The Flat Speaker Solution
Is the NXT Big Thing Finally Here?
By Mark Fleischmann
There isn't much of a family resemblance between flat-panel video displays and a bunch of boxy speaker enclosures. But while flat TVs have increased in-wall speakers' popularity, many customers with an audiophile bent still balk at in-walls as a solution. Consumers look at the juxtaposition of new video technologies and old-fashioned speakers and ask: Why can't a surround system be as elegant and space-saving as a plasma display panel or an LCD TV?
For almost seven years, NXT, an outgrowth of Mission, the British loudspeaker maker, has been promising an answer. For those not familiar with the technology, NXT is to traditional loudspeakers what plasma monitors are to direct-view CRT sets. It's a radical technological rethinking that yields an almost completely flat loudspeaker, one that can be mounted on — or even built into — environmental surfaces like walls, ceilings, automobile interiors, even video screens. After years of small steps forward, NXT is finally appearing in custom-install products, consumer products, and a variety of other arenas including Britain's House of Commons.
NXT IN THEORY
NXT technology takes two main forms. SurfaceSound is the name given to NXT-licensed flat-panel speakers. There's also a version called SoundVu, which uses an optically transparent panel that can deliver video at the same time; the screen effectively doubles as a loudspeaker.
Both hinge on what NXT calls Distributed Mode Loudspeaker (DML) technology. All speakers move air, but DML does it differently. In DML, a light but stiff panel is excited by a transducer, a simple motor with a moving coil. This stimulates the material's natural resonance to deliver a range of frequencies. The sounding board of a piano works somewhat the same way. For a primitive demo of the basic principle involved, just rap your knuckles on a table.