Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New loudspeaker in the works... Part A

Well, I'm designing a new pair of loudspeakers. Basically, they'll be a pair of traditional 3-way loudspeakers that use 25cm (10") woofers housed in sealed boxes, 12cm (4.5") midrange speakers, and 25mm dome tweeters. (The original web page that I started about them can be found here.)

I don't intend to build these loudspeakers any earlier than 2008 – partly because I'm a great procrastinator and partly because I don't have anywhere to put them at the moment. So in the meantime I can do the fun part: explore various options, possibilities, and do calculations for the design...

I chose a classic 3-way style because:

  1. It can use relatively benign crossover frequencies around 200~300Hz and 4~5kHz.
  2. The ratio of driver sizes is quite evenly distributed, allowing a predictable off-axis response.
  3. From past experience, a 25cm (10 inch) woofer in a sealed box would have quite well-balanced performance considering the effects of room gain at low frequencies and its ability to reproduce frequencies up to 200~300Hz.
  4. Unlike many other designs such as 2-way and quasi 3-way loudspeakers with large midrange drivers and low crossover points, none of the drivers are pushed to their limits. This means lower distortion and higher power handling.
So if all goes well, the design might even turn out quite elegant due to the lack of any glaring weak points.


As a starting point, a suitable woofer may be a Seas L26RFX/P. Midrange units: Seas L12RCY/P, Excel W12CY001, Visaton AL 130 8ohm, or Eton 4-300/25 Hex. The tweeters may be chosen at a later stage.

Box design


Practically all dome tweeters are sold with sealed chambers already built in – either behind the magnet or as a small pocket of air directly behind the dome – so designing a box for them is almost a non-issue. There are some things to remember however: mechanical vibrations and diffraction of the wave-front around nearby box corners. Those effects may produce resonances or adversely affect the off-axis response.


The enclosures will be constructed from high grade plywood. One option that I'm interested in is the use of small pressure-loaded boxes.

Pressure-loaded, high Q enclosures:

Although the unequalized bass response may be less than optimal, there could also be several advantages over a classic design where the Qtc is tuned to 0.707:
  • The idea is that if the box is sufficiently small, there won't be any resonant air modes throughout its entire operating range.
  • A small box will be less reliant on the linearity of the speaker's spider and surround – the relatively high spring constant of the air will dominate.
  • Extra space and convenience.
One way to work out whether or not such a design is feasible is to decide what the minimum resonant frequency should be and to calculate corresponding dimensions from that. For example, let's say that the lowest allowable resonant frequency is 500Hz. From that we can work out the wavelength, from the wavelength we can work out the length of a resonant column of air and therefore the maximum dimensions of a box.

Given a sound velocity of approximately 340m/s (it varies), the wavelength is:

λ = 340 / 500 = 0.68m

But, what fraction of the wavelength is relevant? A quarter? Half? A whole wavelength? And why? This is where a bit of nodal analysis comes in handy. (A refresher: nodes are regions of minimum velocity and maximum pressure oscillation, while anti-nodes are regions of maximum displacement and minimum pressure variation). A loudspeaker can be likened to a musical instrument where the speaker driver is like a resonator or an actuator of some sort, such as a reed, while the box forms a resonant column of air, similar to a stopped organ pipe.

My initial line of thinking was that there'll be an audible resonance when the length of an air column is one quarter of a wavelength. However, I looked around on the web and people's measurements suggested that the system would behave as though both ends are fixed, not just one end. At first I wasn't quite sure why that was the case.

I tried to visualize in my mind what happens and then I realised that when the speaker cone is at an anti-node, it directly controls the displacement of the air. It's not really a resonance at all if the cone directly controls the region of maximum displacement.

When it's at a node, there is no such control. It means that there's at least one anti-node floating inside the box, which could reach an enormous displacement amplitude if there's very little damping. The node next to the speaker cone therefore produces a large opposing force and that is what I want to avoid.

For a 500Hz frequency limit, the maximum allowable length is therefore:

L = λ/2 = 0.34m

Rough estimate for a cube shaped box:

V = 3.4dm3 = 39.3L

A slightly more accurate estimate would be to calculate the distance from the centre of one box face (where the speaker is positioned) to a corner on the opposite side:

B = √(A2/2)
C = √(A2/2 + A2) = √(1.5*A2) = 0.34m
A = √(0.342/1.5) = 0.278m

V = 2.78dm3 = 21.4L

The resulting volume is a bit on the small side, however a cube isn't exactly the most efficient possible shape. How about a hemisphere? Using the formula for the volume of a sphere:

V = 4/3πr3

where r = 0.34m or 3.4dm, the volume of a hemisphere is:

Vh = 2/3πr3 = 82.3L

Obviously the calculations are just estimates that ignore lots of real-life variables, but they're accurate enough to give some ballpark values that could be used in a process of elimination. A box somewhere between 20L and 80L, with no resonances up to 500Hz certainly sounds appealing. The trick will be to devise an effective shape that doesn't clash with other requirements such as minimizing the distance between the woofer and the midrange driver.

Check back soon for Part B where I'll look at some other options: over-sized boxes, anechoic wedges, "reverse horns" and similar possibilities for the midrange enclosures.

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