Paper Speakers





Introduction: Paper Speakers

This project explores the technical, design, and aesthetic possibilities of 2-D, flexible audio speaker technology. The premise underlying this exploration is the idea that sound can be thought of as a physically immediate, transparent and embodied material. The end goal for me is the use of this material for my art practice: Sound Art, Installation, and Composition. This project includes not just research but also finished art pieces.

Step 1: How to Build a Paper Speaker

Step 2: Some Topologies to Explore for Your Paper Speaker

This figure shows the three basic topologies of circuit design for
paper speakers which I have explored. All three designs can generate a magnetic field capable of driving audio.

Spiral. Spiral designs are probably the most effective at driving audio, everything else being equal. However, spiral design has serious drawbacks: Only one circuit can be created. Once the signal arrives at the end of the spiral, the only effective way to continue with any serial connection would be to break away from the plane, or break into the surface of the plane.

Parallel. By using an open C like structure, rather than a closed spiral loop, it becomes possible to overcome the limitations of the Spiral pattern, in so far as serial connections within the plane can be achieved. The parallel structure also has the benefit, as can be seen in the acoustic drawing, of being highly flexible for expressive effect and figuration, etc.

Sparse. The sparse topology is actually either a spiral or parallel structure in disguise. Any kind of texture can be used to create such a structure by strategically breaking connections within the texture so that current will flow in a desired path. The benefits of a sparse topology are that the actual path of the circuitry can be completely hidden, freeing the surface from specific technical constraints. However, the sparse topology is likely the least effective of the three designs here, since the flow of current would be necessarily inexact.

Step 3: Some Examples of My Paper Speakers

Step 4: An Alternative Way to Make Paper Speakers Using Visual Images

It is also possible to explore photographic material as a basis for flat
audio circuitry design. Using commonly available rubberized ferrite magnetic sheets with a circuitry design maximized to respond to the vagaries of the anisotropic ferrite deposition on the flexible magnetic sheet, photographic half-tone strategies can be employed on the surface, such as in this audio speaker/image of William Burroughs

Step 5: Video of Some Working Speakers

I made some really large tapestries of these paper speakers (actually, these ones are on acetate not paper). I wrote some music for them . . Here they are at the Berkeley Art Museum

DIY Audio and Music Contest

Second Prize in the
DIY Audio and Music Contest



  • Oil Contest

    Oil Contest
  • Clocks Contest

    Clocks Contest
  • Water Contest

    Water Contest

59 Discussions

Form my observation, the frequency response of this "speaker" will be based on the material used as the backing. These copper foil pattern are acting like the driver coil in the conventional cone speaker. The pattern will determine the load or amount of current can pass through and create enough flux to collide with the permanent magnet nearby the "coil" which in return creates the vibrations which we called "sound".

From the video (which I believe taken using your phone), I realised that there are some drum-like sounds (lower mid range) and clear tinkling (treble range) suggesting that the acrylic you use is about 6mm thickness. Thinner acrylic with the same size will deliver better bass and lower mid range but not very good in the treble range.

I would use the acrylic with the wall mount screw post for the connector terminals and that way, with the space at the back, you can stick multiple strong strontium magnets at the back on the wall itself.

These are so neat looking! Gorgeous.

Do you have a photo of a paper speaker attached to a sound source? I'd love to see/hear a video of it in action!

1 reply

Aluminum foil from your local supermarket will also work : )

(but you can't solder to aluminum . . )-


Yep, a bunch of potential materials could work as long as they have enough conductivity . . most conductive inks and paints right now have too much resistivity . . but I hope that changes soon.

Hi - Thanks for the concern. There are a couple reasons I made the sheet that way (after many long hours of research . . .). 1. The fields do not cancel out because they extend only locally within the hexagon structure (they are minute fields of low strength individually) - and 2. The magnets localized to each hexagonal structure are polarized consistently to be in-phase across the entire sheet (i.e north up for clockwise and north down for counter-clockwise). This prevents phase cancellation. There is not intended to be a net field across the whole sheet, only locally for each of the many magnet interaction across the array. Hope that helps clarify. j

2 replies

Very eye-catching and original, and it can be done with any tessellating shape (triangles, squares), and really, any shapes at all.

What is the resistance of the 16 element speaker whose picture you posted?

Gorgeous build. Very original. Visually evocative of the physics involved.

Hi - thanks - to answer your question, the resistance for all of these structures is very low - around 1 ohm at best. I use resistors in line often to keep my amplifiers from working too hard, or sometimes design the foil to create higher resistance.

The first examples look a lot like the security anti-theft stickers used in retail stores. Could a bunch of those be connected for this project?

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first of all, For you who doubt theese topologies would work, just Putin a strong magnet next to a single speaker wire and jou will notice that the wire shakes in a way that cerates sound.

Second, please share a video of your speaker in work! it would be nice to se!

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For those of you going on about the hexagons being "clockwise" or not, they are not spirals! They are grids.

I still don't get what you mean in step 5! HOW do you "apply" the magnet? Do you just stick it to the paper with tape or glue? My sense is that it needs to be slightly apart from the actual paper and coil to leave room for vibration? HELP?