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The TWS headset market is hot, what are the opportunities for domestic manufacturers?
L.Y.W L.Y.W 2020-04-05 253

Since the release of the wireless headset AirPods in December 2016, Apple’s shipments reached approximately 17 million pairs in 2017, doubled to 35 million pairs in 2018, and rapidly increased to 60 million pairs in 2019. Based on AirPods with an average price of US$200, Apple’s revenue from wireless headsets alone reached US$12 billion last year! As AirPods "small innovations" bring big benefits, the Android TWS market will also attract an explosive period. Under this background, where are the opportunities for domestic manufacturers?


Apple officially released the wireless headset AirPods in December 2016. In 2017, shipments were about 17 million pairs. In 2018, it doubled to 35 million pairs, and it rapidly increased to about 60 million pairs in 2019.

Based on the average price of US$200, Apple’s revenue from this wireless headset alone reached US$12 billion in 2019, which is higher than the total revenue of chip giants such as TI and Nvidia. According to the analysis of the AirPods industry chain, its ex-factory price is about RMB 600. It seems that Apple's profit will not be less than 50%, which means that Apple's profit from AirPods last year exceeded $6 billion. Apple released AirPods Pro in October last year, with a price of up to US$250. Some market regulators predict that in 2020, Apple’s AirPods sales may reach 80-100 million, and revenue will reach 20 billion US dollars.

The Android TWS market is about to explode

After 3 years of development, TWS headsets are about to enter an explosive period. The current market trends are judged as follows:

 * Apple created a new category of AirPods, and mid-to-high-end iPhone users began to use it;

 * White-brand TWS earphones represented by Huaqiangbei are dumping in the low-price dumping market, stimulating ordinary consumers to try and experience TWS earphones, opening up TWS's mass market demand;

 * Non-mobile phone brand headset manufacturers rely on product quality and brand advantages to cultivate mainstream user needs, making TWS headsets concentrated in brand manufacturers;

 * Mobile phone brand manufacturers rely on the ecosystem formed by the combination of TWS headsets and smart phones to bring better user experience, making the TWS headset industry more concentrated on mobile phone brand manufacturers.

According to the latest data from IDC, global shipments of earphones/auditory devices were 170.5 million units in 2019, an increase of 2.5 times from 48.6 million units in 2018. It is estimated that the 5G replacement wave will restore the growth momentum of mobile phones. It is estimated that in 2022, global smartphones will reach 1.6 billion, of which Android phone shipments will reach 1.38 billion. In order to accurately estimate market demand, we divide Android phones into five price ranges of 0-1000 yuan, 1000-2500 yuan, 2500-3500 yuan, 3500-4500 yuan, and 4500 yuan to calculate the price of TWS headsets in the Android market in 2022. Market size. It is estimated that the total sales volume is about 150 million units, and the sales volume is about 80.3 billion yuan.

From the perspective of the ODM/OEM industry chain, it is estimated that from 2020 to 2022, global TWS headset (including AirPods) shipments will be 1.67, 2.57, and 410 million pairs, respectively, and the total market size will be 610, 846, and 125.4 billion yuan ( Calculated according to the ODM/OEM ex-factory price: AirPods ASP is 600 yuan; Android TWS headset ASP is 140 yuan).

It is expected that the sales of non-AirPods headsets will begin to accelerate this year, and the market size in 2023 will increase by 8 times compared to 2019, while the AirPods analogy will increase nearly 2 times in the same period. It is estimated that the overall TWS market size in 2023 will be close to 140 billion yuan, of which AirPods will account for 48.52%, and non-AirPods headsets will account for 51.48%, almost evenly splitting the market.

Key performance indicators of TWS headphones

Germany Bragi, which has been developing true wireless Bluetooth headsets since 2014, has been plagued by problems such as disconnection, binaural delay, and power consumption. In 2017-2018, the bluetooth technology transmission plan is not yet mature, and major manufacturers are focusing on solving the bluetooth technology transmission problems such as TWS headset Bluetooth disconnection and delay. Apple AirPods use exclusive Snoop patented technology to solve the problem of binaural connection delay and asynchronous synchronization. Even if the price is expensive, it has been recognized by consumers, and sales are doubling year by year. Even though the prices are low, other manufacturers still have poor sales. With the release of the Bluetooth 5.0 protocol and the new generation of Bluetooth audio technology standard LE Audio, the above problems are expected to be improved and resolved, and the TWS headset market will usher in rapid development.

The key performance indicators of TWS headsets mainly include five aspects, namely Bluetooth connection, sound quality, noise reduction, battery life and intelligence.

1. Bluetooth standard and binaural synchronous transmission technology scheme

Compared with the 4.2 standard, Bluetooth 5.0 has greatly improved transmission speed, range, data throughput and multi-device support, but the performance of the forwarding mode has not improved. However, its 2M bandwidth allows Bluetooth devices to transmit instructions smoothly, which provides technical guarantee for the human-computer interaction of intelligent voice.

The new Bluetooth audio technology standard-low power audio LE Audio, uses the new codec LC3, Multi-Stream Audio, Hearing Aids and Broadcast technology. Among them, multi-stream audio can synchronize independent audio stream transmission between a single audio source device such as a smart phone and a single or multiple audio receiving devices, making the TWS headset have a binaural transmission experience. In this way, the smart phone can transmit the same audio signal to the two ears at the same time without forwarding, thereby improving the connection stability of the Bluetooth headset and reducing the delay. TWS headset manufacturers in the Android mobile phone camp can use new standards to continuously introduce and develop new technologies to narrow the gap with AirPods.

AirPods adopts a monitoring mode, supported by Apple’s exclusive Snoop patented technology, in which the secondary ear signal does not need to be forwarded by the main ear, but the signal sent by the mobile phone is monitored through certain rules, and the main ear or the secondary ear are identified from the received signal. Therefore, it solves the problems of interference, system delay, and unbalanced power consumption of the main and auxiliary ears caused by forwarding, and a good user experience is obtained.

The traditional Android solution uses the main ear forwarding method to achieve binaural stereo sound, but it faces the following problems: the Bluetooth signal forwarded by the main ear is easily interfered by other Bluetooth and WiFi signals; the forwarding itself will increase the system delay; the forwarded signal passes through People's physical problems. In addition, the power consumption of the main ear is higher than that of the secondary ear due to the forwarding, and the power consumption of the main ear is overloaded when the data packet is retransmitted when a bit error is encountered. The above reasons have caused TWS headsets other than Apple to face many problems in terms of connection stability, signal synchronization between the main and secondary headsets, and standby time. This is also the main reason why Android TWS headsets cannot be compared with AirPods in recent years.

In order to solve the problems caused by the binaural connection and forwarding mode, chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm, MTK's Airo, Hengxuan Technology and Huawei have developed their own solutions.

  * Airoda's MCSync technology. MTK Luoda launched the AB1532 chip equipped with a new generation of MCSync (Multi-Cast Synchronization) technology in early 2019. MCSync has the advantages of stable connection, reduced sound skipping, support for high-resolution audio stream, low latency, balanced power consumption between both ears, and application to various mobile phone platforms. In addition, MCSync also supports multiple speaker connections.

 * Qualcomm's TWS+ (TrueWireless Stereo Plus) technology. TWS+ is a Q-to-Q connection technology, which means that it can only be implemented between TWS headsets using Qualcomm QCC5100/QCC30XX Bluetooth chips and mobile phones based on Snapdragon 845, 670, 710 mobile platforms. Under the TWS+ connection technology, there will be two independent audio streams directly transmitted from the mobile phone to two different headphones, that is, the left and right channels are independently connected. If the headset detects that the phone does not support TWS+ technology during the communication with the phone, the headset will automatically switch to the TWS universal mode that is compatible with almost all smart phones.

 * Hengxuan Technology's LBRT low-frequency forwarding technology. This patented technology can solve the problem of poor wireless signal penetration between the main and auxiliary earphones of the current true wireless Bluetooth headset. It uses the magnetic sensor response mode to receive the signal of the Bluetooth headset during binaural communication. Different from the general 2.4G signal, the technology itself is not interfered by other signals and can essentially ensure the signal stability. The BES2300 Bluetooth chip based on this technology can greatly reduce power consumption while supporting Bluetooth 5.0, active noise reduction and higher sound quality, and can be connected to various sensors and memories.

 * Huawei's dual-channel synchronous transmission technology. Its FreeBuds3 headset uses Huawei's self-developed Kirin A1 chip. Based on this dual-channel synchronous transmission technology, the left and right earphones can obtain the left and right channel signals from the mobile phone (similar to Qualcomm's TWS+ technology), thereby achieving higher efficiency Transmission and lower power consumption. Under the same interference intensity, Kirin A1 and Apple H1 are basically the same. In terms of transmission rate, the theoretical transmission rate of the Kirin A1 chip has reached 6.5Mbps. When connecting audio, the transmission rate of lossless audio reached 2.3Mbps. In addition, FreeBuds 3 is equipped with an independent Audio DSP processing unit, and the delay is reduced to 190ms, which is 30ms less than the 220ms of AirPods.

2. Sound quality

Although Bluetooth technology has advanced to 5.0 in the consumer market, Bluetooth headsets still use the A2DP 1.2 (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) standard established by Bluetooth 2.1 to transmit audio. Therefore, there is no qualitative difference in sound quality between listening to songs with Bluetooth 5.0 and listening to songs with Bluetooth 2.1. In addition to physical hardware factors such as speaker material, the sound quality of TWS headsets is mainly related to factors such as Bluetooth codec technology, main control chip performance, and audio signal transmission mode.

Although Bluetooth 5.0 technology provides greater communication capacity for audio, the improvement of sound quality is still in the audio coding method. CD sound quality requires a bandwidth of 1.41Mbit/s, and limited by the transmission capacity of A2DP, audio data needs to be encoded and compressed before being transmitted through A2DP, so audio transmission via Bluetooth cannot be 100% restored, but only through Advanced compression technology to improve sound quality. The current high-definition audio codec technology is mainly represented by Sony LDAC, Qualcomm aptX HD, and Huawei's HWA.

Sony officially launched the LDAC high-resolution audio technology during CES in 2015 and opened the technology to Android 8.0 in 2017. The audio processing quality of this technology is very high, and it has now become the standard compression technology for Android 8.0. However, the prerequisite for the encoder to achieve high-definition audio transmission is the two-way support of the sender and the receiver. Android 8.0 that supports LDAC only solves the problem of the transmitter, and the popularization of LDAC on the receiver equipment (headphones, speakers, etc.) will take some time. .

Compared with Sony LDAC, Qualcomm launched the aptX HD high-definition Bluetooth audio codec technology (supporting 24-bit/48 khz audio) in 2016, because of the foreshadowing of aptX (currently supported by approximately 4 billion devices, Qualcomm acquired CSR and obtained aptX Technology), and Qualcomm's own advantages in the fields of chips, communications, etc., have broader application potential.

In 2018, Huawei worked with key component suppliers and equipment vendors on the audio link to develop an end-to-end Bluetooth high-definition audio solution HWA (Hi-Res Wireless Audio). Its specifications are similar to those of LDAC and belong to the lossless level. Bluetooth audio encoding. At present, the HWA high-definition audio wireless transmission standard and industry alliance have also been established, with members including Edifier, Institute of Acoustics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, AKM, Sennheiser, HiFiMAN, 1MORE Wanmo, Hivi, etc.

In addition, the new generation of Bluetooth technology standards continues to improve in terms of audio. In terms of audio decoder LC3, LE Audio integrates a new high-quality, low-power audio decoder LC3, and supports audio sharing. This can not only optimize the transmission efficiency of Bluetooth, but also further reduce the size of the TWS headset to a certain extent, which will provide developers with greater flexibility and enable them to better focus on key issues such as sound quality and power consumption during product design. Trade-offs between product attributes.

3. Active noise reduction

The active noise reduction (ANC) function is to generate a reverse sound wave equal to the external noise through the hardware noise reduction system, neutralize the noise, and achieve the effect of noise reduction. The working principle of ANC noise reduction is that the microphone collects external environmental noise, and then the system transforms it into an inverted sound wave and adds it to the speaker end. The sound heard by the human ear is environmental noise + inverted environmental noise. The two noises are superimposed to Realize sensory noise reduction. ANC active noise reduction can be divided into feedforward active noise reduction (headphones are used more), feedback active noise reduction (easy to cause howling), and hybrid active noise reduction.

Apple’s AirPods Pro is a headset that supports ANC. It is said to solve two difficulties well. One is to solve the space occupation problem through the SiP package, and the other is to make a ventilation system to solve the problem of pressure difference between the inside and outside of the ear. Ensure wearing comfort. At present, Android Bluetooth technology platforms have begun to support ANC. The key is to see whether the whole machine manufacturer can overcome engineering problems and truly improve the noise reduction experience. In addition, the Qualcomm CSR chip also uses software noise reduction technology, also called CVC noise reduction, which uses the chip inside the Bluetooth headset to filter the signal received by the call microphone to reduce external wind noise. Time to work.

Sensor manufacturer ams (ams) introduced the active noise reduction digital enhanced hearing solution AS3460 for semi-in-ear headphones, which will automatically adjust according to the surrounding environment to enhance the user's listening experience. This digital enhanced hearing solution has several notable features: up to 40dB noise reduction effect; built-in preset values, automatically and smoothly switching noise reduction coefficients in different scenarios; natural hearing aid modes are available for selection, low latency and low noise; pertinence Enhance the signal, highlight the human voice during a call, and highlight the “characteristic sound” of the car on the road; seamlessly fade in and out, and the listening experience is smooth; support semi-in-ear headset active noise reduction.

4. Battery life

AirPods Pro uses a rechargeable button lithium battery. Although the capacity has increased, because of the high power consumption of Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), the battery life has not been improved. Compared with cylindrical batteries, button batteries have the following advantages: high energy density, small size and light weight, long cycle life, convenient positive and negative electrode welding, and good size consistency. The 2019 TWS headsets of brands such as Huawei, Samsung, Sony, 1MORE, and BOSE also use button battery solutions.

Increased battery life can also be achieved through advanced manufacturing processes, but this means high costs. Apple's H1 chip uses 16nm process, while most Android systems use 28nm process. The advanced technology has low power consumption, but the R&D and manufacturing costs are high, and a large shipment is required to share the cost. According to the current shipments of branded Android devices, it is difficult to support the investment in advanced technology. The balance between power consumption and performance is a complicated matter, and the improvement of user experience is not only in the aspect of forwarding technology. The power consumption dilemma of the Android system will make great progress this year. The 16nm solution of the leading manufacturers is already under development. The experience improvement and shipment effect are expected to bring breakthroughs and drive the competitiveness of the Android system to a new level.

5. Intelligent

Smart electroacoustic products like TWS headsets, in addition to the functions of playing and collecting sound information, will also have functions such as voice control, semantic recognition, active noise reduction, sports health monitoring, virtual reality acoustics, and interconnection with other smart devices. It can meet the needs of a variety of complex applications in consumers' work and life.

The intelligent functions of TWS earphones are mainly reflected in the following aspects:

 * Software and hardware integration with intelligent voice assistants, such as Apple AirPods starting to support Siri, Qualcomm chip integration with Amazon Alexa, etc.;

 * Equipped with biometric sensors and supports biometric motion tracking. For example, Bragi’s Dash Pro allows users to directly control the headset through head movement. A single headset of AirPods has about 8 sensors, a combination of voice acceleration sensors and optical sensors.

 * Real-time translation in multiple languages.

TWS Industry Chain

TWS earphones mainly include two wireless earphones and a charging box. From the perspective of component composition, wireless earphones mainly include the main control Bluetooth chip, memory chip, audio decoder, various sensors, flexible circuit board FPC and battery, etc.; charging box Part mainly includes microcontroller, power management IC, overcurrent protection IC, lithium battery, etc. . Among them, the master Bluetooth chip that supports Bluetooth 5.0 has become the most critical factor in the improvement of headset performance. At present, the mainstream TWS Bluetooth true wireless audio solutions mainly come from manufacturers such as Apple, Huawei, Airo, Hengxuan, Torch and Qualcomm.

Storage vendors mainly include Zhaoyi Innovation, Winbond, Adesto, Macronix and Cypress. Battery manufacturers mainly include German Varta, Yiwei Lithium Energy, Zijian Electronics, Penghui Energy, Guoguang Electronics, LG, Xinwangda and Ganfeng Lithium. ODM manufacturers mainly include Goertek, Luxshare Precision, Gongda Electroacoustic, Jiahe Intelligent, and Incom Communications.

It is worth mentioning that the SiP packaging process used in TWS headsets. Apple started to introduce SiP packaging from the newly released AirPods Pro. Although the investment is huge, it is of great help to earphone products. The space saved can make more incremental features and cultivate more stickiness to consumers. As electronic components continue to be miniaturized to the 16/14 nm process node, the chip begins to experience physical effects such as RC delay, electromigration, electrostatic discharge, and electromagnetic interference. SiP uses physical separation to effectively avoid these interferences and can increase The diameter of the connecting body between the chips shortens the distance the signal travels, reduces the power consumption and the power required to drive these signals. The process advantage of SiP can effectively reduce the cost by 10-50%, and this price advantage may promote product application on a large scale. However, the SiP process comprehensively uses a variety of advanced packaging technologies, and packaging and testing vendors must have solid packaging and testing technologies to support SiP business.

New business opportunities for chip manufacturers

Master Bluetooth chip

The key to solving the problems of TWS headset transmission and sound quality lies in the development of Bluetooth technology and audio codec technology. These are usually integrated in the master Bluetooth chip SoC of TWS headsets. Therefore, the SoC chip is very important for TWS headset signal transmission and sound quality performance. AirPods are equipped with Apple's self-developed H1 chip. Other TWS headset SoC chips will be mainly supplied by Qualcomm, BES and Airoha before 2018. After 2018, with the increase of TWS headsets, new players have entered, such as Realtek, Action, Pixart and Goodix. According to industry research, the cost of TWS SoC chips usually accounts for 10%-20%, and the price of some low-end Bluetooth chips has dropped to 1.6 yuan. While chip suppliers increase, chip prices are also falling, which will drive the rapid development of the entire TWS headset industry, but the competition for the main control chip will also intensify.

Goodix Technology demonstrated the TWS headset solution based on the Bluetooth audio BLEA protocol at this year’s CES. The solution combines Goodix’s audio, touch and in-ear detection technologies with innovative software algorithms to achieve a series of differentiated functions. Including: wireless multi-channel simultaneous connection, so that the left and right earbuds can be quickly identified and adapted, and the audio is synchronized, ensuring a stable connection and power consumption balance of binaural transmission; ultra-low downlink delay, realizing low-latency audio transmission; support The LC3 standard encoding and decoding algorithm brings better sound quality enjoyment; in addition, the solution also uses an ultra-low power consumption, ultra-small size full capacitive in-ear detection and touch two-in-one chip, which can be accurately worn on the headset Intelligent interactive operations such as detection, single double tap, and sliding up and down.

Memory chip

It is the general trend that TWS headsets are equipped with large-capacity NOR Flash. NOR Flash is a non-volatile flash memory technology with high transmission efficiency. Its advantage is that the code can be executed in the chip (XIP, eXecute In Place), so that it is no longer necessary to read the code into the system RAM. In order to store more firmware and code programs, the TWS headset must be expanded with a serial Nor Flash memory. In the beginning, Flash was mostly 8Mbit or 16Mbit, but later manufacturers added OTA and other functions, so 32Mbit, 64Mbit and 128Mbit Nor Flash are adopted by more and more TWS manufacturers.

Apple AirPods currently use two 128M Nor Flash, while other TWS headsets have storage capacity between 4M-128M. The noise reduction, sound quality and intelligence of TWS headsets will increase the complexity of functions, and the demand for algorithm code storage will also increase. It is expected that the capacity of Nor Flash will continue to expand, and it is expected to be further upgraded to 256M in the future. At present, the memory chips of TWS headsets are mainly supplied by Zhaoyi Innovation, and Macronix, Winbond, Adesto and Cypress are also increasing their participation and competitiveness.

Charging and power management chip

Although the power management chip accounts for a relatively low cost of the headset, it accounts for nearly 50% of the cost of the charging box matching the headset. It mainly includes charging chips, synchronous rectification boost converters, low dropout regulators, load switches, and input Overcurrent protection chip, etc. Whether it is battery life or charging, the power management chip needs to ensure fast charging of TWS while reducing damage to the headset battery. At present, power management chip suppliers include TI, ST, NPX, Injixin and Yutai. Among them, Yutai is the first domestic IC company to enter the field of TWS headset charging boxes. It first proposed the PowerSOC design concept through a single power control chip. It has realized charging, discharging, power display, protection, low-power standby and other functions. Its customers include well-known brands such as JBL, Philips, and Anker. At the end of 2019, Shengbang shares announced plans to acquire Yutai Semiconductor through the issuance of shares and cash payment. After the completion of this transaction, Shengbang shares will directly hold 100% equity of Yutai Semiconductor, and then occupy a greater dominant position in the power management chip market for TWS headsets.

In addition, in the supply of components such as microprocessors, analog ICs, MEMS microphones and sensors required for TWS headsets, domestic chip manufacturers such as Weir shares, Shengbangwei, AAC Technologies and Goertek will have more opportunities .

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