Speaker / Precision Transducers / Loudspeaker

The most common type of driver, uses a cone connected to a rigid basket or frame via a spider, that constrains a voice coil to move axially through a cylindrical magnetic 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 coil and the driver's magnetic system interact, generating a mechanical force that causes the coil (and thus, the attached cone) to move back and forth, thereby reproducing sound under the control of the applied electrical signal coming from the amplifier. The following is a description of the individual components of this type of loudspeaker.

The cone 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 would

1) be rigid, to prevent uncontrolled cone motions;

2) have low mass, to minimize starting force requirements and energy storage issues;

3) be 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. For example, paper is light and typically well damped, but is not stiff; metal may be stiff and light, but it usually has poor damping; plastic can be light, but typically, the stiffer it is made, the poorer the damping. As a result, many cones are made of some sort of composite material. For example, a cone might be made of cellulose paper, into which some carbon fiber, Kevlar, glass, hemp or bamboo fibers have been added; or it might use a honeycomb sandwich construction; or a coating might be applied to it so as to provide additional stiffening or damping.

The chassis frame or basket is designed to be rigid, avoiding deformation that could change critical alignments with the magnet gap, perhaps causing the voice coil to rub against the sides of the gap. Chassis are typically cast from aluminum alloy, or stamped from thin steel sheet, although molded plastic and damped plastic compound baskets are becoming common, especially for inexpensive, low-mass drivers. 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, 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 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, or a ring of corrugated, resin coated fabric; it is attached to both the outer diaphragm circumference and to the frame. These different surround materials, their shape and treatment can dramatically affect the acoustic output of a driver; each class and implementation having advantages and disadvantages. Polyester foam, for example, is lightweight and economical, but is degraded by exposure to ozone, UV light, humidity and elevated temperatures, limiting its useful life to about 15 years.

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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 raises the resonant frequency of the voice coil and allows it to respond more easily to higher frequencies. A disadvantage of aluminum is that it is not easily soldered, and so connections are instead often crimped together and sealed. These connections can corrode and fail in time. 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 of the gap being one pole, and the center post (called the pole piece) being the other. The pole piece and backplate are often a single piece, called the poleplate or yoke.

Modern driver magnets are almost always permanent and made of ceramic, ferrite, Alnico, or, more recently, rare earthsuch as neodymium and samarium cobalt. The most common magnet now a days is ferrite magnets, which are made from a mix of ceramic clay and fine particles of barium or strontium ferrite. It is substantially less expensive, allowing designers to use larger yet more economical magnets to achieve a given performance.

 

Driver types


 
A four-way, high fidelity loudspeaker system. Each of the four drivers outputs a different frequency range; the fifth aperture at the bottom is a bass reflex port.

Individual electrodynamic drivers provide optimal performance within a limited pitch range. Multiple drivers (e.g., subwoofers, woofers, mid-range drivers, and tweeters) are generally combined into a complete loudspeaker system to provide performance beyond that constraint.

Full-range drivers

A full-range driver is a speaker designed to be used alone to reproduce an audio channel without the help of other drivers, and therefore must cover the entire audio frequency range. These drivers are small, typically 3 to 12 inches (7.6 to 30.45 cm) in diameter to permit reasonable high frequency response, and carefully designed to give low-distortion output at low frequencies, though with reduced maximum output level. Full-range (or more accurately, wide-range) drivers are most commonly heard in public address systems, in televisions (although some models are suitable for hi-fi listening), small radios, intercoms, some computer speakers, etc. 

Full-range drivers often employ an additional cone called a whizzer: a small, light cone attached to the joint between the voice coil and the primary cone. The whizzer cone extends the high-frequency response of the driver and broadens its high frequency directivity, which would otherwise be greatly narrowed due to the outer diameter cone material failing to keep up with the central voice coil at higher frequencies. The main cone in a whizzer design is manufactured so as to flex more in the outer diameter than in the center. The result is that the main cone delivers low frequencies and the whizzer cone contributes most of the higher frequencies. Since the whizzer cone is smaller than the main diaphragm, output dispersion at high frequencies is improved relative to an equivalent single larger diaphragm.

Subwoofer

A subwoofer is a woofer driver used only for the lowest part of the audio spectrum: typically below 200 Hz for consumer systems . Because the intended range of frequencies is limited, subwoofer system design is usually simpler in many respects than for conventional loudspeakers, often consisting of a single driver enclosed in a suitable box or enclosure. Since sound in this frequency range can easily bend around corners by diffraction, the speaker aperture does not have to face the audience, and subwoofers are often mounted in the bottom of the enclosure facing the floor for convenience.

To accurately reproduce very low bass notes without unwanted resonances (typically from cabinet panels), subwoofer systems must be solidly constructed and properly braced; good speakers are typically quite heavy. Many subwoofer systems include power amplifiers and electronic sub-filters, with additional controls relevant to low-frequency reproduction. These variants are known as "active" or "powered" subwoofers. In contrast, "passive" subwoofers require external amplification.

Woofer

A woofer is a driver that reproduces low frequencies. The driver combines with the enclosure design to produce suitable low frequencies. Some loudspeaker systems use a woofer for the lowest frequencies, sometimes well enough that a subwoofer is not needed. Additionally, some loudspeakers use the woofer to handle middle frequencies, eliminating the mid-range driver. This can be accomplished with the selection of a tweeter that can work low enough that, combined with a woofer that responds high enough, the two drivers add coherently in the middle frequencies.

Mid-range driver

A mid-range speaker is a loudspeaker driver that reproduces middle frequencies. Mid-range driver diaphragms can be made of paper or composite materials, and can be direct radiation drivers (rather like smaller woofers) or they can be compression drivers (rather like some tweeter designs). If the mid-range driver is a direct radiator, it can be mounted on the front baffle of a loudspeaker enclosure, or, if a compression driver, mounted at the throat of a horn for added output level and control of radiation pattern.

Tweeter

A tweeter is a high-frequency driver that reproduces the highest frequencies in a speaker system. A major problem in tweeter design is achieving wide angular sound coverage (off-axis response), since high frequency sound tends to leave the speaker in narrow beams. Soft-dome tweeters are widely found in home stereo systems, and horn-loaded compression drivers are common in professional sound reinforcement. Ribbon tweeters have gained popularity in recent years, as their output power has been increased to levels useful for professional sound reinforcement, and their output pattern is wide in the horizontal plane, a pattern that has convenient applications in concert sound.

Coaxial drivers

A coaxial driver is a loudspeaker driver with two or several combined concentric drivers. 

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