TV, PC speakers you can hear, but can't see

Emo's planar speakers are contained in an invisible membrane that stretches across TV and computer monitor screens. It's a major advance in speaker technology.
Written by John Dodge, Contributor

I have two Klipsch computer speakers tottering on side of my PC monitor. They're about 10-inches tall, prone to occasionally falling over and take up precious space on my cluttered desk. But I must have the great sound they produce.

Emo Labs, which I wrote about in January, may have the answer with its revolutionary planar speakers.

Emo is short for its principal technology called Edge Motion which produces great sound from an invisible plastic membrane stretched across a computer screen or TV. Even though they are out of sight, Emo's speakers rival traditional speakers in sound quality.

Emo speaker is the clear panel second from front.

That Emo is billing planar speakers as the first major advance in speaker technology since the invention of vented speaker enclosures in the early Seventies is not a stretch. Emo has a good speaker milestone timeline on its web site.

Here's how it works. Piezo actuators driven by an off-the-shelf amplifier contained in a small circuit board tug at the edges of the membrane at a very fast rate to produce stereo sound that easily beats cheap computer speakers and rivals more expensive ones.

I was impressed because the sound is dispersed across the screen although there are left and right channels represented by a third of the membrane on either side of the screen. The effect is that the movie audio, for instance, seems to be coming directly from the actors instead from the sides, under or over the screen as with traditional speakers. It's very cool.

When I visited Emo, its Edge Motion product had been under development for several years but not announced. The company was still operating under the radar in a small building in Waltham, Mass. about a quarter mile from I worked at the time. The company went public with Edge Motion in late September.

The company's strategy is sell the speakers to monitor and TV makers like Sony which in turn build it into their products. Emo said Edge Motion would add $20-$40 to the cost of monitor or TV manufacturing equating to a projected extra $75-$90 at retail.

A spokeswoman said no partnerships have been announced. "Announced yet," she cautioned.  So you can't won't be able to get your hands Edge Motion for a while. When you do, you won't know it's there until you switch it on.

Company officials claim the market is huge, citing annual sales of 160 million flat panels TVs, 170 million computer monitors and 150 million notebook PCs for starters. Then there's a billion game machines and cell phones sold each year that could provide another market.

There is one curiosity about Emo, though. Edge Technology inventor and Emo chief technology officer Lewis Athanas left the company sometime between now and my January visit. I could only find his name in small letters on the speaker timeline and nowhere else at Emo's web site.

Could he off doing a competitor? Was the breakup amicable? I have a call into Emo, but have not heard back except for a spokeswoman to confirm that he had left the company.

UPDATE: Athanas just called me about another matter and was unaware of this post. He said that due to  philosophical differences that he was asked to leave the company, but remains a major stockholder.

Athanas, who I interviewed and know from when he lived in my hometown, said in January he had worked on Edge Technology since 2000 and that the key to the technology was "making the math work."  Athanas said he has designed 36 speakers and has four speaker patents. He has a speaker history and biographical web site. Emo was launched in 2006.

Emo isn't the only company doing this type of speaker technology. NXT Plc earlier this year claimed to have shipped 4.5 million planar speakers. Custom speaker maker Martin Logan also offer planar speakers.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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