Speakers often need to be added - embedded - into a product that is not primarily an audio product. Think, for example, of things we interact with everyday: the car’s audio system, the menu board in the drive thru lane, the paging speakers in a subway car, the audio system in a slot machine in a casino, even the ultrasound equipment in your doctor's office.
If you are the person, or part of the team, responsible for embedding the audio system into these products you need to know: Where do you start? Do you focus on the speaker mounting? The speaker itself? How to power it? The digital signal processing (DSP) you’ll need to make it sound best? The answer is YES to all of these, and at the same time–from the beginning.
Integrating a sound system well into a product requires taking a full system approach to audio design. It is more than finding parts at a distributor; it’s about having a holistic view of what the system needs to deliver to the end customers.
Starting the Speaker Conversation
Whether you just have a drawing on a napkin or think you already know 100% of everything you want in your custom sound system, speaking with experts in audio design can help you weigh the tradeoffs you’ll have to make around size, price, quality, and timing.
The conversation should start with these basic questions:
- What are the performance goals of the audio system?
- What limitations do you have?
- What is your budget?
The performance goals part revolves around where the system will be used, what sounds it will be reproducing, how loud it needs to be, etc. The second question, focused on limitations, generally involves conversations around space and power. The third, cost, you may or may not have control over, but it needs to be considered early. These three questions will give your audio designer the information they need to start the design and balance the compromises inherent in all engineering projects.
For example, if you need to squeeze speakers into a car door, but still want impressive bass, should you use multiple speakers, design a very shallow woofer, or solve this with DSP? Or, you are designing a high quality home audio system where a balance of size, sound quality, and aesthetics are required. What is the best choice of woofers & tweeters that sound good as a pair and look good too?
Simplify Your Process
Once the initial feasibility, modeling, and design work of the speaker driver, enclosure, and amplification is complete, the next step is to build a prototype and test it, to see if the product meets your requirements.
Working with a driver manufacturer for your system design has many advantages. Because they control material selection of each component in the driver, they can make those decisions based on the system goals and not force unnecessary compromises later. In addition, it’s likely they use 3D printers and computer numerical control (CNC) routers to create enclosures for near instant evaluation of both the driver and enclosure design. This dramatically reduces the time from design to finished product. It also allows early integration of the amplification and evaluation of what DSP will be beneficial or necessary for achieving the system performance goals.
Having a complete menu of DSP options built into the amp again speeds the process. For example, having the crossovers (assigning the proper frequencies to each driver) in the DSP eliminates the need to design and build crossover networks filled with potentially expensive capacitors, inductors, and resistors.
Tools like time alignment (matching up audio coming from multiple speakers so it arrives to the listener in phase), equalization (manipulating frequencies to get the best acoustical output from the speakers), and spatial widening all allow for both performance optimization and even corrections of problems inherent in the main product. Think window reflections in the car, or speakers mounted (necessarily) in acoustically compromised positions. Both in the initial design and final system tuning, DSP built into the amplifier improves system quality and reduces overall system cost.
In addition to critical listening, you need acoustical measurements of the speaker’s performance not just on axis but spherically around the loudspeakers. State-of-the-art Klippel technology can now do in a matter of hours what it used to take weeks to accomplish in an anechoic chamber. A speaker designer and manufacturer with in-house access to this technology can identify and troubleshoot audio system issues quickly to allow further modifications and iterations to continue.
Other Wins From Full System Approach
If, in the end, your loudspeaker system design partner can also be your manufacturing and logistics partner, you reap additional benefits. Purchasing the entire audio system from the manufacturer can simplify the supply chain and reduce risks around protecting intellectual property and trade secrets as well. Quality control is simplified too because the accountability for system performance and manufacturing quality will be handled by just one vendor.
Embedded audio system design and manufacturing takes specialized knowledge and experience. It’s important to be informed on the process and to have a trustworthy partner to get the best audio system for the budget. We at MISCO will be happy to talk with you about how to get started.