Sound & Vision: I've heard the future of sound, and xMEMS are at its forefront

OPINION: To me my xMEMS!

You may not have heard about xMEMS and might even confuse the name with the fictional mutants from Marvel Comics, but I’ll wager that you’ll be hearing more about this company in the coming months as it has the potential to disrupt the headphone and speaker market for the first time in decades.

Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but when it comes to headphones, the technology that drives the sound hasn’t changed all too much in years.

Dynamic drivers are used across the industry and while planar magnetic, electrostatic, bone conduction, and balanced armature are used in headphones, they aren’t as popular as a dynamic driver. And this technology is decades old.

Dynamic drivers are based on coil and magnet technologies – it’s also more familiarly referred to as moving coil – and it works by using a fixed magnet that creates a magnetic field and this works together with the voice coil, causing it to move backwards and forwards, impacting on the diaphragm and pushing the air around it to create the sound we hear.

The purpose of xMEMS is to disrupt this old way of creating sounds

The tech uses a solid-state solution, which has gained traction in the last several years, most notably with SSDs. With headphones, xMEMS aim is to replace moving coil architecture completely. It still operates on the same principle of pushing the air around it but the coil on the magnet has been replaced by a thin Piezo film. When voltage is applied to it, it bends, creating the push and pull effect.

xmems 1
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

According to xMEMS, what you get from this silicon and the diaphragm as one unit is consistency – “every speaker on this wafer performs exactly the same, same loudness, same phase characteristics”. Having assembled a pair of headphones at the Sennheiser factory in Ireland and checked whether the speaker drivers were matching (some didn’t), having this degree of consistency removes waste.

It also takes the human element out of the equation to some degree as this process is highly automated. I imagine that might cause consternation for some but in a process that requires a degree of efficiency and precision, the one part that introduces some variability is the human part of the production process.

And then there’s the precision and efficiency in how the speaker operates. Silicon is stiffer, which should help in cutting down on distortion. The mechanical response of the speakers is 150 times faster than a magnet and coil, which means that the attack and decay of the electrical signal can be recovered quicker. xMEMS claims that you could throw lots of dynamic content at these speakers with speed and clarity, retaining detail without muddying the sound.

Aurvana AceAurvana Ace

All that said we’re not at the point where there are fully solid-state MEMS drivers on the market just yet. Creative Audio has adopted the technology for its Aurvana Ace and Aurvana Ace 2 wireless earbuds (look out for those reviews), a hybrid combination of the MEMs and coil with the woofer focusing on the low frequencies and the MEMS on the mids and highs.

2025 is circled as the year when we could have headphones that employ a single full-range MEMS driver.

I’m impressed

Having sampled the technology, I have to say that I’m impressed by the clarity and detail in the mids and highs. At the same time, there’s a punchiness and clarity to the low frequencies on one of the prototype headphones I listen to that avoids the lack of clarity and misshapen bass I’ve heard with other headphones.

I would say that it does depend on the tuning of the headphones. A warm, smooth sounding headphone won’t offer quite as much clarity and detail as a pair of headphones tuned with neutrality or clarity in mind. I’ve been listening to the Aurvana Ace 2 in recent weeks against another similarly priced true wireless and I can hear the step up in clarity and detail that gives them just a little more fidelity in the audio stakes.

In the end though, I’d wager it’ll all depend on what type of sound you like, as it always does. But as we seem to heading down this path of increasing the number of high quality sources and improving that transmission of data over Bluetooth, xMEMS appears to be in a very good position to take advantage of this higher quality, wireless sound that we’re moving towards.

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