Do it Yourself...Or Not?

A recent posting here on Sound&Vision showed a very ambitious do-it-yourself speaker built by a skilled audio enthusiast in Latvia. The finished product was originally found by us here and originated on one of the most exhaustive and impressive loudspeaker DIY websites,

One question in the posting’s comments section suggested that the roughly $5,000/pair cost that would go into building such speakers (not including time and labor) might be better put into buying a finished pair of $,5000 speakers.

Typically, the rough estimate used for setting the selling price of an audio product has been 5x the parts cost, though for super high-end products I suspect it’s higher given the smaller market anticipated for such goods. If you consider the price of the cabinet materials, that $5,000 in drivers and circuit parts will go even higher. How much will depend on the price of the materials and finish. MDF? Birch plywood? Aluminum? Exotic polymers? Vinyl? Exotic veneers? Gloss piano black or white?

But let's say that a manufacturer could save enough in bulk purchasing of the parts to help make up for the wood and other materials needed to build the cabinet. Since those savings will probably be small, however (we're not anticipating a production run of 10,000 finished speakers at these prices!), it’s likely that the cost of the materials for the cabinets will still add to that $5,000. And don’t forget the need for sturdy shipping containers. I was once told by a manufacturer that, for their budget speaker at least, the shipping box was the biggest single expense on the speaker’s balance sheet! A big, heavy speaker such as this might also demand a wood crate. So to be on the safe side we’ll increase the total parts cost to $6,000/pair.

At that level, the 5x multiplier will result in a $30,000/pair retail price—at least. Can this design compete with manufactured speakers selling for $30,000? Without an audition there’s no way to tell for certain, but given the quality of the parts and the woodwork, it’s very possible.

But there are excellent speakers selling for $5,000/pair or less. Can they compete with a $30,000 speaker? Not always, but in some cases they might come very close. The law of diminishing returns can't be broken. A 5% improvement in the final, audible result, once beyond a certain price (and we can disagree where that break point might be), can often more than double the cost. And the pricier the speaker, the more expensive-looking (and therefore more expensive) the cabinet has to be. The same applies to audio and video products in general. Put a great $5,000 amp in a plain, ugly black case, sturdy enough to support its weight but no more, and it probably won’t sell. Put it in a massive chassis made of half-inch thick, sculpted and brushed aluminum, which now becomes the most expensive component in the design, and the amp might well be priced to move at $10,000 or more.

DIY isn’t for everyone. You can spend months (or years!) building what you hope will be your dream speaker, only to find when you finally hear it that it isn’t. And most of us lack the time required and/or are unwilling to wait for the results.

Enthusiasts often go the DIY route to save money. Done right, they might well save big. But it’s a bit of a shot in the dark until you can hear the finished product. And for every DIY such as this one, using woodwork worthy of a master cabinetmaker and very high quality parts, you’ll find dozens of DIY designs with budget drivers encased in pristine cabinets. Considering the amount of work that goes into crafting those cabinets, is the use of cheaper parts justified? Sometimes, yes. The same law of diminishing returns applies to drivers as to finished speakers. Doubling the parts cost doesn’t come anywhere near doubling the quality.

Some DIYers build from scratch. Others use one of the many designs (such as this one) available on a range of Internet sites, including kits. There are also ambitious 3-way center channel designs, though they’re not nearly as numerous as more conventional towers, bookshelves, and subwoofers.

To get an idea of the effort involved in doing this right, See the build thread here: This is a very different and more modest design than the one above, with well-regarded but not overly pricey drivers and other parts. I’d estimate their cost at around $600/pair for drivers and crossovers. The cabinetwork, even in this less upscale design, is clearly first-class, but not nearly as ambitious as in the Latvian DIY effort. There’s also a matching center channel on the website where this more modest design (the ZDT3.5) originated,

DIY isn’t for everyone. You can spend months (or years!) building what you hope will be your dream speaker, only to find when you finally hear it that it isn’t. And most of us lack the time required and/or are unwilling to wait for the results. We want our new audio now, not at the end of a trail strewn with sawdust, toil, tears, and sweat. But for DIY enthusiasts, many of whom are so into it that they begin designing their next project even before they’re done with the current one, the creative journey is as important as the destination. And most of today’s most respected commercial speaker designers began by building their own and discovering they had a knack for it.

jnemesh's picture

DIY projects are perfectly fine...IF you are doing it because you love to "tweak", love to build stuff, and are just as happy building the gear as listening to it! There are PLENTY of "DIY guys" who love tinkering! And it's absolutely OK to have a hobby like this.

However, if you are doing it to save money, I will say, flat out, you are a fool. Yes, you might save a few bucks...but your results will most likely be sub-par as well. Don't think you are smarter than a team of engineers who has been refining a design over the past couple decades! Also, don't think your manufacturing skills are going to be on par with the specialized tools they have available to them!

The thing don't HAVE to spend $30,000 for a great pair of speakers! Or $10,000 for an amp.

I have a set of Atlantic AT-1s which are OUTSTANDING and can be had new for a few grand! I am using it with a recycled Proton D-1200 amp (FREE! Plucked from the recycling pile we have at work!) and a Parasound 2100 Preamp with a Parasound ZDAC as my source. Sounds great, and didn't cost an arm and a leg.

If you are serious about the RESULTS and not just the process of building something, then do your homework, look for good deals on used gear, and shop around. You can probably find what you are looking for without the hassles involved in building it yourself.

Mrsnikoph78's picture

Knowing that there may be a 5X markup on the parts only makes me all the gladder that I stuck to budget gear from Pioneer. With a multiple like that, the incremental cost of parts is yielding massive markups for probably pretty minimal performance gain. Though, it seems a little crazy that Pioneer may have only $13 in the bookshelf speaker, and $26 in the tower, which has twice as many drivers, more wood etc. I assume the margins are a bit tighter for the real budget stuff - they basically have to be.

I can honestly say I am not sure I would ever allocate much more than $2000 for a 5.1 setup - and $500 of that would be to just grab a great large subwoofer (for knock you out bass). Its not just that I am probably too poor for this hobby, it is also the fact that while spending more is usually worth it, "sonics" just don't scale well after spending a bit more than entry-level prices.

Of course now I face the predicament of spending almost as much, if not more, on an AV receiver than I did on my 5.1 setup - and I have no idea if there is much other than the type of room correction making the "real" difference these days.

jnemesh's picture

The quality of your AVR is HEAVILY dependent on the parts used to assemble it. Buy a $500 AVR, and you get a pretty "bare bones" amplifier and the least expensive processors and chips available.

Don't take my word for it though, find a GOOD dealer in your area who can let you listen to a few different AVRs and compare for yourself. Personally, I would recommend a Marantz SR5010 or above if you want REALLY good sound.

As for speakers? You can get by with a $2000 budget and still get excellent results. Look at Polk Audio's "RTi" series bookshelf and floorstanding speakers or Martin Logan's Motion 4 bookshelf speakers with a Motion 6 center. Both are really good, AFFORDABLE options. Spend until it hurts on the sub, though!

Mrsnikoph78's picture

It seems obvious that $600-$1200 is the sweet spot for receivers - and the high end of that range mates strong amps to good feature lists.

Personally, I had 10 good years with my Yamaha, and am considering an Aventage 1050 (pricey), or RX-V 77X or so (its unclear that Aventage is worth it unless you go to the higher end). Then there is the steeply discounted Pioneer Elite SC-91 (gotta love that class D), or an Onkyo 656 or higher.

I've never been particularly interested in Denon/Marantz but the 5010 does look pretty good price / performance-wise.

To some extent these things seem like "commodities" but without having the luxury of trying them all out, I am at a loss as to which is the "best" from a UI and SQ point of view.

TimmyS's picture

I would suggest anyone getting into the DIY speaker hobby, particularly if scratch building and coming up with a unique design to start small, rather than a large ambitious project.

Besides the skills and tools needed to build enclosures you will need measurement tools (mic and software, good voltmeter, soldering iron and more) and software to optimize the crossovers particularly if you are using higher order ones. You will need some specialized knowledge so spend lots of time to do your research.

It can be a fun and rewarding hobby. At some point you may save some money. lol. Most people these days seem not to have the time or inclination for this...

(PS at one point when I worked in retail DIYers wanted to bring in their designs and compare them to manufactured designs and let me tell you most of them were awful)

Perrin1710's picture

An overlooked element of DIY is the fact that you can build something that is not for sale. So it's not the price, but the specs. Baby's and floorstanders in a relatively small living wasn't my wife's idea of a safe environment, so I decided to create speakers that would fit my house (in fact integrated in a wall cabinet) ánd deliver great sound.

Warrior24_7's picture

I liken this whole subject to the car audio scene back in the 90's and 2000's. Guys used to build or buy sub enclosures, the speakers and the rest of the gear and install it themselves or hire someone. That's when I first encountered the JL Audio 12 W7! I think those woofers are in the Fathom subwoofer that sells for $7000! You only needed one, and it could damage your car, two were a weapon! The new 12's and 13's cost $899 and $1299 a piece for the speakers alone! The SVS SB13 Ultra is $1500! I believe those 13's would be comparable woofers as an example. So you lost money building it yourself. You can get a 15" HSU VTF-3 MK5 HP Subwoofer for $799!

Warranty issues come into play as well. When you're a Do-it-yourselfer you are your own warranty! That is time and money. And most people "get around to it" when fixing stuff. The manufacturer's warranty may ship/send and fix it for free. No hassle to you except shipping it back. I "assume" that for a pair of high end floor standers you would pay retail prices for parts because you're not buying in bulk. So the thing now is to compare them to a set of VERY high end $30,000 pair of speakers because the $5000 model doesn't work. That also calls into question the quality of the parts and equipment you'd use and the quality of the parts and equipment in current so called "high end" HT gear. Craftsmanship counts as well!

There is A LOT of snobbiness in HT. The more something costs, the better it's "has to sound". I wouldn't be surprised if it's just regular consumer electronic gear with somebody's name slapped on it and we're paying thousands of dollars for name and reputation. I just don't see the cost benefit unless you want something unique.

NORGATEoiler's picture

I think Thomas has the article bang on. As a DIY builder myself I know there is a lot of equipment, skills, time, and knowledge required to build a quality pair of speakers that the average Joe may not have. However I can tell you the result can be very satisfying, both by ear and eye.

To those that question the quality I can guarantee that my cabinets are built to a higher level than the majority of manufacturers out there. And the drivers that are available are top notch.

Like Thomas noted though, unless you come across someone with a certain design you would like to build, building a speaker before hearing it can be unnerving. Based on feedback from a co-worker I had a fellow design my crossover who has extensive experience and built it to that design. I am more than happy with the result.

Warrior24_7's picture

Some of your thank you for sharing with me ideas concerning the possibility of the Verminderns of our current unemployment are

five nights at freddy's 6 friv 2017 friv frozen friv happy wheels jogos friv 2017

We thank you that you share this hope with us and this step on the pilgrimage of trust? gone with us.

"We thank you for the previous participate let, would no longer receive but the newsletter" or

juegos Juegos de fnaf friv 100 juegos friv 4 yoob 10 yoob 4

Thank you for the communication of this information to your family and friends.