According to MEMS Journal's research, the market for hearing aids is approximately $14 billion in the US alone, with an estimated 9.5 million individuals wearing hearing aids today. The cost of high quality hearing aids remains high at $2,000 to $3,500 per unit. Inexpensive hearing aids can cost as little as $300 to $400, but their performance is quite limited. The total hearing loss population is approximately 38 million in the US; in other words, most people who have hearing loss do not wear a hearing aid. The hearing health industry started to adopt MEMS microphones in 2010, and Knowles reported that it surpassed the one million mark for distribution in November 2013. The company says that it has now reached the second million unit milestone, four times faster than the fist million due to increased customer demand. With the approximate cost of $10 to $20 per device, the MEMS microphone component represents a very small fraction of the overall hearing aid unit cost. Nevertheless, the market is an attractive opportunity for MEMS device makers.
According to Knowles, the development of its MQM MEMS microphone series aided this volume milestone. The device reportedly features "best-in-class acoustic performance for users", including a high signal-to-noise ratio and "unmatched" environmental robustness. The small size positions it as an attractive design for manufacturers and the ability to be surface mounted simplifies the hearing aid assembly process.
"Achieving this milestone in the hearing health category reflects the growing demand for solutions with superior performance and easy manufacturing integration," said Gordon Walker, Knowles' Co-President of Specialty Components. "Our commitment to the industry makes us the only company with mature, highly customizable, and market-proven MEMS manufacturing processes focused on the hearing instrument space."
Starkey Hearing Technologies was the first manufacturer to adopt Knowles' MEMS technology for hearing aids and continues to use it in several of their premium products. Knowles is also the producer of MEMS microphones in the GN ReSound LiNX and Beltone First, reportedly the world's first hearing aids made for Apple's iPhone. The MEMS microphone's size enabled GN ReSound to develop what they claim to be the smallest hearing instrument on the market with the best sound experience.
"Knowles continues to innovate and enhance MEMS technology to produce the highest quality sound performance for hearing aid users," said Brian Crannell, Senior Director of Marketing and Business Development, Specialty Components. "Our engineering expertise and rigorous testing allows us to consistently deliver microphones with the best performance in the world and most manufacturing flexibility."
Knowles Corporation a leading supplier of advanced micro acoustic solutions and specialty components serving the mobile communications, consumer electronics, medical technology, military, aerospace and industrial markets. The company's MEMS enabled microphones, speakers and receivers are used in smartphones, tablets and mobile handsets. Knowles also says that it now has a "strong position" in oscillators (timing devices) and capacitor components which enable various types of communication. Founded in 1946 and headquartered in Itasca, Illinois, Knowles has more than 10,000 employees in 36 locations around the world.
In related developments, InvenSense, a provider of MEMS motion sensors and microphones for the consumer electronics market, and Sonion, a provider of micro acoustic solutions for hearing instruments, in-ear earphones and specialty headsets, announced in March of this year a strategic alliance in which the two parties will cooperate in the development of MEMS microphones and related technologies for use in various applications, including hearing aids. InvenSense acquired Analog Devices' MEMS microphone unit for $100 million in October 2013.
This article is a part of MEMS Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of acoustic MEMS and non-MEMS devices and applications. If you would like to receive our comprehensive market research report on this topic, please contact Dr. Mike Pinelis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about rates and report contents.
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