In 2008, engineers at Panasonic made a seemingly nonsensical suggestion; to include bamboo in order to improve the sound quality of the speakers installed in the Lexus CT.
No one could understand why such a common material would be used in such a high-end, state-of-the-art vehicle. Fortunately, Koji Sano, chief engineer at Panasonic, had the answer: ‘We’ve been experimenting with bamboo since 2007,’ he explained. ‘We knew the plant – charcoaled bamboo and bamboo fibres, to be precise – would make a lot of difference in our attempt to better sound quality inside the cabin.’
Speakers are complex and made up of lots of different parts that effect the sound being produced, with the most important of these being the diaphragm. The diaphragm is what vibrates to produce the sound in the first place, and must be light enough to create a loud noise, stiff enough to hit high notes with precision, rigid enough to minimize acoustic distortion, and flexible enough to dampen its own vibrations for crystal clear sound quality.
Sano explained that, ‘You often see bamboo sway in strong winds, constantly moving in all directions without cracking. That’s the sort of quality we seek in a diaphragm.’ Suddenly, the idea makes a lot more sense. After plenty of rigorous tests and experiments, the first fully functioning prototype was created in 2010. In 2011, it was finally installed in the Lexus CT as a standard feature, producing the immaculate sound quality that matched the opulence of the rest of the car.
Sano continued testing and has now come up with a more advanced, higher quality speaker that will be installed in all new Lexus CT models, which will be available from our dealerships in 2017. Using the plant opal extracted from bamboo leaves, Sano is able to improve the sound quality immensely, particularly at high frequencies. The midrange has also gained more depth, making these speakers some of the best ever to be included in a Lexus car.