By Harry McCracken | Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:26 am
I had two hands-down favorites at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. One of them was the one that was everybody’s favorite: Palm’s upcoming Pre phone. The other was a little-known technology which I saw demoed in a private preview. It’s from a Boston-area startup called Emo Labs, and it’s a new technology for loudspeakers that called Edge Motion. Emo says that Edge Motion lets it build “invisible loudspeakers” for incorporation into TVs, computer displays, notebooks, and another devices with screens–and that its technology is the first all-new development in speaker design in decades. Judging from the sneak peek I saw, that isn’t hype.
Standard loudspeakers reproduce sound by moving a cone back and forth. Edge Motion does the job by using arrays of motors to wiggle the edges of a clear membrane. The motor arrays can be built into the frame that surrounds a TV, monitor, or laptops’s display, and the clear membrane sits in front of the screen–it’s a much more space-efficient approach than that of traditional speakers, since it utilizes the screen real estate that’s already there. (The bigger the screen, the bigger the membrane can be; the bigger the membrane, the better the sound.) End result: Audio quality you associate with bulky speakers without the bulk.
Here are some images from Emo that explain how it works:
The notion of a loudspeaker system that involves a bunch of motors that move a piece of plastic in front of a screen is a little hard to process mentally–at least if you know as little about audio engineering as I do. It sounds like it would be noisy and that you’d be able to see the membrane jiggling about. Nope. The demos that I heard worked wonderfully well.
Before the Emo exects I met with told me how Edge Motion works, they showed me a Diana Krall concert on an ordinary-looking medium-sized flatscreen TV, and the sound was big enough that I wondered if they’d tucked a multi-piece speaker system with a subwoofer out of sight. Another demo involving a 15-inch LCD such as the ones built into notebooks was equally impressive. Or maybe even a bit more so, since the loudspeakers embedded in notebooks usually range from abysmal to tinny-but-marginally-bearable-as-long-as-you’re-not-at-all-discriminating.
Emo plans to sell the speakers to consumer electronics manufacturers who will embed them in their products. I’m not an audiophile, and my ears aren’t always smart enough to be impressed by sound-related demos which I’m assured will impress me. But the benefits of Edge Motion were obvious the moment I listened; if it sounds as good in shipping products and doesn’t cost radically more than standard audio technology, I think it’ll be a major hit.
We’ll have to wait awhile before we know for sure: The company says that it hopes that TVs will be ready in time for Christmas, but availability might slip into 2010. Edge Motion speakers for notebooks will come along later (it’s a trickier engineering challenge to squeeze the technology into the more limited space provided by a portable computer). Over time, Emo has hopes of putting Edge Motion into just about any device that has a screen and a need for sound, including pocketable gizmos such as cell phones.
I look forward to watching (and, more important, listening) as Edge Motion makes its way into the market…
[NOTE: Commenter John Mulvaney notes that Emo’s technology looks similar to NXT’s SoundVu…I’m going to ask Emo for their input on how the technologies compare.] [FURTHER NOTE: An Emo representative says that the company has no association with NXT, and that the technologies are fundamentally different. I hope to get more details…]