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Audio speakers get a new look and feel

At DemoFall 09, Emo Labs is unveiling its all-new speaker technology. Geared toward shrinking consumer electronics devices, the speakers are ultra-thin, yet promise great sound.

The heck with decades of one basic way of making speakers. A Waltham, Mass., company says it has developed an all-new and much better system, and hopes to change the way the consumer electronics deliver sound.

The idea behind the new speaker technology, known as Edge Motion, from Emo Labs is to jettison the traditional magnet-and-cone model in favor of something a lot more space-efficient, an innovation that is crucial in today's environment of rapidly shrinking devices. According to Emo Labs CEO Jason Carlson, while flat-screen TVs, for example, are getting thinner and thinner and the picture getting better and better, the sound quality is going in the opposite direction.

Emo Labs plans to unveil its Edge Motion technology at DemoFall 09 Tuesday in San Diego.

According to Emo Labs, 'Unlike traditional speakers that operate like linear pistons, Edge Motion audio technology uses force along the side of a diaphragm to produce sound waves.' Emo Labs

As an alternative, Emo Labs proposes its new, patented, speaker technology: clear, thin plastic sheets placed over, say, a TV screen, that put out sharp and accurate sound courtesy of vibrations produced by a series of postage-stamp-size actuators on the sides.

And not only is this approach more space-efficient--though more expensive--than what has been in practice for more than 60 years, but it's also capable, using just a single plastic panel, of putting out stereo sound. That's done, Carlson explained, by sending signals from both the left and right sides of the membrane and "clamping" it in the middle.

Another important element of the system, he added, is that Edge Motion speakers can produce dialogue in the center of the panel, rather than on the sides. This is the approach used in movie theaters, where the speakers are directly behind the screen, Carlson argued, and something that has been lacking in existing consumer electronics.

To date, Emo Labs has been able to scale its speakers into devices as big as a 42-inch television. But Carlson said he's confident that the company can go bigger than that in the future. For now, it plans on selling its equipment directly to device manufacturers, and Carlson acknowledges that the system is more expensive than legacy speakers. However, he said, he hopes that the technology will catch on and allow for cost efficiencies over time.

And while he touts the sound quality of the new speakers, Carlson is not trying to position Emo Labs' system as appropriate for every device. In fact, he said, the company doesn't expect the equipment to be used in the main television in a high-quality home theater set-up with 5.1 surround sound, mainly because it's a hassle to install in such systems. Rather, Emo Labs is shooting to be the speaker provider for second, third or fourth TVs in the house, or computer monitors.

Will it work? It's hard to say. By costing more, Emo Labs is potentially limiting its market. But these days, device geeks want the best of everything, and so if the sound quality is truly superior, the company may well be able to find an audience. But without early adopters, it may be in trouble.

For CNET News' latest coverage from DemoFall 09, click here.