Master's student develops prototype ultra-thin speaker


July 3, 2012

The "flat boombox" - though really it's a speaker

The "flat boombox" - though really it's a speaker

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A Master's design student from Germany has developed a concept for the audio speaker that might just hint at how the product will look in the future. In a word, it's flat.

"My motivation for this project started with an intense research around the lifecycle of consumer electronics," says industrial designer Hannes Harms. That research resulted in the development of an everyday piece of consumer electronics, made entirely with flat materials and printable components.

To that end the flat boombox mounts an extremely thin (translucent, in fact) flat speaker component onto a 0.5 mm (0.02 in) thick pre-cut sheet of stainless steel.

The idea is that the flat boombox could be shipped in an envelope and then bent into shape by the user using lines scored on the flat sheet. With sensible packaging, this makes for extremely efficient shipping.

The ultra-narrow form factor is helped by a flat battery (in the sense of its shape, not its charge) and a copper ink antenna.

The flat boombox project formed part of Harms' Master's studies at the Royal College of Art in London. Harms told Gizmag that development of the product continues, and talks with developers of flat electronic components are ongoing. Given their interests in flat speak technology, one wonders if conversations with the Fraunhofer Institute or Warwick Audio Technologies are on the cards.

Source: Hannes Harms, via Design Boom

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Though very cool and under-used, this technology is not new. I did some industrial design for a company named Porrazzo some 10-12 years ago that had a very similar thin-film speaker technology. With this technology, it would be very easy to develop a smart-phone based boombox. However this technology needs scale to be really loud. The amount of air it can move is directly proportional to it's surface area, so you need really large speakers for it to really pump up the volume. But it could mean that someday the entire surface of your flat-screen TV could be one large woofer.


What puzzles me repeatedly is why people think flat and thin is somehow better than a more conventional geometry. NXT for one has beaten this stuff to death for years now, and imo everything has sounded more-or-less foul. But even if it sounded good, as epochdesign points out it needs surface area --- a lot of it --- to do an adequate job of reproducing low frequencies. Now yes, perhaps some of that requisite area exists as the surface of a large display. That still won't be enough for significant amounts of bass energy such as expected for home theater apps.

For desktop near-field use, conventional loudspeakers work just fine and don't take up a lot of desktop width (which is usually in short supply). And if you still feel bass-deprived, a subwoofer on the floor should do the trick.

The other prevalent fallacy is that big flat speakers somehow produce a better stereo image. In fact they produce narrow beams and render the acceptable range of listening positions very much smaller than that associated with smaller sources. One friend's old electrostats functioned almost like headphones. They sounded fine if you sat in one chair. A little off the centerline and you heard most of the sound coming from the nearer channel.

Brad Wood

What is the transducer technology? Or is this just a hypothetical design pending the existence of an adequate flat transducer.

Also, flat panels beam sound. There would be virtually no HF sound off its axis unless is it is very small and then there would be no LF sound.

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