NXP Turns Up Audio Quality

Article By : Anne-Françoise Pelé

Consumer electronics OEMs can now use NXP’s i.MX 8M family of chipsets equipped with Dirac’s digital audio platform.

The purpose of a home theater is to bring a theater-like experience to the comfort of your home. For audiophiles and general home theater enthusiasts, the system should not only provide a high-quality video experience but also an immersive audio experience to enjoy dialogue, sound effects and music.

Every room, and all the objects in it, will react differently to frequencies of sound. Room correction software can be used to reduce the distortions and improve audio clarity thanks to precise measurements of the room’s shape, size, furnishings, reflective surfaces and listeners’ locations.

NXP Semiconductor announced it has concluded an agreement with Swedish audio technology provider Dirac to provide the consumer market with higher quality audio across the entire product spectrum, including smart speakers and soundbars. NXP’s i.MX 8M family of chipsets is now equipped with Dirac’s audio digital platform so that OEMs can enable their products with digital room correction technology.

“When you have all the competitors, what makes you unique? It is the completeness of the offering,” Jakob Agren, Dirac’s director of product management, told EE Times. “NXP wants to have an out-of-the-box option for consumer electronics OEMs, and that’s why we have partnered with them.”

Dirac Delta Function

Dirac was founded as a spin-off from Sweden’s Uppsala University in 2001. At the time, six researchers “were doing some research about what became later the LTE standard for telecommunications,” said Agren. Sharing a common interest for audio, they realized that they could use their knowledge in telecommunications to improve the quality of audio reproduction.

“That actually turned out to be true,” said Agren. The team won a startup competition, received some seed funding and, in 2004, they signed their first contract with automaker BMW.

A link with Paul Dirac? Indeed. “We stole his family name because, in science, it means something,” said Agren. Paul Dirac, a British Nobel-prize winning physicist, is famous for having created the Dirac Delta Function. Simply said, “if you measure systems electrically and acoustically, you are likely to encounter things like impulse response.”

Dirac — the company, not the physicist — claims its technology differs from existing solutions, because “we consider the timing of the system,” Agren said. “We try to get the playback system to be as true as the music as possible. This has been done for a long time in audio but only in considering the amount of energy.” If we analyze a piece of music, the energy content does not change when we play it backwards. However, “it is going to sound completely different for us, as human beings,” Agren explained.

For Dirac, it is not enough to just measure the energy for each frequency. “You also need to consider the timing issue.” The result, Agren explained, is increased clarity, more details and a better stereo image, and “that’s the basis for everything we do in the company.”


By teaming with Dirac, NXP aims to offer an advanced audio solution that meets the industry’s rising standards. “They [NXP] want to have the hardware chip with Arm’s cores and

connectors together with what the market expects for streaming services, decoders for Blu-ray discs and various formats used by Netflix and others,” Agren said.

Dirac Live room correction solution (Image: Dirac)

The Dirac digital audio platform comprises both the company’s digital audio solutions and tuning tool kits. OEMs can customize the sound experience of their products with Dirac’s audio solutions and ensure consistent sound quality across their entire product line with Dirac’s tuning tools. For the first time, Dirac’s room correction software, dubbed Dirac Live, is available for the soundbar market, said Agren.

Among other specific enhancements made available through this collaboration are speaker optimization, bass management, bass enhancement, and immersive audio capabilities. OEMs can then pick-and-choose which enhancements they want to customize their chipset with, Dirac said.

Besides customization, OEMs can accelerate their product’s time-to-market since they don’t have to develop their own software or write their own code. “The audio industry, especially in the consumer space, is concerned about cost control,” said Agren “If you are an OEM, being able to cut down the technical risks, but also the development time and the development cost is an attractive feature.”

The Dirac-enabled NXP chipsets are suitable for smart speakers and soundbars that prioritize high-quality sound, in addition to home theater receivers. By partnering with NXP, Dirac acknowledged it has accelerated its growth in the smart speaker and soundbar channels. Now, Agren outlined, the company’s ambition, “is to be able to bring all the technologies we have to this NXP platform.” Dirac is currently active in four main markets: smartphones with 7 of the 10 smartphone OEMs as customers, automotive with customers like BMW and Volvo, home theaters, and headphones.

Asked when the first products powered by the Dirac-enabled NXP chipsets will be available on the market, Agren admitted he didn’t know for sure, “but I would be very surprised if they aren’t available later this year. Availability from us is basically today.”

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