MEMS microphones make noise in 2012

January 17, 2012 — Micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) microphones are set to enjoy another blockbuster year in 2012 as the devices continue to find strong adoption in portable electronics, including the wildly popular iPhone and iPad from Apple Inc., according to a new report from IHS iSuppli.

Revenue this year for MEMS microphones is projected to reach $493.5 million, up a solid 32% from $373.2 million in 2011. This year’s expansion continues the mighty growth path seen by MEMS mics following last year’s remarkable 64% increase, and the next few years also will see healthy prospects for the space.

By 2015, MEMS microphone revenue will hit approximately $667.0 million, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24% starting from 2010. Shipments in 2015 will hit 2.9 billion units.

  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Billions of US Dollars  227.7 373.2 493.5 576.2 628.6 667.0

MEMS microphones are miniature devices that employ a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched on a semiconductor. The microphones are commonly designed into cellphones, headsets, notebook PCs, and video cameras, replacing conventional electret condenser microphones (ECM) while providing greater clarity and sound reception for spoken commands from device users.

The rapid growth is due to a combination of factors. First, MEMS penetration in handsets continues unabated, deepening to 50% in 2011 from 38% the year before. Handsets, in fact, make up the top application device. Second, there has been a rapid adoption of multiple microphones in smartphone devices for noise compression — particularly important for voice commands such as those used in the Siri speech-recognition feature of Apple’s iPhone 4S. Finally, MEMS microphones are becoming more broadly used, in laptops, tablets, gaming consoles and cameras.

Top MEMS mic buyers and suppliers
Not surprisingly, Apple was the top purchaser of MEMS microphones in 2011. Apple uses two analog MEMS microphones in its iPhone 4 and 4S phones, one analog MEMS microphone in the headset sold with the iPhone, and one digital MEMS microphone for the iPad 2 tablet.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is an important buyer of MEMS microphones, the top purchaser until Apple overtook the company last year. Samsung uses dual MEMS microphones for its handsets, and microphones are also utilized in the company’s Galaxy 10.1 tablet.

Other notable MEMS microphones buyers include LG Electronics for its phones and G-Slate tablet and Motorola Inc., an early adopter via its Razr phones as early as 2003.

Among suppliers, Knowles Electronics continues to dominate the market, though its share of MEMS microphone shipments has fallen from 88% in 2010 to 75% last year. Knowles supplies Apple, Samsung, LG, and Motorola.

ECM suppliers have begun to expand their portfolios by including MEMS microphones. Within this group, AAC Inc. is the most successful to date with 11% market share in 2011, functioning also as a second source to Knowles for the iPhone 4 and 4S. AAC, together with other Chinese-based ECM makers GoerTek Inc., Hosiden and BSE Co. Ltd, shipped more than 200 million MEMS microphones in 2011, with each buying MEMS dies from German outfit Infineon Technologies AG.

The No. 3 supplier in 2011 was Analog Devices Inc., thanks to its design win with the digital MEMS microphone in the Apple iPad 2. The company also sells into some niche applications, including teleconference equipment.

Other important MEMS microphone suppliers are Akustica (part of Bosch), which in 2011 sold tens of millions of digital MEMS microphones for use in laptops, up from less than 4 million in 2010; and STMicroelectronics, a top supplier also of digital MEMS microphones.  

Digital MEMS microphones sound out the right path
While MEMS microphones can be analog and are often used for the acoustic function in handsets, digital microphones yield several advantages. For instance, changes in design are easy to implement in the device for which the microphones are intended, and time to market is also shorter. Digital microphones are less sensitive to electromagnetic interference, and an increased Power Supply Rejection Ratio (PSRR) simplifies architecture and improves audio quality. In the case of noise suppression with three or more microphones, the signal from digital microphones is easier to process than from analog.

Aside from their use in handsets, digital microphones also provide better immunity to electromagnetic interference when used in laptops, especially in Voice over IP (VoIP) applications.

Though currently more expensive than comparable surface-mountable (SMD) digital ECMs, digital MEMS microphones will become more competitive, IHS believes, leading to their rapid adoption for the foreseeable future. Nokia Corp. started to increase the share of digital MEMS microphones in its handsets during the second half of 2011 — a trend that will continue with other handset manufacturers in the next two years.

Apple also has started implementing digital MEMS microphones on its iPad 2, and the next iPhone version is expected to use multiple digital MEMS microphones.
Learn more about this topic with the forthcoming IHS iSuppli report "MEMS Microphones Go Digital in 2012." For more information, visit

Jérémie Bouchaud is an analyst at IHS.
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