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Apple's gas-filled speaker design could allow higher fidelity audio playback

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Apple was awarded a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today, describing a design for high fidelity speakers making use of lighter than air gas in mobile speakers.



The 8,767,994 patent patent describes a design common to existing "plasma speakers," which use a light gas such as helium behind the speaker's vibrating cone.

The use of a specific gas, rather than outside air, results in a more precise reproduction of high fidelity sound. However, existing gas filled speaker designs only work well in specific installations where the surrounding barometric pressure can be controlled.

In order to make the technology relevant for mobile speakers, such as those in a smartphone or in headphones, there needs to be a way to adjust the gas pressure in concert with slight changes in ambient air pressure, such as when taking an elevator up into a building.

An abrupt change in air pressure can "result in a net force being exerted on the diaphragm of the sealed speaker system, causing it to 'stick' and therefore stop producing sound until the pressure inside the speaker has equalized with the barometer pressure," the patent notes.

"In air speaker systems, such barometric equalization is achieved relatively quickly (in order to prevent noticeable sticking of the diaphragm), by adding a small vent hole to the enclosure (at the expense of a small amount of sound quality degradation). This solution however will not work for an enclosure that is filled with gas and no air."

The design in the patent grated today uses a vented cavity that allows ambient air to compress the gas via a gas-proof barrier, compensating for changes in the surrounding air pressure. The patent also describes how such a design could be manufactured.

Apple has long had an interest in advancing the state of the art in speaker designs for mobile headphones, but its plans have garnered more attention following the announcement that it would be spending $3 billion to acquire Beats, a popular brand of premium priced headphones.

The use of patented new technology capable of reliably reproducing significantly better sound quality, combined with the use of Apple's Lightning digital interconnect for mobile devices to deliver higher quality sound, could be leveraged to drive sales of both audio equipment and higher quality audio content in iTunes.
post #2 of 27
Won't gasses like Helium make speech sound like chipmunks?

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post #3 of 27

In before someone preemptively sues Apple for the gas exploding in their ears, deafening them.

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post #4 of 27

Light a sigaret and you get BOOM! speakers:smokey: 

post #5 of 27
The front of the speaker contacts the air as always to create the sound waves. The gas behind the speaker does not directly affect the frequency of the generated sound.
post #6 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Won't gasses like Helium make speech sound like chipmunks?

 

No, that only happens to people because the helium causes your vocal cords to constrict.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bretzelburg View Post
 

Light a sigaret and you get BOOM! speakers:smokey: 

 

What happens if you light a cigarette?

 

When did helium become flammable?

post #7 of 27

One major problem will be the relative permeability of most membranes to gasses. Especially the lighter gasses, like He. Even a very slow permeability will impact the lifespan of the speaker.  Perhaps Apple has developed a way to use sapphire membranes that are so thin they are effective as membranes, but still impermeable to gasses?

post #8 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by tdknox View Post
When did helium become flammable?

 

Helium is magical.  It's neither flammable nor inflammable.  ;)

post #9 of 27
Came to ask about gas leaking as well. Seems impractical to have people recharging their speaker gasses.
post #10 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by jakeb View Post

Came to ask about gas leaking as well. Seems impractical to have people recharging their speaker gasses.

 

Not to mention the potential whoopie cushion effect.

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post #11 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot View Post
 

One major problem will be the relative permeability of most membranes to gasses. Especially the lighter gasses, like He. Even a very slow permeability will impact the lifespan of the speaker.  Perhaps Apple has developed a way to use sapphire membranes that are so thin they are effective as membranes, but still impermeable to gasses?

From the patent: 

Quote:
The enclosure, the flexible membrane, the diaphragm, and the outer suspension member are gas and air impermeable.

However, the material that is to make up the membrane, diaphragm, and outer suspension is not identified.

post #12 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by jakeb View Post

Came to ask about gas leaking as well. Seems impractical to have people recharging their speaker gasses.
Maybe Apple Care will include the servicing of Beats headphones if that is an issue. People might be fine buying replacement headphones if they're cheap enough, but not for $200-300 headphones.
post #13 of 27

I'm not so sure about this alleged rumor regarding Apple using lightning to deliver sound. Does that mean that iOS devices will no longer come with a regular mini headphone out?

 

That sounds like a terrible idea, if true. Would you have to buy a stupid lightning to mini headphone out adapter if you wanted to use regular headphones? And what headphones come with a lightning connection on them? Exactly, none of them do, and it would be a bad idea to force everybody to use whichever lightning compatible headphone that Apple makes, if this rumor is true.

 

And if Apple is concerned about high quality sound, then it's about time that they offer lossless files on their iTunes shop. 

post #14 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

I'm not so sure about this alleged rumor regarding Apple using lightning to deliver sound. Does that mean that iOS devices will no longer come with a regular mini headphone out?

That sounds like a terrible idea, if true. Would you have to buy a stupid lightning to mini headphone out adapter if you wanted to use regular headphones? And what headphones come with a lightning connection on them? Exactly, none of them do, and it would be a bad idea to force everybody to use whichever lightning compatible headphone that Apple makes, if this rumor is true.

And if Apple is concerned about high quality sound, then it's about time that they offer lossless files on their iTunes shop. 

Lightning headphones sound like a great way to get high quality sound. And why does Apple have to give up on the existing 3.5mm jack if they make Lightning headphones? People who don't care can continue to use existing earbuds while those that want higher quality can go the Lightning route.

iOS already has the ability to run digital audio through the Lightning port (much the same as USB Audio). So Apple doesn't really have to do anything to make Lightning headphones, except to establish a minimum specification for companies who want to make them.

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post #15 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post
Lightning headphones sound like a great way to get high quality sound. And why does Apple have to give up on the existing 3.5mm jack if they make Lightning headphones? People who don't care can continue to use existing earbuds while those that want higher quality can go the Lightning route.

iOS already has the ability to run digital audio through the Lightning port (much the same as USB Audio). So Apple doesn't really have to do anything to make Lightning headphones, except to establish a minimum specification for companies who want to make them.

 

This is all speculation of course, but it's possible that they would do away with the existing headphone out, in the quest for ever thinner devices.

 

I do know that iOS already has the ability to run digital audio out, as that is what I do sometimes. I use a device called an iConnectmidi 2+ and it connects to either the lightning port or the 30 pin port, and it allows you to transmit the audio digitally into another device, like a Mac.

post #16 of 27
Sapphire speaker cones...
post #17 of 27

I'm afraid that creating a good seal for helium in a consumer electronics device is totally impractical.  Helium atoms are tiny and non-charged, which means over time they will diffuse through almost any material, especially a flexible membrane.

What might be interesting is if Apple set up a helium recharging station in the Apple Store where people can come in and just recharge the helium for free. The sales from increased foot traffic could easily pay for itself.   

post #18 of 27
Quote:
No, that only happens to people because the helium causes your vocal cords to constrict.

 

Helium doesn't cause your vocal chords to constrict, the lower density of helium is responsible for the heightened pitch in your voice. In the same way that Sulphur hexafluoride will cause your voice to sound deeper (due to it being denser than air.) (Helium about 4g/mol, Sulphur Hexafluoride at 134g/mol and air typically at 30 g/mol.) Here is a neat video demonstrating each. 

 

In either case your vocal folds don't change their behaviour.

post #19 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by ash471 View Post
 

I'm afraid that creating a good seal for helium in a consumer electronics device is totally impractical.  Helium atoms are tiny and non-charged, which means over time they will diffuse through almost any material, especially a flexible membrane.

What might be interesting is if Apple set up a helium recharging station in the Apple Store where people can come in and just recharge the helium for free. The sales from increased foot traffic could easily pay for itself.   

 

How about methane?

 

Cue the jokes about how we can all recharge the methane ourselves>>>>

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post #20 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bretzelburg View Post

Light a sigaret and you get BOOM! speakers:smokey:  
I'm pretty sure speakers would be from helium not hydrogen.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

I'm not so sure about this alleged rumor regarding Apple using lightning to deliver sound. Does that mean that iOS devices will no longer come with a regular mini headphone out?

That sounds like a terrible idea, if true. Would you have to buy a stupid lightning to mini headphone out adapter if you wanted to use regular headphones? And what headphones come with a lightning connection on them? Exactly, none of them do, and it would be a bad idea to force everybody to use whichever lightning compatible headphone that Apple makes, if this rumor is true.

And if Apple is concerned about high quality sound, then it's about time that they offer lossless files on their iTunes shop. 
Lighting is simply a alternative, since speakers already use it, not headphones can, question is if and likely not anytime soon lighting replaces standard audio jack will there be 2 lighting ports as a dual system to replace the split cable hdmi layout.
Quote:
Originally Posted by ash471 View Post

I'm afraid that creating a good seal for helium in a consumer electronics device is totally impractical.  Helium atoms are tiny and non-charged, which means over time they will diffuse through almost any material, especially a flexible membrane.
What might be interesting is if Apple set up a helium recharging station in the Apple Store where people can come in and just recharge the helium for free. The sales from increased foot traffic could easily pay for itself.   
Chances are apples found secrets for seals like sapphire or something. However would a refill canister be worth it, probably not, many places don't have apple stores so a user would probably haft to call in and get if replaced, maybe apple care works with it as a new free leaked helium replacement.
post #21 of 27
I wonder why they "grated" the patent?
post #22 of 27
I am just afraid that after I set up my helium filled speakers they will just float away....
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post #23 of 27
This patent looks like a dare aimed directly at Samsung.

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post #24 of 27
The gas could explode and blow your ears off!

/s
post #25 of 27
I've always wondered why our world, and those air-filled packaging pads and bubble wrap, aren't filled with helium. I know there's a risk to stationery suppliers - the Mary Poppins effect - but the idea of shaving Kg off the weight of airfreight packages is surely appealing. Hydrogen fuel cell cars, however, remind me of the Hindenburg... Tesla wins on that count.
post #26 of 27
A kind of follow-on to the circa 2006 iPod Hi-Fi sealed cabinet speaker system.
post #27 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Unbeliever2 View Post

I wonder why they "grated" the patent?

 

They thought it was cheesy.

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