Founded by a diverse team of professionals with experience in music, engineering and nanoscience, GraphAudio is a company on a mission to bring graphene-based micro-components into the audio marketplace.
Graphene, for the uninitiated, is a carbon allotrope with many unusual properties, including heat and electricity conduction, flexibility, transparency and strength 200 times greater than stainless steel. It holds promise for a wide degree of applications in solar cells, touch panels, light-emitting diodes and more. GraphAudio believes that the material will be a game-changer for the audio industry.
We caught up with two of the founders of GraphAudio recently, Fred Goldring, company CEO and an entertainment lawyer and marketing entrepreneur recognized as one of the first people in the industry to embrace the digital music revolution, and Lorance “Lonnie” Wilson, company COO and an experienced tech startup developer. Here are excerpts -- edited for space and clarity -- from our conversation.
Engineering360: Thanks to its unusual properties, graphene is kind of a big deal in the semiconductor and electronics industries. What makes it a good choice for audio components?
GraphAudio: Its physical properties are unique. It has high electron mobility (conductivity) and the strongest possible molecular bonding structure, so it has incredible mechanical properties. When combined, these properties can be utilized to fabricate novel transducers, which are lightweight, super-strong, thin and flexible, take much less energy to operate, and are capable of producing distortion-free audio from subsonic to ultrasonic frequencies.
Eng360: But graphene is expensive, right? Will your components only be available to the super-rich?
GA: No, no. The current costs of manufacturing graphene-driven products are affected by three factors:
1. No one has yet developed a true graphene product that would provide the push to lower the cost of graphene.
2. Graphene as a perfectly structured two-dimensional film has limited practical usefulness, due to imperfections limiting the size of its sheets.
3. Graphene is typically grown separately and then transferred to an intended use location; practical ways of doing this still need to be developed.
At GraphAudio, we’ve taken a different approach. We’ve expanded the definition of graphene to a three-dimensional structure that has lower conductivity (which is perfectly fine for our application) and lower mechanical strength, yet is defect-tolerant because of its layered poly-crystalline structure. The film does not achieve the ideal-strength mechanical properties of 2D graphene but can be utilized over a much larger area and meet the mechanical strength requirements of audio applications. We fabricate our 3D laminated graphene transducers with our own proprietary growth and transfer processes, using standard industry equipment and readily-available materials. We expect that, over time, this process will mature into a low-cost manufacturing process.
Eng360: What’s the current status of GraphAudio products? What components will we likely see first?
GA: We are currently in prototype, and moving to engineering sample phase. You’ll see micro-speakers, mobile devices, earbuds and headphones in the next three to five years.
Eng360: Mr. Wilson, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what got you interested in this technology sector?
GA/Lonnie Wilson: I’m a materials engineer. My industry experience has largely been in semiconductor manufacturing, technology development and transfer positions with companies like Fairchild, Intel and AMD. In recent years, I’ve been a technology member of smaller companies with innovative technology products for semiconductor manufacturing and biotechnology. I became interested in graphene because I believe it is a unique material that can produce disruptive products, if the right application and processes are developed to harness its value.
Eng360: Mr. Goldring, same question. I know, too, that you are considered among the first in the music industry to embrace and promote the digital music revolution. Do you see GraphAudio as a way to continue that mission?
GA/Fred Goldring: Absolutely. I’m a musician and have been a music lawyer and entrepreneur in the music industry for over 30 years. The reason I got into the industry in the first place is my deep emotional connection to music and musicians. I’ve lived through albums and singles, cassettes and 8 tracks, DAT, CD, digital downloads and now streaming. Although the digitization of music has certainly allowed more people to access and listen to a wider variety of music than ever before, in many cases on-demand, audio quality has greatly suffered as a result. An entire generation has been weaned on compressed music heard through horrible earbuds, to the point where fidelity has been lost. Many young people have never ever enjoyed music in its intended full fidelity, as it was originally recorded by the artists. That privilege has been relegated to the 1 percent of music lovers who are audiophiles and can afford the necessary equipment.
We’re hoping to change all that with our GraphAudio transducers, and finally bring great sound to the masses in a cost-effective way. Our goal is to eventually make the standard audio transducers inside every connected device on the planet so that everyone will be able to hear music recordings in all their glory -- not compressed, like listening through a tin can. Most people are listening to music on their mobile devices, not via the big bookshelf and floor-standing speakers of yesteryear. That said, the basic technology of the vast majority of speakers (i.e., magnetic, moving-coil, dynamic speakers) is highly inefficient and hasn’t changed much since it was first invented in 1921. These speakers are now being required to perform in smaller and smaller spaces, inside connected and mobile digital devices.
GraphAudio’s proprietary graphene transducers are particularly appropriate for the mobile and connected devices age and will be the first real revolution in speaker technology in almost 100 years.