Speakers Thin As Wallpaper

IMAGINE A LOUDSPEAKER so thin that it can fold from the lid of a notebook computer. Or so flexible it can be formed into a lampshade. That's what MZX Inc., a startup in Newbury Park, Calif., has developed.

It's a new type of electrostatic speaker. Such speakers are often found hanging on walls because they're no thicker than a painting. But MZX's are more like wallpaper. They can be as thin as 10 thousandths of an inch, says MZX founder Claus E. Zimmermann. Their construction is simple: Two sheets of conductive film, such as metallized plastic, surround a nonconductive layer, which can be rubber or even a smear of Vaseline. Stretch this sandwich in a frame and attach thin, perforated-aluminum electrodes. Voila! When an audio signal is fed to the electrodes, the sound "leaks" from the perforations and generates hi-fi vibrations in the speaker.

Zimmermann's company was awarded its initial patent last year. Now, several computer and cell-phone makers are getting ready to unveil new products featuring the ultrathin speakers.

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