We believe that changes will force amplifier manufacturers to make a greater variety of products having characteristics tailored to the specific application. We've already seen that as voltages drop, customers want lower noise and lower distortion performance. But because the voltages are becoming so low, and performance is getting better and better, it's becoming increasingly difficult to produce cost-effective products that meet the specification requirements for multiple applications.
Say a customer wants an ultra-low-voltage amplifier with very low output impedance, for example. They won't evaluate an OP07- or AD741-like device. Instead, they'll consider an ADSL amplifier, a weigh-scale amplifier, or an automotive taillight sensor amplifier. That's because products made for those applications offer the low-voltage/impedance specifications they need. Another way to look at this is to say that customers will be less willing to pay for performance or features they won't use.
ELECTRONIC DESIGN (ED): Isn't there already enough product variance out there now? Take instrumentation amplifiers for example. There are 25 to 30 amplifiers that pretty much cover all of the applications you can name.
Sockolov: No, that's not the case. We recently visited engineers who were evaluating in-amps for their next-generation design, and they were comparing our parts to a Texas company's parts. They said that neither part behaved exactly as they needed. They wanted a part with all the accuracy we currently offered, but with ultra-low distortion at 50 kHz. Other customers are telling us that they want a specific performance in a package that's half the size of the one we now make. So, in addition to just performance driving new product introductions, price, packaging, and even thermal considerations are coming into play.
ED: What new trends are you seeing?
Sockolov: One trend we're seeing, particularly with high-speed amplifiers, is the increased demand for differential amplifiers. This trend is starting to encroach into precision amplifiers as well. Differential signal design techniques will become more and more popular. Many of our analog-to-digital converters are already there, but we have work to do to catch up from a precision amplifier standpoint. Two high-volume applications seem to be driving the trend toward differential amps. They include two types of networking. One is the communications type of networking, and the other is video multiplexing. Both will come to rely heavily on differential signals to achieve the performance specs they'll need going forward.
In high-speed amplifiers, we're working on a novel front-end design that will dramatically reduce noise and distortion. This particular design can be used in precision amplifiers as well, but the high-speed amplifier users will benefit the most from this particular innovation.
ED: Do you need to do anything special to the packaging to handle the thermal environment?
Sockolov: No, not really. Singles are all standard SOT-23 packages. We also have duals in standard MSOP and quads in standard TSOP. All of these parts are specified and tested from -25°C to 125°C, letting us participate in the automotive market.