Wireless Speakers

The Science of Speakers, the Wonders of Wireless

I hardly consider myself a technophile, but I do own several electronic gadgets, from a standard cell phone to a portable gaming system (because I still check my Animal Crossing town to see what gifts I’ve gotten on my birthday, adulthood be damned). Basically, I own just enough devices to have acquired a total mess of cables and cords. The floor space near the power outlet in my home office looks as if it’s been taken over by a pair of nesting sparrows.

Fortunately for me (and for sparrows everywhere, who shouldn’t have to be insulted by being linked to my mess), wireless technology is becoming more prevalent. A poll of small businesses that AT&T conducted in 2013 revealed that 98 percent of the companies surveyed use wireless technologies in their daily activities.

Wireless tech powers a number of different kinds of devices; phones and tablets are the ones most likely to come to people’s minds. However, brilliant engineers everywhere who are sick of watching people like me untangle headphone cords on the train continue to work on making other devices a little less dependent on wired connections.

One type of device that’s seen some beautiful innovation is the audio speaker.

QLP offers a huge selection of speakers designed to round out the sound quality of music played on people’s phones, because there’s no point in having an MP3 of “Let’s Groove” on your phone if the bass sounds tinny or hollow. What’s really neat, though, is that some of the speakers we sell don’t have to be connected to a phone or other audio device to amplify the sound. No cables needed; simply set your phone on them and hit “play”!

Naturally, we were curious: how do these magical doohickeys work?

Magical Doohickeys, Type 1: Where Are the Wires Hidden?

Here’s one of the items that got us wondering: the iPhone Megaphone Speaker, or as I’ve named the blue one we keep in the Content office, Tuba.

Photo of QLP's iPhone Megaphone Speaker

The skeptical part of the brain says that products like Tuba the iPhone Megaphone Speaker shouldn’t work. It’s made entirely of silicone and has no circuitry inside, nothing. How well could it possibly transmit sound?

Surprisingly well, it turns out. We tried it out using the second-best type of testing music there is after Earth, Wind & Fire jams: showtunes. The sound quality wasn’t nearly on par with what you’d get from an expensive pair of headphones, but it was clear, and the amplification of Donnie Osmond’s sweet, sonorous voice was far better than what we got using the old phone-in-a-cup trick.

The reasons that products like this work have nothing to do with magic, it turns out, but everything to do with science. Really, when you saw my name on this post, did you expect otherwise?

So here’s a quick lesson in acoustics. As you might remember from grade-school science class, sound is a wave that travels through a medium, like air, until it reaches a surface and causes that surface to vibrate. We hear sound thanks to sound waves pulsing against our eardrums.

Sound waves also can make other objects vibrate—say, the body of a guitar, for example. Or an iPhone Megaphone Speaker. When these objects vibrate, they create additional waves that build upon the original sound and make it louder. This idea also explains products like the Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen, seen below.

Photo of QLP's Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen

The iPhone Megaphone Speaker doesn’t depend only on a chain reaction of vibrations, however. Have you ever used an actual megaphone?

Megaphones amplify volume in two ways:

  1. They focus and direct sound waves. Normally, sound waves travel away from their source in every possible direction, but megaphones prevent sound from dissipating by focusing them into a narrow cone shape.
  2. They actually allow more sound waves to leave the mouth of the person who’s speaking. Normally, when there’s a huge transition from a small space (like the inside of a person’s mouth) into a large one (like all of the Great Outdoors), some sound waves actually bounce back into the small space, because physics is crazy like that. Megaphones make the transition gradual so that there are fewer waves bouncing back.

The cones of speakers put these same principles to use, making it easy to get louder, clearer sound even from a product that draws no juice.

But what if you do want to power up your sound?

Magical Doohickeys, Type 2: Power to the People

Here’s another product that sparked our curiosity: the Vigo Vibration Speaker.

Photo of QLP's Vigo Vibration Speaker

There are several speakers like these available on the market, including a few others that we sell here at QLP. All of them draw power from a battery (or a power cord, if the battery’s charge is low), and all of them work by simply placing a phone on top of a speaker, turning the speaker on, and playing a song on your phone (or putting a call on speaker phone and irritating the bejeezus out of the caller).

So what’s going on here? Well, these speakers do more than just pick up the phone’s vibrations. They depend on a technology called Near Field Audio (also NearFA or NFA) that’s trademarked and patented and currently kept under pretty tight wraps by the companies that use it in their products.

So of course the Internet had to figure out how it worked.

A few bloggers and writers have dissected NearFA speakers and shared their thoughts. From what they can guess, speakers like the Vigo Vibration Speaker seem to work thanks to a principle called electromagnetic induction.

Okay, take a deep breath. Ready? Here we go:

The TL;DR explanation of electromagnetic induction is that components called transducers take the motion and energy of sound waves and convert them to an electrical signal. The signal becomes the current flowing through speakers and eventually the sound that gets transmitted. Power supplied by the device’s batteries are what give the components enough juice to make this happen.

It might sound complicated, but it’s pretty similar to how the pickups on electric guitars detect the vibrations of guitar strings and pass that info along to the amplifier. Ah, simple, comforting analogy.

You can see NearFA in action here:

Near Field Audio also tends to draw some comparisons to Bluetooth technology, because both types of tech are wireless. Bluetooth is different, of course. It transmits its signals through radio frequencies, which means that Bluetooth speakers don’t have to be right next to your phone or whatever sound source they’re amplifying.

They’re nice, no doubt (otherwise we wouldn’t sell them, right?), but Near Field Audio speakers still offer some advantages over their Bluetooth cousins:

  • Bluetooth speakers have to be synced to a particular device, and that connection takes a little bit of time and patience to set up. NearFA speakers will work with any phone set on top of them.
  • NearFA speakers are said to be less power-hungry than the Bluetooth kind, not in an “I will claim the Iron Throne” kind of way, but in a longer battery life kind of way.

Plus, there’s still a fun novelty factor to simply setting an audio device on top of a plain-looking object and having it produce audible, danceable sound. The sound’s pretty good, too, as an informal test suggests.

Who Doesn’t Love an Informal Test?

The Content team plus QLP Data Entry manager Rachel (whose phone we borrowed in exchange for some of the snack food we stash in our room) sat down recently to assess the sound quality of the three QLP products mentioned in this post:

  • The iPhone Megaphone Speaker
  • The Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen
  • The Vigo Vibration Speaker

While Rachel’s iPhone 5S played the soundtrack to The Avengers (the third-best kind of testing music, after Earth, Wind & Fire songs and showtunes), we listed to the sound that each speaker produced. Then we compared them all to each other and to the sound that the phone produced unaided.

As mentioned earlier, for a hunk of molded silicone, the iPhone Megaphone Speaker does a shockingly good job of amplifying music. It still lacked bass during our test but transmitted sound that was audible and clear.

The Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen also transmitted clear sound, but it actually was a bit louder than the iPhone Megaphone Speaker. Overall, we determined that the Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen had the fuller sound quality of the two speakers, though it still lacked bass.

Then the Vigo Vibration Speaker came along and apparently stole all the bass that the other two were missing. Seriously, the Vigo Vibration Speaker made ample use of its battery power, providing a load of low-register sound at a high volume. However, for all of the power it offered, each member of our scientifically minded team felt that the Vigo’s sound was more muffled than the sound from either of the power-free options.

(Interestingly enough, during a later test conducted by Rachel and our office manager Jeff, both managers agreed that the Vigo produced better sound from Jeff’s LG Android phone than from Rachel’s phone. As they say on the Interwebs, YMMV.)

Our admittedly subjective conclusion? The iPhone Megaphone Speaker and the Boom Amplifier probably are the speakers to get for people who want to listen to the lyrics of a song; the Vigo Vibration is the speaker to get for people who want to dance. For our office-listening purposes, the Boom Amplifier with Mini Stylus-Pen won the highest marks.

I still think Tuba is adorable, though. And thanks to products like it, I and consumers like me can enjoy our music without getting tangled up in cords. That’s a benefit I can hear loud and clear.

Do you use wireless speakers at home or in the office? What do you think of the sound quality? Isn’t science frickin’ amazing? Let us know in the comments below!

Quality Logo Products



Sheila Johnson

Sheila Johnson is a member of the Content Team at Quality Logo Products. Prior to joining QLP, she worked freelance in a number of capacities, including writing, editing, digital art restoration, and sorting stuff in a warehouse, because money is money. She enjoys birdwatching, hiking, and reading, which doesn't make her sound old at all. Other likes: dark chocolate, comics, science, socks with bright patterns. Dislikes: how cold her toes are ALL THE TIME. You can connect with Sheila on

Comments

  1. Matt

    This was an incredibly interesting and informative post. I think it’s interesting how the non powered options had better sound clarity than the powered version. However, I’m still not convinced that all of these items aren’t powered by some sort of magic or sorcery.

    • Sheila Johnson

      Thanks, Matt! We were all really surprised by the non-powered options, too. As for magic, I’m actually still convinced that Bluetooth is the name of some kind of sorcery practiced in a remote village somewhere in eastern Europe.

  2. Michael Wenger

    I am with you… “tuba” does a surprisingly good job at re-directing and seemingly amplifying the sound. It kinda looks funky, but at a desk, it works like a gem. As for the NearFA technology… I think the Jetson’s had it first, no?! … Miss that show. Cartoons that were actually cartoons. I digress!

    • Sheila Johnson

      The Jetsons had everything cool first, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m still holding out for flying saucer pods that will transport me to the grocery store or wherever else I need to go. Not that NFA isn’t nice, but… yeah. Flying saucer pods. Get on it, science.

  3. Chase

    What a great article! I always wondered how that NFA worked! I was given one, and when people ask how it works, I just told them MAGIC. Now I said that, and people assumed I was being sarcastic, but I really had no idea! Thank goodness people just went along with it, and never pressed me more about it. LoL But, now knowing I can inform others correctly! Thanks team for the knowledge bomb!

    • Sheila Johnson

      You’re welcome, Chase! Yeah, considering how well companies had been guarding the patented secrets of NFA, I can only imagine what a pain that was to try to explain that to people. Oof!

  4. Jen

    YAY, Science! You lose major brownie points for show tunes, though :(

    In all seriousness, these gadgets are awesome. We have a couple floating around the office, and all have good sound quality for the price. I always remind my customers that although you’re not getting Beats headphones, you’re definitely getting more than what you paid for. Your customer will use these forever because these speakers are fun, obviously useful, and not necessarily something they’d want to splurge on for themselves. All of that=your brand in their face FOREVER.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Did you just throw shade at “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You?” Not okay, Jen…

  5. jay

    In a pinch, I once used one acoustic amplifier in conjunction with the Vigo speaker shown above to “double” the amplification.

    Mind = blown.

  6. alan

    I’m still a sucker for big, wired speakers while listening to music, but I think I prefer the bluetooth speakers for portable listening purposes!

  7. Jaimie Smith

    How Awesome!!

    Now anytime I am at a little get together, where these devices are being used, I can be the one to know how it works and blow everyone’s mind!

    Thanks for the informative blog, Sheila! :)

  8. PMO

    I prefer my wireless Bluetooth devices for the BASS!

    Seriously, for anything else, these amplification devices are the bee’s knees.

  9. Leo

    I love introducing these items to people. Their faces and reactions never get old! NFA is a great way to go for a quick, affordable & good sound! We just had one playing in my office the other day. ROCKIN’ OUT!

  10. David

    Very cool article about how witches use their sorcery to manipulate us mortals. Next thing you know, they’ll be flying around on brooms and harassing farmgirls from Kansas.

    Really though, cool article about how the right item can enhance your phone’s audio.

    Now where’d I leave my NKOTB cassette?

  11. Kurt

    Great article. I learned a lot. Electro-magnetic induction, I had no idea. I just figured NFA speakers worked off of vibration. Very Cool. I’m still going to tell people these speakers are magic based, but I’ll know the truth. (insert evil laugh)

  12. AG

    Science is pretty cool! Wow! Amazing! ;D But still wireless options are pretty sweet! It’s weird to see everyone go from a wired electrical environment to this day in age where everything is wired-free!! Super dope if you ask me!!

  13. keith

    Wireless is always a great option! No one wants to see ugly wires all over the place. It is amazing and baffling how this works, bit now we know. The sound quality is fantastic! Great article.

  14. Greg

    Very cool! Crazy how that works. Got to have my music!

  15. Rondell Caraos

    I received a Vigo Vibration Speaker as a gift and use it all the time in the bathroom while giving my son a bath. It is surprisingly VERY LOUD and CLEAR that we could hear it with the water running! It is amazing how far technology has come these past few years and cooler things keep coming! Every time a friend sees my speaker system… they are always amazed to hear how it works! You have to try it!

  16. Ashley

    I use the iPhone Megaphone Speaker all the time! It’s very convenient to carry around and you would be surprised how loud it can can for being so small.

  17. Serenity

    I love the speaker that whatever you stick the magnet to it turns anything into a speaker!!! So cool! but a lot of the speaker modifiers are made for iphones :( I have a bigger phone so a lot of this neat stuff doesn’t fit. I feel left out, kind of like being left handed. I really want to try the vigo vibration speaker that one looks neat!

  18. Kelly Bird

    These products have amazing sound quality that everyone is always impressed by. They make a great promotional product – inexpensive and people actually use them! Great post!

  19. Chuck

    Although I love Bluetooth technology for some things, I just cant break away from the wired stuff. Like speakers. The sound quality is so much better. However, there are new developments coming out everyday!!! I am sure they will get it right eventually. But for a promo gift, you cannot go wrong!

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