Two Seattle physicists created a kit that will turn you into a mad scientist of sound.
If you’re stymied and mystified by the increasingly invisible and minuscule workings inside your speakers, it’s exciting to have a device that can make music visible. The ARC plasma speaker, a new Kickstarter project returns sound technology to a level of transparency not seen since, perhaps, the vinyl record era. The special speaker, which comes in a laser-cut wood or plexiglas case, doesn’t use cones, coils or any of the typical mechanical speaker ingredients. Instead it uses an electrical arc to ionize and compress the air around it, causing molecules to vibrate in a way that creates sound. The end result is the same as with any typical electromagnetic speaker: sound that’s loud enough to be heard in a crowded room. The visible bolt of plasma jumps and “dances” to the music, making this a visual and auditory treat.
Judging from the videos on the Kickstart page, the ARC plasma speaker isn’t exactly for audiophiles; perhaps it’s the sound recording devices used to capture it in action, but the quality seems tinny, and the plasma itself makes sci-fi sounding noises themselves. It also creates a small amount of ozone in the room, making it only suitable to run for a maximum of two hours, and it draws 30-40 watts, somewhat less efficient than a typical speaker.
The item is more of an educational toy/tool than an actual replacement for your electromagnetic speakers, and is sold as a kit unless you pledge $199 or more. Gaining control over the assembly process allows you to make all kinds of fun ‘hacks’, such as a singing Jacob’s Ladder, shown below.
The project has been a journey in itself for creators Matt Chapman and David Stoyanov, building upon an earlier Kickstarter plasma speaker that was prone to early burnout; this one will be plenty durable. Enthusiasts for the DIY project raised more than the project’s goal of $10,000 within 24 hours of the project’s posting, making it highly likely to grace the home of your physics geek friend sometime soon.