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Monday, November 11, 2013

How Supercapacitors Could Change Audio

Supercapacitor image
My buddy Nick Batzdorf (a name that should ring a bell with those of you who read recording magazines) wrote a great piece about the new supercapacitors over at marketplace.org. The gist of the article is that the new devices are rapidly revolutionizing energy storage, replacing the traditional chemical battery, which will make a difference in many of the items in our everyday lives, from phones to electric cars.

Supercapacitors beat batteries in every aspect in that they have a greater energy density than batteries or normal capacitors, never wear out, charge up hundreds of times faster than a battery, and are impervious to temperature. That's because they use thin sheets of 1 atom thick graphene to store static electricity instead of relying on the chemical reaction that is the basis of battery operation.

So how could that be a boon to audio? Let me count the ways.
How about high-wattage power amps class-A power amps that are smaller and better sounding because of the smaller and more efficient caps?
How about wireless mics that don't need their batteries replaced after every show because they no longer use batteries and they remain charged for weeks?
How about guitar pedals that don't need batteries anymore and only need to be recharged for a short time every few months or so?
How about improved audio quality on boutique audio gear because of the more efficient caps used in the power supplies and the signal path? 
How about a new evolution of the condenser microphone that has a transient response that we can only dream about today?
I'm sure you can think of tons of other applications, but suffice it to say that supercapacitors can truly mean a breakthrough in both how we power some of our devices as well as audio quality. Of course the big thing in the way at the moment is price (they're 20 to 40 times more expensive) and the fact that they only work at relatively low voltages, since it's such a relatively new technology. This means that most of the above won't be available tomorrow, but what's pricey today has a way of being inexpensive and improved tomorrow. Gear design is about to enter an exciting new era.

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Jac said...

My understanding is that supercapacitors allow for a larger charge to be stored without overloading and without leaking across the plates. So they would be great replacement for batteries however in audio circuits capacitors are used to smooth out the voltage signal - so I'm not sure that supercapacitors would perform this smoothing function any more effectively. In fact they maybe too efficient and fast acting so reducing any smoothing.
Having said that - it's still worth trying as with so many other scientific advances it often takes a long time for them to be used in non obvious applications.

Jef Knight said...

This is as very exciting development.
I kinda dispise batteries. I go through tons of AA's (good thing we have a battery recycle here).

Markus Dollinger said...

Sorry, but as an Electronic Engineer, I can't get the relation between the high capacity condersers and the advantages for a condenser microphone. You don't need high currents for the power supply, neither high capacities for the coupling condensers.

The downsides of high capacity condensers are the high leakage current and the high current you'll need to charge these kind of condensers.

wabaus said...

The Kala U-Bass has been using these for a few years:

They can charge "instantly" (as fast as you can provide the current), "never" lose their charge (no "memory" issues like old rechargables), and can be reused almost indefinitely (resulting in less landfill waste or heavy metals).

They just need a bit of protection against dumping all of their energy at once if you touch the two wires together.

Massimo Pennazio said...

I don't think musicians will accept this new technology basically because they search for old stuff and they're not prone to new tech as they believe it change the original sound...
The smoothing function (dc decoupling) is well done by actual capacitors, ex. you need 100uF at least. Application of a supercap is in power area, when you need peek currents. However modern class-d amp needs extremely low esr caps, I don't know if supercaps are low esr type.


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