24-bit DSP cranks up hearing aid quality - Embedded.com

24-bit DSP cranks up hearing aid quality

SAN JOSE, Calif. — AMI Semiconductor (Pocatello, Idaho) will turn up the volume on high quality hearing aids with an integrated processor it is rolling out as audiologists convene at a twice annual exposition in Denver today (April 18). Ezairo is a 24-bit DSP with an integrated audio accelerator block that aims to increase signal quality and provide muscle to run next-generation software for the hard of hearing.

The Ezairo provides a dynamic range up to 110 dB, up from 90 dB for existing 16-bit AMI chips. The part has an estimated 30 Mips, two to four times as much muscle as previous generation devices, opening the door for better noise cancellation, beam forming and other signal processing jobs.

One of the new applications on the horizon is baseband processing for wireless links between two hearing aids or between a hearing aid and a cellphone or MP3 player. AMI expects to enable such capabilities in 2008.

“As speech and audio processing algorithms evolve to become more complex and intelligent, the Ezairo 5900 architecture has the processing head-room and flexibility to implement these highly sophisticated algorithms with extremely low group delay,” said Michel De Mey, senior director of AMI's hearing and audio solutions group in a prepared statement.

The chip's integrated Hear co-processor is aimed at accelerating a variety of audio calculations such as processing Fast Fourier Transforms. Overall, the 130nm device consumes about 1.06milliW max, down from 1.14 mW for AMI's existing 180nm chips.

Third parties will build the new DSP into hearing aid modules that measure about 5.98 x 3.46 x 1.65 mm. The chip is sampling now and will be in production this summer for costs of about $30 at the module level in large quantities.

About nine million hearing aids will be sold this year, a figure growing at a rate of about 6-8 percent annually.

Adoption rates have been historically low for the devices that typically cost $1,500-$3,000. Only about one in five of the 31.5 million people in the US with poor hearing use an aid. However use is accelerating with a trend toward smaller, digital devices with better quality.

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