20. Types of loudspeakers


Author: Karsten Hein

Category: High Fidelity

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There are many different types of loudspeakers on the market. They range from horn-loaded designs to transmission lines, from 4-way via dual concentric to full-range. Each type has its own characteristic signature that will have benefits in some applications and disadvantages in others. To choose the best type of speakers for our lineup, we will need to consider the size of our listening room, as well as the types of music that our speakers will be mostly playing. While listening rooms will range from large to small and interior surfaces from absorbing to reflecting, our choice of music may similarly range from a preference towards natural instruments to electronically engineered sounds, from homely studio atmospheres to huge live venues.

If our listening position is at relatively low range, a speaker’s ability to perform well at high volumes will be less significant than its capacity to provide time and phase alignment at a close distance. If our preferred music is mostly that of studio recorded natural instruments and voices, our speaker’s ability to recreate the precise studio atmosphere will be more appealing to us than its ability to highlight the types of base lines found in artificially designed effect sounds that are found in movies and electronic music. If we have the necessary space to experiment with the positioning of our speakers, we will probably find that nearly all types of loudspeakers offer enough bass extension to perform well, even without the aid of additional subwoofers being placed in the room.

Horn-loaded speakers are among the oldest variety of speakers, dating back to a time when electronic amplification was not yet available. The amplifying effects of animal horns and conches were used for public address, even before music was recorded. Anyone who has heard announcements made over a public address horn will understand that horns cary some frequencies better than others, thereby changing the natural tonality of the addresser. Today, horn-loaded speakers are mostly used in settings where music needs to be cast at high volume and over long distance, such as live concerts. Similarly, if live concerts played at high volumes are our preference for home listening, horn-loaded speakers might be our our choice of medium.

Today, the most common type of loudspeaker for home use is still of a relatively unexciting box shaped design with moving coil drivers that are made of paper or similar light weight materials. This design provides lots of freedom in terms of room placement and usually offers specialist drivers for each frequency range to assure for accurate reproduction of sound. Since the moving components of moving coil driver designs are relatively heavy, there is at least some unintended time lag involved when bringing them up to speed and slowing them down which leads to a smothering of frequencies. For those of us willing to experiment with more nimble designs, both planar magnetic and electrostatic speakers may present interesting alternatives in sound reproduction.

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