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From the background information supplied by the inventors, news correspondents obtained the following quote: "Currently, a typical microphone assembly used in portable phones (e.g., mobile or cellular phones) converts acoustical signals to analog audio signals, which are transmitted from the microphone assembly along a signal line to an external A/D converter for digitization. As the analog audio signals travel from the microphone assembly to the A/D converter, however, they are undesirably susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) caused by the presence of high frequency signals (normally around 1-2 GHz). To reduce the effects of EMI, the current practice in the mobile phone industry is to use external capacitors to de-couple the high frequency signal to 'clean' the analog audio signals before digitization. After digitization, the resulting digital output signals are largely insensitive to EMI. Accordingly, it is desirable to convert the acoustical signals to digital output signals as soon as possible to prevent EMI from degrading signal integrity.
"Further, different microphone assemblies currently used in portable phones have different sensitivity levels and output impedances. Thus, portable phones are typically designed with only one type of microphone assembly in mind, and the microphone pre-amplifier drive levels are set in accordance with the output characteristics of the particular microphone assembly. It is not practical, therefore, to substitute one microphone assembly for another because the gain of the microphone pre-amplifier would have to be adjusted to accommodate a different microphone assembly with a different output characteristic from that of the original microphone assembly. Thus, a hardware modification or an analog level adjustment of the microphone sensitivity is typically needed to switch one type of microphone for another.
"U.S. Pat. No. 5,796,848 discloses a digital hearing aid with a microphone. In order to avoid EMI an A/D converter is positioned within the microphone casing whereby the A/D converter is shielded against EMI. The solution suggested in U.S. Pat. No. 5,796,848 reduces the influence of EMI, but due to a small opening in the casing, which is necessary so as to allow acoustic signals to be sensed by the microphone positioned inside the casing, EMI may still influence signal processing.
"Electrical connections to the assembly such as power supply and input/output interfaces may also be sources of introducing EMI into the assembly. Even though digital input and output connections are very insensitive to EMI they may act as carriers/antennas so that EMI is introduced to the otherwise shielded microphone assembly. As described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,796,848 power supply lines are de-coupled against EMI by adding external capacitors to the powers supply line. However, the digital interface can not be de-coupled effectively against EMI applying such capacitors.
"Therefore, there exists a need for a microphone assembly that shields analog audio signals against the effects of EMI without the use of de-coupling capacitors and that provides enhanced interchangeability. It is an object of the present invention to provide such microphone assembly."
Supplementing the background information on this patent, VerticalNews reporters also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "The above-mentioned object is provided in a first aspect of the present invention by providing a microphone assembly comprising a microphone assembly casing having a sound inlet port, a transducer for receiving acoustic waves through the sound inlet port, and for converting received acoustic waves to analog audio signals, said transducer being positioned within the microphone assembly casing, an electronic circuit positioned within the microphone assembly casing, said electronic circuit comprising a pre-amplifier having an input and an output terminal, the input terminal being connected to the transducer so as to receive analog audio signals from the transducer, and an analog-to-digital converter having an input and an output terminal, the input terminal being connected to the output terminal of the pre-amplifier so as to receive amplified analog audio signals from the pre-amplifier and to convert said amplified analog audio signals to digital audio signals.
"In order to protect against EMI the microphone assembly casing may be a metallic housing or a housing holding a metallic coating or metallic layer so as to establish a Faraday cage. Preferably, the analog-to-digital converter comprises a sigma-delta modulator. In addition, the microphone assembly may further comprise filter means between the pre-amplifier and the sigma-delta modulator so as to filter amplified analog audio signals. This filter means may comprise a high-pass filter implemented as a pure high-pass filter or, alternatively, as a band-pass filter implemented as a high-pass filter and a low-pass filter in combination.
"The microphone assembly may in addition comprise a second amplifier between the filter means and the sigma-delta modulator so as to amplify the filtered analog audio signals,
"In order to save space, reduce cost and to minimize exposure of analog signal path's to EMI the pre-amplifier and the sigma-delta modulator are preferably integrated on a chip so as to form an integrated circuit. Such chip may be implemented monolithically so as to form an ASIC. In case the microphone assembly also comprises a high-pass filter, the pre-amplifier, the sigma-delta modulator, and at least part of the high-pass filter may advantageously be integrated on the same chip so as to form a monolithic integrated circuit. Typically, the high-pass filter comprises a resistor and a capacitor, which in combination alone or in combination with other components forms the high-pass filter. The capacitor part of such high-pass filter may advantageously be physically separated from the resistor part. The second amplifier may also form part of the integrated circuit further comprising the pre-amplifier, the filter means and the sigma-delta modulator. The second amplifier may be implemented as e.g. a buffer or a differential converter, such as a single-entity differential converter.
"Alternatively, the pre-amplifier, the sigma-delta modulator, and at least part of the high-pass filter may be implemented on separate chips so as to form separate electronic circuits.
"Typically, the transducer comprises a flexible diaphragm having a pressure-equalizing opening penetrating the diaphragm. This pressure equalizing opening has dimensions so that frequencies in the analog audio signals below a predetermined frequency value are suppressed. Generally speaking, by making the pressure equalizing opening smaller, the cut-off frequency of the acoustic high-pass filter decreases. With a lower cut-off frequency of the acoustic high-pass filter the electronic high-pass filter can be designed with a smaller capacitor without increasing the total noise from the microphone. This design route is of specific importance in the area of hearing aids where space issues within hearing instruments are among the most important design parameters.
"The microphone assembly may further comprise a digital filter connected to the output terminal of the sigma-delta modulator. Preferably, the digital filter is a digital decimation low-pass filter forming part of the integrated circuit.
"The microphone assembly may further comprise a low-pass filter between the pre-amplifier and the analog-to-digital converter so as to low-pass filter amplified analog audio signals to avoid aliasing during the sampling process.
"In a second aspect, the present invention relates to a portable unit comprising a microphone assembly according to the first aspect of the present invention, said microphone assembly being connected to digital signal processing means (e.g. a DSP) for further signal processing.
"Since the signal processing outside the microphone assembly is purely digital, the DSP used for the further signal processing is denoted a pure DSP or a pure digital DSP.
"The portable unit may be selected from the group consisting of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, mobile recording units, such as MP3 players; and mobile communication units, such as mobile or cellular phones.
"In a third aspect, the present invention relates to a method of processing received acoustical signals, said method comprising the steps of receiving acoustical signals within a microphone casing, converting the received acoustical signals to analog audio signals within the microphone casing, amplifying the converted analog audio signals within the microphone casing, and converting the amplified analog audio signals to digital audio signals within the microphone casing.
"The method may further comprise a step of filtering the amplified analog audio signals prior to converting the converted analog audio signals to digital audio signals. The filtering step may comprise high-pass filtering of the amplified analog audio signals.
"The method may further comprise a step of digitally processing the digital audio signals. This processing step may comprise the step of filtering the digital audio signals. Finally, the method may further comprise a step of transmitting the digital audio signals (filtered or not filtered) to a DSP for further processing. This DSP may be positioned in- or outside the microphone casing.
"In a fourth and final aspect, the present invention relates to a microphone assembly comprising a microphone assembly casing having a first and a second sound inlet port, a first transducer for receiving acoustic waves through the first sound inlet port, and for converting received acoustic waves to analog audio signals, said first transducer being positioned within the microphone assembly casing, a second transducer for receiving acoustic waves through the second sound inlet port, and for converting received acoustic waves to analog audio signals, said second transducer being positioned within the microphone assembly casing, an integrated circuit positioned within the microphone assembly casing, said integrated circuit comprising a pre-amplifier module having input and output terminals, a first input terminal being connected to the first transducer, a second input terminal being connected to the second transducer and an analog-to-digital converter module having input and output terminals, a first input terminal being connected to a first output terminal of the pre-amplifier, a second input terminal being connected to a second output terminal of the pre-amplifier.
"The pre-amplifier module may comprise a first and a second pre-amplifier--i.e. a pre-amplifier for each of the transducers. The analog-to-digital converter module may comprise a first and a second sigma-delta modulator, the first sigma-delta modulator being connected to the first pre-amplifier, the second sigma-delta modulator being connected to the second pre-amplifier.
"The microphone assembly according to the fourth aspect of the present invention may further comprise a first high-pass filter between the first pre-amplifier and the first sigma-delta modulator, and a second high-pass filter between the second pre-amplifier and the second sigma-delta modulator. This high-pass filter may at least partly be integrated with the integrated circuit.
"The microphone assembly may further comprise an analog beam forming circuitry in a configuration where a plurality of transducers and pre-amplifiers are connected to said analog beam forming circuitry so as to perform beam forming in the analog domain. The output signal from the beam forming circuitry is provided to one or more sigma-delta modulators and thereby converted to the digital domain. The beam forming circuitry may be implemented as a time continuous analog circuitry or as a time discrete analog circuitry--e.g. switched capacitor.
"Alternatively, beam forming may be performed in the digital domain using a configuration where a plurality of transducers, pre-amplifiers, filters and sigma-delta modulators are interconnected. Each of the sigma-delta modulators is connected to a digital beam forming circuitry. A digital decimation filter may be connected to the beam forming circuitry so as to filter the output signal from the beam forming circuitry. Alternatively, decimation filters may be connected between each of the sigma-delta modulators and the beam forming circuitry.
"The inventive combination of the microphone having an internal A/D converter and optionally a pure DSP overcomes several aforementioned disadvantages associated with prior art systems in which DSPs have analog processing capability. By having microphones with digital output that is transmitted from the microphone casing, the inventive microphones promote interchangeability, permitting one microphone assembly to be easily substituted for another. Any adjustments that may be required can be entirely software controlled.
"In addition, the use of a pure DSP simplifies the design of a mobile phone and lowers manufacturing costs because pure DSPs are less expensive to manufacture compared to DSPs which also contain analog circuitry."
For the URL and additional information on this patent, see:
Keywords for this news article include: Electronics, Techtronic A/S, Digital Filters, Signal Processing.
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