Audiophiles have long been presented with an unending dilemma, pitting the need for sonic perfection against the desire to maintain a comfortable, aesthetic living environment (and happy spouse). This is usually a precarious balance, since the best-sounding speakers are often the largest and, dare we say, ugliest. While many technologies have addressed this dilemma in part, none have laid it to rest.
Flat, Flexible Loudspeakers have a shot, if indeed they perform as advertised. These speakers designed by University of Warwick spinoff company Warwick Audio Technologies are an astounding quarter of a millimeter thick. As the name designates they are also quite pliable and can be molded in or wrapped around virtually any type of surface. They are also printable and capable of being cut into various shapes. Size them, cut them and bend them into whatever space that you are working with and experience high quality audio, without any spacial imposition. Warwick has provided several such examples of just how easy they’d be to conceal in a vehicle, in the ceiling or even right on the wall disguised as a piece of artwork. These speakers could easily be the most seamless audio component ever designed.
Of course, you’re thinking: “How could something that looks like a flimsy piece of plexiglass ever sound as good as my 250-pound KEF Muons?” And you’re correct. These speakers can be micro-thin and flexible until they vanish into thin air, but they won’t be worth the raw materials used, if they don’t sound good.
Until we hear a pair of these loudspeakers or at least see some testimonials outside of those offered by company officials, it will be difficult to tell. The information that has been offered has been very general and polished. However, Warwick has claimed that the audio is both accurate and powerful. The FFL material is a laminate composed of sandwiched insulators and conductors, which with the addition of the electrical audio signal, vibrates and produces a planar wave with high directivity and precise imaging. The wave spreads evenly across a listening room or audience and doesn’t drop off sharply based on distance. Warwick has also expounded upon the fact that FFLs are inexpensive to manufacture, meaning that they could be a viable option for basic home and car audio.
Warwick describes the speakers as efficient and low power, driven by voltage and dissipating little current into heat. Distortion is also said to be minimal. This statement offers a very promising glimpse: “By significantly improving the electrical to audio efficiency, we have broken the conventional link between the power rating and the loudness of a speaker. The loudness of cone speakers is often linked to the electrical power consumption. This is not a relevant relationship for the FFL.” Perhaps, in addition to space, you can save a little money on the amplifier.
While the company’s claim that the speakers will serve well for public PA systems because of the ability of the sound wave to travel further and deteriorate less than conventional speakers is rather uninspiring (who really cares about the sound quality of a supermarket price check), the company has stated some perceived interest amongst manufacturers of car audio applications and others. No word as to exactly where they might show up, but “the company is currently in negotiations with a number of commercial partners and continues to welcome fresh approaches. It expects to launch its first commercial product following the next funding round later this year.” Currently, they are offering evaluation kits to audio engineers to work toward applying FFL technology.
Hopefully, the Flat, Flexible Loudspeaker design will do more than just fizzle into faded memory like so many promising ideas. If FFLs can perform up to the hype (or at least some of it) and are truly inexpensive, they could quickly take over home audio as we know it.