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Salvage It!

Improving the sound of salvaged loudspeaker systems

by Julian Edgar

One area of consumer electronics that hasn’t fundamentally changed over the last 30 years is the design and manufacture of speaker systems. Whether they were originally connected to a record player, tuner, cassette deck or CD player, all boxed speakers use much the same technology. This means that the speakers you can now pick up at garage sales, the tip or secondhand are still very useful, no matter what music source you’re using.

But nothing sounds worse than a really horrible speaker, so why bother sourcing cheap or no-cost discards? There are two main reasons: first, there are some very good speakers out there just waiting to be found and second, if you have a half-reasonable starting point, it’s not hard to make some major improvements for very little extra money.

Buying speakers

Click for larger image
Inside each box was a decent small woofer and cone-type tweeter with a single capacitor crossover.

In most cases, you won’t have a chance to listen to a speaker that you’re collecting, so how do you make any judgements as to how good it will sound? Here are some buying points:

(1) Pick them up and feel their weight. In nearly every case, heavier means better.

(2) Detach the grille and inspect the cones. The roll suspensions should be intact and you should be able to manually move the bass driver back and forth without any binding (or interference) between the voice coil and the dust cap. Be wary if you cannot detach the grille.

(3) Either a ported or non-ported design is fine but in the case of ported speakers, the port diameter should be large enough to ensure that whistling or "chuffing" noises do not occur. In other words, a tiny port diameter with a large diameter woofer isn’t a good sign. Very large diameter (but short) ports are also unlikely to be indicative of a good design, as they’ll be tuned to a high box resonant frequency.

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