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Have you ever wanted to be able to communicate telepathically with one of your friends from across the room, without anybody else being able to hear what you’re saying? Well, due to some modern advances in acoustical technology, the realization of that dream is just on the horizon, thanks to a physical phenomenon that bears the appropriately awesome name, ultrasound.
Ultrasound and hypersound
While we’re all familiar with the use of ultrasound as applied to medical imaging technology for producing inscrutable prenatal baby pictures, researchers have found a new, and far more recreational, application for the ultrasonic waves. Often referred to as “hypersound,” or “sound lasers,” ultrasonic speaker arrays are capable of doing what lasers do for light, but for sound.
Think of a laser. The beam is invisible to the naked eye until it comes into contact with the surface of an object or refractive medium. You can be hundreds of yards away, and still project a perfect little dot that is completely invisible anywhere in between you and your target. Ultrasonic speaker arrays function in much the same fashion, allowing you to direct sound across distances with pinpoint accuracy.
Now think of the way in which a speaker produces sound. As the speaker cone vibrates, it moves air to produce sound waves. If you’re standing in front of the speaker, it will sound louder and clearer than if you’re standing off to the side or behind it. This is because all speakers are directional to some extent. However, since large speakers typically produce sounds with large wavelengths, a person standing to the side or behind the speaker will usually be able to hear some sound, even if the quality is diminished.
But, if you replace that single large speaker with two speakers half its size, things begin to change. To the person standing in front of the speaker, the sound that is produced will be equivalent to the single larger speaker, but to the person standing to the side or behind the speaker, the sound will be far quieter. This is because the smaller speakers are still creating the same amount of sound as the larger speaker, but it’s just produced at a higher frequency, making it more directional. If you continue to scale the speakers down in size and multiply their number, it is possible to achieve a high degree of directivity.
Ultrasonic speakers produce extremely high frequencies that have a very short wavelength. This means that the sound coming out of an ultrasonic speaker will not spread, even when it is projected over great distances. By modulating audible sound sources, like music, into ultrasonic frequencies and playing it through an array of ultrasonic speakers, it is possible to transmit that sound to an area as small as a person’s ear. This means that, if you were to point an ultrasonic array to a single person in a large crowd, it is possible to whisper, or even shout, in their ear without anybody else hearing.
Future tech and developing ideas
While ultrasonic speakers are an amazing future technology, they still have some drawbacks that make them less than ideal for the discerning audiophile. They tend to lack the low range frequencies that can give sound its depth and texture, and the potential for hearing damage is as yet undetermined.
If and when this technology does become viable, however, remember us at Quintessence Audio Ltd. As your premier supplier of audio equipment, speakers and preamplifiers in Chicago, we’ll be the first to keep you updated on the most current trends in acoustic technology.