Apple looking into self-adjusting earbud headphones with noise cancellation tech

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
An Apple patent application discovered on Thursday describes a set of earbud type headphones that automatically adjust audio output based on seal quality, with necessary impedance data gathered by built-in microphones or electrical current measurements.

Earbud
Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple's "Electronic device and headset with speaker seal evaluation capabilities" details a new type of self-calibrating earbud that can deliver enhanced audio reproduction over a wide variety of ear shapes and sizes. Also alluded to in the patent are noise canceling headphones which rely heavily on good earbud-to-ear seals to operate.

Apple's invention is primarily aimed at earbud headphones, which are designed to create a seal in a user's ear that helps reduce ambient noise while retaining a compact form factor. When an earbud does not create a proper seal, however, these properties are negatively impacted.

Earbud
Illustration of good seal (top) and poor seal (bottom).


From the filing's description:
The quality of the seals that are formed between earbuds and a user's ears affects performance. For example, satisfactory noise cancellation can become difficult when is high-quality seal is not present. Poor earbud-to-ear seals can also affect audio quality in other ways. For example, left-right balance (volume) and equalization can be affected by seal quality.
To evaluate this seal, the invention proposes measuring the impedance of the speakers by taking current measurements, acoustic measurements with a microphone, or both.

As earbud impedance may vary as a function of signal frequency, impedance-versus-frequency curves can also be mapped and compared against to reveal poor seals. In addition, these curves can be used to adjust speaker output to compensate for inadequate performance.

Earbud
Impedance-versus-frequency curve. Good seal represented by solid line, poor seal by dashed line.


The filing details a number of techniques to measure impedance levels, including current sensing circuitry. Test tones can also be used in conjunction with microphones to assess disparity in output and input amplitudes. In the case of noise-canceling headphones, microphones are disposed near the ear to measure ambient noise, and the amount of required noise cancellation can be used to judge whether a seal is good.

When a poor seal is detected, actions can take the form of warnings displayed on a user's device. Alternatively, self-adjustment steps can include balance, equalization, and noise cancellation circuitry adjustments.

Earbud


Apple's self-evaluating, self-adjusting earbud patent application was first filed for in February 2013 and credits Victor Tiscareno, Jeffrey J. Terlizzi, Wendell B. Sander and Christopher Todd Beauchamp as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    cgs268cgs268 Posts: 55member
    It's about time Apple came up with really good in-ear earphones... I don't understand how they have been offering such poor ones up to now, it's so not like them and definitely not what you expect for products of that cost .... Their offering last year was abysmal... Those earphones will NOT stay put in my ears!!
  • Reply 2 of 30
    edwardryuedwardryu Posts: 26member
    Apple'd better make it as soon as possible. Honestly apple anual upgrade is way behind time.
  • Reply 3 of 30
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,071member


    This audio seal test is a real eye opener (or ear opener) with regards to the difference that a good seal makes in an in-ear earphone. Basically it an all or nothing situation.


  • Reply 4 of 30
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member


    The best earbuds that will fit perfectly are the expensive ones that are custom made to fit the user's ears. But most people can't afford them.   Apple will only make something they feel is as good as they can get while still being able to market in the $30 range.

  • Reply 5 of 30
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    I've don't use Apple earphones but have family and friends who love the earpods. If someone wants quality earphones they don't come cheap!
  • Reply 6 of 30
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,494member
    cgs268 wrote: »
    It's about time Apple came up with really good in-ear earphones... I don't understand how they have been offering such poor ones up to now, it's so not like them and definitely not what you expect for products of that cost .... Their offering last year was abysmal... Those earphones will NOT stay put in my ears!!

    I've never bothered with the newly designed ones I got with my 5. Probably because the in-ear headphones from Apple that I use are good enough for me. Anyone tried out the one that came with the iPhone5?

    edwardryu wrote: »
    Apple'd better make it as soon as possible. Honestly apple anual upgrade is way behind time.

    -1
  • Reply 7 of 30
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,406member
    Off topic a bit but ear related ... I am hoping Apple or Apple Developer come up with some 'in ear hearing aids' with full audio control, by which I mean something akin to Logic Pro 9 (with simple settings too) via an iPad, iPhone or Mac. I see no reason why such a device could not be 'learning' in the same way a Nest thermostat is so that over time they auto correct for ambient and background noise, an Eagles Live concert (YES!!! Tampa 2013) and anything else we throw at our ears. The knowledge of how to profile the best experience for a specify person and their specific auditory requirements in any audio environment (including noise cancellation when required) and have that stored in the Apple eco system. I have had poor hearing in one ear since childhood after a perforated eardrum and now, with age, have a massive high end drop off, different in each ear. I am a musician, an audiophile and do not want to live in my old age missing music. I have to believe we are very close to my utopian design of highly configurable and intelligent hearing aids.
  • Reply 8 of 30
    iaeeniaeen Posts: 588member
    philboogie wrote: »
    I've never bothered with the newly designed ones I got with my 5. Probably because the in-ear headphones from Apple that I use are good enough for me. Anyone tried out the one that came with the iPhone5?

    I have a nice pair of etymotics but have switched to the ear pods since I got my iP5. The ear pods definitely lack the noise isolation of the in ear monitors, but I personally don't like having my sense of hearing effectively shut off from the outside world so that's kind of a plus for me. They also fit much looser which I find more comfortable, and I think the sound quality is rather good for the price.
  • Reply 9 of 30
    mhiklmhikl Posts: 471member
    cgs268 wrote: »
    It's about time Apple came up with really good in-ear earphones... I don't understand how they have been offering such poor ones up to now, it's so not like them and definitely not what you expect for products of that cost .... Their offering last year was abysmal... Those earphones will NOT stay put in my ears!!

    I, too, suffer non-compliant ear hole syndrome (nCEHS), a much understudied deficiency to the pleasures of music listening, audio books and under cover surveillance. Why this affliction has not been addressed sooner is a puzzle. Coming on the date of Douglas C. Engelbart's death is a fortuitous coincidence, which should not over shadow Apple's latest little miracle.
  • Reply 10 of 30
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cgs268 View Post



    It's about time Apple came up with really good in-ear earphones... I don't understand how they have been offering such poor ones up to now, it's so not like them and definitely not what you expect for products of that cost .... Their offering last year was abysmal... Those earphones will NOT stay put in my ears!!


     


    I don't understand comments like this.  This is purest bullshit.  


     


    Whether you like the earphones or not, and whether or not they can be improved, it's crystal clear that they are far from "poor" or "abysmal."  


     


    Apple's pro earbuds were in fact some of the best in class and the regular ones that they distributed for years with the iPods were good, basic earbuds.  The asymmetrical ones they came out with last year were better than their former "pro" ones and many times better than the standard ones they've been selling for years.  The choice to make these the new standard and to give them away for f*cking FREE should also be applauded.  


     


    It goes against all logic to say that Apple's earbuds are not good, because if they weren't good, they wouldn't have been so popular for so long.  It's just idiotic pseudo-elitism to constantly harp on the earbuds when clearly, they are actually pretty damn good.  Again, they are FREE.  


     


    The latest ones are fantastically engineered, comfortable, have excellent base and clarity and are easily as good as all the tacky black and chrome plated replacements that sell for a hundred dollars or more.  Just because you are the one in a million that can't fit them in your ears for some reason, doesn't mean they aren't a great product. 

  • Reply 11 of 30
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    I've never bothered with the newly designed ones I got with my 5. Probably because the in-ear headphones from Apple that I use are good enough for me. Anyone tried out the one that came with the iPhone5? ...


     


    If you mean the asymmetrical ones, they are great IMO.  I was previously buying the Apple in-ear ones at over a hundred bucks a pop (usually twice a year), and the new free ones are better than those.  They have better base response and clarity, and because your ear isn't sealed you can still hear outside noises and talk without having to take them out all the time.  When others are wearing them it completely eliminates that "whispery music coming out of their head" problem too, so the sooner everyone else switches to them the better for me.  I don't like listening to other peoples music on the train.  


     


    I especially like how you can be listening to your music on volume 11, yet when you take out the buds and lay them on the table, you can't hear anything at all.  


    You never have to worry about whether you are bothering anyone with your music (although again, judging by the passengers on my train, I am the only one that actually cares if I'm bothering others with my music). 

  • Reply 12 of 30
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Apple's invention is primarily aimed at earbud headphones, which are designed to create a seal in a user's ear that helps reduce ambient noise while retaining a compact form factor. When an earbud does not create a proper seal, however, these properties are negatively impacted.


     


    So according to Mikey, a good seal is necessary to maintain a compact form factor. Does that mean the if the seal is poor the earbuds grow larger? image


     


     



    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    In addition, these curves can be used to adjust speaker output to compensate for inadequate performance.


     


    That's true. Unfortunately the amplifiers in iOS devices and portable Macs are probably not able to deliver the power required for those adjustments. They're sufficient for full-scale, brick wall-limited pop music, but not for anything delivered with nominal levels that leave room for dynamic range like movies or classical music.


     


    What would really benefit listening on iOS devices is a hard limiter with make-up gain. That would raise the level of quiet passages to where they're audible without the loud parts either clipping the amp or overloading the earbuds.

  • Reply 13 of 30
    edwardryu wrote: »
    Apple'd better make it as soon as possible. Honestly apple anual upgrade is way behind time.

    Saying "honestly" does not negate the insincerity of this concern troll post. And a patent filing doesn't mean this is going to become a product.
  • Reply 14 of 30
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post


    I don't understand comments like this. [...] they are FREE. 



     


    No they're not. They're part of the cost of the package. That's like saying the screen is free because it's included when you buy the device.


     


    I'm of two minds on this one. On one hand, Apple goes to great lengths to ensure other parts of the user experience are top-notch -- things like aluminum enclosures and Retina screens -- so it seems inconsistent and disappoints me that they settle for "good enough" when it comes to the earphones.


     


    On the other hand, the supplied earphones ARE good enough for the vast majority of buyers, and including better earphones out of the box to satisfy the minority would raise the cost for everybody. Unlike the enclosure or screen, the user can choose their own earphones, so maybe its better to keep the base cost more reasonable and let those who want something better buy their own aftermarket upgrade.

  • Reply 15 of 30
    What I want are Apple Bluetooth ear buds that generate energy by using the temperature difference inside your ear and the air. If not that then wireless charging (just leave them on a small charging device when you are not using them).

    The cords on Apple's current ear pods snag on everything. The soft rubber texture of the cords make them feel great but also make them super snag magnets. I have already destroyed the first set by using them when I work outside. It is painful and very annoying when they rip out of your ears. I am constantly untangling them as well. It is time for the cords to go!
  • Reply 16 of 30
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post


     


    I don't understand comments like this.  This is purest bullshit.  


     


    Whether you like the earphones or not, and whether or not they can be improved, it's crystal clear that they are far from "poor" or "abysmal."  



     


    The problem with Apple earphones in general is that they leak sound like crazy. This creates two problems: the user has to jack up the volume very high in noisy environments and everyone can hear their music. Obviously the former problem only exacerbates the latter. 


     


    Apple headphones are the bane of anyone wanting a peaceful commute on public transport or plane journey.

  • Reply 17 of 30
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by RichL View Post


     


    The problem with Apple earphones in general is that they leak sound like crazy. This creates two problems: the user has to jack up the volume very high in noisy environments and everyone can hear their music. Obviously the former problem only exacerbates the latter. 


     


    Apple headphones are the bane of anyone wanting a peaceful commute on public transport or plane journey.



    Then buy some earbuds that are custom fitted.  These things are inexpensive products to satisfy basic needs.  There are hundreds of other brands/models to choose from.  I know some people that like the newer design that's only $30.  But you can choose whatever you want.   If you want to buy $1,000 earbuds, there are companies that do offer that kind of earbud.


     


    If they put anything more expensive bundled with the product, then the price of the product goes up.  i don't think any other mfg bundles anything much better.

  • Reply 18 of 30
    iaeeniaeen Posts: 588member
    v5v wrote: »
    No they're not. They're part of the cost of the package. That's like saying the screen is free because it's included when you buy the device.

    I'm of two minds on this one. On one hand, Apple goes to great lengths to ensure other parts of the user experience are top-notch -- things like aluminum enclosures and Retina screens -- so it seems inconsistent and disappoints me that they settle for "good enough" when it comes to the earphones.

    On the other hand, the supplied earphones ARE good enough for the vast majority of buyers, and including better earphones out of the box to satisfy the minority would raise the cost for everybody. Unlike the enclosure or screen, the user can choose their own earphones, so maybe its better to keep the base cost more reasonable and let those who want something better buy their own aftermarket upgrade.

    Your analogy breaks down because a screen is an integral part of the device. Headphones are not; they are an included accessory and can therefore be considered free when you purchase the device.

    There is nothing "good enough" about the ear pods. The old earphones were good enough, and apple completely redesigned them. They now have sound quality that beats headphones that cost 10 times as much. How much more "top notch" can you get?
  • Reply 19 of 30
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by iaeen View Post





    Your analogy breaks down because a screen is an integral part of the device. Headphones are not; they are an included accessory and can therefore be considered free when you purchase the device.



    There is nothing "good enough" about the ear pods. The old earphones were good enough, and apple completely redesigned them. They now have sound quality that beats headphones that cost 10 times as much. How much more "top notch" can you get?


    These!!!!


     


    http://hothardware.com/News/Ultimate-Ears-Crams-Six-Speakers-Into-New-1350-Earbuds/


     


    They actually have an even more expensive model at $1999, but they don't make earbuds with microphones.  Oh well, gotta pay extra for that.


     


    Ultimate Ears.  http://pro.ultimateears.com/en-us/home/ue-personal-reference-monitors


     


    UE makes iPhone ready earbuds and sells them through Logitech for $399, but the other models listed above are in ear monitors for musicians and they don't have any microphone.

  • Reply 20 of 30
    caliminiuscaliminius Posts: 944member
    iaeen wrote: »
    Your analogy breaks down because a screen is an integral part of the device. Headphones are not; they are an included accessory and can therefore be considered free when you purchase the device.

    There is nothing "good enough" about the ear pods. The old earphones were good enough, and apple completely redesigned them. They now have sound quality that beats headphones that cost 10 times as much. How much more "top notch" can you get?

    Well, since you're saying the ear pods are free, 10 x 0 is 0 so yes they might be better than other headphone that cost nothing. If you're going with their retail price of $29 and stating their better than $290 headphones, you're starting to spout nonsense. Outside of their actual electronic device core (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPod), Apple is pretty dreadful at hardware.
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