How to build the perfect speaker

Comeau has greater than 30 years enjoy in the audio business. He used to be co-founder and technical director of British loudspeaker manufacturer Heybrook, prior to joining Mission as director of acoustic design in 1999.

Well-known speaker designs by means of Peter Comeau include the Award-winning Heybrook HB1 and Mission 780s, the Mission 782, Volare V63 and Elegante E8 speakers, and Wharfedale's iconic Diamond vary of speakers.

So, how does the process start?

Comeau explains: “First of all, you must determine an idea. This concept has to be in response to the fact of what folks in fact want to purchase. Not all nice designs make it into other people’s properties.

“Over the past five decades I’ve noticed audio system diminish from widespread models sporting 12-inch bass devices, down to today’s hi-fi bookshelf techniques with four-inch drivers. Ignore marketplace trends at your peril!

“On the different hand, you also have to consider the physics of the audio system. What sound quality is needed and which drivers and cabinet system will easiest provide it? How does this fit in with the visible idea of the design? In the end, it has to be a compromise between what the market wants and what's bodily possible for the price.”

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Start listening

As quickly as the initial thought is whole, you can start listening. It is essential, early on, to know what the product might sound like. A discerning ear is essential to a loudspeaker’s fate, even though having the latest tech also helps.

“Nowadays it is relatively easy to create a starting-point crossover the use of laptop instrument and, even at this level, you must be ready to listen whether the pressure gadgets are behaving as you desire to," says Comeau.

“My main target is to achieve a system that portrays the music in an enjoyable and convincing way. That’s not as easy as it sounds! You have to make sure all the instruments and vocalists can be easily heard and that the dynamics of how they are performing are translated as accurately as possible. Timing and rhythm also have to be transmitted to the listener with precision.

“You should be able to close your eyes and feel that you’re at a concert listening to a real, live and thoroughly enjoyable performance. It’s tough to get that right for rock, jazz and classical all at once, but it has to be done!”

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A running prototype

After developing a concept, you move on to building a prototype. This does not need to look aesthetically pleasing. It can be a rough and unfinished wooden box, complete with staples and splinters. This is the stage where the most research wil take place, along with the most changes.

As Comeau tells What Hi-Fi?: “It only has to be good enough for you to judge whether the drivers and the system achieve the performance required. Expect to make a lot of changes before you can decide how you’re going to put the production model together.

“For example, in the Wharfedale Diamond 200 Series I did a lot of research into the slot-loaded port because I really wanted to achieve a powerful bass performance that made it sound as though you were listening to a much bigger system.

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After developing a working prototype, it’s time to build a pre-production unit. There is still plenty left to tweak, but the design has the cabinet in its final form, along with the approved drivers that will make it into the final product.

“At this point, you’ll expect to make design changes that ‘fine-tune’ the performance. When you’re satisfied with the pre-production unit and all the engineering wrinkles have been ironed out, you can hand over the drawings to mass production."

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Speaker vary necessities

Of route, a speaker corporate infrequently puts out just one speaker design. People need other sizes of audio system. A call must be made on which variants of the speaker are made.

"I'm handling brands that sell worldwide so, at the very least, you need two standmount models - one small, one larger - plus a smaller and larger floorstander, as well as a centre-channel unit. If you know you'll be selling lots of AV systems, a dedicated surround speaker is also a bonus to the range."

The sensible utility of the speaker additionally matters. Will it's used in a stereo configuration, or in a surround set-up? This should be factored into the design.

"It shouldn't be a problem if you've designed a speaker with good dispersion (and it really should have a smooth power response if it's going to sound good). The main thing is to match the centre channel to it in terms of timbre.

"You should be ready to put the centre instead of the left or right speaker and still (after balance adjustment) get an actual stereo image. Then it is a question of the place to mount it. Rear audio system generally work very best when they're fixed above ear degree and supply a diffuse sound across the back of the room."

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The price is true

The genetic make-up of a loudspeaker is an advanced resolution, in accordance with worth and performance. Nobody desires a poor product regardless of how wallet-friendly it is, but there's no level in a fine product no one can have the funds for. So the selection of materials and components is the most important.

“A large number of the alternatives made are down to value," confirms Comeau. "For example, can you afford to use a woven carbon-fibre cone in a budget speaker? Or would you achieve better performance using a cheaper (but still good-sounding) paper cone and put more money into the magnet size?"

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Cost and sound quality are clearly key when choosing elements: “You desire a Bill Of Materials as early as possible so you'll see whether or not you’re on course to meet the price goal.

"It’s helpful to know what materials make the most difference sonically, so that you can adjust compromises without having a dramatic effect on sound quality.

“A lot of that is down to experience. Unless you’re designing a no-compromise loudspeaker, the black art of speaker design is knowing how to juggle with components to get the best performance you can at the price.”

Speakers would possibly not seem the most intricate products in this day and age, but in fact quite a lot of thought and energy is going into their design.

Sure, you'll be able to simply bung some drivers in a box, but without any person like Peter Comeau pulling the strings, they gained’t really sing...

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