How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 689

I recently visited an audio store where I saw electrostatic speakers. These speakers have no moving parts like conventional speakers and are more expensive. How do they produce sound? — BC, Ottawa, Canada
Electrostatic speakers uses the forces between electric charges (so called "electrostatic forces") to move a thin metal diaphragm back and forth rapidly. The motions of this diaphragm compress and rarefy the air in front of it, producing sound. On each side of the diaphragm is a rigid metallic grill that can hold electric charges. When the speaker is silent, the diaphragm has a large positive electric charge on it and both the metal grills have large negative charges on them (it could be the other way around, depending the speaker's exact design). The diaphragm is then attracted equally toward both grills and the electrostatic forces cancel perfectly. The diaphragm doesn't undergo any acceleration. To make the speaker produce sound, the electric charges on the two grills are changed so that the electrostatic forces on the diaphragm don't cancel. Instead, the diaphragm is pulled strongly toward whichever grill has more negative charge on it (or less positive charge). The charges on the grills fluctuate as the music plays and the diaphragm accelerates back and forth between the grills. It pushes on the air as it does and produces sound. You'll notice that the diaphragm is a moving part, so the claim that the speaker has "no moving parts" is misleading. The speaker cone of a conventional speaker only moves back and forth, too, so it has an equal claim to having "no moving parts." The relative expense of an electrostatic speaker comes from the requirement of careful construction and the need for a high voltage adapter to match an amplifier to the speaker.

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