As musicians and DJs, we work with speakers all the time. Naturally, it’s how we play our work to the people who want to hear it! However, speakers are often more complex than we give them credit for. There are many different types of speaker and not all of them work in the same way either. Therefore, it makes sense to know what to look for if you’re keen to set up your own home decks or those that might want to take them on tour with you.
However, this guide isn’t going to be comparing models or giving you the lowdown on what you need to buy. Instead, we’re going to take a quick look inside your everyday speaker, and we’re going to work out exactly how they work. We’ll also take a look at some of the more common tech you’ll find in speakers and woofers on the market today.
How Speakers Work: The Basics
So, let’s take this little science and engineering lesson back to basics. Speakers work through vibration and electromagnetism. You’ve probably already seen speakers vibrate intensively when the bass is turned up too high. There’s a famous viral video online, too, where someone’s speakers vibrate so much that they move off his desk. This isn’t always the best way to go when it comes to playing music; however, it does give us a little bit of insight into the basic science.
Speakers are all generally fitted with an electromagnet, or coil, which reacts to current. When this coil receives a signal, or a current, from a service which the speaker is plugged into, it starts to build its own magnetic field. Still with us? Good.
Inside a speaker, you will also find a completely separate magnet. But what is this used for? This magnet, unlike the coil is fixed in place. The coil is attached to an internal cone but is otherwise free to move around in the speaker. As the current or signal helps it to create a field, it moves back and forth in line with the fixed magnet. This is because it is constantly being repelled, then attracted, then back again. The more these vibrations occur, the higher the pitch of your sound will be.
Remember the cone from a few sentences ago? This is used as an amplifier. It’s normally made from a material which is unlikely to cause any magnetic interruption. Cones can arrive in various shapes and sizes, custom-built to create different sound profiles. This is why some speakers are better suited to low bass or high-frequency noise.
This system is referred to as a dynamic driver or just a driver. It’s the modern standard for speaker technology, meaning you will see this little experiment working within most speaker shells and housings.
And that’s really about it – the science is remarkably simple, and it’s really interesting to see these parts working in practice. But can we dig any deeper into what goes into our speakers, and what makes them work?
We need to consider speaker housing, too. While it makes sense to build drivers into shockproof housing to prevent fatalities and house fires, modern speakers make use of specific design choices to help create and amplify different types of sound profile.
For example, thick-walled housing can help to reduce noise from speaker vibration. This can also be used to help reduce distortion when you need the sound you produce to be crisp, clean and clear. However, in some cases, you might actually want distortion. Rock musicians, for example, actively look for noise to help add to their soundscapes.
Some speaker housing can create what some listeners refer to as a ‘boxy’ effect. This means that they can sometimes result in additional or different types of distortion which would otherwise be avoided. However, again, some musicians actively look for this kind of feedback. It can all add to a unique soundscape. The choice is yours, of course.
One of the major drawbacks of the traditional driver system is that it can result in some speakers being quite big and bulky, and awkward to move around and transport. Therefore, a need for lighter, more slimline speakers has arisen. This is where planar-magnetic systems have arrived on the scene. This technology makes use of thin strips of metal, which are glued via membrane, and which are then attracted and repelled by other thin strips of magnetic material.
This means that this technology while working along the same principles as the dynamic driver model, allows for slimmer, sleeker speaker design. It may not mean that speakers are any smaller, but there are benefits in terms of performance, too. Many users claim that a reduction in resonance and feedback makes for crisper, clearer sound. We happen to agree, but whether or not these systems work in practice on the DJ circuit remains to be seen.
This is all without considering electrostatic speakers, which are often even larger. Ultimately, the simple tech behind speaker systems has been replicated again and again. However, it is a simple circuit which can be tweaked and fine-tuned to help produce truly unique music and noise. That’s why there is often so much choice on the market. You are buying speakers to produce a specific soundscape, not just to play your music loud.
Some may argue that you don’t have to understand how speakers work to be able to use them or enjoy them. There’s no arguing with that logic, but it’s definitely interesting to see what goes on inside our boomers. Speaker systems seem to work along with the same principles – however, research and design are helping to turn these principles into more advanced concepts, for bigger sound, crisper audio and a variety of effects along the way. Whether you’re into clean audio or distortion, there is always going to be an electromagnet or two out there which you can vibrate to your heart’s content. That’s the science lesson over with for today! Have a look at all of our speaker reviews.