How to Identify the Components of a Speaker

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How to Identify the Components of a Speaker

Speakers come in many shapes and sizes, but the internal components are almost always the same. People interested in purchasing quality speakers should invest a little bit of time into learning how to correctly identify the different components of a speaker. This may prove invaluable when determining if a speaker is of good quality or if any of a speaker's existing parts need replacing.

Speakers, especially high-quality speakers, are an investment and can be quite costly, and even some select speaker parts are very expensive. Some shoppers may be able to save a substantial amount of money by shopping online at websites like eBay, rather than visiting more traditional retail venues. But before beginning the shopping process, they should identify the core components of a speaker, which include the cone and surround, the spider, the voice coil, the basket, and the magnet. They should also understand what designs and materials indicate a quality part.

Identifying a Cone and Surround

The speaker cone is the wide, round, cone-shaped element which provides the outermost casing to a speaker's internal components. The cone is also sometimes called a diaphragm or a driver. The purpose of a cone is to reproduce a speaker's voice coil waveform as accurately as possible. Most cones are manufactured using paper, plastics, or laminates, which are very strong for their weight while also being able to respond to tonals faster than cones manufactured of other materials. The surround forms the hard, wide outer rim of the cone, and it is usually manufactured from plastics, resins, or treated cloths.

Choosing a Quality Cone and Surround

The best cone and surround assemblies are made of paper, which is coincidentally one of the cheapest materials found in these assemblies, and also the most tonally responsive. Since a cone actually produces the sounds a speaker projects, this tonal responsiveness is key. Buyers should shy away from cone and surround assemblies made of more exotic materials, which are generally exorbitantly more expensive, while also offering poorer performance.

Identifying a Spider

The spider lies just beneath the cone and surround, and it is a flexible corrugated disk containing a very fine tinsel wire coil. The case itself is usually a fine, treated fabric. A speaker's spider is generally brown or yellow-brown, and it serves the purpose of providing enough 'spring' to the cone so it can quickly return to resting position after registering an input signal from the voice coil.

Choosing a Quality Spider

In the event that users needs to replace a spider, there are a few ideal ways to identify a quality part. More traditional cloth and woven spiders should be replaced with new composite spiders. Composite spiders are more linear in design and therefore longer lasting than older varieties, though they are typically also more expensive.

Identifying a Voice Coil

The voice coil is largely responsible for a speaker's quality of sound, and it is responsible for moving the cone to produce the sound dictated by its electronic feed. Voice coils are comprised of either two or four strands of copper wires wound along formers, which may be made of various materials including paper (usually), aluminium, Kapton, or Nomex.

Choosing a Quality Voice Coil

There are generally two types of voice coils which include under hung or coils generally as short or shorter than the width of the front plate, or overhung, meaning longer than the width of the front plate. An underhung coil is louder than an overhung coil, but is likely to wear out faster. Buyers should select the size of coil based on their preferences. Additionally, buyers should select a voice coil based on its former material. Generally, synthetic materials are longer lasting and help deliver superior sound, but are exponentially more expensive than other options.

Identifying a Basket

The basket is employed primarily to hold other elements of a speaker into correct position, acting somewhat like a frame. Baskets are often made from a wide variety of materials with low resonance, which include cast or stamped metals, plastics, and polycarbonate. Plastic and polycarbonate baskets are manufactured in different colours to give a speaker a unique look. The basket generally mimics the cone shape of a speaker's cone and surround, but with segments of the side cut-out to reduce the basket's weight.

Identifying a Quality Basket

Individuals should select a basket made of materials with as little resonance as possible, so that the basket does not interfere with the sound a speaker produces. For those who prefer listening to music with many high or shaper sounds, a polycarbonate basket is generally the best option. For those who listen to music which primarily features deeper sounds and bass, a metal basket is the way to go. A metal basket is usually heavier and more expensive, unfortunately. Those shopping for a metal basket should opt for a cast basket, rather than a stamped one, as cast metal has less resonance.

Identifying a Magnet

A speaker's magnet is usually a heavy metal or ceramic ring which fits around the voice coil beneath the speaker's cone. The magnet, along with the coil, serve as the 'motor' of the speaker, moving the cone to produce sound. Most speaker magnets are made of neodymium, ferrite, alnico, or samarium cobalt, each with their own relative benefits and drawbacks.

Choosing a Quality Magnet

The qualities of speaker magnets are attributes directly related to the material from which they were formed. Neodymium magnets possess the strongest charge compared to other options, and because they possess such a strong charge, they can be made smaller than other magnets, meaning lighter speakers. However, these magnets are also extremely brittle. Ferrite or ceramic magnets are the longest lasting and cheapest magnet types, but are very heavy, brittle, and prone to chipping. They also generally lose their charge if they are too close to other magnets. Alnico is one of the most common speaker magnet types, and is very strong and resistant to cracking or chipping. Alnico magnets are more expensive than most other magnet types, and they are known for producing warmer tones than other magnets. Samarium cobalt magnets are the least common, and are very strong and heat-resistant, and unlike the other metal magnet types, are resistant to corrosion.

Identifying a Pole Piece

Pole pieces are the metal cylinders in speakers which assist in the protection and operation of the magnet and voice coil. A speaker generally has two pole pieces. The central pole piece serves to extend the magnetic core of a magnet, reinforcing its charge and keeping it in place. This serves to focus the magnet's charge on the voice coil. The second pole piece usually surrounds the centre pole piece, magnet, and voice coil, protecting them from environmental particulates and damage and guiding the magnetic motions which move the speaker cone and help produce sound. Pole pieces are always magnetically permeable.

Choosing a Quality Pole Piece

Quality in a pole piece is determined by its size, relative to the magnet and voice coil assembly. When replacing a pole piece, shoppers should always try to find a pole piece which leaves as small a cavity as possible between the edge of the pole piece and the magnet, as this can avoid the creation of noise distortion. Buyers should also size an outer pole piece so that there is a minimal gap between the inner piece and the centre of the speaker cone.

How to Purchase Quality Speaker Components on eBay

Purchasing quality speaker components on eBay is a relatively simple process. Begin by locating the search bar, which should be found on any of eBay's pages. Click it and type in the words which collectively describe the speaker parts best suited to your needs. One example of a good search is, "paper speaker cone". It is important to remember that creating a relatively brief search yields the maximum number of possible results. When you have finished typing, simply press enter, and eBay will pull up a list of those items which match your search query. From there, you may organise the listing based on your personal preferences, using categories like brand, type of speaker part, and price.

If you are unsure about the details of an item's listing, or you would like more information, eBay provides an "Ask a question" link on every item's listing page. Clicking on it guides you through the process of communicating directly with a seller.

Conclusion

Being able to correctly identify the different parts and components of a speaker allows users to better identify the individual qualities which comprise a high-quality speaker, while also helping them identify the best replacement parts when making speaker repairs. It is relatively common for speaker buyers to fall into the trap of believing that exotic materials mean a better speaker, but this is rarely the case. Instead, some of the highest performing speaker parts are often made from common, cheap materials, such as cones which most made with paper, plastics, or laminates.

Whether you are looking to purchase a speaker or certain speaker components, shopping online may represent an efficient and time-saving way to browse a wider variety of options at cheaper prices than most retail stores. Websites like eBay are known to offer new, name brand products at deep discounts compared to prices found at brick and mortar retailers.

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