ANC Development Process
The process for developing an ANC headset is broadly similar to any product development. At the top level we must go through the phases of Ideation, Market and Business validation, Product Development and Commercialization.
It is the product development stage where a few idiosyncrasies and details need to be recognized and addressed to ensure a successful development execution.
The core engineering disciplines required for ANC product development are mechanical, electronics and acoustics.
ANC in headphones has an element of black-art to it.
Although the field of control theory covers the principals, this alone is not enough to get good results. The engineer must have a good depth of hands-on experience to know how to massage things is just the right way to get good results.
The engineering disciplines cannot operate independently.
In many consumer products the engineering jobs can be done more or less in isolation, that is to say the mechanical designer can do his job only knowing the PCB size and mounting hole location, with no concern whatsoever for the function of the PCB. In ANC products this is not the case, the electronics, mechanical and acoustics are all tightly coupled and must work cohesively to get results. It is the acoustics engineers job to meld the mechanical and electronics together with the acoustics to create great ANC performance.
The development process is inherently iterative and has a built in catch 22.
We could state it like this, “in order to build the mechanical parts we first need the settle the acoustic design, but in order to settle the acoustic design we first need to build the mechanical parts”. This conundrum is solved simply by having an acoustic engineer with the experience to guess right first time … or maybe second time.
The transition from prototypes to tooled parts can bite.
The great performance of a hand-built prototype sample can suddenly evaporate when tooled or new batch components are used. Acoustic systems can be sensitive to certain small variations that remained hidden through out the development process. A skilled acoustics engineer will be watchful of any elements of the design where these kind of variations are prone to show up and either buffer the design in such a way as to mitigate the issue or setup a suitable go/no-go test to screen out parts that go beyond the acceptable limits.