Are These New Earbuds The Best Bud For iPhone FM Access?


With Apple apparently unrelenting in its refusal to include an activated FM chip in its iPhones, a Southern California wireless technology company has seemingly delivered to the nation what Silicon Valley has been a bit reluctant to roll out: a way to access FM radio on an iOS-powered mobile device.

The company behind it, Blackloud, is using the 2018 NAB Show as its launching pad for the next gen earbuds.

Working with audio design partners Tempo Semiconductor Inc. (TSI) and Silicon Labs (SLAB), Blackloud is unveiling its SOUNDOT AF1 headset for iPhones and iPads using the Lightning interface.

At the same time, a CF1 headset for devices with USB-C / USB Micro interfaces are getting their moment in the spotlight.

For consumers and, more importantly, radio broadcasting executives, this product launch could be the FM radio access win they’ve been waiting for—thanks in large part to Austin-based Tempo Semiconductor.

According to Tempo Director of Marketing David Grant, the headsets are linked to “dedicated iOS and Android apps and their own FM reception chip.”

The wire acts as the antenna, and the all-important FM chip is embedded in the control box that contains the three buttons that select volume and power.

It will support phone calls and ordinary music playback — just like a traditional headset.

“The only difference is that this can be used without the app running in the foreground, and does not need WiFi connectivity,” Grant says.

The standalone SOUNDOT app (displayed, at left), available for download for free that ships with the product, was developed by Tempo Semiconductor and Blackloud.

A company spokesperson noted that Tempo is presently working with multiple third-party providers on bringing the control of the embedded FM tuner to other apps.

This could soon allow users of the TagStation LLC NextRadio app the long-awaited desire to access FM radio stations on any iPhone or Android-powered device.

“We are trying to remain agnostic,” Grant says, noting that Tempo wants to work with all partners to bring FM radio consumers access when they need it, and wherever they need it.

Grant notes that the rollout of the earbuds is the result of one year of research and development.

Blackloud EVP Cheese Yen commented, “Having a comprehensive technology solution from Tempo and Silicon Labs cut our time to market and let us focus on the aesthetics, patented mechanical design, acoustics, fine-tuning our dual dynamic driver design and developing user-friendly iOS and Android apps for the SOUNDOT headset family.”

Tempo leveraged its headset reference designs (for Apple® MFi Lightning and USB-C) to incorporate the FM reception chip (Silicon Labs Si4705 FM / RDS digital radio tuner) into the SOUNDOT control box. Tempo also supplied complete schematics and layout reference files, customized microcontroller code for the Tempo TSCT8x Audio Hub Controller, a TSCS25xx 32-bit audio codec with integrated DSP, and reference iOS and Android app source code.

Silicon Labs also supplied its new CP2615 USB Audio Bridge for the CF1.

“By enabling free access to FM radio, Blackloud’s new headsets provide an invaluable service to listeners everywhere who may not have Internet connectivity,” said Juan Revilla, marketing director for broadcast products at Silicon Labs.

Here’s a great promotion for your radio station!

Taking advantage of its presence at the NAB show, Blackloud on April 7 will begin taking pre-orders of its SOUNDOT AF1 and CF1 for $59.89, reflecting a 25% discount off its list price of $79.89.

The pre-order special concludes April 30. Initial units, which will be red in color, are expected to ship on May 7 for the AF1 and in June for the CF1.

White and silver options will become available later this summer.

FM radio stations could promise a “red hot summer” and non-stop access through a contest awarding the earbuds to listeners through a marketing promotion.