The idea of building my own loudspeakers and trying out my own unique ideas for their external appearance has long appealed to me. But it was only when my 1970s Braun wall speakers suffered irreparable damage during a move to student accommodations that I decided to follow through on the idea. I had already come across the concept of building loudspeakers while absently surfing the web, and now I immersed myself in research. I spent many pleasant hours looking forward to the project.
It was clear from the start that it would be a free-standing box. For one thing, it had to meet my classical-music needs. For another, it also had to keep up with my love of electronically produced, bass-heavy music, which needs to be played at a higher volume. At the same time, the choice was also influenced by my love of simple, functional but aesthetically pleasing solutions to complex problems. And then of course there was the student budget, which rules out certain price categories. So I decided on the AX-8 HR without having heard it before – the listening studio is just too far away for southern Germans to pay it a quick visit. So I was completely reliant on the sound descriptions.
When I asked a friend’s father for advice on a couple of practical issues, he not only offered to let me make the speakers in his workshop, but was also so enthusiastic about the idea that he immediately ordered the same assembly kit for one of his sons as a confirmation present. His many years of experience as a shop teacher and artist, along with the perfect environment with the right tools for everything, made the woodworking step a complete success. I want to extend my thanks to him again here.
The only thing we couldn’t find was the right router head to countersink the chassis. I didn’t want to compromise if it meant the recess might not be round enough, so I decided that my first homemade loudspeaker boxes would have the chassis placed on top, as a design element born out of necessity. In the end, I was actually very pleased with it.
Right from the start, one of my wishes was to build loudspeakers out of wood, and to treat the surface in a way that would preserve the wood’s character without any veneering. I also kept noticing the interesting effect of multiplex side panels in the forum. I imagined that the contrast between light-colored wood and dark leather would look very nice, like a combination of Wolfgang’s AX-08 HR and Joerg’s SB 36.
On top of the price of the multiplex, I had failed to consider that this material only allows limited sanding corrections if it is not precisely glued. As a result, I had to sand off an entire layer twice, but the visual effect was nowhere near as bad as I had feared. The layer underneath is not as pretty as the top layer, and the grain runs vertically – but in the end I was glad I made the extra effort and talked myself into the expensive multiplex. If I were going to build the boxes again, I would cut all of the sides one millimeter longer and put the cutouts for the lamellas one millimeter closer to the inside.
Once the body was far enough along that I could put the speaker in, I was overcome by my curiosity about the sound. I underestimated another thing here: the time it takes to break in the speaker, which plays an important role for the Axis HR drivers in particular. The first few notes did not exactly blow me away. But after I left it alone and let it warm up for about 10 hours on its own, I came back to the sweet spot and found that I could hardly recognize the sound from my new speakers. It was as if the membranes needed to “play themselves free” and get warmed up. Or as if someone had secretly switched out the drivers. Now, assuming a good recording, it was like an entire symphony orchestra was in the room, playing with great clarity where previously there had just been a cloud. I heard exactly what I had been hoping to hear from a set of full-bodied standing boxes: sound that spread out through the room and didn’t feel like it was coming from two eight-inchers. The murky cloud had evaporated, and was replaced by a clear, very defined sound. Over the next few days, it even got a little clearer (or at least I imagined it did).
My electronic music, too, came out in a completely new way, and like everything else if felt incredibly direct. There were many small nuances, little hisses, subtle sound traces that I had never noticed before. Even with classical music, the wide-range speakers had shown themselves fully capable of reproducing the deep notes of the upright bass in a wonderfully full-bodied way, but it was especially clear with electronic music.
For instance, Oliver Koletzki’s “I Miss My Friends” starts out in a wonderfully spherical way, and it also sounded incredibly spatial on my new boxes, with the soundscape of an airport. Then the melody, which sounds a little like a xylophone, simply steps out in front of the backdrop. When the drums start up together with an electric bass, you can see the full tonal richness of the AX-8. My earlier boxes had plenty of thump, too. But the gradient drivers show how the low frequencies can be reproduced even by a reasonable wide-range speaker: deep, clearly defined, with pressure but not too dominant (as is often quickly the case with many other systems.
Still, I was also able to hear and confirm the often-mentioned drawbacks. When you move away a little bit from the sweet spot, the highs lose quite a bit of clarity, and the basses sound blurry. The angle of radiation is narrower for the high frequencies than I had assumed, and you really only get the full effect when you are in the right place. Still, that is not a big problem for me, as it turns out. You simply need to point the speakers at a carefully chosen spot where you will be sitting to enjoy your music. During a casual evening with friends, no one is listening that carefully anyway. You just can’t have it all, and sometimes nice things partly depend on the limitations that come with them.
After my extensive listening session, I forced myself to take the drivers back out. The wood was treated with two coats of white-pigmented hard oil, and the leather was glued on. Even though professional leatherworking advises against it, I also used wood glue here. I was completely satisfied with the results, without any bubbles. In order to recess the cut edges of the artificial leather, I had cut 3-mm-wide grooves in the front panel before gluing it. Before the assembly, I built a model to practice this step. The excess leather would be pressed into the grooves using the back of a knitting needle; then the part sticking out the top was sliced off with a cutter.
My first DIY loudspeaker project will certainly not be my last. It was great, from picking out the right assembly kit to the joy I experienced when the speakers were finished and set up my parents’ living room. Since then, it has been taking me a good 20 minutes to brush my teeth because I am standing in the reflection of the sweet spot, which is very hard to escape.
Still, there’s always a fly in the ointment: the pictures I took with a borrowed SLR camera show a missing screw on the speakers, which I noticed much too late and which still bothers me. :))
Many thanks to the loudspeaker building community for the assembly kit and the inspiration.