Step by Step Guide to Building Your Own Speakers
Have You Ever Wanted To Build Your Own Speakers?
I find speaker building to be one of the most rewarding DIY projects I’ve come across. So rewarding in fact, making my first speaker in 2011 lead me to starting my own speaker building business, Salvage Audio, a year later. I think one of the best parts of building your own speakers is the immediate gratification you get from your project when you’ve finished. What you built actually does something incredible and they’ll probably be the best sounding speakers you’ve ever heard. (This will 90% pride, but fully justified.) They’re also something you can continue to use for years to come. Every time you listen to music, you’ll feel that gratification from your hard work.
Okay, so you really start this journey at a fork in the road and right off the bat you have to make a decision.
Should you buy a kit, use speaker building plans, or design everything yourself.
Let's talk about each option.
There a ton of great kits out there that are already designed and proven to sound great. If you’re brand new to making, you want to consider this option. There's a huge range of complexity to kits, some have just the drivers, some have driver and crossovers components, some have crossovers that are prebuilt, and some you have to build yourself. Some kits come with everything you’ll need, from components to even the wood for the enclosure.
You’ll still learn a ton about speaker building from a kit, especially if you watch my videos and try to reverse engineer why the creators decided to do what they did with the kit.
Here are a few links to some of my favorite kits:
Using plans is a great compromise between the two extremes. You’ll have a guide to building something that you know will sound good, but there's also room for modification if that's something you want to do. There are lots of great build plans on the internet if you do some digging. I also have my own speaker build plans you can download here. I have plans for powered Bluetooth speakers to passive speakers, all sorts of stuff.
Designing your own speakers is probably one of the most fun, confusing, exciting, and frustrating things you can do. But it’s always worth it. Have you heard the saying “It's about the journey, not the destination”? Well, that's what speaker building is all about. If you consider yourself a maker and you have the curiosity needed, you’ll learn so much from designing your own. Even if you’ve never built speakers before, making mistakes, learning from and fixing those mistakes will make you a much better and more knowledgeable builder when you're done.
Now the cost is obviously a deciding factor. And figuring out your personal goals of the project can help.
If you’re on a decent budget and your main goal is great sounding speakers when you're done, and maybe learning a few things along the way, a kit is definitely what you're looking for.
But if your goals are to learn how great speakers are designed and how they work and you're willing to put in the time needed to do that, plus the time fixing mistakes (and patching the wall after you've thrown a screwdriver at it) designing your own is probably what you’re looking for. And if you’re on a really limited budget, you can design the speakers according to that budget.
So there are roughly seven steps to designing your own speakers. I’m going to briefly go over them here, but I'll be making more in depth posts for each step in time. I'll link to those posts in each step bellow.
Step: 1 Choose An Enclosure Type - Coming Soon!
Step: 2 Choose A Crossover Type - Coming Soon!
Step: 3 Choose Your Drivers - Coming Soon!
Step: 4 Design Your Enclosure - Coming Soon!
Step: 5 Design Your Crossover - Coming Soon!
Step: 6 Build Your Enclosure - Coming Soon!
Step: 7 The Test! - Coming Soon!
Step: 8 The Finish - Coming Soon!
Step One: Choose An Enclosure Type
If you're just getting started, you’re probably deciding between a sealed or ported enclosure. But if you have the skills, they're much more to consider, from a passive radiator to horns to transmission lines. Just know that some get very complicated. A sealed enclosure is going to be the most simple to design and construct, while ported enclosures are more detailed and design heavy. If you’ve had a little experience in woodworking, you should be fine to build a ported enclosure.
Step Two: Choose A Crossover Type
There's 2-way, 2.1-way, 3-way, 3.1-way, 4-way, or maybe you want to keep it simple, forgo the crossover all together, and just use a full-range speaker. All we’re doing here is deciding how much of the frequency spectrum, from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, we want to cover and how we want to split that spectrum up. A 2-way system is a great place to start. You’ll be splitting the spectrum two ways, a woofer for the lower part and a tweeter for the highs. Keep in mind that complexity and cost of the speakers go up with the number of ways you split the spectrum.
Step Three: Choose Your Drivers
Many factors can go into deciding which speakers to use, but the main factor is your crossover type. Depending on which type you chose in step two will determine how many speakers and the type of speakers needed. If you chose a 2-way system, you’ll need a tweeter for the highs, but one that can also hit the lower highs, so you can crossover to your woofer which will handle the mid to lows. Take a close look at your driver's data sheets to see what frequency range they’re designed to handle.
Step Four: Design Your Enclosure
To design your enclosure you’ll either need modeling software like BassBox Pro, or you can use online calculators to help you determine the best dimensions for your enclosures. You’ll use the Thiele/small or t/s perimeters found on your speaker's date sheets and enter them into the software to get an approximation of how the speakers will perform in a specific enclosure. You should probably be doing this while choosing your drivers to test out a few different speaker combinations.
Remember that the enclosure is for the mid to sub woofers. The tweeter does not require a specific space behind it to properly function. Think of the tweeter as an add-on or accessory to the enclosure.
Step Five: Design Your Crossover
This is another step where you can take two roads: pre-designed or you designed. There are good pre-made crossovers that you can incorporate into your design. You figure out the crossover point you need for your speaker selection and you find a crossover that is close to that point. This is a good idea for new builders that aren't ready to dive into real crossover design. Now, crossover design can be really complex, but if you’re eager to learn, you should definitely design and make them yourself. This is the meat of speaker design and you'll easily fall down a rabbit hole of forum posts and tutorials. One thing to consider is to make your crossover outside of your speakers or in a place that's easily accessible. That way it's a little easier to tweak your design even after you've finished.
Step Six: Build Your Enclosure
This is one of my favorite parts of the project, actually getting my hand dirty and build something. One important part of this step is deciding what materials to make your speakers out of. I've found that more dense hardwoods and plywoods sound much better than softer, less dense woods. MDF, quality plywood, and pine, are all great options.
Step Seven: The Test!
Before buttoning everything up with a finish, you want to make sure the insides are working properly. Load up the cabinet with the speakers, wire up your crossover and hear how they sound. If you need to make adjustments to your crossover, now's the time to do it. Especially if your crossover will be in a place that is hard to reach.
Step Eight: Finish
A big part of why I love building speakers is making them look great. I think it’s such a waste when beautiful sounding speakers look like generic garbage. So, I think finishing is super important. There's a bunch of ways to finish your speakers, from paints, to stains, to veneers. Pick something that fits your aesthetic taste and takes your time while doing it. This step can really make or break your project.
There are millions of options out there on what you should or should do in each of these steps. The reason there are so many opinions is because there is no one right way to go about building speakers. So, listen and read a bunch of different view on a single subject, then do what you think is best. Worst case scenario, you make a mistake and you end up learning even more than you were originally expecting. The most import part of all this is to have fun. So go make some speakers!