Plasma Speaker


If you have ever been within earshot of SparkFun's shipping department during the workday, you have probably heard some pretty decent beats (or beatz?) coming from the area. It is a not-so-well-kept secret that SparkFun employees like to blast tunes during work hours. In fact, it has been shown to increase workplace productivity by 89%* (*in a non-scientific poll conducted by me just seconds ago).

Which brings us the project you see above - this is a plasma speaker created by Brian Hainey and Chris Lewis, engineering students at Eastern Washington University. The speaker above is not your typical sound output device, but rather features a TL494 PWM chip which provides a 45 kHz "carrier" signal onto which audio can be modulated. This transmits audio data that is detected by a microphone in Matlab (you remember Matlab right? Of course you do...), and then processed with Simulink to generate text data.

This is a very cool project that is sure to impress your friends at your next party. Check out Brian's webpage - MuskratMicros - to see more about the plasma speaker, learn about some other awesome projects, or just see a picture of Brian heaterizing a peep (hopefully he read the instructions). Great work Brian and Chris!


Comments 31 comments

  • Ha Ha “FunSparks at SparkFun” Lol :D

  • I built this a few months ago: Instructable - Plasma Speaker - the circuit looks quite similar to the video posted here.
    See my video at the bottom of the page here
    I have since improved the circuit to use a properly driven H-bridge and a resistor in line with the transformer - now the FETs don’t even warm up without a heatsink.
    Now we’re working on using plasma ailerons for roll control on a UAV.

  • Sparkfun should consider carrying the panavise shown in the beginning of the video.
    I bought on due to the interchangeable heads you can purchase for it.

  • Please correct to title (Plama -> Plasma).

  • Interesting to see the plasma speaker is coming around again. I read an article in Poplular Electronics magazine back in the ‘70s on putting together such a play thing. Required a flame, high voltage, some salt, and other items.

  • Check this out, designed at University of Louisville by Paul Faget and Seth Tucker a few months ago.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GetuOyujKvg&feature=player_embedded

  • 10/10 for effort, tho if you want to see some real plasma speakers see timetec’s channel on utube :

  • Ah, plasma speakers. Very cool stuff. I built one of these when i was in high school. They’re not as complicated on the inside as they look like they would be.

  • I do not know how to order a Pico Board from you

  • wait a sec, so that blue beam is creating the sound??

  • So how big is the leap form this to making a plasma cutter?..
    - Blasting air with an air compressor past one of the tips and connecting the other tip’s lead to a sheet of mettle?

  • I was just talking about plasma sound yesterday. Any details/schematics out there?

    • I’ve looked into it awhile back. There’s quite a bit on google if you just search around. I never got around to making one though.

      • Take a Look at My blog… I built one of these 2 or 3 years ago and have some good links. blog.thebestjohn.com

  • That is really cool, but is it… Dangerous?

  • For anyone who cannot afford to buy a copy of Matlab, Scilab from scilab.org is a good, free alternative. Scilab is a powerful Numerical Computation program and much of the syntax is even compatible with and can import Matlab files.

  • Plasma speaker made by a university? I’ve seen hobbiest plasma speakers from tv and pc/crt fly-backs since around 2005 :D awesome project in any case :D

    • As a child I read an article on building a “flame speaker” in Popular Electronics - this would have been in the mid 1960’s best I remember. As I recall it involved a gas flame and used a high voltage power supply to ionize the stream. My memory of the details are a little fuzzy after 40 to 50 years, but I sure wanted to build one back in the day - read the ink off of the pages. Anyway, it is far from a new idea, and goes much further back than 2005. I believe someone was even selling a commercial plasma speaker at one time.

    • Not really ‘by a university,’ but by a couple of students at a university.


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