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Monday, April 14, 2014

Can This Be The Speaker Breakthrough We've Been Waiting For?

Graphene speaker diagram image
Loudspeaker technology hasn't changed all that much since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first speaker in 1876. Sure it's evolved to become much more efficient with a flatter and wider frequency response, but we're still talking about the same coil of wire mounted to a diaphragm that moves through a magnetic field that was used 138 years ago. Electrostatic loudspeakers were introduced in 1959 and while they remain the darling of audiophile set, can't take the beating of professional use and have an inherent low frequency response problem.

But that all could change thanks to a new breakthrough by two researchers from the University of California Berkley. The pair have made what is essentially a solid state loudspeaker using the ultra light and thin substance graphene sandwiched between two silicon electrodes to produce a transducer that has a fairly flat 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response.

One of the difficulties for loudspeaker engineers is that speaker design revolves around damping the various resonances in order for the speaker to have a flat response. This usually makes it less efficient and limits the response to a somewhat narrow frequency band. With a graphene speaker, there are fewer resonances to begin with, and what there is can be electronically controlled rather than mechanically, as is needed with electro-mechanical speakers today.

The new transducer is small and can only be used in ear pieces at the moment, but the technology is advanced enough that it can be applied to headphones in the near future. We might not see our concert halls, clubs and studios filled with graphene speakers in the year, but we could have them in our ears before you know it.

You can find the paper here, if you'd like to read more. Thanks to reader Paris in Greece for the heads up.

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