Loudspeaker Design Overview
Knowing Where To Start
My father once told me “Know your facts and then stick to them.” This simple phrase of advice could be taken at face value, but when you look deep into its meaning it carries important points. Larger ideals of “Know your strengths” and “Know your weaknesses” are summed up in this original phrase, as the fundamental aspect of “facts” is the question of “true” knowledge. What do we actually know, and what is it that we think we know? In some cases it would be better to phrase this as what we are sure we know, but actually do not.

Scientists in ancient Greece were so sure that Aristotle was right about his fundamental “rules” of the physical world that they used them as the base of a pyramid on which to build greater knowledge. For hundreds of years, fine minds were wasted because of a simple flaw in reasoning. When Aristotle proved to be a great philosopher (a philosopher is often a scientist who got everything wrong), not a great scientist, generations of work became invalid because they did not know what they actually knew. Today, we see great minds forgetting that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is called a theory for a reason.

Well...What Do You Know...

It is much easier to accept current practices, wrap our arms around them and take comfort in their security. Doing so, however, is not intellectually honest. In the realm of loudspeaker design we know a specific way to measure their performance providing us with the security of numbers and graphs which are easily grasped. We have found, however, absolutely no correlation between these charts and actual performance. They are the equivalent of measuring the tire pressure on your car and using the ideal that “My car is 32 psi” to attempt to apply some conclusion of performance. You must question the premise of any system where the ideal frequency response curve is a straight line. Products exist in abundance that measure “badly” but perform well. Two DACs measure exactly the same and sound totally different. Clearly, information and designs must stand on their own, but you must possess the confidence of your convictions. You must know what you know.

So, what as a loudspeaker designer do you know? You know that circumstances affect the performance of virtually every aspect of loudspeakers. The room it is placed in, the system that drives it, the wire used and the passive components all are capable of altering the speaker's characteristics through interaction. On the surface this presents an insurmountable problem. It does tell us something we know. We know that the fewer total pieces interfaced the more consistent and accurate will be our outcome and performance. This is the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) school of design.

Those playing Devil’s advocate can sight great sounding amplifiers stuffed with so many parts you cannot tell what color the PC board is. History has shown that as designers mature they refine (as in make better) their circuits through simplification. I would postulate that any great sounding complex design can be even greater sounding when properly simplified. I said postulate because I believe this.

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