is growing rapidly in the smartphone market, where the average number of microphones per phone has been steadily increasing for the last few years,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst, MEMS & Sensors, IHS, in a statement. “Today, the use of two microphones has become a standard feature for smartphones. Higher-end phones can have upwards of four microphones, further increasing the need for high SNR and tighter sensitivity matching like that provided by Akustica’ s new microphones.”
While MEMS microphones were used the most in handsets and tablets last year, market researchers expect future growth from several other existing and emerging sectors including hearing aids, automotive, Internet of things (IoT), wearable electronics, and other "smart" applications including smart watches and smart buildings.