Over the years, headphones have become very ubiquitous. You can buy them for a few dollars in the checkout lane at your local Walmart and many smartphones ship with a cheap generic pair of headphones right and the box. It also spend hundreds of dollars on audiophile grade headphones. One thing that all these headphones have in common is that they utilize speaker drivers on the inside that rely on moving parts to create sound. Scientists have created a new type of headphone that uses carbon nanotubes and features no moving parts.
The headphones use an internal speaker that produces audio using what’s called the thermoacoustic effect. Typically new products using cutting-edge technology very expensive, but reports indicate carbon nanotube headphones may be reasonably priced. The thermoacoustic effect the headphones use to create sound relies on the expansion and contraction of air.
Mechanical engineer Yang Wei from Tsinghua University said of the project:
We found that processing the carbon nanotube film into thin yarn arrays doesn’t weaken the thermoacoustic effect but can greatly improve the device robustness and durability. And the new design mounts the nanotube structures on silicon chips that are compatible with existing manufacturing methods. The thermoacoustic chips could be easily integrated into circuit boards for speakers with other electronic elements, such as control circuits.
Most headphone buyers are more concerned about the audio quality than the technology used inside the headphones. There’s no indication of if carbon nanotube headphones produce audiophile grade sound or just basic everyman sound.
Carbon nanotubes are a huge area of research right now with the tech being looked at for everything from computer chips to solar panels. IBM used carbon nanotubes to make smaller transistors in the lab that may one day make it into production parts inside your computer.