balanced armature receivers history audio

History and Evolution of Balanced Armature Receivers and Personalized Audio with Matt Skindzier of Knowles

As hearing aids and consumer audio devices converge, a wider range of people with hearing difficulties will have choices on the type of product they want to wear. At the heart of this convergence are transducers.   

In this episode of This Week in Hearing, find out how Knowles Corporation, a household name in the hearing care business, has been leading innovation for more than 50 years.   

Full Episode Transcript

Brian Taylor 0:10
Hi, everybody, and welcome to another edition of This Week in Hearing. I’m Brian Taylor. And this week we’re going to be talking about hearing aid transducers. You know, the little things inside of a hearing aid like a microphone and a receiver that all of us know about, but we don’t really talk about a whole lot. And with me today to talk about that is Matt Skindzier, who is the Director of Product Marketing at Knowles Electronics. Welcome to the broadcast, Matt.

Matt Skindzier 0:35
Brian, thank you. Good afternoon. Great to be here. And I really appreciate you having us on.

Brian Taylor 0:41
Yeah, it’s great that you can join us I think most of the people that are watching this probably are familiar at least on some level with Knowles Electronics. Maybe we could start the the talk today by having you go over your background, how long you been no holes, what you do at Knowles, all those good things?

Matt Skindzier 1:00
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So you know, my background is in product management and marketing for a variety of technical products, got my start in medical devices, spend some time in power equipment, and power electronics. And then of course, more recently at Knowles first started at Knowles a little over four years ago, and managed our hearing health microphone line, which involved both the electric microphones and of course, the growing mix and offering of our MEMS microphones. And today, I manage our balanced armature and receivers line, and in my capacity, you know, essentially responsible for long term strategic direction business management, also making sure that, you know, as we engage with our customers and drives innovation with an organization that it’s aligned with both current and emerging needs in the market, and really looking for new opportunities where our capabilities and technology can add value to the market.

Brian Taylor 1:57
Well there’s a lot of things I want to talk to you about today. I know that things are

evolving rapidly inside of it, all the things inside of a hearing aid, but

Matt Skindzier 2:06
absolutely

Brian Taylor 2:07
I’ve been fitting hearing aids since the early 1990s, just to kind of date myself. And when I started fitting hearing aids,

we talked about people at Knowles Electronics, like Elmer Carlson, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that name.

Matt Skindzier 2:21
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. It’s on the wall.

Brian Taylor 2:23
So tell us. Yeah, I think it would be kind of cool. If you could kind of tell us a little bit about Elmer Carlson and what he did in the hearing aid industry to kind of revolutionize it.

Matt Skindzier 2:34
Yeah, absolutely. And I love the question, because frankly, one of the things that Knowles, we are of course, very proud of is our long legacy in the hearing health business, going back to the 1950s, where we were the first to invent the balanced armature receiver, as well as the style of miniature microphones, that was really the first phase in evolution of the hearing aids. And obviously, Knowles was a big driver of that as well. And so Elmer, you know, I mean, we really do credit him along with a couple other key individuals is really being the father of our balanced amature technology. And of course, he was very instrumental in developing our miniature microphone line as well. But But Mr. Carlson, by the time his career was over, he had over 30 patents, add attributable to not only to the hearing health industry, but providing, you know, high fidelity audio and microphone technology to the broader audio, communications and ear. in-ear monitoring spaces as well. And so really, a lot of the foundation of our technology and things we really did to enable the industry really go back to the some things he did with our founding, you know, professionals in the in the 1950s. So obviously a big name not just at Knowles, but for the industry.

Brian Taylor 3:42
So yeah, back to the 1950s. That’s probably not too many of our listeners that go back that far, but you never know. Right? So another person that is I think when I think of Knowles, I think of Mead Killion and the K-Amp I just want to say that I think that, you know, a lot of people think that hearing aids didn’t sound very good in the 1980s and 90s. But I think that’s not right. I think that because of things that Elmer Carlson did because of things that need kill you did there were hearing aids out there, the k-amp, the one that really jumps to mind that were way ahead of their time. So maybe you could talk a little bit about the legacy of Mead Killion and how he fits in at Knowles electronics.

Matt Skindzier 4:22
Yeah, you know, obviously, you know, another big name here. And I agree with your your perception of the k-amp and, you know, what’s what’s really, you know, I think was instrumental with the k-amp is you know, here’s now an analog single channel circuit that was really efficient at low distortion, sound amplification, particularly at higher frequencies, and louder sound levels, you know, somewhat attributable to, you know, human speech and, you know, the kind of sounds that you know, as a hearing aid user, you really want to be able to hear and detect well

You know, in a noisy environment, right? And so the real, what’s really key about that circuit is real high fidelity sound on the noises you want to hear, while being able to help muffle and, you know, not amplify the background noise. And so I definitely agree that it’s, I think it helps bring that kind of capability in the hearing aids a little more mainstream. Right. And I think that was important. Then also, you know, if you just think about, you know, what we really tried to do it and Knowles is, you know, when you look at those capabilities of, you know, low distortion amplification, you know, high efficiency, things like that, it’s not just about the electro acoustic performance, you know, and the sound fidelity. But then also the, the key is, how do you get that capability into a smaller and smaller package, which really helped drive, you know, the evolution of industrial design and why the hearing aids, you know, today are certainly look a lot different than, you know, what I think a lot of people have in their brains, as, you know, the typical hearing aids back from the 1980s, early 90s, things like that. And so it wasn’t just a matter of audio performance, it was a matter of how did it really enable industrial designs that were, you know, more appealing, and more elegant as the technology continues to evolve from there?

Brian Taylor 6:09
Yeah, no, that’s good to know, I think we kind of started off with a walk down memory lane, maybe we can move into some of the newer innovations. And I know that this to a receiver for better music quality. You talked about updates and microphones and receivers, smaller sizes. Tell us more about all that.

Matt Skindzier 6:28
Yeah, absolutely. And so, you know, as I one thing I would say is just as a baseline, improved performance, per package size is just the key enabler for the industry. And the key dynamically switch, we’re constantly evaluating all our technologies, whether it’s getting higher SNR microphones into a smaller package, or really increasing our output and bandwidth of our balanced armatures in the same or smaller package, at the end of the day, that is going to fundamentally drive a lot of what we do. Um, you know, more recently, like, if we look at the GM RIC, which is a two way device using both a mid range BA, and a balanced armature tweeter, to give really that combination of kind of wideband sound performance, as well as the high frequency performance and the high frequency output, really more attributable to not just high fidelity, audio, but high fidelity music, right. And so it’s not unusual to have, you know, some kind of driver, whether it’s a woofer, or a mid range driver, paired with a tweeter for a really more high fidelity sound. And that’s us bringing that package in a BA form. And I think what’s really important there, because I think we’re gonna see a lot of this for a number of reasons. One is, you know, the OTC hearing aid dynamic and how that stands to maybe have a little bit of a emphasis on different feature sets along with hearing health as that goes forward, then also, what we’re seeing in the high end hearable space that’s now thinking a lot more about hearing, personalization and enhancement, you know, you really need that wider bandwidth technology, in high fidelity formats really bring that to life. And so as audio is more important, those kinds of things, and audio in certain aspects of the hearing aid markets is getting more of an emphasis, you really need to balance that with the hearing, health capabilities and the bandwidth that our traditional BA technology brings. And so that’s what that’s really all about. And I think we’re gonna see a lot of offerings along that line down the road, as you know, the market evolves. And I guess one thing I would say is, you know, that’s certainly one offering, we can do with our basic mid, you know, mid range receiver and our tweeter, but we have a whole host of technologies where we can, you know, mix and match and provide similar, you know, custom audio profiles for our users.

You know, and so our evaluations are in technology, advances are continuing to focus on how do we get more output, wider bandwidth in those BAs, while also helping with robustness? Right? Robustness is a key vector in the industry, I think it’s something that will always be valued in terms of how we can improve on that. And whether it’s, you know, resistance to things like drop and shock, which things that help with ingress or stand up to Ingress, you know, those are really critical technologies. You know, on the microphone side, I think some of the vectors are the same. And we’re really more focused on speech in noise and SNR and the things that really help with the directionality and the clarity of a two microphone array and a hearing aid. Robustness is very critical there as well. But also in our ASIC development, we’re really spending a lot of time to bring as much capability and flexibility in the ASICs circuit as possible because as the you know, I think needs change, you’re gonna need a wider range of configurability different roll off points, different sensitivity, you know, I do think eventually the market will get into more dynamic

programming and configuration of those kinds of technologies. And so we’re really trying to lay the groundwork for that, you know, either a pre programmed microphone today or something that eventually with a digital input, could do the same thing in an actual device real time. So I think those are

the key vectors that we’re going to continue to focus on, we already have some products in the market. I’m really focused on those kinds of capabilities. And that’s where I do expect you’ll see Knowles and the market continue to go going forward.

Brian Taylor 10:11
Yeah, I think I’d like to know more Oh, tell us about some of these products that you’re alluding to?

Matt Skindzier 10:16
Yeah, sure. So I would say in the, in the past

ba lines, our standard power, or medium power, high power have had significant increases in shock and tumble improvement, and expansion of the bandwidth, some of the products that we’re going to start coming into the market, we’ll use new proprietary ways to even increase the output further, in those sizes, while managing vibration, we are going to start to come to market with some products that, you know, kind of fit in between a single and a dual BA and could really help in the right application with a more compelling output to size ratio. And then of course, continued resilience. in shock and tumble, especially as you know, some of these devices might get into, or some of these tranducers I should say, we’ll get into devices that, you know, with the changing demographics and hearing aid users, the emergence of OTC and some convergence at the high ended hearables, you know, you’re gonna have a lot more active people and active situations where those devices are gonna need to hold up. On the microphone side, our mm30 microphones that are coming to market now is epitomizes really the flexibility that I’m speaking to in terms of the ASIC and that we’ve looked at a wide range of capabilities also considering things like Active Noise Cancellation and the kind of low roll offs a you need a microphone to achieve that, you know, all these basic capabilities are there as well as what is today the highest SNR, lowest noise package in hearing health, MEMS available in the market. And so I think that’s a good example of how while we continue to look at things like increased capabilities, flexibilities we’re also gonna drive that dynamic from an electro acoustic standpoint as well.

Brian Taylor 12:01
Just as a point of clarification, when you talk about BA or balanced armature, can you just for those out there that are not engineers? Could you maybe give us a little bit of an explanation about what you mean?

Matt Skindzier 12:13
Yeah, sure. So the balanced armature technology is very what is traditionally used in virtually all hearing aid devices. Okay. And, you know, it’s, it’s its mechanisms is a little bit different than what you might see in a dynamic speaker, like you’d find in a typical headphone, or TWS system that uses a reed technology to be much more high fidelity in the sound that it provides. And it also has a much higher bandwidth than a typical dynamic speaker, dynamic speaker will start to roll off, you know, sometimes even before 1 kilohertz where, you know, we’re really focused on maximum output, all the way up to at least 8 to 12 kilohertz on the hearing aid side, and sometimes up to 20 kilohertz or more on the tweeter side as well. So it’s a fundamentally different technology, it’s highly efficient, it’s much less power consumptive. And it’s really provides the right balance of high fidelity audio, and, you know, mechanical, electrical characteristics needed for hearing aids today.

Brian Taylor 13:11
I mean, that’s really fascinating to me, because I think, if you could plug a hearing aid into the wall, you could probably, you know,

it would be a lot easier for the engineer probably to design a really high fidelity system. So the trick for you guys is to how do you do all this on a thing that operates with, you know, limited battery capacity relative to what you plug into the wall.

Matt Skindzier 13:31
Absolutely, absolutely

Brian Taylor 13:33
a feat of phenomenal engineering

Matt Skindzier 13:36
Absolutely. And so again, I think, again, as you know, the continued convergence of audio and hearing health, in certain segments, I think, is going to drive demand for more, you know, multi driver, or even dual diaphragm type technologies, dual receiver technologies that really just continue to provide more and more output. And so the customers are really asking us for those kinds of technologies. How do we continue to increase the bandwidth? How do we make them smaller, so they’re more conducive to elegant industrial designs, particularly as we start to see things that might be a little bit more, you know, TWS commercial like be introduced on hearing health side.

And in things that might also involve, you know, serial or parallel, configured drivers to help with that as well. So a lot of different ways that we can increase output while using that very efficient technology.

Brian Taylor 14:22
Yeah, let’s talk about that. This convergence is happening between hearing aids earphones and hearables. You get these new terms now. OTC, hearable. What does that mean from your perspective?

Matt Skindzier 14:36
Yeah, absolutely. So I think the first dynamic that

was already starting to emerge a little bit, just to your point, some of the things we’ve talked about before, you know as hearing, hearing aid industrial design has really improved. As audio output and capabilities has really improved as a younger demographic and more active demographic has started to adopt hearing aids quicker audio has started to become

More important, you can already see were some, you know, mainstays in the hearing health industry on both on the audio side and on their system capability side with kind of connectivity and streaming have really tried to, you have really pivoted towards that. Okay. And so I think there’s a baseline trend. I think what’s happening now and will continue to accelerate in the future is both the OTC and then the continued increase in sophistication and attempts to diversify on the hearable side PSAPs the audio side and how that’s going to kind of come together at the top. So, in OTC, it certainly stands to reason that, you know, that’s going to be in that mild, dynamic hearing loss demographic,

they will tend to be more active, perhaps they might be younger, it that demographic audio performance is a clear desire and a clear market need. And you can already see with some of the newer products coming out, where, you know, the traditional players on hearing health side are starting to pivot towards that a little bit. And I think that’s going to accelerate greatly here on the OTC in the OTC market as that comes to bear. In addition, you know, you’ve got the the PSAP players, the audio players, they’re now starting to think a lot about hearing personalization. Okay, and that’s, you know, a lot of, you know, self configuring tuning in the EQ band really to that user’s, you know, hearing, and you could see how kind of the technology needs and the audio needs are starting to become very similar, you know, in the OTC dynamic with the high end audio, and I think that, you know, that’s going to accelerate that divergence, convergence. And I think what’s gonna be interesting to see is, especially as the OTC hearing aid category starts to solidify, you know, a lot of things about that category involve things like the personalization, the self fitting, well, some of those capabilities will, I think, will also be used on the commercial side, with perhaps a different nuance and different claim in that, hey, that’s not really about addressing, hearing health or hearing loss. But the audio performance, desirability is all the same. And so I just think those trends, I think, I see a lot of similarities. And I think it’s natural to assume that once you get to a consumer that is still interested in the audio might just start beginning into the need for some hearing assistance, they might really have a hard decision to make about do I want to look at more of a OTC hearing aid? Or do I want to look at high end hearable? You’re not sure how that’s gonna play out? Yeah, cuz I think, you know, there’s a lot of growth and develop market development to come. But I think that dynamic is going to really drive the convergence going forward.

Brian Taylor 17:38
Yeah, no, it’s an exciting time. I think that

for a long time, people with mild hearing loss weren’t really good candidates for hearing aids because they could hear the circuit noise or they just didn’t like that it was too big. Or I think about people that have normal hearing, but struggle in a few situations with noise. Now they become candidates for some of these devices.

Matt Skindzier 17:59
Absolutely, yes, absolutely.

Brian Taylor 18:01
Multitasking in nature, where they can stream music, use it as a hearing aid when they want to. So it really opens up the market for a lot of different possibilities, which I think is, you know, everybody benefits from something like that.

Matt Skindzier 18:13
I would agree.

Brian Taylor 18:14
Anything else that you want our viewers to know about Knowles Electronics and what you’re working on?

Matt Skindzier 18:20
Yeah, you know, I think, you know, the key thing, you know, is, you know, we will continue to leverage, you know, our capabilities and our legacy to enable these markets, you know, obviously, a lot of our focus on the hearing health side has been on that business. And that continues to be our focus, you know, what I will say, is, has been really interesting to see how some of those, you know, as I mentioned, some of those similar needs, is starting to drive BA adoption or balanced armature adoption in the commercial space as well. You know, we have customers I mentioned, hearing personalization, you know, some OEMs, also looking for more diversification, they tend to use a BA, they might use a pure BA solution, or what we’re seeing a lot more now is, is balanced armature tweeters and a hybrid driver, right, we’re using a dynamic for the woofer. And the, you know, the balanced armature for the high frequency output. You know, we’re very well positioned to serve those markets, those needs, not just in our technology development, but some of the investments we’ve made in our manufacturing capabilities. You know, some of the product announcements we’ve made more recently point to our automated BA line.

or we’ve seen the interest of commercial electronics players start to think about this OTC space or recognize that in some of their hearables, they’re doing things that look a lot like some of the definitions that have been put out there OTC hearing aids, and we want to make sure that, you know, it’s understood that your commercial customer really wants to differentiate in hearing personalization, provide that high def experience, you know, understanding how the BA really helps with some of those hearing augmentation capabilities, and how critical it is to have that kind of bandwidth and high fidelity audio at the higher frequencies and how that can really enable the market there. And so, you know, I really hope the market as they you know, as both existing and new players start to look at that space, will recognize the capabilities, Knowles has the long legacy and how we can help them enable their products, because it’s very clear to us that, you know, BAs, you know, have a very key role in that dynamic both. Again, as we continue to see the OTC dynamic grow and as as the commercial space starts to adopt some new technologies there.

Brian Taylor 21:09
Well, it’s good to know that,

that you’re innovating and evolving just like the hearing aid manufacturers and everybody else in the industry. So great information. Thank you. If if our viewers want to know more about Knowles, you have a website or a way to contact is their website?

Absolutely.

Matt Skindzier 21:30
Absolutely. We Our website is www.knowles.com. And that’s k-n-o-w-l-e-s.

And of course, you know, whether through their contacts or through information by the web, happy to feel free to reach out to us through the website. Or if you have a known sales representative in your area, you can reach out to them. And through you know, organizations such as yourself, or the HIA people can also be put in contact with our organization as well. A lot of a lot of good ways to get a hold of us if we’re not talking already. So

Brian Taylor 22:02
that’s great.

Matt from Knowles Electronics, thanks for being on This Week in Hearing. We really appreciate your time and look forward to catching up with you next time. You guys have a big

new launch of a new transducer.

Matt Skindzier 22:17
Brian, thank you. And same here and again, we’re really excited about where the industry is going. And we appreciate the work of organizations such as yourselves that are helping the industry be aware of new trends and new capabilities that the industry is bringing forth to help with hearing health.

Brian Taylor 22:33
Thanks again for your time. Matt Skindzier Knowles Electronics.

Matt Skindzier 22:37
Thank you, Brian.

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About the Panel

Matt Skindzier is the Director of Product Marketing, ReceiversKnowles Corporation.

 

 

Brian Taylor, AuD, is the senior director of audiology for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin.

 

 


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