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Having worked in the headset/headphone industry for the last 14 years, I’m always interested to see the latest innovations in the ‘hearables’ design space. I’ve been paying specific interest to the developments in wireless earphone solutions, since this was an area I was actively involved in a few years back. With Motorola, Bragi and Samsung already supplying products and Jabra and Apple recently launching their own solutions, it’s clear that this is a genre of wearable that’s here to stay. I was therefore a little surprised to find that nobody had published a technical teardown on any of the available products, so I decided to do one myself. I selected the Samsung IconX purely because used devices were readily available on eBay at a reasonable price.
There’s a lot inside this little guy. The IconX contains 4GB of music storage, holding up to 1000 songs, a Heart Rate monitor, accelerometer, capacitive touch sensor, Bluetooth BT4,1 (BLE), two microphones, speaker and a 47mAH battery.
Given its size, I was interested to see how Samsung had squeezed so much functionality and supporting circuitry into this tiny device. There was only one way to find out!
Disassembly turned out to be a little easier than I expected and no special tools were required. After removing the rubber wingtip, it was simply a matter of gently squeezing the plastics in a small vice to break the seal on the ultrasonic weld. After a few twists of the headset within the vice jaws to break the weld in all the locations around the rim, the upper and lower parts of the plastics separated easily.
Inside was a very neat little assembly indeed. A single flex ridged PCB assembly was wrapped around a plastic shell which contained the battery. The only manual solder connections appeared to be those to the speaker and one connecting the HR monitor sensor flex to the ground on the upper PCBA.
Unwrapping the flex rigged PCBA from the plastics was also relatively simple. The switch, HR sensor and main boards were all held in place by small adhesive pads and were easily pulled away from the plastics using a fingernail. The battery was connected to the top and bottom board using tiny spring clips, so no unsoldering was required.
The upper plastic shell contained a small PCB for the capacitive sensor pads and the antenna (more on the antenna later)
The single flex ridged printed circuit board assembly contains all the active electronic components. A few of the lager IC’s have clearly marked part numbers so were easy to identify. A few that just had SMD codes were more challenging to name and some of the smaller support devices could not be identified. I managed to classify most of the main components except for the HR sensor, which doesn’t seem to be from any of the obvious suppliers. A little more research required here I think.
Above – Outlined in cerise is the HR sensor and in red is the UP24AD battery protection IC from ITM semiconductor
Above – In cerise is the KLM4G1FEPD Samsung 4GB flash. In red is a ET3152 charger IC. In light blue is the ABOV MC96FT1604 Capacitive Touch sensor IC. In maroon is the RF filter. In green and dark blue are the battery spring and antenna spring connectors.
Above – In cerise is the LC823450 On Semiconductor Audio Processing IC. In red is Broadcom BCM 43436LH Bluetooth IC and in green are the two Knowles microphones.
Embedded Antenna Design
Obviously, with my interest in antenna design, I was very keen to see what type of antenna Samsung had employed. I must admit though that on first inspection I was a little confused. It appeared to be an LDS (Laser Direct Structuring) inverted L type, formed on the inner side wall of the upper plastic housing, however, as it measured under 13mm in length, it was too short to be quarter wave resonate at 2.4GHz! So, what was going on?
The clue was the metal structure which formed the yellow triangular shaped feature on the top cover. The metal section appeared to be physically far too thick and wide for what initially looked like a purely aesthetic future. In fact, it’s a coupled ring antenna. The arced LDS structure is simply a feed for magnetically coupling the RF signal into the ring antenna. What specific advantage this design provides over a standard inverted F type isn’t clear, however, I can’t believe it’s that significant. I will carry out some further research on the antenna when time allows.
Not having dissected any other commercially available wireless earphone products, it’s difficult to make comparisons, however, as mentioned previously, the IconX appears to be a very well designed piece of kit. Although any product of this size and complexity is going to be very tricky to assemble in mass production, the limited number of soldering operations, lack of internal connectors and single module approach mean that from a mechanical production assembly perspective, this is probably as good as it gets.
Electronically, there aren’t really any surprises. All the major components are off the self readily available parts, with the possible exception of the as yet unidentified HR sensor. The antenna is unusual; however, I doubt it provides a significant directional or efficiency advantage over a standard, well-designed, Inverted F type solution.
Potentially the most interesting find is the use of the Broadcom BCM 43436LH. I’ve been unable to access the manufacturers specifications for this part, however, the limited information I have found indicates that this IC is Wi-Fi capable. I believe that this is the same part used on the Samsung Gear Fit 2, which is specified as supporting BT4.2 and 802.11 b/g/n. If this is true, then maybe Samsung have plans for a Wi-Fi capable version of the IconX. Perhaps with just firmware update! We shall see.
Incidentally Mr Samsung, the FCC ID for this product is A3LSM-R150 and not ASLSM-R150 as written in the User Guide !
I will update this page as and when time allows or when new information becomes available. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and corrections