4 June 2008
Loud & Clear(HKTDC Electronics, Vol 02,2008)
Earphones, Headphones & Microphones
Whatever the application, there is universal demand for better quality audio and microphone systems
The telephony industry is on a real roll, thanks to burgeoning mobile phone numbers and equally impressive growth in the number of Internet users worldwide.
Global mobile phone user numbers are approaching 3.5 billion and Internet users are well on their way to 1.5 billion, so demand for related telephony products is clearly just beginning.
This can only be good news for Hong Kong's manufacturers of headphones, earphones and combined microphone/speaker sets, given that the sector posted 10.9% growth in exports last year alone.
One of the companies treading the export path is Accutone Technology Ltd, which boasts a near 40-year track record courtesy of mother company Wing Cheong.
Accutone prides itself on the professional standards of its call centre and office headsets, says Senior Marketing Executive Jessie Ma. "Unlike many OEM manufacturers, we act as an open-source brand owner and focus on building our brand position globally," she explains.
"At the same time we offer competitive prices in comparison to bigger brands, all of which provide protection for our buyers in terms of quality and price."
Ms Ma says the competitive edge of Accutone's USB Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) products is its focus on sound performance. "The proprietary design of the bass-enhanced loudspeakers used in the USB400 won an award as the Best VoIP Product in the International Call Center Management show in Chicago," she observes, adding that Accutone is currently developing wideband headset solutions for Microsoft Office Communicator.
Another very popular VoIP product is Accutone's portable USB conference machine. "The V10 Personal Communicator is ideal for business travellers who want to make conference calls via the Internet," Ms Ma maintains. "It's compact but has sound quality similar to that of a traditional conference machine."
Accutone believes that the 2009 communication headset market can be classified into three main areas: traditional telephone headsets, USB headsets for VoIP and wireless telephone headsets. "While our focus is on the first two categories, we believe that wireless telephone headsets are becoming more popular for business users," Ms Ma says.
Accutone is therefore actively developing solutions standards using Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), with Generic Access Profile (GAP), so its wireless headsets can connect to any DECT GAP-enabled gateway as well as its default base station.
High technology such as this is increasingly being built into more portable headset units, but Innovation Technology Co Ltd sees a similar number of consumers demanding the basics be done well.
"We have long business relationships with our customers - it's not just one project and we're finished," observes Marketing Executive Sharon Chan. "When we have a new sketch or product idea we consult these key customers and they give us comments, so that we can fine-tune what we produce for the European or US markets."
Innovation Technology provides a one-stop solution for ODM and OEM business with both an in-house design team and Swedish design house partner, an R&D centre, tooling workshop and production facility in Shenzhen.
A forthcoming product that the company thinks will be big in the next few years is earphones housed in more natural materials such as wood. "Very high-end speakers use wood in their construction but there is not really anything like this in earphones," Ms Chan says of wooden earphone, model WEP-001.
This product features 8mm drivers, 16Ω±5% @ 1kHz impedance, F0-20kHz and106±3dB @ 1KHz sound pressure levels to provide crystal-clear sound.
"Using wood, there is a very natural interaction of sound in the earphone cavity," Ms Chan explains. "We want to bring the audio quality of high-end speakers to earphones."
Reliability and sound quality are keys to success for Woodtai Enterprises Ltd, which has traditionally focused on the ODM/OEM production of receivers for earphones.
The firm currently manufactures for "many" high profile customers, including the world's largest provider of headsets to the mobile market, GN Netcom.
With a greater requirement for audio quality across a wide range of frequencies in ever-smaller earphones, the precision engineering required to produce minutely thin diaphragms is crucial.
Most of Woodtai's engineers have 20-25 years' experience, and they pride themselves on both engineering excellence and precision mass production.
Speakers are very simple things, admits Project Department Manager Jackey Dai. "To make one excellent speaker is easy, but to make 10,000 of them with identical performance is what we do well," he claims.
"Competition in the acoustic parts industry, especially in China, is fierce, but our customers keep coming back to us because of our quality and reliability."
Nowhere is this more evident than in Woodtai's earphone model WE-Fe-M06, which features a 32OHM impedance ±15% at 1,000Hz, 20Hz-20kHz frequency range and sensitivity of 106dB±3dB at 1,000Hz.
The message is coming through loud and clear - buyers looking for outstanding audio quality and consistent reliability know that Hong Kong's manufacturers of earphones, headphones and microphones soundly beat all their rivals.
TEXT BY CHRIS WHITE