This Death Star has a sick sound system. (Om Audio)
If you’re still up in the air about what kind of speaker you want, consider a speaker that’s actually up in the air.
The Om/One has a lot of the same features of your typical Bluetooth-enabled speaker: It’s easy to sync to your phone on the go, it can reach an impressive volume level for its relatively small size, and it has a lengthy battery life. Oh, and one more thing: It floats.
Oakland-based Om Audio announced its latest product Tuesday: a levitating speaker called the Om/One. The group plans to release the product via a crowdfunding campaign on its own site. According to the company’s co-founder David DeVillez, its unique form is not just some sales gimmick — the unattached design makes it a more efficient speaker.
But first you should know how it’s able to float. Inside the base of the speaker — which plugs into a wall and serves as a dock for the floating orb — there’s an electromagnet. Its south pole is facing upward, toward the ball. The ball contains a Neo magnet, and its south pole is facing downward. This creates an electromagnetic field, in which the weight of the ball and gravity allow the ball to float. In a demonstration this week, I tapped it and spun it, and the orb simply hung in space, twirling in an endless pirouette.
Unlike other Bluetooth speakers, which are usually assigned a spot on a bookshelf or a desk, the Om/One simply floats in the air. That lack of friction on a hard surface, DeVillez says, enables it to do more with less.
That’s because the ball of the speaker has a 3-watt amplifier inside it. Because it’s not touching a surface, it’s able to play at 110 decibels — similar to other wireless Bluetooth-enabled speakers. Ground-based products like the JAMBOX or the Beats Pill usually use a good amount of power (about 10 watts) to reach that volume.
“The reason we can get away with it at 3 watts is because we’re not synced to a surface,” DeVillez told Yahoo Tech during a live demo. “So if I play the ball right now on the table, you can feel the table vibrating. But when the speaker is floating up here, all that is preserved. So we can get more audio output with less amplifier.”
It turns out that this design also has benefits when it comes to battery life.
“The battery life on the orb for Om/One is 15 hours at 70 percent volume,” Om Audio CMO Naveen Jain told Yahoo Tech. “Other Bluetooth speakers have much less. We need less power to output 110 decibels, because we’re not losing a ton of the amplification energy into the table or wherever the speaker is sitting.”
But according to Ken Pohlmann, consulting engineer at Hammer Laboratories and a contributor to Sound & Vision magazine, Om Audio’s claims that there’s a higher output because its speaker isn’t synced to a surface might not be entirely sound. “It doesn’t really hold water,” he told Yahoo Tech. “At best, they might use a higher-efficiency speaker.” Still, he says, “It is just a really cool idea for a speaker.”
Additionally, Lauren Dragan, a writer at The Wirecutter, says the fact that it spins may actually detract from its sound.
"The speaker is attempting to fill a 360 degree space," she told Yahoo Tech, "So unless you’re only looking to place it on the center of a room, you’re going to waste a lot of that power just throwing audio into places where people aren’t sitting. Or, sound will reflect off of other surfaces and affect the overall quality."
Still, both DeVillez and Jain agree that its levitating nature give it an edge.
“We’re from the San Francisco Bay Area,” Jain said. “We’ve shown all of our friends and family throughout Silicon Valley. These are people who are really jaded by technology. They’ve seen a lot of things. But every time you break out Om/One, it’s like moths to a flame. It’s a talking piece.”
Starting Tuesday, you can reserve an Om/One in black, white, or a limited-edition disco ball (!) version by contributing $179 to the company’s Tilt campaign. They aim to raise $100,000. If they reach their goal within the span of two months, contributors will get their speakers by December.