DIY Loudspeakers: Can You Build "Better" Than Professional Designs?

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by admin, Dec 27, 2012.

  1. admin Audioholics Robot Staff Member

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    Loudspeakers are in a class by themselves. No matter where you find yourself on the audio enthusiast spectrum, there is no doubt that people have very strong feelings about them. This article discusses why so many enthusiasts feel like they've got a grasp on making their own loudspeakers. The speaker industry is probably unique in the high-tech consumer products field in that its followers - amateurs, admittedly, actually think they can design and build the product themselves. They often think they can do it better than the loudspeaker company itself! Do you have what it takes to be a loudspeaker designer? How would you build a better speaker system? What design aspects are important to you. Please share in our Forum and Facebook page.
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    Discuss "DIY Loudspeakers: Can You Build "Better" Than Professional Designs?" here. Read the article.
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  2. jostenmeat Audioholic Spartan

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    No disrespect to anyone, but this article would probably get much more conversation at a DIY forum. The title might need to be a little more specific. What I mean is that many members here have "built" their own, and yet some of these members never claimed to know that much about speaker design to begin with. They often get help and pointers simply with the construction of things.

    Maybe the article should instead read, DIY Loudspeakers: Can You DESIGN "Better" Than Professional Designs?

    IOW, there is a huge distinction between building something and designing it. I one day aspire to push my feeble DIY abilities a bit more at a time, but I do not kid myself that I have the slightest inkling in knowing how to design a speaker.

    There is only one member here that I can think of off the top of my head that designs high end speakers, and that is TLS Guy. But there are double digit that have "built" their own.

    I wouldn't be surprised if some Statements built here totally floored me. Nor would I be surprised if some speakers that were 10x easier to build, like the ER18s, had me very impressed. In any case, I could see myself aspiring to build something like those, but presently do not have nearly enough ambition to even think of designing something that is superior.
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  3. jinjuku Moderator

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    Can You Build "Better" Than Professional Designs?

    Uhhh. Yes. (taking 'You' in the general sense).

    They don’t have anywhere near as strong an opinion about power amps or CD players or DACs or pre-pros. They have opinions, firmly-held even, but not as deeply ingrained as they feel about speakers.

    Because Speakers are 98% of the sound and the only mechanical device that couples and directly interplays with the room.

    Audio enthusiasts hold fast onto their opinions about speakers regardless of the degree of technical/design/engineering knowledge they have about acoustics and electronics.

    That's a really broad statement to make. I think designers into Di-pole, Ri-Pole, Controlled directivity, etc....

    The really talented enthusiasts try all sorts of different styles and approaches.
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  4. Xebulon Audiophyte

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    Maybe not better, but nearly as good

    Hi,

    I don't believe anyone working by themselves can do better than a team of audio engineers with access to the latest technology and materials. I do believe we can achieve pretty good quality and we do have some advantages that the big companies dont:
    • No need to compromise on size, weight, or materials
    • Lots of time...
    In the 80's, it was more common to want to build your own. In fact, we often could build something with much better sound than what was then available. Too bad I can't post pics (I'm too new here...) but my friend Francis and I had several sets of home-built speakers, one of which were JBL knock-offs of their dual 15 incher speakers that have evolved into their Synthesis systems today. They cost a few hundred dollars to build, much less than the thousands asked by JBL at the time.

    These were constructed from measurements of actual JBL speakers and the drivers used were of high quality for that time. The sound coming out of them was unbelievable (well, my memory says so anyway..) but the 80's vinyl and CDs we had then were not the best. We enjoyed the sound anyway and it took several years until I heard anything from the larger manufacturers that approached the quality of these home-built enclosures!

    I think that we can still build very good quality speakers, using available math formulas and excellent materials, plus a lot of hours in the shop. Forget about curved sides and other fancy construction tricks but building our own enclosures from scratch can still provide the thrills that only building your own can provide. I'd love to do that when I have more time (and some workshop space) in a few years!
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  5. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Overlord

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    Technically Denis Murphy is also member of this forums, but then again he is a pro and no longer qualifies as DIYer :) (I guess few more industry pros here and there)

    and I 100% agree about the intended audience - besides these two any other AH member at best designed a subwoofer, the rest ether built from ready designs (I know I intend to someday) or not into DIY at all
  6. jinjuku Moderator

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    From Jeff Bagby at the Parts Express Tech Talk Forum in it's entirey. Here is the direct link.

    While it’s true that Arnie Nudell began Infinity in his garage, this does not represent what DIY speaker building was really all about at that time. When I began my interest in this hobby it was 1979 and I was in college. At the time most speaker builders were like me – we went to Radio Shack and picked up drivers (8” woofer, 50Watts, 20Oz magnets – that’s it for specs), put them in a box with little understanding of tuning, and used first order crossovers, sometime only tweeters. I guess there are quite a few commercial speakers made the same way today, but I digress….

    In the first couple of years my curiosity led me to discover AES journals in the library and I began to learn more about speaker design from the experts. Needless to say much of it was way over my head, but I was still able to learn about alignments and pick up some formulas and began to discover that some drivers came with T/S parameters that would tell me what box to put them in. What a leap in my understanding!

    In the 80’s I built speakers using a calculator and notepad. My crossovers were beginning to use Zobels and things like that, and I was probably moving into the upper levels of the DIYer world at the time just by doing so. Commercial products however, were light years ahead. They were measuring frequency response and impedance and designing complex crossovers that most of us in the hobby didn’t even understand. There was a huge chasm between what they could do and the average DIYer hobbyist. The birth of Speaker Builder magazine in the 1980 helped a lot, but we were still far behind the pro’s.

    As the 90’s rolled in this changed slowly with the creation of on-line bulletin boards and email lists, like the old Bass List. Madisound had a bulletin board you reach via modem. Then in the late 90’s the internet began to open the door and Madisound’s discussion forum became the haven for discussion. I discovered it in 1997 and quickly settled in. I have been Jeff B. ever since. This was where I connected with people like Paul V., John k, dlr, PEB, Rick Craig, Ron E, Andy G, and many others. It was working with Paul V and John K that I began to create my spreadsheets. These weren’t built in a vacuum, there was a huge exchange of knowledge taking place. I have hundreds of emails from discussions that went off-board as we worked together on tools for designing. Pretty much everything I learned of VBA I learned from Paul, and John taught me math that went well beyond my schooling, but I’ve always been able to pick things up and run with them.

    Some well-known names would frequent the board. One of those was Siegfried Linkwitz. I still have a post of his that I copied off in the early 2000’s where he posted an encouragement to the community that we DIYers had the means to surpass what was commercially available because we were not forced to compromise in the way a commercial design needed to. I was inspired by what he wrote and decided to push even harder for more understanding. If Linkwitz thought we could do it, then I wanted to do it. It was during this time that I began to create Passive crossover Designer, as Paul and John, and others also began to create design tools that would all work together. The FRD Consortium was born. The Consortium was Paul’s idea and he hosted. FRD’s by the way were file format from LAUD by Bill Waslo, who just happens to be one of us.

    Now, let’s leap frog to 2012. Attending gatherings like the InDIYana gathering in Fort Wayne or the MWAF in Dayton reveals the current state of the art in DIY speaker building, and it reveals that this state is quite high. In the early gatherings I attended there were a handful of impressively nice speakers, but there were also some speakers that, well, I wouldn’t be able to brag about much. But now, this is no longer the case. Sure, there are imperfect speakers, but it is rare now to get any multiway loudspeaker that doesn’t have reasonably flat response and isn’t based on a decent design philosophy. Then when you look at the craftsmanship…. Wow! It is amazing what these guys can do. The fact is, for a small investment, tools like OmniMic and DATS give the DIYer a very easy way to measure almost anything you would ever need to measure to design a good set of speakers. There are other tools available that help to design crossovers and predict speaker behavior like diffraction and polar response even before you build. When you couple this with uncompromising design and craftsmanship you quickly realize that we have reached that point where the DIYer (any DIYer who really wants to) can meet or exceed the performance of almost any commercial product available today.

    Twenty years ago very few of us could make the measurements or use them like a speaker company could, but that is no longer the case, today we can do almost exactly the same things (believe it or not I have been contacted by several professional engineers asking for permission to use my design tools on their jobs). And because of this we have reached the point where Siegfried’s statement enters in – we can do this and not compromise anything if we don’t want to. For a one-off-speaker for ourselves we can choose drivers, crossover components, and cabinet construction that mass producers just can’t do unless they want to sell for Wilson Audio prices. Take Dan N’s Echelons, for example, what would a commercial version of that speaker be priced at? $20,000? More?

    I came away from the MWAF convinced that we are there. We have, as a community, not just as a couple of individuals, reached the point where we can build at a level of performance comparable or exceeding that of the finest commercial offerings. You can quote me on that – I won’t take it back. I saw and heard too many excellent examples of what I am referring to as proof for my statement. This is the current state of the art of DIY speaker building, and it is state of the art.

    I want to close by calling out a couple of designs that really impressed me in one way or another. First, this was the second time I listened to Dan’s Echelons – without a doubt one of the best sounding speakers I have ever heard in my life. It is certainly on the same plane or higher as the Salk Soundscapes or Archos, two speakers that I was involved with personally. 6th Planet’s open baffle design was beautiful, very creative, and sounded very nice. One of the highest scorers on my list was Tom Zarbo’s curved Cellos. I was disappointed that they didn’t win something because they were one of the best sounding and best looking speakers of the day in my opinion. This just shows how high the bar has been raised. Dave Pellegrene’s Dragsters show what kind of creativity exists in the group. And Wolf's designs are always impeccably voiced.

    There were many more designs that were excellent, but it’s impossible to comment on all of them. I can only say that I am impressed, and I am humbled by the level of skill I see demonstrated which is some ways is well beyond my own. I am thus honored to be included in this group of hobbyists.


    And the Linkwitz post Jeff was talking about:

    “I regret that so few seem to be genuinely interested in understanding and furthering the science behind sound reproduction and what detracts from its accuracy. As DIYer you have more freedom to design and explore than a speaker company. It is certainly within your realm to surpass the performance of even the costliest commercial products with very few exceptions. After all, you have access to just about the same drivers and components. But in the end you reach the same plateau that this industry has settled for, unless you look further than the techniques that everybody is using. But then again, you may be just interested in building your own inexpensive speaker, which is fine and a valid reason for DIY, but I am not willing to spend time on that part alone and therefore do not post in such discussions. “

    S. Linkwitz (On Mad Board 5/26/2001)
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  7. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

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    In terms of SQ, I think DIY/ ID can sound AS GOOD as professional B&M speakers.

    But in terms of aesthetic, I don't think that DIY/ ID can look as great as some of the B&M speakers.
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  8. Dennis Murphy Audioholic Chief

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    Hmmm I think a "pro" makes money at this sport. I am a negative pro.
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  9. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Overlord

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    Making money is not same thing as designing great speakers... ;)
    I'm not Marketing Pro by any means, but I think I have few ideas which are outside of this thread
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  10. Nuance AH Audioholic General

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    Couldn't it be argued that some of the best of the best likely started as DIY? Without DIYers we'd likely have a lot less speaker manufacturers. With that said, I don't think the average DIYer could match the overall quality of a large company that has all the necessary resources, tools and funds. You can certainly get very good sound by going the DIY approach, but better than the well known/established and rooted pro designers? Probably only a very small percentage...

    DIY is not the same as ID; ID is a business model. Once a DIYer starts selling speakers for a profit through a company name they are no longer DIY.

    As far as aesthetics go, tell that to Salk, Daedalus, Tyler Acoustics, Funk Waves (of which you own some of their products) and Status Acoustics (are they ID?); and there are plenty more. I'd be willing to bet those companies could at least equal B&W's build quality, and probably make a better sounding speaker too. It's time to visit RMAF or another large audio show and see in person just how good some of these ID manufacturers' build quality is. ;)
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  11. monkish54 Audioholic General

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    These two ideas contradict.

    You can't have it both ways..

    The only difference: ID makes money, DIY is free for public (most of the time)

    ID companies (most) lack the same resources that DIY does, yet they make some fantastic speakers.

    In fact, your favorite ID, Salk Sound, uses a DIYer for their crossover design! They also used another DIYer to help come up with their 15K flagship!

    What you said above pretty much says "if you make money DIYing, then you can build better than B&W, if you give it away, you probably can't make better than B&W, but you can still make great stuff.

    For all intents and purposes, as it relates to this discussion, MOST ID companies are DIY for profit.
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  12. Nuance AH Audioholic General

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    No, they don't, especially considering they aren't DIY and are actual companies.

    Exactly. A DIYer is a manufacturer or speaker designer once he officially starts a company IMO and sells for a profit. You don't call Ascend a DIYer; they are an ID manufacturer/company.

    No, they don't. That's why they're actual companies/manufacturers and not just DIYers. They actually have the resources, tools and staff to consistently manufacturer a line (or various lines) of speakers.

    Salk uses a man who started in the DIY world but is now an industry professional who runs his own company, Philharmonic Audio. He has a DIY background, but he's hardly just a DIYer.

    Incorrect. Your interpretation may tell yourself what you stated above, but that's not what I stated. I named reputable and well known/respected/liked companies that have proven their build quality is top notch, and I said I wager their build quality is on par with B&W. How you interpreted it as anything else I don't know.

    Wrong again. They are audio companies for profit. ;)

    Edit: I can already tell this will go no where, as it seems you're trying to argue for the sake of arguing, so lets just chalk it up to different interpretations and/or opinions. I don't feel like dragging this out if you're just going to attempt to twist my words.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2012
  13. monkish54 Audioholic General

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    So once Dennis started selling speakers (and losing money :p) his talents increased? He designed major parts of the Salk SoundScape that you think will best (or equal) even the Salon 2!

    Hell, based on your definition, Dennis was still a DIYer back then..Philharmonic Audio was nonexistent! :D

    Assembly lines? Drivers built in-house? Anechoic chambers?

    The only DIY/ID that I know of that truly has custom drivers, is Zaph!

    A DIYer doesn't need a staff, Nuance. They aren't a company. They build for themselves/friends. If they need to do many builds, like Dennis, perhaps they'll hire some help! :D

    If you're arguing an ID company can push out more speakers faster, you will hear no argument from me, but I don't see what "consistently manufacturer[ing] a line" has to do with skill.

    So now that he sells them instead of giving them away his talents have increased?

    Plus what about Jeff? He is still a DIYer (under your definition)..did he not help create the SS12? :D Not only is he DIY...he is self-proclaimed DIY. :D
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  14. monkish54 Audioholic General

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    I am arguing because I disagree with you, not because I have nothing better to do. :p

    If you choose not to reply, that is your prerogative. :D

    Also, I apologize if I twisted your words (honestly), although I don't see where I did that. :D
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  15. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

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    So you think the SS looks as pretty as the B&W 802D2 gloss black and Revel Salon2 and KEF 207/2?
  16. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

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    My point is not about TALENT, which I believe these gurus have even more talent than a lot of the B&M companies.

    My point is only about money & resource. These extremely talented guys just don't have multimillion dollars to invest in machines & labor.

    The SS12 is already like $19K w/ piano gloss & without diamond tweeters. Imagine the cost if Jim Salk had to put out that kind of money for all the machines & labor required plus diamond tweeters.

    As far as subs, I have no doubt that Nathan's subs already look BETTER than the subs from the B&M. But subs are simpler than fancy curvy tower speakers.

    So again, my point is not about talent; it's about money & resource only.
  17. ack_bak Audioholic

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    I am surprised that the article did not touch on the fact that professional speaker companies have to make money on their speakers, while in the DIY community, profit is not really a factor at all. I would daresay a big chunk of the cost of a commercial speaker goes to overhead, shipping costs, profit, etc, middleman, etc. How many speakers are now being built off parts in China, or fully assembled in China by some kid making 5 cents an hour? Do you think there is pride in work there? No corners are being cut? With DIY, you can go with proven designs that can be measured and compared against commercial offerings. You can buy speaker kits such as the SEOS kits for about $200-400 per speaker, that IMHO, rival speakers that cost far more.

    You can buy flatpack CNC cut boxes that look as good as most commercial speakers. You can also go to a professional cabinet maker if you so choose and have far more options available to you vs commercial.

    I am taking my turn in the DIY subwoofer world as we speak, and quite frankly, there are DIY subs being built for the money that no commercial subwoofer can touch for the money. For about $1000 I am building four sealed 15" subwoofers and powering them with a pro amp that includes DSP and EQ. That cost also includes the Omnidsp mic I will be using with REW for measurement. Sure it took some research and reading and understanding how to use WinISD Pro, but with tools like Winisd Pro along with the DIY community, it has not been that hard.

    After the subwoofers are done I really want to build some waveguide speakers to see how they compare to my far more expensive commercial speakers. Something tells me they will most likely be superior.
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  18. ack_bak Audioholic

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    The problem is asthetics are such a personal thing. Personally, I find the B&W hideous. I much prefer a speaker that cannot even be seen, as in behind an acoustically transparent screen, which also opens up better placement options and a preferred vertical speaker for the center vs horizontal. And behind the screen wall, ascetics don't really matter at all... So you can focus your money on the actual speaker itself.

    There are also lots of professional cabinet builders out there that can build just about any box you want and give you far more choices on finish than commercial speaker companies.
  19. ratso Full Audioholic

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    no i do not. i think they look better. but aesthetics are all in the eye of the beholder so there is no right or wrong here. however, not many mass manufacturers are going to bookend match your exotic hand picked hardwood and hand buff it for a week like many DIY'ers do, now are they?

    edit: in truth, i do not think that the SS series are the most aesthetically pleasing of the salk line up. but the point remains, not too many off the shelf speakers look like mine:

    http://forums.audioholics.com/forums/loudspeakers/30837-best-looking-loudspeakers-6.html
  20. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Overlord

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    I personally think that some SS look much better than many many B&M speakers
    http://www.audioholics.com/news/tra...2012-gtg-report/20121027_123418_DxO.jpg/image

    This photo, taken by me at the last AH GTG doesn't even begin to describe how astonishing these speaker look (and sound) like

    and Dennis, sorry for misspelling your name before :eek:

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