How To Turn Cheap Speakers Into Something A Little Better

[Adam Francis] bought some cheap speaker drivers from AliExpress. Are they any good? Difficult to tell without a set of enclosures for them, so he made a set of transmission line cabinets. The resulting video proves that a decent sounding set of speakers shouldn’t have to cost the earth, and is quite entertaining to watch.

The design he’s going for is a transmission line, in effect a folded half-wave resonant tube terminated at one end and open at the other, with the speaker close to half way along. There is a lot of nuance to perfecting a speaker cabinet, but this basic recipe doesn’t have to be optimum to give a good result.

So after having some MDF cut to shape and glueing it all together, he ends up with some semi decent speakers for not a lot of money. The video is entertaining, with plenty of Britishisms, but the underlying project is sound. We’d have a pair on our bench.

25 thoughts on “How To Turn Cheap Speakers Into Something A Little Better

  1. Surely, there must be a commercially available product which includes a decent microphone (or array of them) which plays test sounds from a DUT speaker to profile its frequency response and create an equaliser configuration to make the response better

    I’d much rather buy cheap 2$ chinese earphones (Bluetooth or wired) and then just slap on a equaliser curve which makes them sound like 50$ earphones

    If such a device doesn’t exist…I call dibs on the patent!

      1. Every decent amp does this.

        Comes with a cheap microphone, but it’s frequency response is known.

        More than anything else, it’s to compensate for the room.
        But of course it can only be tuned for one microphone location.

        1. My Yamaha has this feature and as far as I can tell it works well. I set up my speakers by ear and by measuring tape, recorded my setting and then ran the automated tool. Most of the setting changed by less than 10%. So either I’m pretty good or the microphone is pretty bad XD

    1. Huh ? What about linearity ?
      Good studio headphones have a neutral sound and a high bandwidth (20Hz to 20 000 Hz and up) so the audio recording’s high dynamic range and signal-noise-ratio can be perceived.
      Equalizer.. Tst. This sounds more like cheap DJ headphones to me. Consumers.. 🙄

    2. I fear the cheap BT earphones already have an equaliser curve on them to make them sound as good as they do. And I believe not everything can be solved with a simple EQ.

      Additionally, if they’re not capable of e.g. a good bass response then no amount of EQ can resolve it – something that’s pushed me into better monitor in-ears as a bassist.

      But whilst the cheapest stuff is generally trash, there’s an increasing amount of “good enough” stuff still at a good price point. The issue now is often filtering the “good enough” stuff from the crap but priced up.

    3. The music industry pros have softwares for calibrating monitor speakers (see Sonarworks, IK Multimedia ARC etc). The problem seems to be that the microphones used for recording have to have predictable and consistent characteristics which apparently isn’t a guarantee, especially for the cheap ones. I believe IK offers their own mic for 70-ish EUR, which is not much for a mic but somewhat steep if we’re talking about cheap speakers. But these are probably an overkill anyway if all you want is an EQ curve since all of them also include their own software (with a price upward of couple of 100s) that not only changes the characteristics of your speakers but also lets you simulate various room setups and similar stuff, for example they can make everything sound like a car stereo.

      1. Pros often use measurement instruments to confirm frequency responses (for repeatability- eg mixing films for movie theatres) and to diagnose problems in monitoring systems… but the final adjustment and acceptance is BY EAR. Just sayin. If it measures “nice” but sounds like crap, it’s crap.

          1. Duke Ellington is quoted as saying “Don’t analyze. Listen.” He was referring to music, but it applies to sound reproduction as well. And to human interactions.

    4. There certainly used to be.

      Technics and others had equalisers that included (or had the option of) a microphone to place in your listening position and automatically set the response.

      But audiophoolery and snobbery dictate that you change your listening environment and buy which produces ‘flat’ output up into the low GHz (OK, I’m joking about GHz, but I have seen stuff that was tested up to and over MF) instead of the logical and far more achievable option of changing the electronics to suit your room.

      1. The better the room, the greater the potential for adequately adjusting EQ for multiple listening positions. Cancelling echos from reflective surfaces for one listener is difficult, for multiple listeners it can be impossible.

    5. Not sure about that but there’s UMIK-1 and REW for years. Not sure if this can be made to work with in ears though, but I guess with a proper physical ear substitute it might be feasible. It can certainly be used to sweep drivers/enclosures and design cross over filters for normal speakers.

    6. yeah almost 30 years ago i started dreaming about something like that and now it’s commonplace. all the audiophile forums are full of it. there’s amps that come with it as a default feature and then of course a ton of people using dsp software on their PC to achieve the same effect. an example with headphones is this sensational review of sony mdr-zx110

      there’s some things you can’t compensate for but a lot of common problems like resonant spikes and low response in some frequencies can be managed pretty well with dsp. you can suffer some loss of loudness, of course

    7. Small electret omni mic capsules have a surprisingly flat response. Most decent surround-sound receivers come with an electret alignment mic that you place in the listening position, then run an auto-alignment routine in the receiver to balance and EQ things.

      “I’d much rather buy cheap 2$ chinese earphones (Bluetooth or wired) and then just slap on a equaliser curve which makes them sound like 50$ earphones”

      Uhhhh, it doesn’t work like that. Transducers (mics and speakers) are audio’s weak links. You can’t just take any old piece of sh!t headphones and EQ or process the audio to make them sound as good as the top-end headphones. You might be able to take decent headphones and make them sound a bit more like different decent headphones. And btw, 50$ headphones are usually just middling.

      The OPs project worked out because the speakers he bought are decent, and mainly because he put some thought and effort into cabinets that bring out the best in them. Most inexpensive consumer speakers don’t have optimal cabinets.

      Building your own speaker cabinets can be rewarding. Lots to learn, and lots of opportunities for hacking and experimenting.

  2. Problem with equalizers is that there might be very sharp resonance peaks, and the equalizer channel bandwidth is much too broad, making the sound worse. Maybe DSP technology could work better than an analog equalizer?

    1. The inexpensive Wiim mini streamer and wiim home software now have 10 Band parametric equalization. Thre is an Ios app “housecurve” which accepts a calibration file for for the UMIK-1 and a somewhat cheaper dayton mike. You can generate a correction curve and apply it (by hand) to the wiim PEQ screen.

  3. Ear Doctor says I cant hear well anymore, so how would I know I have bad sounds? My dog might, but he doesn’t seem to care and cant tell me. My 50 year old Lansings powered by the Sansui sound fine to me but I know better.

    1. Hearing loss is not the same as not being able to discern quality.

      Have you recently heard an orchestra or some acoustic music played live? Did it sound good? Ok, now play some of the same music at home. Did that also sound good? Then your old system is probably still fine… and you are too.

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