For the audiophile and DIY hobbyist, building custom-made speakers may represent the meeting of two passions. In order to build your own speaker cabinets, you can use a wide range of materials. While everyone has his own idea of the ideal sound, and no single speaker design can be considered the hands-down best, using some tried-and-true techniques and materials will help ensure good speaker cabinet construction.
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Medium-density fiberboard is a hard composite material, made from wood fibres that are bonded with glue at high temperatures and under high pressure. MDF is stiffer and denser than plywood, and unlike real wood, it has no knots, grain or extreme variations in texture. If you're looking to give your speaker cabinets a sleek exterior look, you can even cover the MDF with glossy paints, veneers or a thin layer of wood laminate. For audio applications, MDF warps less easily than hardwood, maintaining better sound quality. By combining two materials with different densities, such as MDF with a layer of plywood, you can reduce vibration in the cabinet and further improve the sound.
Plywood, like MDF, is composed of wood fibres bound together with a glue solution. Unlike MDF, though, plywood consists of a series of individual layers, each with the wood grains positioned in the same direction. Each consecutive layer puts the grain at a 90-degree angle to the previous layer's grain. As mentioned, plywood combines well with MDF for a speaker cabinet with varied densities. It also works well when building a closed-back speaker design, as for use with an electric guitar. The closed-back design typically produces fuller low notes and high notes that are somewhat attenuated. The sound also projects forward more than with an open-back design, which provides something closer to a "surround sound" soundscape.
An unusual material for speaker cabinets, concrete has attracted the attention of several experimental DIY speaker builders. In one design, builders used concrete to encase an entire 5.1 set of surround-sound speakers (a set of five satellite speakers and a subwoofer). They used wood and wax to create moulds for the speaker cabinets, and then created six nearly immovable speakers. As with MDF/plywood speakers, you can combine concrete with another material to create variation in the cabinet's density. For example, you might put an MDF face on a speaker enclosure that's otherwise concrete, creating a sleeker look with veneer or laminate. For a more even balance of materials, you can pour concrete into an MDF or plywood box. Remember that as you modify the walls' thickness, you also affect their stiffness, which will change the speaker's behaviour at different frequencies. If you prefer to keep the concrete material exposed, simply pour it into a well-greased form made of cardboard or another sturdy material you can easily remove after the concrete sets.
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