Tuesday, March 20, 2007

DIY loudspeakers part 1: Why bother?

Home-made speakers are nothing new. In fact, at one point in time, almost all audio stuff was built from a kit.

Today, however, there are a bewildering array of pre-built options from the cheap clock radios at Wal-Mart to $10,000 a pair Bowers and Wilkins obelisks.

So, why bother?

To most people, the most important reason would be price. As a rule of thumb, no more than 40% of the cost of a pair of speakers goes to parts - sometimes less, and sometimes more. Even though it's not practical to buy the parts by the thousand as commercial vendors do, homemade speakers can cost over 40% less than their store-bought equivalent - and even less than that if you take the time to find the parts as surplus.

The quality is also an issue. The majority of low-priced speakers - in other words, anything below $200 a pair - are junk. In this price range, however, there are a plethora of designs using low-priced components that make a mockery of what you'll find at best buy for double the price. Because there's relatively little profit in these less expensive speakers, the parts are almost always far, far cheaper. As a result, a thriftily built pair of homemade speakers will generally outperform commercial speakers costing as much as three times as much.

For more pricey speakers, this works doubly so. While it is possible to save only 30% off the price of a commercial offering, this is a big deal when you're using $160 Seas Excel woofers and $180 Hiquphon tweeters. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars can be saved in this way, and because these high-end components are designed to last, they can often be purchased used at a fraction of the retail price.

Others build their own speakers as a matter of convenience - often, certain locations or situations require specialized speakers. Some people desire a line array's movie-theater level punch in their home cinema, while others want speakers able to maintain a high level of quality even at very low volume for use in unusually small rooms. Obviously, there's not much of a market for these sorts of specialized speakers, and if you want some, you build them yourself.

However, more than any other reason, people build speakers simply because it's fun. It's far more rewarding to spend $180 on parts and six weeks on your prized home-theater towers or mini-monitors than to simply drive out to Best Buy and plunk down $600 for something roughly as good. Your speakers will be a reflection of you, exactly how you like them - no more wishing you could get a better veneer, or get just a little bit less treble out of the center channel.

Regardless of your reason, I hope to provide information to everyone - especially Madison residents - on building your own speakers.


Joe said...

You're totally missing a major part of it- why do you care about sound quality? Why does it matter how well the speakers work? Can you really tell the difference between that clock radio and the $10,000 art piece?

Unfortunately, I still don't know how to get that across to people. I'm not sure if you can. I tried to demonstrate it for my girlfriend, and did eventually comment that she can tell the difference between my nice stereo and the TV speakers- but she really doesn't care. She doesn't care enough to spend money, but she does care enough to turn them on if we're watching a DVD. I have to say, she might not even turn on the stereo if she watches a DVD and I'm not around.

So, why do YOU care about sound quality?

Wotcher said...

I care about sound quality because I can hear it. While many people can't immediately tell why, it's rare that someone cant' say in a double-blind test that a well-made speaker (say, Paradigm)sounds better than a cheaply made speaker.

Besides, convenience is also an issue. For example, your girlfriend might appreciate some homemade low-profile speakers to go with her flat-screen TV - even if she can't tell the difference, she'll certianly appreciate unobtrusive speakers not taking up place in her living room.

Someone said...

joe, go to www.youtube.com/v/PuEDwcfJPSk

fishball79 said...

How come no one mentioned the satisfaction of owning something you made and/or
being able to impress others with something you slapped together that sounded better than
i) the stereo they showed off to you
ii) equivalent $$$ commercial stuff
iii) the local cinema or not being able to own something of this quality otherwise?

Although these are selfish reasons, i think it's in everyone's mind.