Technology

Can modern design and a vintage look rhyme with high fidelity?

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Vintage style, unusual conception, can the aesthetics of electronics and speakers influence how they sound? Is the shape of a speaker a useful feature in hi-fi or can it negatively affect the sound?

Spherical speakers

When speaking about design and shape in the world of hi-fi, it is impossible not to mention Elipson, the brand that pioneered innovative design. After WWII, the manufacturer equipped the French Maison de la Radio with new speakers boasting crazy shapes, completely in tune with the 60s aesthetic. From sphere-shaped models to globes fitted with deflectors, Elipson speakers are entirely unique and the embodiment of beauty, refinement, and musicality. The founder of Elipson, Joseph Léon, discovered that a spherical speaker offered acoustic advantages to the drivers.

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The back wave was no longer forcefully stopped by the panel opposite the driver, but instead was guided along the inside of the speaker, then captured by damping material placed in the back of the speaker or muted by a system of internal resonators. The sound wave created by the visible part of the cone was therefore the only sound the listener could hear.

Elipson Planet M

The Elipson Planet M spherical speakers.

Deflector/diffuser speakers

From the Davone Mojo to the Yamaha Relit LSX-170, speakers fitted with a diffuser are back in style. When installed in the middle of a living room, their up-firing driver coupled with the diffuser allows for 360° sound diffusion. Let’s be clear, this type of speaker is in no way meant for audiophile use, and adding a diffuser so that the sound wave can bounce off of it usually offers very arbitrary results. Nevertheless, Elipson decided to develop this concept (Elipson Conque, BS50 Tribune) and managed to obtain excellent results. The technique that was employed was comparable to that of the acoustic horn, and a very specific frequency range was mechanically amplified.

Elipson BS50 Tribute

The Elipson BS50 Tribute speakers

Curved speakers

Davone Grande, Davone Tulip, Focal Utopia… Are speakers which are curved toward the listener and/or feature non-parallel panels superior to traditional speakers? While the answer greatly depends on the driver’s quality, its crossover filter and its enclosure, curved lines often offer acoustic advantages comparable to those of spherical speakers due to the smooth circulation of the back waves.

Davone Grande

A pair of Davone Grande speakers.

Drop-shaped speakers

Bowers&Wilkins Diamond, Focal Utopia, some speakers are drop-shaped. Here again, the idea is to direct back waves-mainly those diffused by the tweeter or medium drivers-toward a narrow area where they are absorbed by damping material. The cone is therefore no longer influenced by the back waves, which lowers the distortion.

B&W Diamond 800

The infinity baffle of a B&W Diamond 800 speaker.

Flat speakers

These very thin speakers can be placed directly against a wall and are a great way to wow guests. Do mounted speakers and ultra-slim speakers offer sonic advantages? Not really, since the very small size of these speakers only allows for a limited frequency response in the lower end of the spectrum. Most of all, such a design implies that the driver’s cone is extremely close to the back of the speaker. The wave therefore travels in a very chaotic way, which creates sound distortion.

B&O Play A9

The B&O Play A9 active speaker.

Micro speakers or satellite speakers

Fitted with very small drivers, sometimes barely larger than an apple, these speakers are extremely small and particularly convenient for a discreet installation in nearly any room. However, small size rhymes with shy bass. It is basically impossible to create a balanced and pleasant listening experience without adding a subwoofer. On the other hand, satellite speakers can be very convincing in this type of installation. Their small drivers are fitted with very light cones to offer a particularly well-articulated sound.

Focal Dôme 2.0

The Focal Dome 2.0 satellite speakers.

Metal or glass speakers

Waterfall, Magico, several brands tried to swap wood for more modern materials. The stiffness of these materials (metal, plexiglass) is often cited as a way to reduce unwanted vibrations and distortion. But these materials also have a much lower damping ability, which may result in a harsh listening experience.

Waterfall Iguasçu Evo

The Waterfall Iguasçu Evo speakers.

Aluminum panels are often lined with damping materials. But this option would defeat the purpose of synthetic glass speakers since these materials are not see-through.

Real wood speakers

While wood is the king of materials for speakers, it is not possible to use solid wood. Wood is a living material, which means it responds to humidity and room temperature. For a sealed enclosure, the speaker may become less airtight with time. This is the reason why manufacturers favor MDF (compacted and glued wood fibres) or plywood. Speakers featuring a wood finish are alway covered in wood veneer.

Klipsch Heresy III

The Klipsch Heresy III speakers in their Californian walnut veneer version.

If vintage hi-fi is right up your alley, feel free to browse our Vintage selection.

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This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

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