When you think of solid-state tech, you might think first of computer storage, but you're going to hear a lot about it in earbuds from now on, as companies look at moving from complicated speaker drivers for the best earbuds to those without all the fiddly parts.
One company that has been a frontrunner in the race to develop a solid-state speaker driver system is xMEMS, a Californian company founded in 2018 by the former VP of Knowles Corporation, which deals in advanced audio processing.
Now thanks to a partnership with audio brand Creative Labs, the tech has finally found itself in some real earbuds and as we previously wrote is going to change how we listen to sound in a resounding way.
I got a sneak preview of the exciting new buds at a demo with Creative, and was immediately impressed by the elevated power of the next-generation dual 10mm dynamic drivers. But you’re probably more interested in whether they sounded as good as the best wireless earbuds?
While it’s still too early to give any kind of comprehensive review (and there are so many factors beyond the driver tech that determines this), my first impressions are very positive. The sound reproduction was exceptionally clear when I tried them, with everything I listened to in the demo coming across exceptionally crisp.
And soon, audio enthusiasts will be able to try out the Aurvana Ace and the Aurvana Ace 2 earbuds for themselves too, as they’re due to become available for preorder as soon as November 10, 2023.
What are solid-state silicon drivers and how do they work?
As one of the earliest companies to produce a prototype for an audio speaker driver using the tech, xMEMS has apparently had a lot of attention from audio companies. Out of the more than 30 brands that are working on earbuds using their prototype, Creative Labs’ CEO Song Siow Hui tells me that his company is the first to ship with the pioneering MEMS tech.
MEMS stands for micro-electromechanical system and is made up of tiny microscopic components. There are a few different ways you can fashion this but xMEMS has opted for an all-silicon approach with its solid-state silicon driver.
Creative Labs explains that the solid-state silicon driver prototypes make sound by triggering tiny flaps with electronic pulses to make an array of micro sound waves, forgoing the traditional design of a cone with a magnet in its center to move air and create sound waves.
In Creative Labs’ own words: “These specialized drivers, expertly integrated into each earbud, showcase an innovative design with tiny flaps meticulously mounted to silicon chips. What makes this technology stand out is how it replicates sound when these flaps swiftly respond to short electrical signals. In doing so, these drivers are able to generate sound waves that closely mimic the way users naturally hear sounds in the world around them.”
Creative Labs says that this tech allows the Aurvana Ace and the Aurvana Ace 2 earbuds to deliver “a truly natural and lifelike sound experience”, resulting in an “audio experience that is not only pristine but also remarkably lifelike, akin to having the performers right beside the users”, which is let’s face it the ultimate end goal we’re all trying to get to with entertainment tech. It’s about getting as close as possible to the real thing that lets you live new experiences in a completely immersive environment.
Lossless audio quality, surprisingly limited feature set, and next-gen ANC features
First off, let’s get all the usual wireless earbud specs that we’ve come to be familiar with out of the way for these Creative buds. Both earbuds have a very acceptable 24 hour battery life and an IPX5 water-resistance rating packaged in a sleek and comfortable look. Out of the two colorways – sleek black with a copper hint or translucent plastic with copper highlights – I preferred the see-through look, which reminded me more of the Beats Studio Buds Plus rather than the Nothing Ear (2).
Both earbuds also come with six built-in microphones, which power a noise cancellation technology called cVc (Clear Voice Capture) that is promised to deliver “crystal clear calls even in noisy environments”. Although, I didn’t get to test this out at the demo, I’ll be looking forward to seeing how it works in a more detailed review.
Also, despite supporting Qualcomm’s own aptX lossless Bluetooth codec at 24 bits/48kHz, as well as SBC and AAC, it’s important to note you’re not getting true hi-res audio either here, with the buds supporting CD quality of 16-bit/44.1 kHz. But you’re getting the expected smart features such as hybrid active noise cancellation and what Creative Labs’ is calling ‘ambient mode’ to hear outside noises.
The Aurvana Ace 2 is the premium offering out of the two. It has Qualcomm’s Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) mode, which is similar to Apple AirPods Pro 2’s Adaptive Awareness mode, in that it uses machine learning to fine-tune noise cancellation levels in real-time based on your outside environment.
The other two surprises: price and size
Being a new technology, we didn't really know what to expect from the price of the first solid-state buds, but Creative Labs has kept the price quite reasonable, positioning them in the mid-range part of the market. The Creative Aurvana Ace is priced at $129 (approx. £105 / AU$200), while the Aurvana Ace 2 is slightly more expensive at $149 (approx. £120 / AU$285).
When we first started talking about how the world’s first solid-state speakers may transform earbuds, we mulled over the potential for the buds to be a lot smaller, but both the Aurvana Ace and the Aurvana Ace 2 are similar in size to most earbuds out in the market today so don’t expect the trend of the teeny tiny earbuds like the JLab JBuds Mini here.
The buds are still exciting nonetheless, and we can't wait to get our hands on a pair to start really putting them through their paces.
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Amelia became the Senior Editor for Home Entertainment at TechRadar in the UK in April 2023. With a background of more than eight years in tech and finance publishing, she's now leading our coverage to bring you a fresh perspective on everything to do with TV and audio. When she's not tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos in the ever-evolving world of home entertainment, you’ll find her watching movies, taking pictures and travelling.