A loudspeaker (commonly referred to as a speaker or speaker driver) is an electroacoustic transducer, that is, a device that converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. A speaker system, also often simply referred to as a “speaker” or “loudspeaker”, comprises one or more such speaker drivers, an enclosure, and electrical connections possibly including a crossover network.
The speaker driver can be viewed as a linear motor attached to a diaphragm which couples that motor’s movement to the motion of air, that is, sound. An audio signal, typically from a microphone, recording, or radio broadcast, is amplified electronically to a power level capable of driving that motor in order to reproduce the sound corresponding to the original unamplified electronic signal.
This is thus the opposite function to the microphone, and indeed the dynamic speaker driver, by far the most common type, is a linear motor in the same basic configuration as the dynamic microphone which uses such a motor in reverse, as a generator.
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Parts of Loud Speaker
The most common type of driver, commonly called a dynamic loudspeaker, uses a lightweight diaphragm, or cone, connected to a rigid basket, or frame, via a flexible suspension, commonly called a spider, that constrains a voice coil to move axially through a cylindrical magnetic gap. A protective dust cap glued in the cone’s center prevents dust, most importantly ferromagnetic debris, from entering the gap.
When an electrical signal is applied to the voice coil, a magnetic field is created by the electric current in the voice coil, making it a variable electromagnet.
The diaphragm is usually manufactured with a cone- or dome-shaped profile. A variety of different materials may be used, but the most common are paper, plastic, and metal. The ideal material is rigid, to prevent uncontrolled cone motions, has low mass to minimize starting force requirements and energy storage issues and is well damped to reduce vibrations continuing after the signal has stopped with little or no audible ringing due to its resonance frequency as determined by its usage. In practice, all three of these criteria cannot be met simultaneously using existing materials; thus, driver design involves trade-offs.
The chassis, frame, or basket, is designed to be rigid, preventing deformation that could change critical alignments with the magnet gap, perhaps allowing the voice coil to rub against the magnet around the gap. Chassis are typically cast from aluminum alloy, in heavier magnet-structure speakers; or stamped from thin sheet steel in lighter-structure drivers.
Other materials such as molded plastic and damped plastic compound baskets are becoming common, especially for inexpensive, low-mass drivers. A metallic chassis can play an important role in conducting heat away from the voice coil; heating during operation changes resistance, causes physical dimensional changes, and if extreme, broils the varnish on the voice coil; it may even demagnetize permanent magnets.
The suspension system keeps the coil centered in the gap and provides a restoring (centering) force that returns the cone to a neutral position after moving. A typical suspension system consists of two parts: the spider, which connects the diaphragm or voice coil to the lower frame and provides the majority of the restoring force, and the surround, which helps center the coil/cone assembly and allows free pistonic motion aligned with the magnetic gap.
The spider is usually made of a corrugated fabric disk, impregnated with a stiffening resin. The name comes from the shape of early suspensions, which were two concentric rings of Bakelite material, joined by six or eight curved legs. Variations of this topology included the addition of a felt disc to provide a barrier to particles that might otherwise cause the voice coil to rub.
The cone surround can be rubber or polyester foam, treated paper or a ring of corrugated, resin-coated fabric; it is attached to both the outer cone circumference and to the upper frame. These diverse surround materials, their shape and treatment can dramatically affect the acoustic output of a driver; each implementation has advantages and disadvantages.
The wire in a voice coil is usually made of copper, though aluminum—and, rarely, silver—may be used. The advantage of aluminum is its light weight, which reduces the moving mass compared to copper. This raises the resonant frequency of the speaker and increases its efficiency. A disadvantage of aluminum is that it is not easily soldered, and so connections must be robustly crimped together and sealed. Voice-coil wire cross sections can be circular, rectangular, or hexagonal, giving varying amounts of wire volume coverage in the magnetic gap space.
The coil is oriented co-axially inside the gap; it moves back and forth within a small circular volume (a hole, slot, or groove) in the magnetic structure. The gap establishes a concentrated magnetic field between the two poles of a permanent magnet; the outside ring of the gap is one pole, and the center post (called the pole piece) is the other. The pole piece and backplate are often made as a single piece, called the poleplate or yoke.
The size and type of magnet and details of the magnetic circuit differ, depending on design goals. For instance, the shape of the pole piece affects the magnetic interaction between the voice coil and the magnetic field, and is sometimes used to modify a driver’s behavior. A shorting ring, or Faraday loop, may be included as a thin copper cap fitted over the pole tip or as a heavy ring situated within the magnet-pole cavity.
The benefits of this complication are reduced impedance at high frequencies, providing extended treble output, reduced harmonic distortion, and a reduction in the inductance modulation that typically accompanies large voice coil excursions. On the other hand, the copper cap requires a wider voice-coil gap, with increased magnetic reluctance; this reduces available flux, requiring a larger magnet for equivalent performance.
Speaker system design is both an art, involving subjective perceptions of timbre and sound quality and a science, involving measurements and experiments. Adjusting a design to improve performance is done using a combination of magnetic, acoustic, mechanical, electrical, and materials science theory, and tracked with high-precision measurements and the observations of experienced listeners. A few of the issues speaker and driver designers must confront are distortion, acoustic loving, phase effects, off-axis response, and crossover artifacts.
Designers can use an anechoic chamber to ensure the speaker can be measured independently of room effects, or any of several electronic techniques that, to some extent, substitute for such chambers. Some developers eschew anechoic chambers in favor of specific standardized room setups intended to simulate real-life listening conditions.