by Michael Levy
It is a new year and may I wish everyone a happy and prosperous year. Much of interest has happened, so first I want to apologize for taking so long between parts of this article, but I spent a lot of my time working on this project, and there was the matter of the Las Vegas CES and THE SHOW, and then the flu.
The displays at CES and THE SHOW confirmed some of my theories on where the audiophile community is headed, and there were superb new products displayed. I had the pleasure of touring the show with Marty Appel and Henry Wilkinson.
I was also there to meet some of my suppliers. There is a wonderful network of parts distributors, designers, and manufacturers for the loudspeaker industry. The sourcing is worldwide, and the suppliers can vary in size from garage operations to huge corporations. My interest is to locate the best products that would suite my design goals with a keen eye for the newest technologies.
Where do I go to find out who is doing the best work? There are, of course, publications. ‘The’ journal for the industry is the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, and a respected magazine as a reference for the industry is Voicecoil. I would not recommend the Journal to anyone who does not have a theoretical understanding of audio and electrical engineering. Voicecoil, on the other hand can be useful to the hobbyist. There are blogs connected to the magazine, and on other sites, but where do you get the real nitty gritty on what does what you want it to?
When I start a new design, the first people I speak to are the distributors. They are the ones most knowledgeable about the hardware that is the paint with which we create our art, the loudspeaker. Yes, audiophile loudspeaker design is very much an art, and almost every company in the chain is creating a piece of art of their own that reflects their point of view of what a speaker should be.
So, when I speak to someone in the industry I give them the added respect I give another artist in my field. While our styles may differ, or our approach, our goals are the same, to recreate the beauty that is music, and frequently they can turn me on to a little piece of the magic I had not known about. You can Google speaker building and quite a few sites will come up. I have probably had experience with most of them through the years, but there are three that I have found the most innovative. They are Madisound, located in California, Parts Express, located in Ohio, and Solen, located in Quebec. They have all been helpful with feedback and parts, but I really like speaking with Solen. They are very knowledgeable and I love their French Canadian accent.
Denis Oullet started the business and was followed into it by his son Chris. They are not only distributors, but manufacturers, and designers. I would say they are at the top of the art. They manufacture state of the art crossover components which I will talk more about later in the article, but they also know their drivers. They have an on line chart with the published specifications for the drivers they sell, but I wanted the feedback of personal experience. When I told Chris what the parameters of my design dictated for the drivers, he sent me several samples from manufacturers I had used before, but he told me I had to try the Morel midranges and woofers, and the RAAL tweeter. I had heard of Morel. Their innovative large voice coil woofers and midranges intrigued me. I noticed when the RAAL ribbon tweeters appeared in the parts listings, but I knew nothing about their sound.
After sampling drivers from Morel, I was happy with the performance, but I needed some features for my design. So, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I met with Oren Morechi of Morel, and he informed me that they would soon be producing some drivers that met my needs. They would have all of the ‘bells and whistles’, including large voice coils, free air flow architecture, their Hybrid Neodymium/Ferrite magnet structure, and they would use titanium formers. This new feature expanded the dynamic range and useable frequency response giving the driver exceptionally fast transient response. Also, the specifications were within the parameters of my design. I let him know I was anxiously awaiting samples.
RAAL Ribbon is the company that manufactures the tweeter I chose for my design. They are truly opening up new parameters of design with a fanatical approach to design for dynamic accuracy. Their ribbons are coupled to incredibly powerful magnet structures with uniquely designed amorphous core transformers. After discussing the parameters for my design, Aleksandar designed a pair of ribbons that matched my needs. I have been a ribbon lover since I started in loudspeaker design. There are now several new ribbon tweeter manufacturers, and RAAL is leading the way in design breakthroughs.
Next: Designing an Audiophile Loudspeaker. Part 5: Engineering prototypes and listening.