Monday, April 23, 2007

The Insignia B-2111 and you.

I'm looking at getting a few pairs (!) of these suckers used, and for good reason: They're terrific speakers at a terrific price. Despite being sold under Best Buy's house brand - the poorest stock of a truly awful electronic store - they're remarkably good. In fact, they're so good that Best Buy incrased the price from $45 a pair to $70 a pair - but they're likely worth it anyway.

Though the speakers appear to be yet more of the single-driver trash passed off as HT gear, they're actually 2-ways - that bump in the middle of the driver is actually a tweeter, mounted within the center of the woofer. While unorthodox, this "coaxial" design is nothing new - Tannoy has been using this configuration in terrific studio monitors for decades.

Aside from the unusual configuration of the drivers, the coaxial unit is itself something of an oddball. Unlike many cheap imitations therof, the woofer is real carbon fiber, and the tweeter is a real silk dome - no mylar junk or textured paper. The box has a rounded back - almost unheard of for units actually made out of MDF instead of cheap plastic - and is of remarkable quality. Even the finish is pretty good.

If one digs beneath the surface, the source of the speakers' unusual quality is evident: They're actually just a stripped-down version of Radiient's Europa surround-sound satellites.

The Real Radiients

Radiient came out of nowhere in something of a Cinderella story, except that Cinderella was not staffed with some of the best audio engineers of the buisness. Notables include the guy who invented the HDMI 1.3 standard, and from what I've heard, many people jumped ship from Energy - a now-defunct brand known in its own day for producing high-quality, reasonably priced speakers.

Though originally regarded as an excellent value at the $200 original pricetag, the Europas are availible today for just $100 a pair - and with free shipping, no less! Of course, many ask: Why send away for a pair of speakers when I can get some essentially the same at my local Best Buy for $30 less?

That $30 pays for a plethora of improvements - some visible, some not. In order to deal with irregularities on the high-end response of the coaxial driver, the Europa features a supertweeter - the funny bump on the top - to handle the ultra-high frequencies. In addition, partially as a result of the supertweeter, the crossover is of higher quality and a better design.

Unless you're ordering the B-2111s used or getting them on sale, I'd strongly reccomend the Europas. I've only heard the B2111s myself, but for the extra $30, you get quite a bit for your money!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why conventions rule.

Princess Leia plays DDR. Q.E.D.

The CONstitution.

I am now officially a sci-fi convention (or "CON") vendor. As a vendor, I now have several rules that I request those persuing my wares to consider.

1. Do not take up all of the poor booth-person's time. You may be very interesting, and they may not be allowed to move, but the poor guy behind the table really needs to be able to sell stuff to other people, which this makes difficult. Furthermore, while we are required to be nice to you, we often would rather be running and screaming.

2. My stuff is not a place to put your food, drinks, etc. etc. etc. I do not care at all if you "won't knock it over" or if I'm "being silly;" I do not want your Frappuchino introduced to the insides of my $300 projector that I need to sell very badly.

3. When I get out of the dealers' room, I bloody well want to do something fun. While I am always happy to talk money, just because I'm here to buisness does not mean I am absolutely exhausted and need a break. In fact, it means I need to have a break a lot more, because, unlike you, I am here for profit.

4. If you do not think my prices are reasonable, I will, in fact, negotiate. Probbably a bad standpoint, but hey, I'm flexible. This is not a complaint - just a statement.

5. If you are a webcomic artist in the vendor's room, you had better be ready to deal with fanboys. By "Fanboys," I mean "Me." I could be described as a webcomic whore. On the plus side, I am at least a helpful fanboy, and try to buy something if I can.

6. I have a tradition of fixing something every year. Last year, I fixed someone's Xbox. This year, I fixed someone's Wacom tablet stylus. Hopefully, I will continue this in the future.

7. I am a lazy dolt. I apologize for not having buisness cards. Please do not hate me!

After three hours of sleep and severe fuzzy-mouth from a lack of teethbrushage, and general grogginess (, I am nonetheless pleased. The fact that I now have $380 in my pocket (up from $85 when I walked through the door) might have something to do with this.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A tube amp kit worth the money.

Not all tube amps are created equal - and, for the price, many compare poorly to well-built solid-state equipment.. However, if you're willing to forego some of the nicities, there are a few kits that, thanks to a combination of low cost and high performance, can compare very well to similarly priced solid state amplifiers with the "tube sound" people love. While I would not reccomend these to most over a solid-state amplifier, if you really want a tube amp, these are hard to beat.

One of the best of these is S-5 Electronics' K12G, availible for only $156 for a full stereo kit, or $100 for a mono kit, should you desire to build one. It's a classic push-pull amplifier with a solid, low-distortion design. Though the output power is a paltry 8 watts per channel, this all-inclusive design requires no external preamp, and makes a fine match for a pair of high-efficiency speakers and an iPod.

Another useful kit, should you require a tube preamp for the vintage amplifier of your choice, is the 12AX7 preamp from Silicon Chip magazine. While I can't find where to buy the kit for the life of me, the design is both solid - featuring a low distortion 12AX7 tube with frequency response compensation - and cheap, thanks to a simple yet high-efficiency switched-mode power supply running off a 17v wall-wart.

If you want to create the preamp yourself (it's simple, and you can just use a transformer instead of the switched-mode supply if you want), take a look at Mark Houston's excellent build guide. It's a great site, and also contains information on the K12 mentioned above.

Friday, April 13, 2007

And I'm back!

I'm currently at OddCon in Madison, WI. Anyone who wants to meet me, feel free to show up. (I'm the sorry SOB with the computer parts in the dealer's room.)

Anywho, this means two things:

1. I will be bored stiff;
2. I will be writing a lot.

And now, because I can't !@#$@!$ sleep, I'm doing a quickie article on a very decent deal : Madisound's Vifa 2-way car audio kit.


This is a pretty dang ordinary system. It features two tweeters - Vifa's D26NC05 - and two Vifa autosound woofers. Included to make them work is a good, old-fashioned passive crossover.

The fact of the matter is, these are good, solid drivers, and a well-designed crossover. While not flashy or impressive, the performance should be very good indeed; Vifa OEMs parts for many middle-of-the-line audio brands including Paradigm, and the D26 is known for above-average performance in dozens of designs.

In addition, you can mount the tweeters on your dashboard with the included mounts. While not exacly pretty, it does make mounting easy for those of us who are less hardware-minded.

Just be sure to add a subwoofer - those 5.5" Vifas are not going to cut it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In an attempt to make my blog less dull, I'm now featuring Cool Stuff Tuesdays™. As everyone knows, Mondays are not as awful as Tuesdays - on Mondays, the shock and horror of the work week has yet to set in. While certianly exciting, most of the stuff featured will most assuredly be of the type which we mortals simply cannot afford.

This week: Speakers.

1. B&W Nautilus

Photo courtsey of Bowers & Wilkins

Made by famous British speaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins, the Nautilus line is a great speaker continuing a great line of other great speakers. Originally starting as a supply house for DIY enthusiasts, their reputation for quality quickly forwarded them to making high-end studio monitors for the BBC.

Today, B&W makes studio monitors for several major record labels, in addition to a wide array of fantastic home-audio products. They have a reputation for top quality and advanced design, often featuring their signature yellow kevlar-coned woofers. They were amongst the first to utilize computers in design in the early 70s, and have not ceased, with designs nearly unrivalled in their precision. Quality has improved with technology, and today's B&W's are the best yet.

Instead of ordinary boxes and miniature chambers behind the tweeters, B&W instead used an elaborate series of several transmission lines, one for each individual driver. While hideously complex and difficult to build, the seperate enclosures allow for carefully optimized loading of each individual driver.

Bowers and Wilkins builds the speakers used to master the music, and these are an improvement upon them. They have a decades-long reputation for quality, and are well known for terrific and reliable sound. And, not surprisingly, they don't come cheap - they cost $60,000 a pair, not including the multiple high-end amplifiers necessarily to properly drive them.

2. Magneplanar 20.1s

Photo courtsey of Lady in spiffy suit not included.

Most speakers have bits of metal or textile moved by a magnet and coil. They trade off size for frequency response and resonances, and at less than ideal frequencies will "store energy" - keep producing a sound even after the signal is removed.

Of course, others came up with different solutions - ribbons and electrostatic panels. The former is usable only at high frequencies by nature, and while electrostatic panels are very nice, the spectacularly thin mylar used for the diaphragm is rather fragile - and the high voltages both attract dust and hurt a LOT.

Of course, Magnepan simply combined them to solve the problem. The Magneplanar transducer, Magnepan's signature product, consists of thin strips of metal over a stretched diapgragm similar to electrostatic transducers. However, unlike electrostatics, the magneplanar uses the strips of metal as a voice coil, moving the diaphragm between magnets on opposite sides.

The added mass does, however, slightly damp treble response - and, as a result, Magnepan added a large, high-quality ribbon tweeter next to it. While standard as far as most ribbon tweeters go, that's like saying it's average for a ferrari - ribbon tweeters are expensive to build, and their popularity is not a coincidence.

Magnepan has been making their signature flat speakers for years, and the 20.1 - as the lady's attire in the photo will suggest - are not the newest of designs. However, that's not a coincidence - despite problems with off-axis response and poor low bass, they've sold extremely well, and many feel that the $12,000 a pair pricetag is worth it.

3. Wilson Audio Alexandria X-II

Photo courtsey of

$135,000. The price of a house. Or a pair of speakers.

Wilson Audio has a long reputation for impressive - if hideously expensive - loudspeakers. Originally custom-designed as monitors for the Wilson audio labels, the speakers soon after became sold commercially to great acclaim. Some people find their less expensive speakers, the Watt Puppies, not worthy of their $22,000 pricetag - but few cannot be awestruck by the Alexandrias.

To put it simply, the Alexandrias are the furthest extension of ordinary loudspeaker design. They consist of ordinary woofers, mids, and tweeters, all in ordinary - if seperate boxes. However, each and every part of the speaker has been extended to the extreme.

Those glossy boxes are'nt just for show - the speakers are made out of a phenolic resin through and through, far stiffer and acoustically dead than any wood product. Each cabinet is carefully braced, and resonance is reduced to a minimum.

The drivers themselves, however, are now slouches - the tweeters are the best ring-radiators that scan-speak has to offer, and the mids and woofers are no slouches either. Distortion is as low as modern technology allows for, and though I have no info on the crossover itself, it's undoubtedly just as intricate.

Of course, excellent design is not cheap - and it's arguable that there are few that would argue that any loudspeakers, regardless of quality, are truly worth $135,000. However, regardless of price, these are some of the best speakers ever made.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

My System - Pt. 1

While posting about the intricacies of stereo components is all very fun, I feel that I should take this opprotunity to do something that all audiophiles are prone to: a little bragging.

My system, as it's shaping up right now, will be:

Source IBM X40 or other PC
Alternate CD player: Denon DCD-695
Amplifier: MyRef.A amplifier w/ passive preamp
Speakers: Modula MTs (not done yet)

Total cost:

Speakers - est. $200
Amplifier - est. $100
DAC - $8 at a garage sale
PC - I already own it.
CD player: $7 at thrift store.

Total: About $325.

This should beat the pants off of $1,000 factory-made systems, if half of what I hear about the Modula MTs is true.

What amplifier is best for you? (pt.1)

Tube amplifiers are traditional, and many audiophiles feel that tube monoblocks are the best amplifiers around. However, the price for good quality tube gear is high - with the exception of some cheap Chinese-made amplifiers, a full tube setup can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Is the extra cost worth it?

In a word - no.

Tube amplifiers are inherently superior to transistor amplifiers by nature, but with the exception of some really high-end tube amplifiers, the number of compromises that must be made generally results in poorer quality sound for the dollar. Furthermore, many faults of transistor amplifiers can be overcome by simple good design.

For starters, tube amplifiers run at high voltages - often 300v or more - and are very inefficient. This means that power supplies are expensive, and the output power is generally very low. The price of a tube is also far greater than that of a transistor, while due to the complexity, the tolerances are also far more loose.

Furthermore, because they're power hogs and expensive, less of them are used. A tube amplifier often has only one or two stages for the pre-amp and power amplifier, making compensating for the non-linearity of tubes - which is often very high - a difficult task.

However, the #1 problem with tube amplifiers is in the output transformer - the device that allows the high-voltage low-current output of a tube amplifier to drive an average pair of high-current low-voltage speakers. These devices work like any other voltage-to-current transformer, but they must work equally well at both very low and very high frequencies - a difficult task indeed.

While it is possible to build a transformer that will work at frequencies from 20hz to 20khz without distortion, most tube amplifiers make compromises to cut costs - such high-end transformers can be hundreds of dollars apiece. Many transformers do not function properly at lower frequencies, or have internal inductances that eliminate higher frequencies.

As a result, most tube amplifiers - I.E., those that cost less than $500 after including the preamp and phono stage - simply can't compare to a well-made solid state amplifier for the same price. Distortion is higher, power output is lower, and several other annoying characteristics, like warm-up time, make a good solid state amp a better choice.

On the other hand, tube amplifiers do have their own merits. When a tube amplifier attempts to go above its maximum voltage output and "clips off" the top of the sine wave such as may happen during a loud cymbal crash, the distortion is far lower and less unpleasant than that of a solid-state amplifier. In addition, tube amplifiers - especially "single-ended", or class-A, tube amplifiers - have far less of the crossover distortion found in most solid-state amplifiers.

While there are plenty of stellar tube amps out there, most people simply cannot afford them. Of course, there are plenty of problems with solid-state amplifiers, which I'll go into tomorrow.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Headphones Made Slightly Less Complex

Headphones - sometimes also called cans - seem simple. You plug them into a jack, put them on your head, and listen to music.

If only they were.

In reality, there are many varieties of headphones, and just like speakers, they're all slightly different. While they both fit on your noggin and make sound, the difference between a pair of Sure E3Cs and some Stax electrostatic headphones is huge.

Thankfully, there are a few things that can make deciding the right headphones easier. There are really only four types, and variations upon them: open-back, closed-back, in-ear (earbuds), and electrostatic. In addition, they all have several varying characteristics which much be taken into account.

The standard-issue pair of headphones is "Dynamic" - it has a magnet and a cone and a little coil, and works just like a tiny speaker. This single driver produces a full range of sound - hopefully, from 20hz to 20khz, at least in theory. However, much like any other speaker, different headphones have different frequency response - some have a far better range than others.

However,because they're so close to your ear, headphones don't need to make nearly as much sound, and use a tiny amount of power. As a result, a pair of headphones' impeadance is usually much higher than that of normal speakers - usually between sixty and six hundred ohms. Headphone impeadance and sensitivity are both important factors in deciding the right headphones for your application - a pair of 600 ohm headphones simply won't be as loud as a pair of far more sensitive 60 ohm headphones on the tiny voltage output of an iPod.

Of the four types of headphones, closed-back are generally the most common. They have a small chamber on the other side of the driver from your ear, and hence do a very good job of eliminating outside noise. Though small headphones do exist, the lack of a good seal around your ear generally results in much poorer sound quality, and as a result, most high-end headphones are very large with big cups that fit over your ear. Some popular examples of these include Beyerdynamic, AKG, and Sennheiser.

Another, somewhat less common, type are open-back headphones, which lack the outer chamber. While this can help eliminate back resonance and, as some claim, distortion, the lack of a rear chamber results in a lot more outside sound getting through. Popular examples of these are the Grado SR60's and SR80's, which have won a variety of accolades for high-quality sound at a low pricetag over the years.

Of course, a good pair of cans is an inherently bulky object. Earbuds work slightly differently, vibrating a small "plug" that is sealed in your ear. (As a rule of thumb, proper earbuds will work much better than pseudo-earbuds that only fit loosely in the ear.) Because they fit snugly in the ear, well-made earbuds can block more noise than any other kind of headphones. Excellent earbuds can be had from Etymotic Research, Sure, and several other manufacturers.

Finally, there are electrostatic headphones. With the exception of oddball electrostatic-hybrid headphones like the AKG-340s, these headphones require high-voltage sources - also called "energizers" - to create the electrostatic charge necessary for them to function. In addition, they're also highly inefficient, requiring far more power than any other type of headphones.

On the other hand, electrostatic headphones can have far better high-frequency response than any other type of headphones, and can dodge many problems with resonance or energy storage found in most dynamic headphones. While not portable, electrostatic headphones are regarded by their owners as far superior to most loudspeakers - then again, there are many others who disagree with them.

Friday, April 6, 2007


This commentary brought to you by's Tatsuya Ishida, and IRC chatrooms.

I'll post something more useful later today.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Replacing Speaker Surrounds

Well, I need to sleep, so I suppose it's time for more filler, eh?

Speaker surrounds are the bits of flexible material that join the cone - the part of a speaker that makes noise - to the frame. They must be flexible to a precise degree, as the resistance of a surround can make a huge difference to how a driver performs.

While not so common today, several varieties of foam rubber were very popular for use as surrounds, and could be found on almost all speakers, from the worst to the best. As opposed to earlier solid-rubber and cloth surrounds, they were much less resistive, and were far superior sonically.

The problem is, though, that these foam surrounds degraded quickly, and as a result many fine old speakers are useless because the surrounds are gone. Without a surround, the driver no longer is usable, and a perfectly good speaker goes to waste.

However, so long as the rest of the speaker has not been damaged by rubbing, the driver is repairable - just add new surrounds. While having the procedure done by a professional is not a bad idea, it's not terribly difficult to replacee speaker surrounds, and it's a great way to get a terrific deal on speakers - many really excellent old speakers are viewed as worthless simply because people do not know how to do this simple repair.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

How SPL works.

Sound is a funny thing. The loudness of a frequency - as we percieve it - is not related to its actual power at all, and it's not even directly related to the amount of power used.

SPL is a measure, quite literally, of the pressure a sound wave exerts - how loud it is. The unit of measure is the Bel - or, more commonly, the decibel, or 1/10 Bel. Louder sounds, of course, exert more pressure than softer sounds. However, SPL is not measured linearly - it's logarithmic.

Every time a signal increases in strength, it increases by 3 dB. To make your stereo 6 db louder requires a whopping four times as much power to the speakers - give or take. This also means that a seemingly small difference in efficiency - the amount of sound produced at a given amount of power, measured in dB at one watt at one meter - can make a huge difference: A 91db/w efficient speaker will produce 100db at one meter using eight watts of power, while an 82db/w speaker would require sixty-four watts - a substantial increase, indeed!

However, making your stereo twice is loud is not so simple as doubling the power to the speakers - human ears don't work that way. Instead, we percieve a doubling of loudness every time the signal strength is increased tenfold - or, in other words, a 10db increase.

This is very important for subwoofers and other highly inefficient speakers - in a stereo where only twenty watts go to each of the 91db/w efficient tweeters, the 84db/w subwoofer requires two hundred watts to keep up. This is also why seemingly tiny differences in loudness can mark the difference between a car stereo and an electrical substation.

Of course, distortion of almost all amplifiers is inherently lower at low frequencies, and subwoofer amplifiers - usually built-in as "plate amps" - can be of a much lower grade than the other amplifiers in the system without a decrease in sound quality. This is especially important for class-D amplifiers - while a high-grade class-D amp is fine for any application, lower-quality class-D amps' distortion can be awful at high frequencies, but is nearly unmeasurable at the low frequencies used with subwoofers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Car Stereos 101.

I am not infallible. If you have brands you'd like me to add to the lists, or think I made a mistake - leave a comment!

While I'm hardly an expert on car stereos (seeing as how I don't own a car), I can at least comment on them from what I've learned over at, and hopefully save people from the agonies of a lousy-sounding or overpriced car stereo.

1. Subwoofers are not everything. You will not get better sound quality from a subwoofer, except for at very low frequencies. Strictly speaking, a car subwoofer is unnecessary - some unusually well-built mid-woofer/tweeter combos can do the full range from treble to bass, just like in a home stereo.

Sadly, it's true that it's much harder to get nice perfectly-sized ported cabinets in the kickpanels of your econobox. Bass response is sacrificed for convenience, and a subwoofer is often even more necessary in a car than in a home.

2. Louder is not better. Simply because something is very loud, does not mean it sounds better than is very soft - strictly speaking, a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones put out a lot less noise than do, say, a cheap pair of speakers from RadioShack, but the Beyerdynamics sound a lot better.

Many high-end systems don't use much power at all, and are not really all that loud. A solid 50wpc reciever will go miles farther than 5,000 watts of cheapness.

3. More power is not necessarily better. Amplifiers are measured by distortion specifications, not by how many watts they can put out. In fact, better-quality amplifiers - those heavily biased into class A/B and which inside look oddly similar to a high-end home audio amp - inherently have less power output than a crappily-made monstrousity.

4. Cheap components rarely live up to spec. While a cheap amplifier rated for 3,000 watts might produce that amount of power for a brief moment, that moment would be the tiny fraction of a second while the "magic smoke" is let out. On the other hand, a massively expensive amplifier - say, a Sinfoni - will put out its rated power 24/7 day after day without batting an eyelash.

5. Make sure you have the drivers placed properly. Strictly speaking, the placement of the mid-woofers and tweeters is just as tricky as the design of a standard loudspeaker - except slightly harder, because normal speakers generally give a larger degree of freedom. Badly-placed tweeters and mid-woofers will cause a sonic nightmare.

6. Make sure you have a good install. Improperly-mounted drivers will cause nasty buzzing, rattle, and simply not sound good. In addition, mid-woofer enclosures must be heavily damped to keep your doors from buzzing like bees.

Furthermore, car audio cables, due to the low voltage, must pass a far greater amount of current than normal stereo equipment. If you don't know what you're doing, you'll likely end up with a massive fire. Be very careful of how your equipment is mounted, and make sure that all connections are insulated. Or, better still, have a professional do it.

7. Check your configuration.
There are half a million ways to wire a car stereo - but make sure that you've got an appropriate crossover, or a well-calibrated active crossover. Lower-quality high-power amps go on the subwoofer; higher-quality lower-power amps should go on the mid-tweeters.

Coaxials and "component" (mid + seperate tweeter) sets are both good, but the nature of the crossover can make some better in certian placements. Experiment - and audition - for best results.

8.. This is likely the most important of all: Get "high-end" equipment. While cheap junk might be loud, a quality setup will simply sound better.

Brands to look for:
-MB Quart
-Pioneer (For head units)
-Dynaudio (warning - OVERPRICED!)
-JL (I'd avoid the coaxial mid/tweeters, though)
And many more.

Brands to avoid:
Power Akoustik
Kenwood (except for amps)
Kenford (similar name - cheap crap!)

There are plenty of exceptions to these lists, but you'll be happier with better-quality components, no question. Yes, you'll need to spend a little more - but then again, a professional install's not cheap either!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Speaker placement: The cheapest upgrade of all. Also, geometry!

Good placement of speakers can make a huge difference in sound quality - and it won't even cost you any money!

Even better, you'll find a use for all that pointless geometry you learned in high school.

Here are a few general guidelines.

1. Make sure you keep speakers at least 2'-3' away from walls. With the exception of a few home-theater designs, speakers are generally intended to be used away from walls, which can act as an extension to the front of the speaker, or baffle, and affect frequency response, usually by creating a funny peak in mid-bass frequencies.

Conversely, some speakers are meant to be wall-mounted. If they are not, the reverse will happen - the much, much smaller effective baffle will reduce midbass performance, and adversely effect sound quality.

2. Make sure that the distances between you and each speaker are the same, and that the speakers are the correct distance apart. Stereo (and 5.1) sound is mixed as if the microphones were a given distance apart. If the speakers are not the same distance apart, it won't sound as good.

Needless to say, speakers should also be the same distance away from you - if they're not, the music will be out of phase, and one speaker will appear to be louder than the other. While it's possible to compensate by adjusting the balance, you're better off just making them equidistant from you.

Place speakers in an equilateral triangle for listening to music - the distance between each speaker and yourself should be equal to the distance between the speakers.

However, Dolby HT recordings are intended for the speakers to be closer together - for 5.1, the triangle is a 45-degree isosceles triangle. As a result, the distance between the speakers should be equal to 3/4 the distance between each speaker and you.

4. Toe-in is your friend. While having both speakers directly forward is common, better performance can sometimes be had by moving them so that they face inwards (towards you) a few degrees. They should'nt necessesarily be pointing directly at you, though - experiment for the best results.

5. There's an old trick for subwoofer placement that I've found works pretty well, odd as it is. It works best for down-firing subwoofers; front-firing subwoofers should generally be placed between the two front channels.

First, move the main viewing/listening chair over. Place the subwoofer where the chair once was, plug it into an audio source, and turn it on. While not my first choice of music, I've found that 50 Cent is a good choice for this, as many of his tracks have a somewhat bloated bassline that is very audiable.

Then, move around on the floor, keeping your head close to the ground, until you find a place where the bass seems to be coming from everywhere - this is the correct place for the subwoofer. Replace your head with the subwoofer, and return your head to the correct position.

If you did this right, you should have the same sense of being surrounded by bass in your listening chair as you did on the floor. Of course, this method is not foolproof, but it beats randomly shuffling your sub about the floor.

6. Adjust the crossover point.

Often, HT recievers and powered subwoofers have an adjustable crossover point. Different speakers should be crossed over to the subwoofer at different frequencies for best results, and tinkering with these two frequencies can help keep nasty bumps and dips from appearing in the frequency response.

Commonly, non-HT speakers are designed to work down to about 50hz, while average HT subwoofers are designed to work below 100hz. A bump between 50hz and 100hz may occur, which can cause a "bloated" sound.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

So, I'm building some Modula MTs

The RS150/Neo3 project I'm working on is of massive scale - I'm trying some techniques for cabinet damping that can give all the benifits of open-baffle speakers without any of the disadvantages. Needless to say, this will not work properly at all, and in the two years I'm liable to spend making these work, odds are I'll want something to listen to in the interim.

Enter the Modula MT.
Photo and awesome instructions courtsey of :

The Modulas are pretty much standard-issue 2-ways - one woofer, one tweeter. However, they're notable because they feature some of the "Refrence" series of drivers from Parts Express' Dayton house-brand of drivers. The tweeters, made by Usher, share many design aspects with Scan-Speak tweeters costing triple the price, and the same goes for the aluminum-coned woofers, which are almost as good as the Seas Excel series of metal-cone woofers.

While not exactly anything fancy, the Modulas are a solid design using parts that, if the testing data is accurate, are better than they have any right to be. They're simple, too - while not exactly foolproof, they're much less finnecky than transmission lines or horns, and the design is not complex. The parts are easily purchased from one place, too, and there are many guides to their construction , such as Dan's excellent blog (shown above).

While I'm not nearly in the same class as Dan for woodworking ability, I hope to offer something even more valuable: Step-by-step instructions on construction, and tips on cutting the costs down from his hefty $300 total. While I'm cheating (I'm buying some spare drivers from assorted people for only $125 total) a bit, I hope to keep the total cost at a very reasonable $175 or less.


What to look for in a pair of speakers.

First, much apologies for the lack of a Saturday article. My bad.

Anyway, most people don't want to build a pair of speakers themselves. For some, it's too daunting a task; others don't have the time and energy or simply have no place to do so.

Well, there's no shortage of commercial speaker offerings, some better than others. But what to look for?

1. Weight. While hardly an accurate measure of quality, a speaker with thin walls, cheaply-made drivers, small magnets, and a simple crossover will weigh much less than a well-made speaker. If you can comfortably juggle speakers, they're probbably not very good.

2. Driver type. Cheap speakers often use mylar speaker cones, and have obviously shoddy construction from a cursory glance. Better speakers generally use drivers made by major OEMs, or in-house drivers of obviously good quality.

Things that should be looked for are proper dome tweeters instead of mylar or piezo tweeters, and quality-looking woofers - it's not hard to tell the difference with the grille off. Remember, paper-cone drivers aren't necessarily better than aluminum- or kevlar-coned drivers - just different.

In addition, many cheap speakers will often use a single driver. While functional, these speakers are generally inferior to proper 2-way designs, and I do not reccomend them.

3. Cabinet resonance. If the cabinet is poorly made and resonates like a drum, it will give sub-par performance. Conversely, a well-made, well-braced cabinet can positively affect sound quality.

4. Sound quality. If you don't like the speakers, you don't like the speakers - they won't magically sound better with more expensive wire, or a new reciever. Just because a speaker costs more or is "better rated" does not mean you will enjoy it more than a less expensive speakers.

And now for a few tips on buying speakers:

1. Bring your own CD. Many vendors - especially Bose - will use CDs especially tailored to bring out the best in their speakers. Your own music, however, may bring out faults, like rough frequency response or low-quality bass, which are disguised by the salesmen. If your choice of test music uses very high and very low frequencies, so much the better.

2. Test in your own environment. If you're using speakers in a tiny room, they'll sound very different from in a huge concert hall - and vice versa. Wall-mounting speakers can vastly alter frequency response, as can using different types of stands.

3. Compare directly. An A-B speaker switchbox can be had for $12 at RadioShack, and will let you compare directly one variety of speaker against another. Many vendors allow in-home trials, and this is a good way to compare one speaker against another.

4. Ignore the manufacturer entirely. It's easy to be swayed by slick marketing and fancy design, but a good, solid 2-way will often come out on top in the end. Remember, it's not what's "best" that matters, but what you enjoy listening to the most.

A few brands which I can reccomend:

-Paradigm. They have a well-deserved repuation for solidly-built speakers at a reasonable pricetag. The Paradigm Atoms are not the most attractive speakers, but they use good-quality woofers, tweeters, and crossovers, making them superior to speakers far more expensive - you can't go wrong with Atoms.

-AV123. This is a vendor of high-end speakers good for both home-theater and music, most notably the $1,800 a pair Strata Mini, a 3-way planar-hybrid with integrated subwoofer. While not cheap, you get what you pay for.

-Bowers and Wilkins. Strictly speaking, this old-school manufacturer started making monitors for the BBC, and have been in the buisness longer than just about anyone. While nothing they make is strictly speaking bad, all of it tends to be very expensive - the 800 series will cost you almost as much as a small car.

-Hsu Research. While their HT speakers are nothing special, the Hsu line of subwoofers are very well made, and not unreasonably priced.

-Velodyne. Another good manufacturer of subwoofers.