Qualcomm's new chips power 'smarter' AI-connected speakers

You might not have to shout commands or suffer with weak audio.

Smart speakers still have a lot of room for improvement. How often have you had to shout a command over your music, or had to endure mediocre sound for the convenience of using your voice? Qualcomm believes it can do better. It's unveiling chips that should lead to more powerful smart speakers. The QSC400 system-on-chip is meant to deliver a quicker and more intelligent response for voice assistants, even when it's very noisy. They can stay in standby for as much as 25 times longer (and thus wake up faster), handle more on-device AI and more effectively recognize your voice from a distance.

The design also handles 32-channel Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio, not to mention wireless connectivity like Bluetooth, WiFi and the Zigbee smart home standard. You should see improved battery life with portable speakers, too.

In tandem with the new SoC, Qualcomm is introducing a single-chip amplifier (the CSRA6640) that makes higher-quality amplification more practical for smaller and more affordable speakers. This won't suddenly turn your entry-level smart speaker into an audiophile-grade system, but it should lead to louder sound from smaller devices.

Just when you'll see either of these in a smart speaker is another story. It's up to smart speaker manufacturers to implement these, and you're more likely to see them in devices that rely more on off-the-shelf components than custom silicon. With that said, both of them could democratize capabilities that were previously limited to tech giants with equally large budgets.