Tech

The startup says its all-silicon micro-speakers will be cheaper and smaller than traditional drivers.

Front edge: Headphone technology has advanced significantly over the past few years, but one thing remains unchanged – the speakers. Even though the in-ear headphones are very small, they still work just like they would on your TV or stereo. They need a membrane, a magnet, and a power source to operate them. Except for the fact that they have become more compact, they have not changed much over the years.

German audio startup Arioso systems has a new prototype microelectromechanical system (MEMS) speaker that does not require a membrane or magnet. Better yet, it’s small, flat and square, like a microchip, and uses less power to reproduce sound.

“Micro speaker” dubbed The Nanoscopic Electrostatic Drive, or NED for short, is a by-product of a larger speaker from the Institute for Photonic Microsystems. Fraunhofer. Its area is 10 to 20 square millimeters, and although Arioso did not mention thickness, if the diagrams are to scale (below), it cannot be more than one or two millimeters.

The NED is entirely made of silicon and manufactured using standard CMOS processes. With fewer moving parts and no assembly requirements, NEDs should be cheaper to manufacture than standard drivers that use more expensive piezo materials and complex manufacturing processes.

You might think that NEDs can’t provide enough sound for such a tiny device. However, the company claims the headphone decibel level for the 10mm version is around 120dB with “optimal sound quality.”

Inside the plate, there are several flexible columns 20 nanometers long. When voltage is applied from a sound source, the beams deflect from each other. These vibrations push air out of small slots at the top and bottom of the NED. The resulting air pressure inside the ear produces audible frequencies.

NED is 10 times smaller than conventional magnetic drives. When used in modern headphone designs, space savings could allow manufacturers to add more features, including instant language translation, health monitoring features, or the ability to pay for purchases using voice commands, Arioso said.

They are also ideal for smaller and cheaper hearing aids. In addition, the smallest size means they use less power than conventional speakers, which extends the battery life of the wireless earbuds.

Arioso has just completed a seed round of funding to close at € 2.6 million. The prototype is expected to be brought to a pilot phase within two to three years. He has already begun negotiations for a second round of funding to bring the device to market. The startup expects to raise 10 million euros.


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