Cinderella

The Repository->DIY->Cinderella

The Cinderellas are my second DIY speaker project.  The cabinet was designed by master woodworker Wayne Wendel, and the crossovers were designed by "the crossover wizard"--also known as Curt Campbell.  They were entered into the Iowa DIY 2006 event in the budget category ($125-300 for drivers and electronics, not including wood or finish).  I decided to build them because I have always wanted floorstanding towers, and these had a very original, sexy look.

Here are the plans for the Cinderellas from Curt C's speakerbuilding site. 

The complexity of these takes them out of the range of what I would consider a "beginner" project; they're probably three times as difficult and complex as building a set of Dayton IIIs.  This is because they are essentially composed of 2 separate cabinets each, and the crossover is a 3.5-way--which, although it is gracefully simple in its design, still takes up a good deal more real estate than a standard 2-way parallel crossover.  Therefore, I would classify this as an "intermediate" DIY project.

Progress log (loosely written)

Christmastime 2006 - I basically make up my mind that this will be my next project

I had seen pictures of the speakers from the Iowa DIY 2006 event, but had never heard them.  I asked around on the Parts Express message board, and people chimed in that they really sounded fantastic.  I knew they looked fantastic, so I inquired with the designer, Wayne Wendel, on how to logically approach the project.  Wayne courteously answered all my questions and gave me good pointers.  I did nothing else at this time besides dream about them.

February 2007 - Still dreaming about them

Well, nothing yet.  I was too busy with work as a first-year teacher.  I'd been enjoying the D3s thoroughly in the meantime.  I did, however, make the effort to learn Google SketchUp just so I could try out a few finish ideas (and also alternate plans, in case I was too clumsy to construct the angled base).

This is what I thought things might look like (Billy Dreamer...) 

 March 2007 - I cut some wood

What I thought would be the most difficult part really didn't take me but a day or two.  I feared the 6.5 degree angled sides because I don't have a table saw.  But I used the primitive tilt on my dad's circular saw and went at it.  The results were close enough for rock n' roll.  I screwed up a few pieces (when you're making angled cuts, be VERY conscious of which side of the board you're measuring), but I re-cut them and things were fine.  I then had myself a bunch of boards, ready to be put to use; and they sat in a pile in my parents' basement for a month because work kept me extremely busy.

April 2007 - Assembly begins

Separate cabinets 

Wayne recommended building the MMTMM (top) cabinets first, then the woofer cabinets second, so that's what I did.  Did it help?  I have no idea, but the top cabinets certainly are simpler, and are a nice way to get the confidence up.  The bottom cabinets were a bit more daunting (due to the angles, but were by no means impossible.  I was just very conscientious of the order in which boards I attached boards together.  I still used good ol' screw n' glue.  I actually built the woofer cabinets in my apartment.

Here you can see the woofer cabinet, before I routed a hole for the woofer.  You can also get a good look at how I attached the inner portion of the "removable back baffle."  This was done by cutting an extra set of rear baffles EXACTLY the same size, then cut out all but about 1" from the inside using a jig saw.  I'm sure I didn't think up this idea, but it still took a lot of brainstorming, and I'm really proud of how well it worked.

May 2006 

Assembling the top and bottom cabinets

No one warned me this step would be so difficult.  The challenge here is that the two cabinets must be perfectly aligned along the front, so that they are completely flush along the entire 4-foot front baffle.  When I first put the top and bottom cabinets together, they didn't quite sit right.  The front edge of the top cabinet leaned forward on one, and backward on the other.  Sure, it may have only been by a degree or two, but when that edge spans 2 feet, the gap between the cabinet and front baffle becomes a serious problem.  

In the end, I decided on a "brute force" method to correct this problem.  I used a rasp, then a power sander, and basically sat on the top of the bottom cabinet until it was level and flat.  This worked remarkably well, and the front edge of the two cabinets made a perfect straight line all the way down!  They were ready to be joined, so I screwed n' glued them together.  Then I used generous amounts of Bondo along the side, where the angled base begins.  With about 3 passes with the Bondo and power sander, the transition was silky-smooth.  Interestingly, even at this point, anyone who saw these "shells" instantly said, "Wow, those are really cool."  To which I'd respond, "They don't even have drivers yet."  But I guess it's like the flat-screen TV effect: people think it looks cool even before you turn it on.

Crossover Time!

When the weather doesn't cooperate so you can be outside and work, that means it's time to build crossovers.  So that's what I did.  I am really proud of the job I did on these.  I took a tip from HTGuide.com and used terminal strips (available at your local Radio Shack) to connect the crossovers to the input terminals and the drivers.  This made everything look MUCH neater and made the internal wiring easier to work with. 

The crossover had too many components for a single board (in my opinion), so I divided it up into the Woofer and Outside mids (left) and the Inside mids and tweeter (right).  Click on the pictures to see how pretty everything looks!

That giant front baffle

Wayne's original baffle is 3 pieces of hardwood, joined together.  Not only do I not have the tools to accomplish such a feat, I don't have the skills either.  So I figured out an easy way to make a 1-piece baffle: I traced the completed cabinets onto a piece of MDF, then roughly cut them with the circular saw.  Then I attached these "rough" baffles to the cabinets with a few wood screws.  I ran along the edge of them with a flush-trim router bit, and voila, perfect baffles, made to order.  

Routing the holes and rebates on these baffles took for-frigging-ever!  You would have thought I was building a line array or something.  It seriously took me half a day outside (during which I got sunburnt) to cut all the holes.  And God forbid I make a mistake (which I did), or I would have to cut a whole new baffle (which I did).  I was in a race to finish this step in late May because I knew that within a week, the 17-year Cicadas would be emerging (a pest invasion unique to the midwest, and also the largest, most dramatic insect invasion in the world)


Putting it all together

Well, once the holes and rebates were cut in the baffles, things were all set to get put together, and boy was I anxious!  It took me several hours over two days to wire these things up (there is a LOT of wire in an MMTMMW!), but it all went together smoothly.  The crossovers fit into their places perfectly, which was very satisfying.  The Cinderellas were "complete but not finished."  And rather than do my normal half-assed finishing job, I decided to wait a few months and just enjoy the sound of them.  

Finishing

Spray painting is very unfamiliar territory for me.  I had heard the warnings numerous times about how paint basically magnifies any flaws you have in the cabinet.  So I asked for advice from some paint experts from the PE board: Mr. Aaron Hero and Blair.  

Paint Choix 

Since I was going with a black and white finish, Blair recommended using spray Appliance Epoxy (since it comes in the 3 kitchen colors: black, white, and almond).  He said it would be good for this project because it's extra thick and tougher than normal spray paint.  Seemed like good reasoning to me.  And really, Blair had the right idea.  However, I can't imagine using spray epoxy again in the future for one major reason: it's really hard to find.  This Wal Mart would have a few cans of white (and no black) and this Home Depot would have a few cans of black (and no white), but most of the stores basically had none at all. To complete the project, I believe used about 7 cans of black, and 2 cans of white, which is probably enough money to buy an HVLP spray gun from Harbor Freight.

Paint Application

I worked very diligently to Bondo over all seams and screw holes and sand them smooth, knowing that every nuance would telegraph through the paint.  Aaron Hero is definitely an authority on this subject, and he gave tons and tons of good pointers; but I'm sorry I didn't follow through with more of his advice in the end.  Oh well, for a first bona-fide spray paint job, it's still pretty damn good.

After the cabinets were as smooth as I could sand and Bondo them, I tacked them clean and built a sort of "spray paint bathtub" in my dad's workroom out of plastic table cloths and tarps.  Then I lay the cabinets down and got to work; layer after layer of black covering the whole cabinet.  After about 7 coats, I let them dry for a week, then started sanding with various grits of sandpaper, from 220 to 1000.  This part was especially frustrating, because I felt like the more I sanded, the worse my cabinets kept looking.  So I did my best to get the surface smooth again, and went for 2 more coats of black.

In mid July, I signed a lease on a house, so I moved my base of operation into my own garage (finally), and built a [much better] spray paint bathtub in the garage.  I was smarter this time, and used much tougher materials to enclose the painting area.  I lined the floor of the garage with large, flattened cardboard boxes, and went wall-to-wall with butcher paper (and STILL some paint manageed to escape to the concrete floor!)  I taped off the stripe on the cabinets with some blue masking tape and newspaper, and hit the cabinets with 5 or 6 coats of the white appliance epoxy.  I decided to peel the tape off while the paint was still a bit wet, and was totally ecstatic when I saw the razor-sharp edge between the black and white!  See, in college, I used to be a housepainter, and I don't trust painter's tape at all--was trained never to use it.  But I followed Blair's taping advice, and the results were absolutely stellar!  The proof is in the photos.

The Sound

It played around with the amount of stuffing in the vented woofer enclosure.  Initially, I put quite a bit in, and I found that the speakers had sort of a "sub-satellite" sound.  It was interesting, but not necessarily my cup of tea.  I removed most of the stuffing (it is now only very lightly stuffed in about the bottom 1/3 of the enclosure), and was absolutely blown away by the sound!  

These things sound like money!  The sub-sat sound is gone, and the woofers integrate beautifully with the rest of the speakers.  They put out a massive soundstage that just sort of engulfs you.  These speakers do sort of a "disappearing act;" because the soundstage is so wide and tall, you kind of forget where the speakers actually are.  

I spent about $240 for the drivers and crossover parts in these speakers, and they truly sound like something that should cost about $1000-2000 a pair.  Interestingly, a comment people often make about high-quality loudspeakers is that while they make good recordings sound great, they make bad recordings sound worse.  The Cinderellas, on the other hand, with their big sound, make pretty much everything sound exciting.  You could go from the latest over-produced pop tune, to a metal song, to the oldies, and you would find them all extremely enjoyable.  They are certainly not reference monitors, and I would not recommend mixing on them.  That's not what they are for.  The Cinderellas are for filling your living room with music, and blissfully losing yourself in a recording.

The End of Cinderella's Story

I have a fair number of woodworking projects under my belt; but this one tops them all without a doubt.  In my humble opinion, they look and sound nothing short of a pair of cabinets in the "you can't afford this" room at Tweeter.  Thanks to Curt C for the crossover alchemy, Wayne W for the head-turning design, Shawn A for the Bondo advice, and Aaron Hero and Blair for the paint instructions.  

The Cinderellas were the first speakers I built that my fiance took notice of.  She was always polite about "letting me have my hobby," but as these progressed, she kept telling me how much she liked them.  She calls them "sexy," and is so proud that she even invited her mother to come and listen to them! 

It's funny, about a year ago, just before I got into DIY audio, I went into a local HiFi boutique, and drooled over floorstanders by M&K, Linn, Mirage, Tannoy and names far more obscure.  I tried to rationalize how to save up enough nickels and dimes to buy speakers in the 4-figure range, and fantasized about having such elegant monstrosities in my living room.  But everything has changed after being bit by the DIY bug.  My speakers sound and look just as nice as those "rich boy toys. "  (In fact, seeing as it's a DIY design, and a custom paint job, I can probably say that these speakers are so esoteric that they are the only pair of their kind in existence.)  Whenever I drive by high end stereo stores now, my feelings are very different.  I have no desire to empty my wallet for such lustful pieces of electronic furniture.  In fact, I have very little desire to go into the store at all, except to get new ideas for things I can build better and cheaper with my own two hands.