Wolfson’s new Audio Hub to bring 24bit 192kHz audio to future mobile devices

February 6, 2014

WM5102s_PR_2

Smartphone manufacturers have been paying a lot more attention to higher quality audio hardware and software lately, which, as a recovering audiophile, is a trend that I’m very happy to see continue (and no, Beats audio doesn’t count!). Wolfson, a global supplier of high performance mixed-signal semiconductors, is at the cutting edge of this trend, having recently announced its new 192kHz chip for mobile devices.

Over the past few years there’s been a growing trend in ultra-high quality audio files. We’re not talking lossless FLAC files ripped from a CD anymore, in this case we’re only interested in super high-end 24-bit, 192 kHz Studio Master audio. For the uninitiated, a Studio Master file contains a track that matches what the original artist and producer recorded and mixed, before it’s slimmed down to fit on a CD or hacked to bits to confirm to the size of an MP3.

LG 192 kHz sampling

LG outlined the differences between CD and 24bit, 192kHz sound at the launch of the LG G2.

Most of highest-tier smartphones, like the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, are current limited to 48 kHz audio. Good enough for CD quality playback, but falling well short of this new high end trend. However, we are starting to see smartphones move into the high-end audio realm, with the LG G2 being the first smartphone to support 24-bit, 192 kHz playback, and the Galaxy Note 3 quickly following suite.

Anyway, Studio Master quality music is set to become much more widespread in smartphones, as Wolfson has just released information about its new WM5102S chip, a 24-bit, 192 kHz high-resolution Master Hi-Fi audio hub. You may recognise the company from the Galaxy S3’s audio chip.

With Studio Master quality recordings increasingly being made available for download onto mobile devices, consumers understandably want to experience these recordings on their mobile devices at the same quality that they would enjoy on premium home audio systems. Tim Page, Principal Product Line Manager at Wolfson Microelectronics

The hub is built around Wolfson’s WM8741 Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC), one of the company’s leading audio DACs designed for CD, DVD, and home theatre systems. Obviously the WM5102S is designed around the low power requirements of mobile devices, but it still packs in a ton of features. Here are some of the more important specifications:

  • Standard sample rates from 4kHz up to 192kHz
  • Enhanced DRE processing (eDRE) for 120dB Signal to Noise Ratio
  • Dynamic Range Control and fully parametric EQs
  • Integrated 6/7 channel 24-bit Hi-Fi audio hub CODEC
  • 0.1% Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise from 29mW into 32Ω load (6.5mW typical headphone playback power consumption)

Without the techno babble – this little chip offers pretty much everything that you’ll need if you’re looking to playback ultra high quality audio from your smartphone, with minimal noise or distortion. Of course, whether or not you really need 192 kHz audio is an entirely different matter.

The WM5102S is currently out sampling to customers and distribution partners as we speak, but keep your eyes (and ears) on the lookout for this little chip in future smartphones and tablets.

Are you sold on the 192kHz trend, or is the MP3 judged too harshly?

Comments

  • Jason Yuen

    Unfortunately the vast majority of people will not be taking advantage of it. I own a note 3 and a few grado headphones so I’d think I’m more critical about sound quality, but still I just don’t have the desire to use it on my phone.

  • MasterMuffin

    It’s just ridiculous, because 99% of people just download their music illegally from Youtube. But I’m not complaining about having the possibility to have better audio!

    • sam

      Meh

  • KingofPing

    @supercurio;

    Didja see this?

  • Skripka

    Good lord, Mr. author.

    a) Sampling rate and file format are two COMPLETELY separate things. Your last sentence implies it is either one or the other…when it is not.

    2) MP3 is not judged harshly enough. It is a terrible format for what 95% of people know it and use it for, which is music. It is not judged harshly enough as most people today have moderate to severe hearing damage (for their age) and have never owned a half decent audio setup in their lives. Teenagers today have the hearing damage/loss of 50-year-old office workers of the 1950s.

    III) 24-bit 192kHz is UTTERLY pointless. Virtually no audio is commercially available that is recorded at such rates. Hell, my last job, that we did live recording archive work at, we still used 16-bit 48kHz in ProTools as the budget hawks could not justify the on-site and off-site storage for the huge HDD needs to simply work with masters…for the minimal acoustic gain, even with professional monitor grade gear.

    • Rob Triggs

      Good lord, Mr. commentator:

      a) They’re not “COMPLETELY” separate. As far as I know, the MPEG standard for MP3 only supports a maximum sample rate of 48kHz (http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=22412). When I see a 192kHz MP3 I’ll rephrase the question.

      As MP3 is by far the most common audio format and 192kHz is the topic of discussion, it’s not an unreasonable sentence or question.

      2) I wouldn’t describe MP3 as “terrible” (although I won’t go so far as to call it great), the auditory masking is pretty well modeled. My big gripe with it is that it removes information which is missed when you want to “colour” the track with a great sounding amplifier, a good pair of speakers, or a nice sounding room.

      I don’t disagree on point 3 though.

      • Skripka

        Sampling rate is not the problem with MP3. Nor will sampling rate fix how MP3 murders most audio. So yes it is unreasonable to associate the two.

        Color isn’t the problem, the problem is MP3 strips out anything that doesn’t sound like something the human voice doesn’t generate because it is a perceptual lossy codec designed for the limites of the human ear/voice. Reed buzz, from a bassoon for example….MP3 a bassoon playing and it sounds like a clarinet (i.e. a completely different wrong instrument), because the texture was burned at the encoding stake for the sake of shrinking file size. Fortunately, most people listen to sound with little attention to detail or texture, so long as it is loud enough it is “good”.

        Wanting to run MP3 at 192kHz is like wanting to race a loaded concrete mixer at the Indy 500.

        @TonyT12:disqus
        The problem with file size is when you’re running ProTools recording two or three 1-2 hour long shows live every other day, you run out of space to temp store masters quick. Especially where budget hawks are concerned, and don’t want to layout money for NAS.

        • Rob Triggs

          MP3 doesn’t do anything like “strip out anything that doesn’t sound like the human voice”, that implies that it’s only interested in frequencies between 80-1kHz (approx).

          MP3s work on the basis of removing parts of the sound that your ear can’t detect anyway, across the entire frequency range, not just the vocal spectrum. Going into the science would be too long of an explanation, but here’s the jist of it.

          Your ear/brain isn’t very good at detecting frequencies that are too close together. Try listening to a loud 1kHz and quieter 1.1kHZ sine wave at the same time and you’ll probably just hear a single tone. However, listen to two sine waves further apart, say 400Hz and 700Hz, and you’ll certainly hear two sounds.

          MP3s take advantage of this natural sound masking to shrink down audio file sizes, by removing information that you’ll struggle to hear anyway.

          MP3 is not perfect, but your explanations are simply incorrect.

    • Jayfeather787

      a, 2, III? lol.

    • TonyT12

      You are right. MP3 is not judged harshly enough, nor is iTunes aac and the lossy compression in DAB radio and on Spotify. They are all subspecies of the same plague left over from days when we used dialup before broadband. As for MFiT (Mastered for iTunes) it is simply the same old same old grubby lossy compression only gift-wrapped with a bow.

      I do not agree that 24-bit 192kHz is “utterly pointless”. Leave it to people to choose for themselves without getting on this soapbox. Some people like their steak rare, some don’t. We started doing 96k/24 way way back in 1993 and saw/heard the potential immediately. We started doing 176k4 and 192k in 1998 which sounded great too. Whether the difference is important to any particular listener is his/her business. There is more high res audio content out there than might be obvious – it is just lurking in archives because 44k1 release has been the only mass-market option. We simply have no easy way to get high-res material into the general marketplace and make anything out of it to pay the bills.

      The talk of humongous files and massive unsustainable bandwidth for lossless audio is just baloney in context of what is available. Even my stills camera we took on vacation has a 32GB memory card. A 2TB external USB3 hard-drive costs little. What about Cloud storage? If we have bandwidth for streaming 1920×1080 HD movies and tv, we can certainly cope with 96k and 192k FLACs.

  • Cottonswab

    Although it is nice to have, I’d rather it be 24bit 192khz bluetooth audio like the PIC32 since the earphones/headphones the general population uses from an Apple / Android device are crap. Also, the type of music you are listening to also determines whether the sampling rate will make any difference. And listening in a noisy environment doesn’t help either since you can’t hear the difference and noise canceling ear/headphones mess with the audio so you aren’t listening to what was intended.

    • Clarence Alvarado

      24/192 still cannot be carried over Bluetooth. AFAIK, Apt-X Lossless is needed for this, but still, I can’t see any Bluetooth headset made with that feature.

  • Ruz

    Sadly Samsung S5 wont have it.. Ohh boy

  • Jayfeather787

    Well better audio is a great thing.

  • George

    I hope S5 has this!! :D

  • Francis

    So my CD-ripped FLAC tracks aren’t “high-end”? Personally I’m building a lossless library in iTunes and it’s already bulky enough. In this regard, OEMs are starting to rely on cloud storage, removing expandable storage, thus phones’ capacity gets only around 32GB. I must rely myself to Google Play Music, which only stores MP3 music, but I couldn’t hear the difference between a high bitrate MP3 track and a lossless one with $100 headphones. Even on my desktop I actually have cheap Logitech speakers so I will not perceive a striking difference until I get studio monitors. But first of all, huge files size is the primary barrier.

  • Pobrecito hablador

    Theoretically sampling at the double of the frecuency of what the human is able to hear would be enough (44KHz) However, since the anti-aliasing filters are not perfect (square frecuency response), I can see why higher sampling rates could be noticed.

    24-bit sampling over 16-bit is nevertheless a more perceptible improvement, in my opinion.

  • Jared Sabre

    This is pointless for the sole reason that 99% of people listen to their music with iPhone earbuds or some Beats by Dre product. Furthermore, a simple look at the sampling theorem will tell you that such high sampling rates are useless and only waste space. I will take however the increase in bit depth which can serve to provide better dynamic range.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampling_theorem

  • yama

    My note 3 has this. I listened to some uhq samples…..its quite good but i mean a song can be 200-400mb in uhq (192/24). So its not that usefriendly yet….maybe in some years when we have 256/512gb sd cards on market.

  • Mr james bunt

    I have an LG G2 and the differences i hear is huge from my previous phone the Note 2 . The EQ is more mature and balanced than the Note 2 and it provide more crisp and clear sound even if i use crappy earbuds to hear them . But to enjoy this hi-fi sound you need a device like G2 or Note 3 to have the ability to play the files and also you need a high end earpiece or IEM , in ear monitor to deliver the most out of the file . Just to tell you all my daily IEM driver is the Klipsch X7i , neutral bass not to booming , yet not too fade , crisp highs without distortion . These can be a factor on how the music is going to produce even you use the same file but with different earbus , earpiece , IEM you actually find it sounding differently across different IEM

  • Clarence Alvarado

    Sony Xperia Z1 is also capable of outputting 24/192 audio, but sadly, the earphone jack is not compatible with the standard (since it is a waterproof one). On its future update (particularly Kitkat), Sony will be releasing a USB DAC support to output hi-res audio into its microUSB port.

    • Android Developer

      Did Sony release such a support for hi-res audio via USB ?

      • Clarence Alvarado

        AFAIK, it doesn’t. It is only offered on Xperia Z2 series, also on the newer Z3 series. But still, current Android APIs doesn’t support Hi-res audio output via USB on 24/192 ones, AFAIK.

        • Android Developer

          So Sony made it possible on its own devices, like the Z2 ?
          I assume that if you install an AOSP rom on it, you’ll lose this feature, right?
          About Android, Android L is supposed to support audio via USB.