Plantronics - An Ideal Collaboration

An Ideal Collaboration

How Dialog Helps Plantronics Lead in Audio Quality

For more than a decade, Plantronics, a leader in audio communications in the enterprise, government and consumer spaces, has relied on Dialog Semiconductor to provide the audio and connectivity chipsets that underpin their industry-leading wireless audio products.

Dialog now underpins the majority of Plantronics’ DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) product lines, which is the standard used widely in most countries around the world.

Founded in 1961, Plantronics was dreamed up by Courtney Graham and Keith Larkin – two airline pilots – in a tiny garage in Santa Cruz, California, mirroring the origin stories of other modern-day tech giants. Originally looking to innovate headsets for commercial aviation, the duo ended up creating the world’s first lightweight headset.

This was one of many impressive early milestones for the company, as it would also make history when their MS50 model was chosen for use during NASA’s Mercury mission. It was also through a Plantronics headset that Neil Armstrong uttered the first words on the moon.

More than a decade ago, Plantronics teamed up with Dialog right when the next-generation of integrated systems-on- chips (SoCs) were about to come online. While many competitors were disappearing from the market, Dialog offered modern chip designs that could support many of Plantronics’ existing technologies, but also featured capabilities that would support the exploration of wireless headsets that rival the sound quality of wired models.

Dialog Audio Codecs for Plantronics

One product is the SC14450, which is an audio processor that has been used in many of Plantronics’ speakerphone and telephone products for years.

The SC14480 is another example of a single-chip DECT / CAT-iq solution that can be found in almost all of Plantronics audio products, which is ideal for headset applications and provides the processing power to support superior audio quality while reducing BOM costs.

The SC14450 processor uses a multicore architecture and delivers 240 MIPS of processing power. It features a 16-bit CompactRISC™ processor, plus two user-programmable Gen2D-SPs and runs multiple audio codecs with best-in-class acoustic echo cancellation alongside other embedded applications.

In addition, the SC14450 supports a variety of external memories, and features an integrated class D amplifer, power and battery management options, a white LED driver and a wide variety of peripheral interfaces including master / slave PCM, UART, SPI, dual-access bus and USB client.

For wireless audio applications, this DECT standard enables energy efficiency enhancements, easy pairing, wide-band audio data rates and secure connectivity.

Dialog is the market leader in this segment and its portfolio covers all regional versions of DECT plus the 2.4 GHz DCT protocol and also includes the DECT ULE family of products; SmartPulse.

 

We say “most countries” when referring to DECT because North America is a little different. Due to US radio frequency regulations, the country uses its own standard: DECT 6.0. While it’s almost identical to DECT used in other regions, technology that uses the US standard is incompatible with DECT systems elsewhere.

A major underlying value-add of Plantronics’ relationship with Dialog is that teams can work together in the product development phase to build chips that meet specific technological needs that existing solutions hadn’t addressed. In some cases, these collaborations haveled to the creation of chips that have eventually been replicated or used industry-wide.

Several years ago, for example, Dialog created a chip variant for Plantronics that required a metal mask bin — a variant of one of their existing chips. This was a special tweak for Plantronics that eventually bene ted the larger headset market by becoming a standard design across the industry.

Whether ROM or  Flash-based, Dialog has a solution

Many of the Dialog solutions that Plantronics uses in its headsets come either as read-only memory (ROM)-based or  Flash-based products, depending on the design.

ROM chips allow Plantronics to produce a low-cost product, scribing code onto a chip that will dictate performance for the long-term. Plantronics CS family of products – specifically the popular CS500 – use ROM-based chips for cost competitiveness.

Flash-based chips, however, can readily be updated, allowing Plantronics to sell customers on the idea that its devices are future-proofed, as the chips can periodically receive hardware updates. The Savi 400 and Savi 700 series series use  Flash-based chips.

The fact that Plantronics has access to both of these options gives them the opportunity to offer solutions for specific use-case application and the associated economics. It also allows the company to differentiate the products from those connected to the PC through remote updates.

For example, Plantronics recently released DECT enhanced security for it’s  flash-based headsets as a result of changes to the DECT security standard. If a customer had one of Plantronics’ flash-based Savi 700 products, they had the option to easily update the firmware on it to ensure higher security. This was especially useful for many of the company’s government clients, who value security above all else in audio communications. This DECT update turned out to have the highest-ever number of downloads for a Plantronics device, with many customers updating their products on the fly and in the field, simply and easily. Plantronics sets, then exceeds, the industry standard.

Plantronics goes against many traditional business models by producing products that exceed even the highest expecations for quality rather than simply setting the standard. Not only do these products rarely break, but Plantronics is willing to replace them when they do. The company designs its products from the inside out, partnering with the best suppliers it can – like Dialog. All of Plantronics’ DECT products that use Dialog chips are extremely robust, high quality, high performance, enterprise-grade designs that are built to last – not to be replaced.

Dialog provides reference designs and software development kits and has fantastic technical support to help Plantronics keep the supply chain moving. Evaluation boards and control software are available to quickly evaluate parts, which makes it easier for Plantronics to move quickly in the development stage.

Having reference design schematics also helps speed up troubleshooting by complementing Plantronics’ custom designs. As a result, Plantronics is fully capable of ramping up or slowing down production at any point to call upon Dialog to help its operations teams better manage any supply chain issues, all without having a major impact on production schedules.

Another benefit is that by being a global company, Dialog enables Plantronics to test different frequency options for various geographical regions and countries. This allows them to be armed with solutions very quickly, no matter where customers are in the market.

Conclusion

By embracing a collaborative working relationship, Dialog and Plantronics have been able to constantly set new industry standards and raise the bar on audio quality across Plantronics’s range of products. As a result, these headsets are embraced across industry verticals and market sectors, and the new standards for audio quality that have come about as part of this collaboration have made both companies trailblazers in this marketplace — a role they’ll continue to own well into the future.