In "Part 1" and "Part 2" of this series of articles, I highlighted why it can be important for loudspeaker companies to make their own drivers. One reason is that, as a loudspeaker manufacturer matures, their capabilities grow, and showcasing that newfound growth can be important for the brand. From a more technical perspective, some loudspeaker designers naturally want to control the entire engineering process so that the final products are more wholly their own. These are extremely valid reasons either alone or in concert with one another.
But there is another reason, too, and this might be the most important. In a word: understanding.
Imagine this: You're a speaker manufacturer and your goal is to produce something fundamentally better than the competition. Can you do that using essentially the same drive units that they use? Loudspeakers are systems, with the drivers translating the electrical into the acoustic. Isn't that translation precisely where a speaker designer needs to have full understanding of the mechanisms at play?
I was speaking with Alon Wolf at Magico about this. Everyone knows by now that Wolf's design goals for his Magico speakers are extreme resolution and utter transparency to the source. Perhaps you didn't know that the cones in his latest speakers are fourth-generation designs, even though from outward appearance they haven't changed a bit since the original Magico Mini. In typically humble Wolf fashion, ahem, he summarized why driver design matters to him, and why chief technical officer Yair Tammam is constantly working on that very thing: "At the level of construction and implementation of our loudspeakers, we must develop even quieter platforms in terms of driver cones and motor systems. You hear each improvement in every subsequent generation."
"What's available" from driver vendors is a highly constraining factor. Think of it as a glass ceiling that, as a speaker designer, you just can't break through. But when you have capability, control, and most importantly, understanding, then you can move freely about in your chosen field. And that, my friends, means mastering the art of loudspeaker design.
Editor-in-Chief, The SoundStage! Network