SPEAKER TECH

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Rob Sabin Posted: Jun 27, 2014 Published: Jun 28, 2014 12 comments
The Dolby Atmos surround-sound format for home theaters made its debut this week with product announcements from several manufacturers and live demos in New York City at the Consumer Electronics Association's CE Week trade show. The technology that Dolby first introduced to theaters in 2012 offers the potential for a far more immersive audio experience than the traditional 5.1- and 7.1-channel systems that are still mostly employed today, and having experienced Atmos in the cinema, I admit I was pretty pumped heading into the demos.

And I wasn't let down. Atmos in the home environment seems to work—surprisingly well, in fact. Caveats? Yeah, there are a few worth watching out for that I'll get to later. But overall, I'll go on record that this is probably the most discernable advance in home theater sound since the introduction of lossless digital audio in the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats on Blu-ray. And it's one that leaves all the pre-existing height- and width-channel surround formats— including Dolby Pro Logic IIz and DTS Neo:X—in the dust. Finally, this may be one that will truly make it worth the trouble of adding those extra speakers. Maybe...

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 24, 2014 0 comments
Chris Hagen is acoustic systems development engineer for Velodyne, a company that, despite its recent forays into headphones, has been primarily a subwoofer specialist since its founding in 1983. Chris has also worked as an engineer for the consumer division of JBL, and for M&K Sound. Excerpts from this interview appear in the feature story “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory.”

S&V: What’s the most important in a subwoofer: the driver, the enclosure, or the amplifier?
CH: Being a system engineer, I believe all of it’s important. A poor-quality part in just one of the areas can mess up the whole product. For instance, no sub with a leaky enclosure is going to sound good no matter what amp or driver you use. Or if you tune the sub in an environment [room] that’s not appropriate to tune in, it’s going to sound bad regardless of the components you use.

S&V: Do you have a preference for ported, sealed, or passive-radiator subwoofers? How do the design decisions differ among those three?

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SV Staff Posted: Feb 24, 2014 0 comments
Brent Butterworth explores the art and science of modern subwoofer design through in-depth interviews with five experts for the feature article “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory”. Click on the link for the full text of each interview.
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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 24, 2014 2 comments
Five Subwoofer Masters Explain How They Work Their Magic

Subwoofer design has undergone a revolution. No, the physics of woofers, amplifiers, and enclosures haven’t changed. But new technologies have made it possible to push the bass-ic laws of nature to their limits, such that the best of today’s inexpensive subwoofers can outperform many of the top models from 15 or 20 years ago.

Affordable digital audio processing lets designers tune subwoofers in ways the engineers of the 1990s could only have imagined. High-efficiency amplifiers pound out powerful bass from boxes hardly bigger than a basketball. New speaker drivers use high-tech materials to produce sound levels that would have pushed older models way past the breaking point.

Since things are so different now, we thought this would be a great time to revisit some of the fundamentals of subwoofer design and examine how the old rules might have changed in the digital age.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 23, 2014 0 comments
Dr. Poh Hsu has a doctorate in civil engineering from MIT, but his passion for audio and experiments in subwoofer design led him to found his own speaker company in 1991. His subs quickly earned a reputation for high output, outstanding sound quality and great value, and he’s still at it today. Excerpts from this interview appear in the feature story “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory.”

S&V: What do you believe are the major determiners of subwoofer sound quality? Driver? Amp? Loading? Enclosure? DSP tuning? Etc.

PH: It is how they are all designed to work together synergistically. No one factor stands out.

S&V: What drives your decision to go with sealed, ported, or passive radiator loading in a particular sub? Is one or the other particularly suited for a certain environment...

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 23, 2014 0 comments
Ed Mullen so impressed everyone with his subwoofer smarts (and even temperament) as a participant on Internet audio forums that SVS—a company that has mostly specialized in subwoofers, but is now putting equal effort into speakers—hired him. He now enjoys a rep among home theater enthusiasts as one of the guys to call for advice about subs. Excerpts from this interview appear in the feature story “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory.”

S&V: What’s the most important aspect of a subwoofer: the driver, the enclosure, or the amplifier?
EM: SVS takes a holistic approach to sub design. It’s very possible to use high-quality components that don’t work well together, and the results will not be optimal. We look at the end-user application, then develop a list of components for that application. You’ve got to match enclosure size, the form factor, the amplifier power, and the driver itself...

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 23, 2014 0 comments
Tom Vodhanel is president and founder of Power Sound Audio, an Ohio-based company that specializes in subwoofers and sells direct through its website. Tom is also known as the “V” in SVS, another company that started out as a subwoofer specialist, and which he co-founded. Excerpts from this interview appear in the feature story “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory.”

S&V: What’s the most important in a subwoofer: the driver, the enclosure or the amplifier?
TV: You hit the big three. You can optimize any of the two, but if the third one is off you’ve got a problem. They maximize the capabilities of each other. Now with DSP [digital signal processing] available in so many of the amplifiers, you get more wiggle room. You can adapt an amp to a smaller enclosure and have it still work really well, and DSP allows you to do that adaptation better and much quicker than you could with analog. But if you miss any of those three, a really good design can turn into an average design.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 23, 2014 0 comments
Andrew Welker is a mainstay of the Canadian speaker engineering community, now heading up most of the design work for Axiom audio after a dozen years working on the Mirage and Energy brands at Audio Products International (since purchased by Klipsch and VOXX International).Excerpts from this interview appear in the feature story “Subwoofers: The Guts and the Glory.”

S&V: What’s the most important aspect of a subwoofer: the driver, the enclosure, or the amplifier?
AW: I don’t think there’s any one thing that makes a good subwoofer. A major determiner is that the design is balanced, so everything’s made to work together. To say the driver is most important, well, I can make a woofer that handles 1,000 watts all day long, but if I stick it in a cabinet that doesn’t load it properly, there’s no point in having that glorious woofer in the system.

Rob Sabin Posted: Oct 25, 2012 1 comments
Looking for that perfect set of speakers? Before you hit the stores, here’s everything you need to know in a quick-read format. See our Top Picks for Floorstanding and Compact Speakers and Subwoofers.

HT Staff Posted: Dec 08, 2011 5 comments
If you’re reasonably handy and not afraid to cut into drywall in your home, installing in-wall speakers can be a fairly simple affair. You’ll need to assemble the basic tools, including a drywall saw, a stud finder, an electrical snake or fiberglass push rods to run the wires, a tape measure, a drill with a long bit wide enough to pass your speaker wire, and a screwdriver, most typically a No. 2 Phillips.
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 25, 2011 8 comments
Selecting audio components is one of the more daunting tasks that any serious home theater enthusiast faces. On the surface, it seems evident that if you just go out and buy the best components you can afford, they’ll sound great with both movies and music. And that’s generally true: A better system will more accurately reproduce the waveforms you feed it, irrespective of whether they come from a movie or music. But it’s often not that simple. While assembling a home theater system that’s equally spectacular with movies and music may be a laudable goal, unless you have unlimited funds, you’ll probably have compromises to make. At that point, you might want to steer the system’s performance strengths one way or the other with the right mix of speakers and electronics. But how do you go about matching these up?
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 17, 2011 0 comments
Home theater has transformed loudspeakers in nearly the same way it transformed TV. As screens have gotten bigger, the stereo soundstage has expanded into a surround soundfield. Wall-mounted HDTVs can now mate with in-wall, on-wall, or soundbar speakers. Even the higher performance of HDTV finds an analog in lossless surround for movies and music.
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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Aug 10, 2007 0 comments
Speakers are available in a bewildering variety of styles, sizes, and technologies. On the technical side, the vast majority are conventional box designs using one or more drivers—most commonly a single cone woofer for the bass and midrange, a single dome tweeter for the treble, and a crossover network to divide and route the appropriate frequencies to each. The speaker cabinet, or box, which can be either a sealed or ported design, is not merely a cosmetic touch; it is a key element in the design. Without a properly designed cabinet, even the best conventional woofer would simply flap in its own breeze and produce little or no bass.
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jul 31, 2001 Published: Aug 01, 2001 0 comments
Put away that charcoal. Here's a different kind of grille for your patio.

My, how times have changed. Back when vinyl records were king and a 25-inch-diagonal TV screen was considered big, here's how you had a good time in the backyard: a keg of beer, burgers on a charcoal grill, and your roommate's big, ugly speakers (carted out from the living room) blasting Rush (Geddy Lee, et al) until the conservative neighbors call the cops. A decade or so goes by, and the fun gets more sophisticated: a cooler of imported beer (maybe a margarita machine), steaks on a gas grill, and a big, ugly boombox belting out Rush (Limbaugh) until the liberal neighbors call the cops. Today, it's likely to be takeout from a local BBQ joint, a mini-fridge full of hard lemonade, and steam from the hot tub mingling with big-band music from outdoor speakers hidden somewhere in the (twice-monthly manicured) foliage.

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HT Staff Posted: Jul 18, 2000 Published: Jul 19, 2000 0 comments
Do you want your home theater system to have that "sucker punches in your gut" feel you got at your local cinema when T-Rex stomped his way through San Diego? Do you need your pant legs to flap with each bass line, just as they did at the recent Metallica concert? Want to be as emotionally attached to the recorded version of Beethoven's Fifth as when you heard the cellos and timpani pound out that familiar triplet live at the concert hall? Would you like James Earl Jones' voice-over for CNN to sound less like Mickey Mouse and more like, well, Darth Vader? If so, it's time for you to invest in a subwoofer.

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