In a philosophical sense, there are different levels of technology — most commonly, we think of fundamental and applied technologies. An example of the former would be the invention of transistors at Bell Labs in the 1940s. The driving force behind the fundamental advance was telecommunications, a much wider market than audio, but the availability of devices using the new technology transformed the consumer electronics markets. Once the concept of controlling electron flow in a semiconductor was established, it was a matter of application to use this technology in places such as audio, and over the years, audio-specific devices were created based on the fundamental telecom technologies. Audio was not the driver of technological change, but was the lucky recipient of its benefits.
Analogously, integrated circuits (ICs), computer networking, optoelectronics, lasers, micromechanical devices, and nanotechnology were not created for audio, but had a rapid uptake once they were commercially available because of the huge advantages in performance, efficiency, and reliability. Of course these days, there’s no shortage of audio use of exotic materials, such as graphene, carbon nanotubes, and the like.
While some technological adoption has been more for buzzword and gimmick value, gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor devices are the real deal and have great promise for real performance gains in consumer and professional audio. This article reviews what GaN is all about and why it’s important in general and to audio specifically, and it discuss a couple of real-world examples.