CES 2016 Highlight: Warwick Audio Ultra-Thin Electrostatic Driver Material
Bill Leebens, of PS Audio, had been bugging me to visit Warwick during the show. Unfortunately, their precise location wouldn't be known until the show actually started. I kind forgot about it, and then I bumped into Bill in a Venetian hallway.
"Oh! Tyll! You gotta hear this. Come with me."
Boy, am I glad I did. We went to a private room on a non-show floor; I got squeezed into a time slot between Sony and Philips representatives; and got to spend less than ten minutes with Martin Roberts, Director of Warwick Audio Technologies, to have a listen to their prototype electrostatic headphones and chat about their ultra-thin speaker material.
Putting on these headphones I immediately heard a very odd resonance. Not with the music playing, but just putting on the headphones and talking it sounded very odd. Something like a very small room that reverberated only in the mid-range. Once the music started, my worries disappeared. The prototypes sounded quite good...yes, quite good. I think the resonances I heard might have something to do with the lack of need for critical driver tensioning and the highly sealed internal volume between the ear and driver.
At the heart of these cans is a very unusual material. Made from a multiple layers of metallized plastics and spacer materials less than 1mm thick in total, this is a flexible single-sided electrostatic driver that is manufactured by the roll. It's then die cut and stamped to seal and prepare it for use in a speaker of virtually any size and shape.
What I didn't know at the time and have learned subsequently, is that the headphones in the room were being used as technology demonstrators and are not intended to be built as a product...at least by Warwick. Evidently a number of companies who visited their room expressed interest in buying the rights to build one under their brand.
Warwick sees this technology as perfect for use behind signage to provide audio along with an image. Or, by curving the panel, sound can be focused on a listener. One application might be to make speakers against a curved wall in a museum so that when a person stands in front of an art piece they can hear a description, but once they move away from the speaker focal point the sound becomes so diffused as to be inaudible.
Martin was a treat to spend a bit of time with, you'll enjoy him in the video explaining the technology. If you'd like to learn a bit more in depth, he's provided InnerFidelity readers a couple of .pdfs you can download here and here.