Pledgers step up for plasma speakers

Aug 22, 2011 by Nancy Owano weblog

( -- A Seattle group of students have created a plasma speaker prototype model that they’re offering to the world as a kit where you, too, can have a plasma speaker that uses an electric arc to vibrate air. Pretty rad, cool, awesome, are the students’ words to describe their effort. Pretty impressive are the words of people who have donated money to back their project. The project is about making it easy for people to assemble a plasma speaker, through kits with a PCB and components. StudentRND is the group. Its mission is to inspire students to learn more about science and technology. Its workspace has been a summer watering hole for students working on projects. The plasma speaker kit has been a showcase effort.

The are proud of what they have done—“No instructives. We used basic knowledge,” says a student in a StudentRND video. At the same time, they are straightforward about the speaker’s limits. “Compared to a normal speaker, this is not very efficient. The actual power usage is less than a halogen lamp, however.”

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The more watts, the clearer and louder the sounds. But the more watts, the hotter the speaker gets. The goal has been to work up a design that consumes between 25 to 50 watts. The students also issue a warning that they will not be responsible for any disasters. Keep all bodily parts away from the speakers, they warn. “Plasma speakers are dangerous.” The students note the speakers are to be used for short periods of time in well-ventilated areas.

The range of the plasma speaker is the range of the tweeter (small cone) in a traditional speaker. It reproduces high frequencies but low frequencies poorly. If paired with a woofer it sounds comparable to anything else, they add, on their site.

The project goal—kits, with PCB and components—started out as $2,000. Donors have been generous. The group finds donations have exceeded the goal--$900 in one day after an article about them appeared in TechCrunch. The group as of this writing has 50 backers and $3,662 with 47 days to go.

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The students worked out a tiered system, the more you donate, the more you get. Forty dollars in pledges gets you the printed board and component but you still need 12V (A 12V power brick powers the speaker. “You can find a 12V power supply from old laptops,” the group suggests) and flyback transformer to complete the job. The students say this forty level is not recommended if new to putting circuits together. Sixty dollars gets you everything but the 12V power supply and for $100 the students will do all the work. They assemble the speaker and it’s delivered to your door. For $400 or more they build five fully assembled speakers for a surround sound system. As another selling point, the students suggest you could just leave them in the box for at least the satisfaction to know you have more speakers than most people.

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User comments : 7

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2011
Those who are familiar with the ancient works of the Greeks will recognize the concept of the "music of the spheres," even if few understand today what it actually means.

Reconstructions of the past by David Talbott, Dwardu Cardona and Rens van der Sluijs offer a possible plasma-based solution: As interstellar space is filled with plasma, the theory goes that plasma-based formations have in the past rained sound down upon the Earth from the sky.

Of course, people will differ on what the "spheres" actually were, but it's a conversation certainly worth having.

It is really quite amazing that plasma is the universe's dominant, preferred state of matter -- and yet, the public remains completely uneducated about its properties or behaviors. On the basis of this observation alone, we can expect many future surprises with regards to plasmas.
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 22, 2011
Warning: Do not use as earbud headphone, for removing warts or for killing mosquitos. Keep away from pets. Do not operate in pocket.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2011
" Rad and cool " ...?

Gag me with a spoon, this is a gnarly write.
4 / 5 (4) Aug 22, 2011
to HannesAlfven:

What are you smoking man?

The concept of the music of the spheres came from Pythagoras, who noted that strings of different lengths made different sounds and that there was a mathematical relationship between the length of strings which form chords together. He incorrectly assumed that the moon, sun and planets might resonate with tones that defined their motion. There was a strong belief at the time that there should be some grand perfection to the workings of the universe and that it should be beautiful. The "music" of the spheres was never meant to be audible. Merely a belief that there would be some mathimatical relationship between the motions of all celestial objects similar to chords in music. They also believed that circles were perfect and that celestial objects should move in 'perfect circles'; an idea that probably held back true progress in astronomy for many centuries. Wedding rings can be linked to that belief as well.
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
This is interesting as an academic exercise, but you can clearly see the limitations: The speaker is very inefficient, Dynamic range is limited, and linearity is poor.

Nevertheless, it is worth studying because you never know what other applications you might stumble across...
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2011
This is interesting as an academic exercise, but you can clearly see the limitations: The speaker is very inefficient, Dynamic range is limited, and linearity is poor.

Nevertheless, it is worth studying because you never know what other applications you might stumble across...

I'll bet these would look really cool in a car stereo at night.
not rated yet Aug 25, 2011
This is three things in one device, It is a primative engine because it converts the heat from the arc into mechanical energy (sound) It is an optical signaling device because a photo transistor will detect it at a distance. It is primative radio transmiter because a radio will pick up the electrical noise it generates.

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