Mr. Ray Purchase wonders: Speaker Design – Is there much to it? (Part 1)

Speakers I have owned include:

Tannoy, Kef, B&W, Acoustic Research, Mission, Goodmans, Wharfedale. None of them what you'd call 'high end', but some fairly respected models. And at other people's houses I can recall listening to Monitor Audio and Quad electrostatics. The most expensive speaker I have heard (at a show) was, I think, Backes and Muller BM Line 35 which cost some multiple of tens of thousands of pounds.

This article is about …

my first foray into speaker building after many years of listening to these commercial speakers. The article should be sub-headed “-if size, appearance and complexity is no object”, because my speakers were always going to be a bit different and I wasn't going to worry about commercial concerns or domestic acceptability. The aim has been to bust a myth to my own satisfaction and to enjoy the process of experimenting.

All experiments in hi fi involve …

assembling collections of equipment, connecting them together and listening to them. No one would think it all that impressive to build a wooden cabinet to house a CD player and an amplifier (unless it was particularly beautiful). It struck me that mounting a few moving coil drive units in a cabinet is not much more of an impressive feat, and that, having read about the process and dissected a few commercial models myself, I suspected there was no magic lurking in there. What I could believe, however, was that all passive crossover-based systems are compromised, and that genuine innovations like concentric drive units are rather wasted.

The myth I wanted to bust was the one that says …

that speaker design is a black art that can only be learned through years of apprenticeship. The one that implies that each successful speaker is a synergy of perfectly-chosen and compatible drive units, carefully-tuned cabinet resonances, millimetre-perfect choices of where to drill holes and chamfer edges. It all sounds too 'Stradivarian' to me! Is it not really just a process of mounting a few reasonably compatible drive units at about the right height in the listener's line of hearing and trying not to mess up the crossover too much, using rules of thumb? Is all the arty talk just a little self-aggrandisement on the part of the designers or a 'narrative' created to explain why most speakers don't sound too good? So what would the odds be against a first-timer designing and building something that sounded reasonable, never mind good, and what if it was built out of bargain basement 'commodity' parts? There was only one way to find out...

Continues tomorrow …