I tried all earbuds with next-gen xMEMS speakers, and one really stood out

The Cypress xMEMS solid-state driver prototype
xMEMS had a 3D printed earbud prototype of the Cypress solid-state drivers being demoed at CES 2024. (Image credit: Future)

There was a lot of cool tech unveiled at CES 2024 (just take a look at our roundup of the 20 best gadgets of CES 2024 for a full rundown of the award winning TVs, projectors, speakers, headphones and more) but among some of the biggest innovation reveals at the show, there was a Californian semiconductor company called xMEMS hosting demos for its solid-state speaker driver tech. This next-gen audio tech promises a wider sound range and better detail from smaller and lighter units than the traditional dynamic drivers used in the vast majority of headphones and earbuds today.

I’ve been reporting on this new tech for a few months now – even going as far to boldly predict that they will be the headphone tech you won’t stop hearing about in 2024 – so I was eager to seek them out to not just back up my prediction (although it was bit of that, otherwise I wouldn’t be good at my job) but to hear the new Cypress prototype that was announced in November last year.

All generations and prototypes of the xMEMS solid-state driver chips

This is how small the three generations of xMEMS' solid-state drivers are, from Montara and Cowell to Cypress.   (Image credit: Future)

At CES 2024, I was able to demo all the headphones that currently have xMEMS solid-state drivers inside of them, though not all of them had the same prototype. Instead there were varying combinations of the three generations available, including the Montara, Cowell (and Montara Plus), and Cypress, the latter of which is designed to go in the best noise cancelling earbuds. They even had earbud prototypes designed by xMEMS itself to be built by a “third-party” manufacturer, Mike Housholder, vice president of marketing and business development at xMEMS, tells me.

These didn’t particularly stand out to me in clarity, but that may have been due to the extremely poor fit, as I couldn’t get the foam made earbuds to sit in my ears properly without falling out every few seconds. Instead, it was the options from existing headphone makers that really stole the show for me. The Creative Aurvance Ace and Aurvana Ace 2 were both there, which I have already been able to try out at another demo in London.

Noble Audio's XM1 IEMS

Noble Audio's XM1 IEMS claim to deliver audiophile quality sound without the need for a DAC or amplifier. (Image credit: Future)

There were also models made by Singularity Industries, Kiss Communications and Noble Audio, the latter of which makes very high-end equipment usually. Sure enough, Noble Audio’s IXM1 in-ear monitors sounding the best of the options I wore, but they were priced at $599, so certainly don't count as a bargain no matter their quality. It's great to hear what the sound quality can do, but one of the selling points of xMEMS is its affordability, so we really want to see what it can do further down the range.

Singularity Industries' ONI IEMs

Singularity Industries' ONI earbuds have two xMEMS Montara drivers inside them, and were powered by the iFi Diablo-X DAC in this test. (Image credit: Future)

Opinion: Creative Aurvana Ace 2 makes solid-state speakers accessible 

For manufacturers, it seems that there are a lot of benefits to the new solid-state drivers, most importantly of all that they are relatively cheap and cost effective to produce.

It’s the high cost of dynamic drivers that headphone makers have been known to complain about. John Moulton, the founder of Noble Audio, is found saying in an interview at Audio Head in 2014 that he was already frustrated back then by the lack of high-quality drivers being built on the market. “In the IEM industry, I would not say quality is becoming more affordable. The trouble is, the drivers are expensive. There are essentially two manufactures of balanced armature drivers, I would imagine a lack of competition helps to keep the prices high.”

Noble Audio's Falcon Max and Fokus Triumph IEMS being demoed with xMEMS Cowell drivers.

Noble Audio will launch the Falcon Max and Fokus Triumph earbuds together in the coming months. (Image credit: Future)

Out of all the headphones available that I got to try – including Noble Audio’s IXM1 wired earbuds, and its Falcon Max TWS and Triumph TWS true wireless earbuds, Singularity Industries’ ONI IEMs and the Kiss Communication prototype (these are not yet announced) – it was Creative’s Aurvana Ace that promise the best way to try out xMEMS solid-state driver tech for yourself at home in my opinion.

Not least because the price of the Aurvana Ace is $129 / £134 (approx. AU$200). That gives enthusiasts a more accessible way to experience the latest innovation in headphone speaker tech in a second pair of earbuds that don't have to replace your main pair necessarily. I wouldn’t recommend these to someone looking for all the latest features found in the best wireless earbuds, but to the enthusiasts out there, they mark a historical moment in headphone innovation.

The higher-end options were very impressive, but it's already possible to get extremely good headphones for $600 among the best wired earbuds, unsurprisingly. The real revolution here will be at the more affordable end, and while the Creative Aurvana Ace and Ace 2 are not the final version of this – they actually combine xMEMS tech with a traditional driver – their audio capabilities at a more affordable price show the path we're more excited to see this tech take.

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Amelia Schwanke
Senior Editor UK, Home Entertainment

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.