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Enhancing the loudspeaker voice through alcohol

An engineer develops a method for curing wood in sake so it can be made into speaker cones that help produce a "smooth" sound.

CHIBA, Japan--Who said work and drinking don't mix?

A number of years ago, during an economic downturn, JVC had to lay off an engineer who had worked for the company for around 20 years. Sometime later, the engineer was in a tavern with a friend when he contemplated the squid snacks.

Why, he thought, are the squid so flexible? The bartender told him they soak in sake first.

Evidence that eating snacks and drinking sake can lead to major breakthroughs. Michael Kanellos/CNET

The engineer had an insight into how to tackle a problem that had vexed acoustic engineers for years: how to make loudspeaker cones out of wood. Making speaker cabinets from wood is easy, but crafting a wooden cylinder--that curved thing at the center of a speaker that's shaped like a cone--isn't.

He began to soak wood in sake and the result is what you see in the picture: speakers where most of the significant parts are made out of wood.

"You get a very smooth sound out of wood," David Gifford, manager of the advertising group at JVC, said during a booth tour at Ceatec Japan 2007, the large trade show taking place here this week. JVC sells both complete wood speakers and speaker kits. They are priced at the high end of the speaker market. A kit can sell for 30,000 yen, or around $290.

JVC, a unit of Victor Company of Japan, actually uses sake to cure its speaker wood, added spokesman Akiko Sakakibara, not a chemical substitute or some other substance. "We've tried scotch, wine--but Japanese sake works the best," Sakakibara said.

The engineer, naturally, was rehired and audiophiles rejoiced.