In an ideal world, a speaker would be freestanding and not blocked by any other element whatsoever. In practice, most speakers need protection from the operating environment. Some of that essential protection comes in the form of the speaker grill, a hard or soft covering mounted directly over the face of the speaker driver.
Any time anything blocks or encloses the speaker, acoustical compromises are inevitable. That said, grills can be designed to improve performance and minimize distortion. The materials used in the grill and its design both impact the overall results of any audio system.
Three Parts of Designing and Integrating a Speaker Grill
The speaker grill is often overlooked, but it should be planned out in detail. When you aren’t clear about the impact of a grill, you might find it’s more detrimental than you expected. On the other hand, you can reduce the effect of your grill by focusing on three critical design areas:
Audio quality comes first. When speaker grills are designed to perform multiple functions, there’s a far greater risk that they won’t do any of them well. For example, some speaker grills are integrated in such a way as to reduce the risk of vandalism. This often requires trade-offs.
While it’s easy to design a grill that meets protective requirements, it often means adding on a heavy, louvered element that redirects sound as it comes from the speaker. Not only does this influence the ideal positioning of the speaker in operation, but reduces its acoustical potential.
Durability is second. A light mesh covering is sufficient to protect a home speaker system and has the least effect on its performance. But if you are creating an audio system for a music hall, a movie theater, or other public venues, you must plan for the wear and tear the system can absorb.
A light grill is sufficient to keep ordinary dust, dirt, and grime out of the sensitive inner workings of audio equipment. Permanent indoor installations in concert venues and churches often use the lightest grills possible. Equipment meant to be used outdoors has greater engineering challenges.
Aesthetics are the final consideration. Aesthetic qualities are generally most important in consumer goods where the end-user will interact directly with the equipment on a regular basis. A pleasing balance of aesthetic elements can add greater prestige and luxury to the design.
Speaker systems are often located far from the public eye. They may be positioned overhead or off in the distance on a stage that could be hundreds of feet away. In situations like these, it can be best to reduce the focus on aesthetics when doing so improves audio performance and budget.
How Speaker Grill Materials Affect Performance
In heavy-duty applications, especially outdoors, metal is the most protective material. Detailed testing at MISCO’s audio labs has shown that a metal grill should be 60% open for optimal acoustical transparency. Each hole must be wider in diameter than the metal is thick. Aluminum and stainless steel are popular choices not only for their level of tamper-proofing, but also for defense against the elements as they don’t rust.
Mass-produced consumer goods benefit from appropriate performance at a lower price point by using plastic grills. Plastic grills can be integrated into the housing of a unit like a soundbar or smart speaker and then covered with a more aesthetically pleasing outer grill.
MISCO provides the engineering insight and domain expertise to bring your sound system concepts to life. To find out more or get started, contact our team today.