So I humbly returned the books to the library, and tried to forget that I ever wanted to try building speakers in the first place.
A few years later, while living in California with a friend for a summer, the two of us decided to try to build a speaker out of some [nice-looking] parts we saw at a nearby electronics store. We thought we'd do something brilliant and put the drivers in an unusual enclosure. The result sounded awful (but looked really cool). We quickly learned that to assume that you can buy some nice drivers, plop them into any old enclosure, and expect it to sound like anything is a shot in the dark at best. After that experience, I was pretty sure I was best off leaving speaker building to the pros.
I am a frequent reader of the website hackaday.com. I thoroughly enjoy finding out the ingenious ways people figured out how to use ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Sometime in October, a guy built an unusual iPod dock. It had a tube amp driving a homemade speaker. What grabbed my attention was not the tube amp, but the speaker itself. While his writeup of the iPod dock was very brief, he mentioned that this attractive-looking speaker was called the Dayton III, and was probably the most popular DIY speaker design out there. My eyebrows raised.
Here is the aforementioned wacky ipod dock.
Sure enough, the Dayton III is the brainchild of the brilliant DIY speaker designer Wayne Jaeschke, of the website www.speakerbuilder.net. What really grabbed my attention about the Dayton IIIs was not just that they had been successfully built by many hobbyists, but that a very nice young fellow named Alan Loprete had actually written a walkthrough detailing the steps of building the Dayton IIIs. Oh goodness, maybe it was going to be possible to build my own speakers after all!
Here are the basic plans of the Dayton III
Here is Alan Lopretes very helpful walkthrough.
The plans for the Dayton III (also referred to as the D3) said that they were a good set of speakers for a first-timer to learn the ins and outs of speaker building. When I first read that line, I felt a bit cocky, thinking, "Oh come on, what kind of ins and out are we talking about here? It's just sawing some wood, screwing some speakers in, and soldering a few parts to a crossover." However, after officially completing my first set of speakers, I can honestly say that there are several ins and outs to building speakers that you really have to try yourself--reading about it won't suffice.
Unlike trying to find information on making a webpage for your dog, or how to adjust to the all-watermelon diet, there are scant resources available on how to build your own loudspeakers. Unfortunately, there are only about three books on the subject. The Internet, on the other hand, is a cool new resource that wasn't really available to me 12 years ago. And while it does have dozens of webpages created by speaker building hobbyists, very few of these people go into the details of how to actually build the speakers. On the upside, these websites do contain a veritable bevy of DIY speaker plans--which are great to have, once you get the "ins and outs" under your belt.
Before rushing over to Home Depot or logging into partsexpress.com to buy all the parts, I did as much studying-up on the subject as I could, so I could at least have a theoretical understanding of what I was about to attempt. (After all, since this was going to cost me $200+, I wanted to be sure that my efforts would really produce something worthwhile) Finally, my interest in the project was near an obsession, and I knew I was ready to go at it.
Trips to the hardware store: so many I lost count
Cuts or broken bones: 0
Bouts of frustration: 2 or 3
Cleanup: getting fine sawdust out of EVERYTHING in the workroom
Number of mice in my dad's workroom: dozens
Satisfaction with final product: extremely satisfied
This was my first time using a router. I borrowed the router and bits from my uncle and my girlfriend's dad, respectively. My first attempts of trying to do anything with the machine were terrible at best. To be honest, the thing scared me. I mean, that bit was turning at 20,000 RPM, meanwhile the room smelled of smoke, and sawdust was being thrown out in a thick stream. To make matters worse, the driver holes I was attempting to make kept coming out the wrong size.
If none of the above made sense to you, that's okay. I will hopefully someday soon write out a much-needed set of instructions on how to make your own circle jig for the world.
My problem was actually very easily solved. The bits were merely dirty. All I needed to do was two things:
1. Use oven cleaner to clean the crap off the bits.
2. When using the bits, use a light oil to keep things lubricated.
Once I enacted these two measures, my router problems were a thing of the past, and I was able to route holes lickedy-split. Seriously, once I got the hang of it, I was amazed at how fast and accurate of a machine it really was.
I know I read this several times, but for some reason I did it back-assward. There are three very good reasons for putting the front baffle on first.
1. You can align the top and sides to be flush with the front baffle. This is important cosmetically because the front is the part you look at the most. Because I put mine on last, I had to spend an hour filing away all sorts of wonky edges to make the front appear flush.
2. You can mount the crossover components to the back board, THEN put the back board in place, rather than trying to stick things to the back board by reaching through the driver holes. Actually, I didn't have this problem. I mounted the crossover components on the back board, then installed the front baffle. The only drawback is that that crossover is never coming out, because the crossover is larger than the driver holes.
3. You can easily reach through the driver holes to seal the back board, versus trying to seal the front baffle by reaching around and not being able to see what you are doing. In order to seal the front baffle, I had to put a hand mirror inside the baffle, then put globs of caulk on a popsicle stick and reach inside and gloop it in place around the edges of the front baffle. This was VERY messy, and I'm not even sure how well it sealed the cabinet.
At first I thought I had to be super-careful when getting PVC pipe the right size and shape for the vent. I went to the hardware store and had them cut it into perfect 8" long pieces, because that was what the plans called for. Then later on I realized that the vent length of 8" was meant to include the wood it mounted to. So I had to cut off 3/4" of an inch off each one with a hacksaw. The edges were jagged, and far from square, so I wondered if it would still work. When I used some Goop to stick the PVC into the rebates in the wood, I noticed that the Goop dried to fill in the gaps very nicely. Sure, the vent tube didn't exactly sit at a 90 degree angle, but it didn't matter, becuase that part was on the inside, and was never seen by people. Flaring the edges of the wood to mete the tube was also very easy (if not a bit fun). Wayne J at www.speakerbuilder.net gives great instructions on how to do this.
Before I even started the project, I debated all my options for finishing the outside of the cabinets. It seemed to boil down to two options
1. Veneer - I have never used the stuff, and it seemed like a lot of work (not to mention VERY expensive). Plus, once it's in place, then it must be sanded and stained and finished--something I can do, but generally suck at. Plus, stain and laquer stinks up the house for days or weeks.
2. Spray paint - seemed a bit expensive, but doable. My biggest fear, however, was that dust would certainly accumulate on the surface as it dried--which would require vigorous amounts of sanding, and would probably never look very slick. Unless I wanted to construct some sort of dust collection system, it didn't seem like a wise idea.
When it came time to actually apply the laminate, I studied Darren Kuzma's writeup. Like everything else, however, it was a trial-and-error process. I ended up peeling the laminate off the first speaker, re-sanding, and applying a new sheet of laminate--something I could never afford to do if I was using veneer.
Here is Darren Kuzma's writeup on how to work with the stuff. Decent, but you'll really get it once you just dig in and try it.
Frank Zappa used to say, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture," and I often feel that way when I read people's descriptions of loudspeakers. Nonetheless, I will do my best to give my impressions.
Now, I can't discuss audiophile speakers without a word or two about imaging and soundstage. As lifted from the Crutchfield website, imaging refers to being able to hear the placement of instruments and sound (from left to right) in a stereo recording. Soundstage--a similar idea--is the way that the speakers make the song sound like it is taking place in in the room (imagine the performers playing on a stage in your living room). As many DIY first-timers have said, until I made the Dayton IIIs, the two concepts were sort of hypothetical to me.
First of all, the imaging really is very good on these. I almost feel like it's something I've never really experienced. I noticed that, on some songs, certain instruments almost seemed to scream, "I'm over here!" from the far left and right. And I'd think to myself, "Wow, I never noticed that instrument was so far out there." It's pretty cool, actually.
I also feel like these speakers have shown me what
"soundstage" actually means. For instance, one of the first CDs I
tried out on them was the straightforward (yet very well-recorded)
"Around the Fur" by the Deftones. I couldn't help but notice that the
first song, "My Own Summer (Shove it)," actually seemed TALL. I didn't
know speakers could do that! Also, I have noticed that on well-mixed
songs, instruments seem to come from beyond the width of the
speakers--almost like a movie screen which somehow could make a movie
seem wider than the edges of the screen itself.
There really are a lot of "ins and outs" to building your own speakers. And because there are so few resources out there on how to properly construct a cabinet, the process of going from "I know how to use a saw and drill" to "look at me, I made my own set of speakers" is like the equivalent of trying to get a car from 0 to 65 mph without a first or second gear. And no, you cannot grind the thing into 3rd gear and hope it gets there. You pretty much have to make your own first and second gear. The good news is that once you have learned those steps (through trial and error), they're there for good, and you may have permanently caught the DIY bug. I know I did. By the time I was nearing the completion of the Dayton III, I was already contemplating what I could build this summer (maybe some full-range floorstanders). For now, however, the mission is complete, and the results are very, very impressive!