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These Fabric Speakers Could Be Woven Into Walls, Clothes, And More

Welcome to the buzzing, thumping future of speaker design.

What if the curtains in your house doubled as speakers, and sound were part of–not separate from–the interior architecture of your home? What if music itself became something tactile, another texture to add to the living room?

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A new project called Soft Sound from the Hungary-based art studio EJTech promises a future where speakers are no longer hulking hardware, but are instead woven into textiles and soft fabrics. EJTech, which is made up of the Mexican artist-researcher Esteban de la Torre and the Hungarian artist-researcher Judit Eszter Kárpáti, created prototype speakers that require only a piece of fabric to play sound.

For each speaker they designed, the duo heat-pressed coils of conductive materials into different types of textile, effectively melding them together. These coils act like the ones you’ll find inside more traditional speakers, vibrating on certain frequencies when a current runs through them to create sound. But the sounds the soft speakers conjure have a tactile element as well–the fabric vibrates and shudders as the coils buzz, giving sound waves a physical manifestation.

While the speaker is experimental right now–the textiles are hooked up to an amplifier that provides the current, so they can’t quite play music yet. EJTech is talking with an interior design studio that is interested in turning the soft speakers into room-dividing curtains. Music could be played through the fabric, creating a more holistic listening experience in both residential or commercial spaces. Just imagine if the walls of your cubicle could play white noise. There are also applications in wearables and in gaming devices; for instance, the textile speakers could be integrated into a vest you’d wear for virtual reality gaming, producing thumping and vibrations against your chest when you’re hit in the virtual world.

[Photo: courtesy EJTech]
However, EJTech isn’t concerned with any of these commercial applications for now–De la Torre and Kárpáti want to continue working out some of the challenges of the speakers. The biggest issue? They aren’t very loud yet. While they would work well in an immersive environment like an art installation, the speakers aren’t powerful enough for a concert. Their next big project is to build a textile synthesizer, putting multiple coils on the same piece of fabric so they can manipulate the sound waves. Perhaps soft speakers will spell the end of the chunky speakers of old, integrating more gracefully into our interior spaces and our lives.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.

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