Developing affordable high-quality headphones

Spring 2016
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Faculty Advisory Board member Pasquale Di Pierro, BEng ’76, M.B.A. ’80, CEO and President of Fonex Data Systems Inc., congratulates Professor Thomas Szkopek (right) at last year’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Awards Evening. (Photo: Owen Egan)

Demand for high quality, over-ear headphones is increasing exponentially. Sales figures indicate that the multi-billion-dollar over-ear consumer market accounts for 44% of the headphones sold worldwide.

There is a problem, though.  The polymer used to produce most headphone diaphragms doesn’t deliver the sound quality that can be achieved with more expensive materials.

The solution to this dilemma may lie in graphene oxide, a reasonably-priced chemical derivative of graphite. P

Professor Thomas Szkopek of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and his team are replacing carbon based diaphragms in commercial headphones with graphene oxide diaphragms prepared right here at the Faculty.

The modified headphones are being tested at a state-of-the-art Music Multimedia Room at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, and the results are promising. The researchers say the prototypes being developed provide the performance of high-end materials at a cost suitable for the consumer headphone market.

Both the prototypes and the test results are being used to attract an industrial partner who can handle the volume production required to commercialize the invention.

Szkopek’s headphones breakthrough was one of three projects singled out last year for a Faculty of Engineering Innovation Award. At year’s end he received another accolade. Québec Science Magazine selected his research on energy-efficient transistors as one of its Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

 

 

 

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