Real shell as iPhone loudspeaker

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design kindly brought me out to meet with grad students and attend the annual MCAD Art Sale where I was happily overwhelmed with a fantastic collection of student and recent graduates' work at affordable prices. Within minutes of walking in, I was drawn to two pieces at opposite ends of the building. The first was a painting created by a CNC milling machine outfitted with a pen. (That painting and its brethren in the series will be the subject of a later post here.) The second piece is what you can see above, the Shellphone Loudspeaker. Amazingly, it turned out that both the CNC painting and the Shellphone were created by the same young artist/designer/maker, Andrew Vomhof. The Shellphone Loudspeaker, made by Andrew with collaborator Karl Zinsmaster, is absolutely wonderful and I purchased one immediately. It's a real Whelk shell hand-carved to perfectly sit an iPhone (4 or 5). The shell acts as a natural amplifier for the iPhone's speakers.

Now, this thing doesn't come close to the output of powered speakers. Duh. But it does increase the volume quite a bit and layers the sound with a subtly echoey and organic vibe. But that isn't really the point. It's a wonderful curiosity at the intersection of nature, art, and technology. And it's beautiful to boot. Vomhof and Zinsmaster have launched a Kickstarter to bring their prototype design into full production. Pledge $60 and, if they hit their goal of $10,000, you'll receive your own Shellphone Loudspeaker early next year.

Shellphone Loudspeaker


  1. Love (!) this idea and will be doing exactly this to a large lightning whelk shell I have (that’s what’s in the photo above).

    However, I admit to more than a bit of concerned curiosity about where they will obtain the shells to be used for this assuming even modest success with the project. Is there a warehouse full of empty shells somewhere or will they have to harvest them from the wild?

    I admit some degree of shame at the number of live animals my grandfather and I killed 30+ years ago on our annual trip to south Florida. There’s a reason that you can’t find as many today as back then and I had a small role in that.

    1. My first reaction was a similar kind of concern trollish, “Is this OK?”. But a quick peek at wikipedia turns up no easy answers. It would be a sad thing if the burden of proof for sustainability lay on the shoulders of the innovators. There’s a more complete idea here, but I’m almost out of handcranked green power, and I must sign off before the coal fired generator kicks in.

    2. From their KickStarter page:

      Our base material is the Whelk shell, a native species of the North Atlantic coast. The Whelk is harvested for food, and the shell is discarded. We receive our shells from a U.S. supplier that warehouses and sells them after the animal is consumed.

      1.  Whelks are certainly one of the more common shells on the beach.  But I have never seen “whelk” meat.  Is it sold as some generic seafood soup ingredient?  I kind of figured they would be discarded and killed by oyster and scallop fishermen because whelks eat bivalves.

  2. I get that they’re (duh ;)) underpowered, but how do they sound?  Again, duh, I realize that’s also a bit beside the point, but I’m just curious.

    That said, they’re damned cool and if I didn’t have to worry about one of my kinder destroying it, I’d pledge! :)

      1. Thanks!  As said, I totally get its not the point, but was curious. :)

        I’d still love to get one and may still support in spite of the worries about the kids.

  3. I’ve actually done this with a larger whelk shell that had a natural slot in it which I was able to expand. The slot on my shell is on the opposite side of where this picture shows they placed theirs, so mine uses the entire curvature of the shell. That might make it less echo-ey, too. It works shockingly well–much better than other passive speaker systems. I love demonstrating it to visitors.

    1.  A quick search of logarithmic spirals and speakers did not find much  although it has been an area of DIY audio tinkering….

  4. I’ve never understood the appeal of acoustic loudspeakers, the sound is all bones and no meat.

    Then again, I’m old enough to remember the sound of a stylus going through an LP for the very first time, lying on the carpet with my head between the speakers.  Particularly vivid in my memory is “Jennifer” by Eurythmics.  In this day and age, I’m quite happy with small speakers with integrated power source and amplifier.

  5. I have an acoustic speaker windshield dock thing for my iPhone. Works very well in the car. At work I just use a Fuzzy Tacos plastic cup to amplify the sound (drop phone in speaker down and it really increases the volume). I have one of these shells in my multi’s shell dweller aquarium but one of my fish is using it as a home right now so i guess I’ll let her keep using it. If I find another one in a pet or hobby store I’ll pick it up and take a dremel tool to it and save probably $55.

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