Are Your Ready to Build Your Own Loudspeakers?

Building your own speakers from scratch Is an activity I've written about before. But that first blog is now accessible only by delving deeply into our Wayback Time Machine, so a revisit to this intriguing audio subculture is worth a follow-up here.

There was a time, even further back in time, when building ones own loudspeakers was fairly common. It was both easier then and at the same time more difficult. But ignorance was bliss. Research was hard, and with little technical help available and no internet or computers (horrifying; how could anyone possibly cope!!), wild experimentation was common. That was even true of many classic commercial speakers, with their multiple midranges (and/or) and tweeters often spread out every which way on the baffle, with no of regard for diffraction or comb filtering. The Dark Ages! (Humbling thought: in 50 years audiophiles, if such a thing still exists, might well look back at 2021 as the Heart of Audio Darkness!)

I built four pairs of loudspeakers myself back in the day, at least two of them inspired by then current commercial designs. Naturally, they all sounded fantastic, though if I heard them today (they're long gone) I'm not sure I'd be at all enthusiastic. Exposure to modern, well-designed, commercial loudspeakers has a humbling effect.

Today the DIY speaker market is still very much alive, perhaps even more so given that there are now more readily available suppliers conveniently offering a wide range of speaker drivers, crossover parts, and all the other detritus needed for making your vision of a great loudspeaker come true. The drivers now available to the consumer range from modest up to those used in even the priciest commercial designs. The latter could even use drivers identical to those you can buy separately, though in many cases they might be custom designs not available to the public, or slight variations on the public version. Those custom-modified commercial drivers aren't always sonically better, but might be made to complement, for example, the planned box design or crossover with a dB or two more or less in sensitivity, or a different Qts (pardon the technobabble). When you're planning on a production run in the tens of thousands, the overall savings with a semi-custom driver design might well be worth the marginal cost of the customization itself. The math might well vary, however, for super high-end designs expected to sell in the hundreds of units rather than in the thousands.

The point here is that exceptional drivers are now available to the DIYer in all price ranges. Some of the best known names in drivers are ScanSpeak, Seas, Morel, SB Acoustics, Audax, Accuton, and Eton. Most of them are made either in Europe or east Asia, with prices ranging from reasonable to outrageous. Accuton (Germany), for example, builds true ceramic-coned drivers used in a number of speakers in a variety of brands, many of them selling in the five- or even six-figure range. Dayton Audio (Taiwan) is one manufacturer offering a wide range of drivers to the DIY trade at far less than Ferrari prices.

The drivers used in many commercial loudspeakers typically comprise only a small fraction of the overall selling prices. There's also the cabinet, the crossover (which in the best loudspeakers can cost as much as the drivers, or more!), labor, factory overhead, the shipping box and shipping costs (possibly including customs charges) and, of course, manufacturer and dealer margins. For the single DIY center speaker shown in the photo above, from a DIY website, the current total cost of the drivers alone (they're from ScanSpeak's "budget" line), is under $300. Throw in other material costs (crossover, wood and finishing for the cabinets but not your own labor), and the total should be well short of $1,000. A commercial design of equal quality will likely cost $2,000 or more.

But we can't ignore the fact that the commercial speaker can be bought immediately (and often auditioned pre-sale) and be up and running in your system tomorrow. The DIY model could take you months to build, and I haven't even addressed the challenges of cabinet construction. Most DIY speaker builders are also woodworkers with a shop in the garage and likely more money invested in their tools than in their audio setup (one hopes that they're aware of the need for hearing protection, and not just for eyes and fingers, around power tools!). If they don't have a shop they might have a friend with one who either works cheap or also wants to build an identical pair of speakers for himself. No one invests in a woodshop just to build a single set of loudspeakers (when I built the speakers referenced earlier I had access to a woodshop). But if you can get the wood cut to precisely the needed sizes (don't count on Home Depot for cuts accurate to the millimeter!), plus a few sawhorses, clamps, and glue, you can get around this limitation, though a premium cabinet design, with swoopy curves and costly veneer that would put a $30,000 commercial speaker to shame probably isn't in your DIY future!

In addition to a wide range of drivers, free computer programs are available to help DIYers with both the box and crossover design. Once you learn how to use them they can get you 90% there, but the best designs emerge from the fine tuning that follows. Speaker design is both a science and an art, perhaps more so than in any other area of audio. If you design a sold-state amplifier incorrectly it might well fail the first time you turn it on. But unless your crossover fails to protect the drivers your DIY speakers will work and not fail catastrophically, though how they'll sound is another story. That's the challenge of speaker design; you might spend weeks or months of evenings and weekends on the design and build and be disappointed in the final result. But for some, the "voicing" at the end is half the fun.

"Everything you need to know about how to build your own $20,000 speakers for $5,000" can't be boiled down into a 1,000 word blog. But fortunately information available on the internet can help. And even if you never intend to build your own speakers, reading the experiences of others who did so can enhance your knowledge and appreciation for what went into those commercial speakers you might own or have your eyes on. There are dozens of such DIY sites, but the ones I visit often are diyaudio.com, HTGuide.com (devoted to all types of audio DIY; for speakers click on Mission Possible DIY), Troels Gravasend (a well-regarded Danish designer offering dozens of tested high-end designs and selling the plans and parts to build the m— the center speaker in the photo here is his design), and techtalk.parts-express.com. Some major U.S. sources of parts, including loudspeaker drivers, are Madisound, Meniscus Audio, and Dayton Audio. Many of these suppliers also offer proven kits (though only rarely precut cabinets for them).

If you get serious about this hobby some sort of measuring device is also recommended to evaluate your results. Room EQ Wizard (or REW, for Windows 10, Mac, or Linux) is a free downloadable program, but you'll need to buy a calibrated microphone to use with it (decent ones are available for under $100). Or you can buy the Omnimic system from Parts Express that includes a Windows only program and a dedicated, calibrated mic for $300. But those needs address another issue; DIY speaker building is rarely a one and done exercise. Peruse any of the above DIY websites and you'll find DIYers always looking to design and build their next set of loudspeakers. Of course, that's true of the more numerous buyers of commercial speakers as well!

COMMENTS
mround's picture

DIY is (or should be) a thing for both repairs and new builds. I rebuilt some EPI 100 speakers (purchased new in 1973) with components from Human Speakers. They work very well, with perhaps not quite as linear a response as the originals but very close, and a little more bass but not boomy. Project took only an hour or so, to pop out the old parts and install new. The parts kit for a pair, including new crossovers (just a capacitor) and binding posts (to replace the old spring clips), costs just a bit more than the original pair of speakers did 45 years ago. Very nice speakers. Though I need to freshen the (real) walnut finish somehow.

Replacing disintegrated foam surrounds on woofers built in the late 1980s-1990s is a little more involved, and for a pair of Radio Shack Mach 3's I left that to a local repair shop. Not the best of speakers, and requires some actual power behind them (not good at low volume), but OK for the living room as backing for the TV.

I remember Heathkits well. But these days the only thing that's really amenable to DIY is speakers.

pw's picture

I blew out my 6 1/2 inch midranges and tweeters on my medium priced B&W towers..
The box was still excellent so I bought a pair of raw Focal Utopias 6 1/2 inch and auditioned a number of tweeters .. I was not impressed with the B&W crossover so with advice I rebuilt new and better ones with Solen Caps and Lpads..
My final tweeters were Aurum Cantus top of the line ribbons..
Wow .. They ended up sounding much better than the stock B&Ws..
Now I understand why teenagers in the 50’s hotroded their cars..

jeffhenning's picture

DIY isn't for everyone.

That being said, if you have a background in science and engineering as well as understand how to use software and DSP equipment, you can make an active speaker that is as good as anything in the world for a fraction of the price.

I'm looking forward to the day that I can easily 3D print a speaker enclosure. Then, I won't need to hire a cabinet maker!

Perrin1710's picture

Little kids in the house made my wife ask me to get rid of the tower speakers and get us something that would fit our wall cabinet. Hmm, sure honey. But then I decided to get really good speakers (Seas Excel in combo with Scanspeak Revelator tweeters), the Hypex AS2/100D Class D amps with digital crossover for fronts and center. This allowed me to tune the speakers to get a great response. With off-the-shelves it would have been a real chore to find the proper speakers. And they would certainly not be as stealthy as my speakers now.

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