As we’ve started out on our journey through the world of Hi-Fi audio from a strictly practical and engineering viewpoint without being misled by any audiophile woo, we’ve already taken a look at the most important component in any audio system: the listener’s ear. It’s time to move down the chain to the next link; the loudspeaker.
Sound is pressure waves in the air, and the purpose of a loudspeaker is to move the air to create those waves. There are a variety of “exotic” loudspeaker technologies including piezoelectric and electrostatic designs, here we’ll be considering the garden variety moving-coil speaker. It’s most usually used for the large bass or smaller mid-range drivers in a typical speaker system. Continue reading “Know Audio: A Loudspeaker Primer”
Portable Bluetooth speakers have joined the club of ubiquitous personal electronics. What was once an expensive luxury is now widely accessible thanks to a prolific landscape of manufacturers mass producing speakers to fit every taste and budget. Some have even become branded promotional giveaway items. As a consequence, nowadays it’s not unusual to have a small collection of them, a fertile field for hacking.
But many surplus speakers are put on a shelf for “do something with it later” only to collect dust. Our main obstacle is a side effect of market diversity: with so many different speakers, a hack posted for one speaker wouldn’t apply to another. Some speakers are amenable to custom firmware, but only a small minority have attracted a software development community. It doesn’t help that most Bluetooth audio modules are opaque, their development toolchains difficult to obtain.
So what if we just take advantage of the best parts of these speakers: great audio fidelity, portability, and the polished look of a consumer good, to serves as the host for our own audio-based hacks. Let’s throw the Bluetooth overboard but embrace all those other things. Now hacking these boxes just requires a change of mindset and a little detective work. I’ll show you how to drop an Arduino into a cheap speaker as the blueprint for your own audio adventures.
Continue reading “How To Hack A Portable Bluetooth Speaker By Skipping The Bluetooth”
There are few limits to the extent audiophiles will go in their quest for the perfect sound. This applies in particular to the loudspeaker, and with that aim [Heine Nielsen] has created an eye-catching set of 3D-printed egg-shaped enclosures.
The theory of a loudspeaker enclosure is that it should simulate an infinite space behind an infinite plane in which the speaker driver is mounted, and the reasoning behind spherical or egg-shaped enclosures goes that they better achieve that aim through presenting a uniform inner surface without the corners of a more conventional rectangular enclosure. [Heine]’s enclosures 3D-printed ported enclosures achieve this more easily than traditional methods of building this shape.
A loudspeaker enclosure is more than just a box though, whatever material it is made from must adequately dampen any resonances and absorb as much energy as possible. Conventional speakers try to achieve this by using high-mass and particulate materials, but 3D-printing does not lend itself to this. Instead, he created a significant air gap between two layers which he hopes will create the same effect.
This is an interesting design and approach to speaker cabinet construction, but we think from an audio perspective its one that will be well served by more development. What would be the effect of filling that air gap with something of higher mass, for example, and should the parameters of the egg shape and the port be derived for a particular driver by calculation from its Thiele-Small parameters. We look forward to more on this theme.
These aren’t the first 3D-printed enclosures we’ve seen, but if you’re after something truly unusual how about an electrostatic?
MEMS, or Micro ElectroMechanical Systems, are the enabling technology that brings us smartphones, quadcopters, tire pressure monitors, and a million other devices we take for granted today. At its most basic level, MEMS is simply machining away silicon wafers to make not electronic parts, but electromechanical parts. The microphone in your cell phone isn’t an electret mic you would find in an old brick phone from the 80s — it’s a carefully crafted bit of silicon, packed in epoxy, and hanging off a serial bus.
Despite the incredible success of MEMS technology, there is still something in your smartphone that’s built on 19th-century technology. Loudspeakers haven’t changed ever, and the speaker in your newest iThing is still a coil of wire and some sort of cone.
Now there’s finally a MEMS loudspeaker A company called USound has developed the first loudspeaker that isn’t just a bunch of wire and a magnet. This is a speaker built from a silicon wafer that can be as small as 3 mm square, and as thin as 1 mm. Since these speakers are built on silicon, you can also add an amp right onto the package. This is quite literally a speaker on a chip, and we’d bet that there are already engineers at Samsung looking at stuffing this into a flagship phone.
ST and USound announced these extraordinarily small speakers would actually be made, but so far it’s been just that — an announcement. This changed at CES where ST demonstrated VR goggles with multiple MEMS speakers. Does this mean MEMS speakers are on their way to Mouser and Digikey? We eagerly await the product announcement and demo dev board kit.
If you have an interest in audio there are plenty of opportunities for home construction of hi-fi equipment. You can make yourself an amplifier which will be as good as any available commercially, and plenty of the sources you might plug into it can also come into being on your bench.
There will always be some pieces of hi-fi equipment which while not impossible to make will be very difficult for you to replicate yourself. Either their complexity will render construction too difficult as might be the case with for example a CD player, or as with a moving-coil loudspeaker the quality you could reasonably achieve would struggle match that of the commercial equivalent. It never ceases to astound us what our community of hackers and makers can achieve, but the resources, economies of scale, and engineering expertise available to a large hi-fi manufacturer load the dice in their favour in those cases.
The subject of this article is a piece of extreme high-end esoteric hi-fi that you can replicate yourself, indeed you start on a level playing field with the manufacturers because the engineering challenges involved are the same for them as they are for you. Electrostatic loudspeakers work by the attraction and repulsion of a thin conductive film in an electric field rather than the magnetic attraction and repulsion you’ll find in a moving-coil loudspeaker, and the resulting very low mass driver should be free of undesirable resonances and capable of a significantly lower distortion and flatter frequency response than its magnetic sibling.
Continue reading “Electrostatic Loudspeakers: High End HiFi You Can Build Yourself”