After more than a decade of development, flat-panel audio speakers are moving into global mainstream automotive use.
An offshoot of technology developed to dampen vibrations in military helicopters, flat-panel speakers from British supplier NXT debuted in 2004. The speakers were launched in a sports car made by ill-fated UK niche carmaker TVR. Performance-oriented TVR chose flat panels because they were lighter and fit more easily into its cramped interiors.
Volume carmakers such as Citroen and Toyota also like the combination of saving space and high audio quality.
The first mainstream car to use flat-panel speakers in Europe is the Citroen C4 Picasso. A 590 Philips Sound Solution upgrade uses NXT tweeters in the fascia and rear doors.
In 2005, Toyota introduced standard headliners that were giant flat-panel speakers in two vehicles, the FJ Cruiser sold in the US and the Estima for Japan. NXT calls the technology direct-drive, where a simple motor vibrates the entire headliner to turn it into a speaker. NXT license-holder Fujitsu Ten supplies the parts.
This system gives the benefits of a raised sound stage, said James Bullen, Hong Kong-based head of global marketing for NXT. Carmakers have struggled for years with the difficult acoustic conditions of car cabins. Tweeters in the door pillars are a partial solution, but our down-firing system provides the high frequencies at ear level that previously eluded audio providers.
Toyota is adding the technology to two new Japanese-market vehicles, the Noah and Voxy.