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Advantages of using wood in speakers

24 June 2016

The making of natural acoustics - Why we at Orbitsound use wood for our soundbars.

Making the speakers that sound good and perform is a mixture of art and science – areas that our founder Ted Fletcher has dedicated his life to understanding and developing. Buying a speaker system today, you will find all kinds of materials used to make the speaker enclosures (boxes). Whilst many modern soundbars are made from plastic, aluminum or perhaps steel, there are strong reasons based on our experience and solid science why we prefer to use wood to any other material for building our highest performance products.

What makes the ‘perfect’ speaker enclosure?

An effective speaker enclosure is one that achieves minimal distortion and efficient amplification of sound from the loudspeaker driver. The enclosure forms part of the design of a loudspeaker and is just as important as the driver itself. The characteristics of a speaker are driven by materials and design equally. The ‘best’ material for making any speaker will be:

  1. Dense (or heavy) – this is so that any vibrations or mechanical pressures are simply absorbed, and do not result in additional sounds, or losses of energy at certain frequencies.
  2. Rigid (or stiff) – Particularly for bass frequencies, a stiffer cabinet means higher efficiency and less distortion.
  3. Non resonant – something that if you knock it, sounds ‘dead’. The opposite would be metal (which is why they make bells and tuning forks from it!). Ringing sounds mean distortion for your music.

What is the ‘best’ material?

So, those are the acoustic properties an enclosure needs for the best sound quality, but then we also need to be practical. Concrete is often quoted as the ‘best’ material for making a speaker from. It is clearly all of those things above, and can be formed into almost any shape. It is a fantastic material for speakers… but at the same time is brittle, extremely heavy and not the most aesthetically pleasing.

Plastic

Plastic is also a popular choice of material amongst speaker designers who place a higher priority on appearance and cost. However, plastic is not a naturally good material for making a speaker from – but it is easy to reproduce any shape, and it is light and durable. It is great for a practical speaker, but not so much a high fidelity one. Think about the sound when you knock or tap on plastic. The sound is bright and, well, ‘plastic’.

Metal

Metal looks naturally premium, but inevitably a speaker box made of metal has all kinds of acoustic problems that compromise performance heavily due to the springiness of metal causing vibrations and distortions. Also, the very hard surface causes internal reflections (echoes) which come out as distortion.

Wood

Wood has naturally acoustically helpful properties: it’s naturally non-resonant, so energising a speaker box with musical vibrations will result in minimal distortion. Wood has a high density. It has been used for centuries to help amplify a richer, clearer sound in instruments from guitars to grand pianos. It’s naturally strong and stiff. A speaker enclosure made of wood, and made well, will naturally sound good. Reflections are less than with plastic or metal. Yet, wood is not too heavy, can be crafted into different shapes. The only problem is that you can’t grow it into the shape of a speaker, so it takes expertise and work to use it to make speakers from… but for us, the investment is well worth it; for better sounding products.

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