Paul Gilligan's interest in all things audio was sparked at the age of 12 when he inherited his uncle's speaker collection. "I disappeared into the garage for days and my love of audio has grown since then," he says. This love has now become a business with the launch of Sonarc, which Gilligan describes as "a disruptive audio platform that combines novel methods for creating and controlling atmospheric plasma to create the world's first commercially viable speaker with no moving parts".
Gilligan says Sonarc addresses the issues of distortion and coloration of sound in current speakers by removing the moving parts to create a purer sound. It also provides better bass sound from a more compact unit. Currently, most laptop or mobile speakers have limited bass sound, which makes them largely unsatisfactory for listening to music.
“Sonarc removes the limitations of existing speakers – restricted diaphragm motion and audio response – and provides clarity and immersive and powerful sound. Where a normal speaker uses a vibrating cone to create sound, we use a plasma, which results in smaller speakers with better audio and bass response when compared to traditional designs. It also provides a full range audio that is four times louder per surface area than current speaker technology while still providing clarity,” Gilligan says.
Gilligan studied at DIT Kevin Street and has a master's in advanced engineering. Since leaving college he has worked with a plasma physics start-up and more recently with Irish Lights where he was responsible for communications telemetry management for marine navigation systems. His co-founder, Sorcha O'Brien, comes from a communications, PR and marketing background.
“I have always been interested in creating technology from a fundamental physics level, and ideas regarding speakers and audio were always going through my head,” Gilligan says. “The idea for Sonarc first came to me 10 years ago but I only began progressing it about three years ago when I took a leap of faith and started working on it full time. Because what I was trying to do was completely new, it took a lot of time and experimentation to develop the technology and the prototype.”
Sonarc was officially founded last October last year and the company has recently been through the Venture Lab programme at the NDRC. Sonarc is currently supporting three jobs and the cost of developing the product so far is close to €200,000, funded primarily by Gilligan himself with support from South Dublin LEO and the NDRC.
From a manufacturing point of view Gilligan says Sonarc’s appeal is that it reduces manufacturing cost and complexity. It is economical to produce, as it requires no hand assembly. The technology can be used to create both large, concert sized speakers as well as micro speakers. It is suited to small-scale manufacture and there is potential for expansion into other verticals such as laptops and TV.
“Sonarc was designed from first principals to develop the ideal speaker, creating sound directly from the air,” says Gilligan. “In the past there have been many weird and wonderful attempts to create the ideal speaker – one that has no moving parts – using flames, electric arcs and tesla coils. However, these designs consumed a lot of power, had no bass, were dangerous and commercially impractical.
These past attempts never got the plasma to work at low frequencies <2kHz. We have managed to do so by engineering it in a completely different manner.”
Sonarc is aimed at the global market and at 25-35-year-old tech enthusiasts in particular. The product will be launched in mid-2018.
“We are currently exploring a number of market opportunities. This includes viewing Sonarc as an audio technology platform that could integrate into existing brands/technologies or it could be a stand alone device.” Sonarc will be announcing its first funding round within the next few months.