Speakers

Speakers

The task of a speaker is not an easy one. Speakers have to convert an electronic signal coming from an amplifier, into an audible sound. The history of speakers goes back to the 19th century where they were used in the first telephone systems. With the invention of the vacuum tube in 1912, speakers became useful for the general public. Nowadays, the most commonly used type of speaker is the dynamic speaker which works by means of an electromagnetic voice coil. If this coil is fed with an audio signal it is forced to move back and forth, which causes a diaphragm - attached to the coil - to create sound waves. There are, however, several other technologies that can be used to create an audible sound, such as an electrostatic speaker. Because sound waves coming from the front and back of the speaker would interfere, most speakers are housed in an enclosure. To be clear, a loudspeaker contains one or more speakers, often referred to as drivers or transducers. Several drivers are generally used to reproduce different frequency ranges for maximum accuracy.

Leading speaker manufacturers spend a lot of time in the design of the speaker enclosure. The sound and accuracy of a loudspeaker is largely determined by the material and shape of the cabinet. Therefore, the appearance of a loudspeaker is also an important factor. As you can see, great effort is needed to get an optimum loudspeaker both in terms of design and sound quality. Very often, speaker designers and engineers have to make compromises, but there are some great looking and stunning-sounding speakers! When buying a speaker you should always listen to the speaker in a dedicated testing room, or even at your own place, with music you know and love.

A brief history of speakers

As mentioned before, speakers first appeared in phones made by Johann Philipp Reis. These speakers were capable of producing clear tones but didn't have a long lifespan. Soon Alexander Graham Bell, Ernest Siemens, Thomas Edison and others followed with slightly modified designs but it wasn’t until 1924 when Chester W. Rice and Edward W. Kellogg developed their first speaker which was capable of producing a clear tone with a reasonable quality. That speaker would become the blueprint for all modern dynamic speakers using electromagnets to create the motion needed for sound waves. After that, manufacturers started to combine different speakers to increase frequency response which resulted in the Shearer Horn System. This system achieved a flat frequency response for a bandwidth of 50 – 8.000 Hz (an outstanding performance for that time!) and was used in theatres and cinemas. Several manufactures such as Altec Lansing, Tannoy and AR continued the development of speakers. In 1943 Altec designed the ‘Voice of Theatre’ series that was widely used in theatresbut also in rock concerts (until 1990!) offering a better coherence and clarity at high outputs. In 1954, Edgar Villchur developed the acoustic suspension principle. Applying this principle resulted in a better bass response in smaller cabinets.The modern speaker was born!

Effciency

Speakers are known for their lack of efficiency. Even the best loudspeaker achieves an efficiency of approximately 25%, but consumer speakers achieve a maximum of 4%. The lower frequencies in particular need a lot of power. It is typically not possible to combine high efficiency with a compact enclosure and adequate low frequency response. The law of J.A. Hoffmann clearly states that only 2 of this parameters (efficiency, compact enclosure, low frequency response) can be accomplished. So it is possible to make a loud, compact speaker but it won’t be able to generate low frequencies Likewise, it is also possible to make a compact speaker with an impressive bass response, but it won’t be loud. An amplifier is required to provide sufficient power to a loudspeaker.

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