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    Green Meanie: The 12″/500W Sealed Box


    2013 - 05.31

    So previously I chronicled the construction of a set of hefty bookshelf speakers I built for my brother. They’ve got a new buddy: a 12″, 500 watt subwoofer, in matching green paint! I haven’t written about the process of building this guy near as much because the cabinetry was essentially the same process: cut up MDF, router in the driver openings, glue’n’screw together, router off hard edges, silicone seal all joining surfaces on the inside, primer paint the outside, 4 coats of green paint, and then coat the whole shebang in Enviro Tex for a piano finish.

    This time around I used a thicker, globbier primer called “gripper” in the hopes that it would more aggressively adhere to the MDF. When I put it on, it seemed like oh yeah, this stuff is gonna bond. But sure enough: I set the wet surface down on a few triangular wood blocks to dry, then each of them lifted off a small bit of the paint when dried. Seems like nothing can actually adhere itself to MDF, it just covers it. That’s going to be okay though, since the Enviro Tex finish is very thick and will seal any loose imperfections underneath.

    This is only my second attempt at building a sub. The first one I built for a roommate in college. It used two Peerless XLS extra long excursion drivers, one active and one passive. Using a passive radiator extends the frequency response and lets you get some serious low frequency. The downside is that since the passive driver is, by definition, uncontrolled by a magnet, it’s free to vibrate however it wants. That will muddy up the sound. That sub was definitely LOUD as hell, and low too. We would bump that thing in the dorms and I’ll be damned if you couldn’t hear it on the other side of the building, 3 floors away. And we’re talking about a cinder-block building too!! So that thing was an outrageous amount of firepower for it’s size, which I would credit to the low frequency extension of the passive radiator. But it could never be described as tight, quick, responsive, or accurate.

    As my second attempt, I picked out a driver that could be used in a sealed box, to go for power and accuracy in the audible range. The lowest of the lows are really cool, for sure, but subs with very low frequency output are almost impractical in a sense: that low, low range is going to penetrate ANYTHING, as the cinder block dorm proved in college. You’re going to be irritating anyone within a thousand foot radius when you rock out, no if’s about it. This time around I wanted power in the range of human hearing. Yeah, that’s still going to punch through plenty of walls, but not on the level that <30Hz will.

    I went for a 12″ as a compromise between tightness/control and low frequency extension in a sealed box. The lowest audible frequency, referred to as “f3″, should be somewhere in the high 30s. The driver is a Dayton Reference Series 12” model “RSS315HO-44″ with 4ohm impedance. It’s a dual voice coil driver, although I’ll only be powering one. The T/S parameters of this thing call for a one cubic foot sealed box for its optimum response, which is fairly small for a sub. This would be a superb driver for a car sub, where more amps would be geared toward handling that brutal 2ohm impedance you’d get by wiring the dual voice coils in parallel.

    Supplying the power, we’ve got a 500 watt amp made by Yung International, with a +6dB boost at 25Hz. I went for the 6dB boosted model as opposed to the normal model, with aim of pushing the f3 out a little lower than the driver would normally achieve. Why not use that EQ to my advantage!

    First impressions?  Punchy-est 12” in recent memory!  It’s bass drum hits are concise.  Basslines are even, with no ‘bloated’ notes that pop out louder than the rest.  And the lowest audible pitch notes are there.  The tune “To Feel Good” in the music section is a great test of super low bass, since we used a sine wave bassline at -1 octave to the main bassline synth you hear.  That makes for some low, deep notes!

    Really digging this puppy so far.  Gonna be a hell of a sound system for this fall….

    Are you sure you’re sure there’s nothing to an amp?


    2011 - 12.12

    Finding out you’ve been wrong about a long-held assumption is both a triumph and a defeat in the same breath. On one hand it’s awesome learning something and then moving forward with newly discovered truth; on the other hand, oh the wasted years!

    Maybe that’s a tad overdramatic for this particular instance, but I did learn an important lesson this week: amps matter! Being a loudspeaker-building hobbyist, I’ve long been of the opinion that if you’re getting a stereo, you should spend like 90% of your money on the speakers and then just get whatever crappy amp and CD player you find for the cheapest price possible, within reason. I mean, my living room stereo with my large main speakers have been powered by an Aiwa receiver for over a decade now, and it sounds extremely, extremely good. I spent somewhere around $1500 building those speakers and I power them with an amp that costed maybe $150, tops? And the resultant sound quality is, to my ears, better than any speaker system I’ve ever heard in any showroom, anywhere… with the exception of the DALI Helicon 800 which I heard at Decibel Audio in Chicago. Those were mind-blowing speakers. I forget how much those retailed for, but it was well over 5k. And hey, Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI)? The danes know their speakers. If I have to lose out to someone, it’d be them, for sure. But I digress…

    For the last several months, I’ve had the speakers I built for my brother hooked up to an Onkyo TX-8210 reciever. I figured hey Onkyo is a Japanese brand, reputable name, should be a solid unit, fidelity-wise. When I finally got the speakers finished and started doing my critical listening, I was very happy with the treble, but disappointed in the bass. It sounded a bit bloated, boomy. Certain basslines would have notes that were noticably louder than the rest of the bassline. That should never happen. Some songs which happened to be rooted on those notes were almost unlistenable. I double checked my enclosure math, tried messing with the port length, added more stuffing inside the enclosure. Still boomy. I checked the driver response curves and scratched my head–these drivers both have very flat curves, with the exception of a slight dip at 2.5kHz (the crossover point). Man, did I mess up the enclosure somehow?? It should not be sounding like this. I kinda felt let down, like I was disappointed in my own skills. Maybe I’m not as good at this as I thought.

    Fast forward to last week, when I spotted this puppy on Craigslist for $80–a Marantz PM 750 DC integrated amp from circa 1982 with 80W per channel into 8Ω. Score!

    I’ve always really dug the looks of vintage Marantz gear, with that slightly-gold-tinged silver finish, and the fancy looking typography. It just looks quality, substantial, solidly built, you know? So I jumped at the chance to join the owners club for cheap. This baby was rescued from a junk pile, so it has a few scratches and dings, but so far it seems to be working as it should. All the LEDs light up and all knobs, sliders, and inputs seem functional. There is plenty of crackling when I hit the EQ switches, but hopefully some deoxit on its way in the mail will clear that up. I see on this guy’s page that none of those potentiometers are sealed against dust, so it figures that they’ll be crackly (update: DeoxIT worked wonders, even restoring the right channel which had gotten mighty cracklin). I may also follow his footsteps and swap out the caps in there too as they do wear out with age. This baby’s at least 25 years old. He also notes that maybe ’82 was a little past the golden years for Marantz, but stilllllllll:

    This unit has made a tremendous difference in the sound. As in, major, immediately noticable difference. All the boominess is gone and the treble seems even clearer yet. Those Scan-Speak tweeters sounded awesome before–they are spellbinding now. I’ve been kinda glued to this stereo in the evenings this last week, going back through my playlists, re-listening to favorite tracks, and evaluating the bass on ones that I remember were previously problematic. I’m sort of shocked by the fact that everything now sounds perfect. No more weird notes popping out in the basslines anymore. I had no idea an amp could cause weird EQ issues like that! For what it’s worth, I ran it with any EQ functionality on the Onkyo disabled, and anyway a bass EQ should not cause single-note resonances like that. So STRANGE!! I’m still kind of scratching my head, thinking WTF, that was the AMP causing this, that whole time?! And an Onkyo amp at that?

    So I’ve reached three conclusions:

    1. This Marantz unit rocks. It’s clear. Clean. Detailed. And all of those things at authoritive volume levels. Two nights this week as I laid down to go to sleep I noticed that my ears were ringing! That’s a definite indicator of a quality stereo: one that you keep turning up the volume because it just sounds so good!–until you’ve turned up the volume well beyond a reasonable level and you don’t even realize it because the sound quality remains solid. I definitely fell head first into that trap with the Marantz. Searching around the internet I see plenty of people scoffing at this amp saying that it’s not as good as Marantz’s older stuff.  That may be true, but it’s a giant step up from that Onkyo, and to my ears it sounds excellent.  I’m really impressed with the detail on Telefon Tel Aviv’s “TTV” from Fahrenheit Fair Enough (a reference listening electronic track, to be sure): I had the intro, filled with quiet sonic subtleties, cranked up VERY loud. Unreasonably loud. And when the beat drops, I had my hand resting on the volume control, expecting to need to turn it way down. I didn’t have to. Because:

    2. My bro’s speakers are like 5-10X more badass than I even knew they were. The TTV bassline and kick drum came in at seriously thumping volume, tight and clear, with no distortion or buzzing. That means that those Silver Swan woofers can pump out the volume, and without the bloated notes I was getting from the Onkyo. Oh man. It’s a combination of relief and delight. Turns out I didn’t screw up the design afterall, and not only that, the finished product ended up sounding superlative. These babies can’t top my living room system, but they can nip at its heels. WOW. And as mentioned previously, the Scan-Speak tweeters now sound even richer, more full of detail.  Cymbals sound more present, acoustic guitars seem richer.

    3. I’m suddenly beginning to seriously question if my Aiwa receiver in the living room shouldn’t be replaced. It’s sounded excellent for many years now, but the lion’s share of the credit (and then some) goes to the speakers. I now have an itching curiousity to know what my full-size units would sound like with a better amp supplying the juice. Maybe this weekend I will hook up the Marantz and do some listening.

    Speaker building update V: FINISH HIMMM!


    2011 - 10.12

    So I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labors for quite some time now, by holding on to these speakers I built for my brother.  Last weekend we worked out dates for me to come visit him in NYC and deliver the speakers, so they’ll soon have a new home.  I’m excited to give them to their rightful owner…. but I would be totally lying if I didn’t admit that I’ll be very sad to see them go as well!  These Scanspeak tweeters are detailed and exquisite as can be.  I’m probably going to have to build something to replace them because I know I’m gonna miss these so bad when they’re gone!  Plus, they’re GREEN.  I mean, how often do you see green speakers?  Shown above is a view from the backside; I mounted the terminals vertically, with positive on top.  That will make it easier to figure out which is which in a dark corner of a room.  I also offset them to one side so they’d be easier to reach.  Since this is my third major speaker design, I took a metal-ink marker and wrote “JB mk.III” and LEFT, to denote that the L-pads should face the listener (so you can always check their setting with a glance)

    Anyway, they turned out pretty kickass, and the last thing I need to do to them before they’re ready for a plane ride is to take some PVC pipe adhesive and cement the flared ports so they cannot come apart.  Since you cut them to your own desired length, they need to be glued together before they’re “finished”.  As you can see in the below picture, looking through the woofer opening and into the cabinet, the adhesive sort of melts the plastic a little; when I wiped the excess away, it left a little grungy residue behind.  These are the little secrets that only the speakerbuilder will ever know.

    I also thought it’d be nice to post an image of the crossovers mounted inside the cabinet.  As you can see, I’ve got some sheets of foam about 1.5-2″ thick that go over the walls of the cabinet to dampen the internal reflections.  I took a small piece of that and put it underneath the wooden backplate of the crossover before screwing it down into the bottom of the cabinet, so that it should never rattle when the volume gets bumping.  For anyone who’s curious, these crossovers are pre-built ones made by Parts Express, and have a 12dB slope at a frequency of 2.5kHz.  Obviously you can get better materials (more $$$) and go nuts on crossovers, but I believe the money is better spent on quality drivers; plus these things were on sale at the time and it was too hard to pass them up for $25 a pop.  Bam, done.

    Old schoolin! – The NAD 6130 Cassette Deck


    2011 - 07.17

    So a few months back I bought a turntable and now I’ve technologically regressed even deeper–Cassette tapes!

    Okay, okay, there’s an explanation for this. I’ve been really digging on the finds I’ve been picking up in the local $0.97 record bins (seriously, 97 cents!) and accordingly looking for a way to share them with some fellow funk and soul addict friends of mine. My buddy Bill has recently acquired a boat. I’ll be heading back home to Wisconsin for a week in mid-August and we’re gonna go out for a day on the lake. I asked him, what kind of musical playback formats does your nautical stereo accept? The answer – cassette tapes, dogg.

    Jeez, cassette, wow. I’m not sure I remember the last time I used a cassette tape, or recorded one. I think it’s been since like junior high. Well over a decade, whatever it was. So I needed to dig up a cassette recording device to bring along some hot jams I excavated from dusty 1970s vinyl obscurity. Enter craigslist! Some dude was unloading this NAD 6130 tape recorder which belonged to his father-in-law who recently passed on. Like a lot of good transactions on CL, the vibe I got from him was pretty much, ‘whatever man, I don’t care what this is, just get it out of here’. That’s the attitude I’m looking for! Twenty bucks, yeah that sounds cool.


    Kind of a funny thing about reading up on the Dolby NRs; I learned that there are a lot of variations in cassette tape technology! There’s Dolby A and B types of noise reduction, and then there’s Dolby C, which actually sounds WORSE if you play it back on a deck that doesn’t support Dolby C. There’s different types of cassettes too, metal ones, ferric oxide ones, Type II, etc. Whoa. This is all way more complicated than I expected. Fortunately, thanks to it’s utter obsolecence, I was able to pick up a Cadillac of a cassette recorder that should handle all of the above for dirt cheap!  Yay antiquated technology!  Check out the green reel to reel style cassette loaded in :D

    Speaker building update 4: It’s ALIIIIIVE!!


    2011 - 04.23

    This last weekend had cause for celebration: the loudspeakers are finished*!

    *”almost finished”.

    It was a triumphant moment to sit back with a beer and just listen for a few hours.  This is the moment of payoff, with sweet sounds being the spoils of victory.

    As with so many long projects, I found myself rushing down the home stretch.  I did have one moment that sort of cut through the frenzy; when I turned the soldering iron off and realized, “Huh.  Well, that’s it, there’s no more soldering to be done.”  For a brief moment it actually bummed me out, that the section of the program flush with the thrill of ongoing creation was about to conclude.  As quickly as it came, it left, as I reminded myself that the rest of the night would be devoted to listening.  Ahh, tis a blissful thing, high fidelity.

    A large part of the joy in building loudspeakers is listening to familiar recordings on them, and finding things to hear that you never heard before.  Inevitably, a given pair of speakers will reveal something new to you, no matter how authoritative your reference set in the living room or the richness of your open-back headphones.

    Firing up the album “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb brought forth a whole slew of details that I had never heard before.  Notably, I learned that there is a low-res filter over a lot of the synths in “A Million Dotted Lines”.  Never caught that.  Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” also makes for excellent auditioning.  “Fahrenheit Fair Enough” by Telefon Tel Aviv blew me away with the lush Rhodes intro, and the outrageous density of electronic sounds and tweaks as the beat drops.  That track is like pop rocks+coca-cola for your ears.

    The Scan Speak tweeters are crisp.  They’re quite ‘forward’ for a fabric dome but I don’t think “bright” accurately captures their timbre.  I think “articulate” would be the best word to describe the sound.  Definitely a good bang for the buck, no doubt.  Would I get them again?  Yes, if I wasn’t so curious to try other brands and types of tweeters.  I’m all but certain that my next speaker design is going to have a ribbon tweeter.  I’ve always been curious about those.

    I’m definitely glad that I included an L-pad in the design (a volume control for just the tweeter, which is a first for me).  When the L-pad is set to max, the speakers sound topheavy.  Those tweets are rated at 91.4dB with a 6 ohm impedance, while the woofer is specified as 91dB at 8 ohms.  It may be that the lower impedance causes the tweet to draw more power, in spite of the nearly identical efficency rating… although those impedance ratings somewhat come down to semantics.  Something I still need to do is measure the overall frequency response of the system.  That will be illuminating.  But with the L-pad at max, the speakers sound bright, the same way that “flat” response studio monitors commonly sound bright.  So these babies should work good for mastering duty.  And when you just want to listen, you can dial back the treble for a more balanced sound.

    When I sat down to listen to these guys, I really wasn’t sure what the ideal setting for the L-pad should be.  One surprising detail I figured out is that it really depends on what you’re listening to.  To broadly generalize, I liked them “hotter” for electronic music, with the pads at -2/3dB.  For jazz and folk music, they sounded best at about -4/5dB.  And for rock music, I liked them dialed back to maybe -7dB.  It’s pretty cool being able to control the sound quality by adjusting the tweeter output.  Next time I build a new set of speakers, I will definitely include L-pads again.  It’s almost like getting to have many different pairs of speakers all inside one box.

    There remains a few things which must be done before these guys are completely “done” and ready for duty.  Number one on that list is that I need to replace one of the binding posts: I was using a ratchet to fasten down the bolt/washer on the inside and holding the outside terminal steady by means of a drill bit inserted into the cable opening when SNAP! the post broke in half!  Apparently I don’t know my own strength?  For a brief moment I was very distraught that I wouldn’t be able to listen to them for another week!  Then I realized I could just solder the connecting wire onto the broken terminal.  A ghetto patch, but it’ll work until I can get new terminals in the mail.

    I also didn’t bond the flared port tubes with ABS cement yet.  Part of me wonders if they are really the correct length.  I used the formula that came with the flared tubes to determine the port length, which is a very short 5″.  That only left about a 1″ section to be straight, while most of the port length is taken up by the flares.  I did calculate that airspeed through the port and it was low enough that I really didn’t need to use flared ports, but I think they look cooler, and they didn’t add that much extra cost (yay sales!), so why not.

    I may or may not need to change a few things after I plot the frequency response too.  More or less foam inside, inverting the polarity on the tweet, etc.  Before I put the foam on the inside of the enclosures, these things were BOOMY.  It kind of scared me.  Thankfully adding foam made a big difference.

    So yeah!  They’re finished!  If you ignore the fine print anyway.  Some tweaking will be going on over the next couple weeks.  Expect to hear more!

    Speaker building update 3: Green Meanies


    2011 - 04.10

    check these suckas out:

    My bro asks for GREEN.  Green it is.

    The lady who mixed the paint for me was cool.  She was probably in her 50s and seemed like she belonged in a neighborhood greenhouse rather than a Lowe’s.  She was like, ‘now that’s a green green.’  Heh, yep.  I did two coats over the white primer and I think they look ready for finishing.  You’ll notice the hole on the side of the right speaker; it’s for an L-pad (a volume control for the tweeter).  I drilled it with a hole-saw attachment for my power drill.  A steel bit cutting into MDF… it would slow to a halt and I had to back it up and plunge it back down repeatedly to get it to cut all the way through.  When one hole was complete, the drill bit was literally smoking.  There was smoke coming out of the tweeter hole too.  It was sort of badass.

    This weekend some Envirotex arrived in the mail, and I’ve been covering these cabinets in it.  Seems like it should provide a durable finish, although time will tell.  If successful, this may become my chosen method for speaker finish.  While messy, it’s easier than endless coats of lacquer and sanding.  More detailed impressions to come…

    Speaker Building Update II: Crafted Like a Journeyman


    2011 - 04.05

    The latest installment of my progress on the set of loudspeakers for my bro: Woodwork on the cabinets has been completed! I used woodglue and screwed rectangular 3/4″ strips to the inner edges to hold it all together. Tip for the speaker builder: when putting screws into MDF, always drill a pilot hole beforehand, because MDF really does not want to accept any screws. Also, when screwing into the unfinished ‘side’ of the MDF (as opposed to the finished face), be careful to stop once the screw gets as far in as it needs to go. Continuing until the screwhead contacts the wood will split the wood, as MDF is simply made of many composited layers. These layers can easily be split apart from the side.

    As I was putting it together, I used silicone sealant to cover up all seams on the inside. My previous designs used caulk instead. I think I like the silicone a little bit better. It seems to ‘flow’ more and it’s easier to move around versus caulk. Although it does have a nasty odor… which probably promotes the growth of new, more powerful brain cells, I’m sure. Still, it’s supposed to be more resistant to cracking than caulk, and if these suckers are going to be pumping out jams for at least a decade to come, longevity is good.

    Last weekend I got outside with my router and a dustmask to try out my roundover bit and smooth off the edges. I used a belt sander to get rid of any imperfections in how well the boards lined up (some of the edges stuck out, maybe 1/16″ or so), and then I used wood putty to try to fill up any seams that were left open. I used a half inch roundover bit to curve the edges, which worked well. Since the MDF thickness was 3/4″ I thought about going out and getting a 1″ bit, which might’ve helped camoflage the joints (in theory?), but the close proximity of the woofer hole to the edge nixed that idea. Just one little juncture in this art of compromises.

    I’m very pleased with the roundover bit. I first tested out on a spare piece of plywood and it cuts a very smooth curve which is pleasing to the hand. Something tells me this sucker is going to get some use in future projects… These routering and sanding steps were probably the nastiest part of the whole process. When you use either of these tools on MDF, it emits a large amount of superfine dust that gets everywhere. It’s a serious mess. I used a mask to stop myself from breathing it, and did my work in the driveway with the garage door closed. When I came inside, I immediately put my clothes in the washer and took a shower to get it out of my arm hair, my eyebrows… everywhere. MDF, while an ideal material for loudspeakers, is a pain to work with. Oak might be a better choice, if you’re open to spending a little more money.

    That evening I put on an initial coat of paint. White primer. That’ll prepare the surface to accept whatever tone he chooses (update: emerald GREEN!). I could veneer them, but eh… my main speakers have veneer and I’ve seen over the last decade how easily it peels back as it ages and chips off. Maybe I didn’t do the best possible job applying it, but still. I think paint and some kind of sealant (still deciding) should produce a more resiliant finish that will stand the test of time. I doubt I’d ever use veneer again, after moving these monsterous mains many times. (It’s really moving when they’re susceptible to damage. And they WILL get damaged, no matter how careful you think you are being).

     

    Stay tuned for updates.  The next time you see these, they will be a vibrant emerald green…

    Progenitor of Jams, Beats, Vibes… the Birth of EMOTIONS, Dawg.


    2011 - 03.22

    This weekend I spent a lot of time working on a project I’m excited about: new speakers. These speakers are not for myself, they’ll be a birthday gift for my little brother, but still! Building loudspeakers is something I’m definitely passionate about, although this is the first time I’m mentioning it on the site. So let’s get into it!

    First of all, why is this cool? Well, a ton of reasons. Building speakers is an art of trade-offs. There is, and never will be such thing as ‘perfect’ speakers. Every system is a compromise in some sense, with strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. For example, the two main strengths in the ones I’m making right now are a high efficiency rating of 91dB (pretty good! This means that given less power, these speakers play louder than most), and a very smooth frequency response. The smooth frequency response was my main goal; important because my brother is going to recording school. If he’s going to be using these to audition recordings and potentially do mastering, it’s critically important that they don’t add their own ‘color’ to the sound. Speakers with choppy response curves can still sound great, but they add their own personality to the tone, which does not copy over to any other stereo setup. So it would be a terrible idea to master a recording on a system with a response curve that has lots of peaks and valleys. The weaknesses would be that I maybe didn’t get as deep of a bass response as I would’ve wished, and the price went a little higher because I insisted on drivers with good responses. In order to try to keep the costs down but still use good components, I omitted a midrange and used only two drivers per channel. For the enclosure, I chose to use a port to get what bass I could. I’d prefer a sealed box, but again, these are the compromises that you get forced into making. It’s part of what keeps it interesting.

    There’s also the brand name aspect too. Just like having your favorite sports team or buying new shoes from your favorite brand, getting speakers from a particular maker is sort of exciting in and of itself. This time around I picked a tweeter from a Danish brand I’ve always wished I could afford, Scan Speak. Scan Speak is very highly regarded in the industry, and with that awesome pedigree comes an accompanying price tag. I’m guessing the recent economic downturn led them to eschew their typical snobiness and produce a series of drivers ‘for the people’ called their “discovery” series. Maybe it’s called that because it’s my opportunity to “discover” what it’s like to listen to Scan Speak (on the cheap)? This I look forward to.

    Something else very neat about speaker building is how long lasting it is. I built myself a pair in high school, and with one driver replacement (right midrange went bad) they’ve been serving me faithfully ever since. That’s well over a decade of listening. GOOD listening! I built another set for my buddy Luke, probably over a decade ago as well. Not long ago he told me he’s still lovin’ them and they continue to serve as his main listening system. That’s so rad! It brings me joy to think about this; the construction that I’m setting in motion in my garage today will last for decades. These are long term actions right now.

    And more than that–these things will be making MUSIC! There will be huge moments of rocking out, when you’re getting ready to go do something great and you put on some tracks to pump yourself up! There will be mellow times late in the night when you come home and put on some chill vibes before you wind down for bed. Sad songs for when you just need to wallow in despair for a while, or daily anthems to get you into the groove of doing what you need to get done. These things are mood machines. Life enhancers. Tone establishers. Music colors our lives, it shapes our feelings. All those emotions will be flowing forth from these paper cones and cloth domes. I love that idea. LOVE IT!

    In the morning, I cook myself an omelet with red onion, cheddar, and spinach. Filled up and ready for action, I head out to the garage. The sun is searingly bright and as I step out, I hear a crescendoing rumble in the sky. Before I can even step out onto the driveway, I say to myself aloud, “what the hell IS that?!” As I pass under the garage door I look up and see one of the biggest propeller planes I’ve ever seen flying very, very low overhead. It’s a 4-engine passenger plane, like one of those vintage prop-airliners from the 60s or something. Very unusual, and a pitch-perfect start to the day. It’s like a good omen. I watch it lumbering slowly across the sky in a wide arc as it turns toward the nearby municipal airport, slipping away behind the treeline.

    Making speakers is something I love doing so much that if I could choose one thing to do for the rest of my days, building speakers would be near the top of the list. While I was out in the garage, I thought back to Geoff Marcy and his story of picking what he wanted to do with his life. Things weren’t going good and he knew he had to make a decision to go in a new direction. He thought, well, what I really want to do is find planets even though it seems like a crazy idea. There’s really no money, glory, or fame in it, but I just want to do this because that’s what makes me happy. I could say the same thing about speakers.

    So here I am, out in the garage, doing one of the things I love best! It is literally an ideal spring day, with temperatures in the high 70s and a nice cool breeze. I’m out with my measuring tape, drawing lines and slicing wood panels with my circular saw. There’s brown aviator sunglasses on my nose, to protect against wood chips and the blinding Texas sun. A few mistakes here, a curse word there, and a course correction gets me back on track. By the day’s end I will begin to see the cabinets take shape, and there are very nice looking flush-mount circles cut with my new router for the drivers. This is a new skill I have learned today, seen in the lead picture at the top. A neat speaker cutting jig helped me get just the right cut. Using these new tools is gratifying.

    Mid afternoon I uncap my water bottle and take a huge swig of the cool refreshment inside. Stopping to assess my progress, it’s uncanny how quiet and peaceful things are between the rounds of power tools. Birds chirp somewhere in the trees and the streets are empty. No one else is here, no one super into this the way I am. It feels like this instant is a triumphant moment, but without anyone else around who ‘gets it’ enough to chime in and say “oh man, what’s happening right now is so sweeeet!!” The absence of conversation feels both ironically strange yet somehow appropriate in an inexplicable way. Here I am, by myself in the garage, making it happen, “blowing it up” so to speak. I guess this sums up what it’s like being into niche hobbies, hey?

    There’s a tiny bit of red sunburn on my neck and a mix of sawdust and sweat on my brow. I am in an odd mode of excitedly rushing to get to the next step yet leisurely configuring the power tools for my next operations. Occasionally a dog-walker goes by, curiously eyeing the piles of wood, my setup of sawhorses, and various power tools strewn about. Sporadic flocks of kids fill up the air with sound as they pass down the block. Now and then I hear the distant roar of a power saw from someone else’s garage. It’s a great day to get some work done. Maybe once an hour I stop and look around, conscious that I’m doing something I love, which I only get to do once every few years. Building loudspeakers is expensive. And time intensive. A whole lot of planning goes into picking the drivers, crossover points, cabinet design; this is sort of a sacred moment, The Moment Of Genesis when ideas begin to take physical form.

    There may be no money, glory, or fame in it, but I have a lot of love for the speaker building art. I don’t think I could ever make a living off of it, even if I decided I was willing to risk it all to try. But I hope to build many more sets over the years, to share my love of high-fidelity sound, and help give to other people the experiences that their own DJing can give to themselves, with crisp detail in the playback.