Changing World of Loudspeakers

November 8, 2005

Today's entertainment systems perform audio and video wonders we barely dreamed of a few years ago. Home cinema and 'whole-house' sound are two applications that more and more homeowners expect, and custom retailers and system designers are delivering with the convenience and elegance of custom installation. In fact, custom installation has fast become the premium approach to home entertainment, creating the performance you demand with design that complements your lifestyle and décor, whether you are building your dream home or adding a built-in home entertainment system to an existing home.

Of course, the first prerequisite for many such systems is the need for equipment - especially loudspeakers - to be 'invisible.' A large part of the growth in the loudspeaker industry in the last ten years can be attributed to the increase in demand for home cinema and multiroom media distribution in the home. Along with the demand for more speakers in the home, there is the need to integrate them into the home so that they are invisible without degrading their performance. And, if visible, they must fit with the décor. This a tall order.

In this article we will look at some of the challenges and opportunities custom retailers and consumers need to consider in their selection of loudspeakers.

Set the stage for electrifying thrills
Custom retailers know that it is easier than ever to create movie cinema performance at home. Great sound is the key to turning an ordinary home cinema experience into an extraordinary one. With the proliferation of high-end video displays such as plasma, DLP and RPTV (Rear Projection TV) dominating the current home entertainment scene, high-performance audio has often been neglected. Yet the importance of audio enhancing the video experience is clearly and immediately evident when properly demonstrated. Custom retailers need to ensure that they do not short-change their clients and themselves on the audio side of home cinema with 'home cinema in a box' solutions - particularly since music listening is often an important part of a home entertainment system's requirements. Clients need to be shown what is possible today. For years, both custom retailers and consumers had asked us to move up-market in loudspeaker systems. We have done so in a broad range of custom applications and the reaction has been overwhelmingly successful.

Custom sound solutions
A clear understanding of the interactive nature of loudspeakers, aural perception, and room acoustics is essential to the design of high performance loudspeakers. The room has a profound effect on sonic performance - even more so today with the increase in popularity of home cinema which, being mostly a social activity, requires a larger listening (sweet spot) area.

Look for loudspeaker companies with a strong, proven track record at designing high-performance, affordable, in-room loudspeaker systems. Such companies will be better positioned to deliver high performance 'hidden' solutions.
Loudspeakers have evolved out of applications such as home cinema and whole -house home entertainment systems. Each application has its specific acoustic design challenges. Today they can be grouped as:

a. In-room - which includes bookshelf and floor-standing speakers, centre channels, subwoofers and surrounds.
b. In-wall/in-ceiling/on-wall - which include wall, ceiling, plasma and all-weather speakers.
c. In-cabinet - which are speakers that are designed physically and sonically to perform optimally when installed in custom or standard cabinetry.

In-wall / In-ceiling loudspeakers must deal with the limited volumes within the confines of the enclosure, along with generally flimsy wall construction. Enclosure volume plays a large part in determining bass performance. With sufficient available volume the system can naturally extend to lower frequencies, and offer greater sensitivity.

In-wall and In-ceiling loudspeakers
What's better than low-profile? No-profile. The PSB CustomSound CW800E is a slim, tall, fully enclosed in-wall speaker.

Wall and ceiling cavities are not built to any standard volume, so open-back in-wall/in-ceiling speakers must work within a wide range of wall cavity volumes. This is accomplished by creating high-powered woofers of higher mass and stiffness than in conventional 'in-room' enclosures. The result is superb clarity and dynamics, with a listening sweet spot so wide and tall that even large home cinema audiences will enjoy maximum definition of movie sound and music alike.

Many high-end home cinema systems have most of their components, including the speakers, hidden away in cabinets or wall units. While this hides the clutter it can be detrimental to speaker performance. Understanding this, several loudspeaker manufacturers have developed purpose-built systems for in-cabinet installations. For example, crossover compensation switches adjust for in-cabinet boundary effects or for centre channel applications behind a perforated screen. Such systems are dimensioned to fit within custom or ready-made media furniture.

PSB In-Cabinet Loudspeakers
The PSB 'invisible' CustomSound in-cabinet solutions are rigorously engineered to put PSB Platinum-quality sound into furniture, without suffering the serious response errors of conventional speakers.

The inside story
Some of the significant changes in the loudspeaker world come from new materials such as woven fibreglass cones, new damping materials, and new adhesives. More sophisticated computer design tools have also emerged. Much more important though, is the value of psychoacoustic research. PSB Speakers International for example, has amassed what is perhaps the world's most extensive knowledge-base regarding the critical interaction between loudspeaker, listener and room acoustics. This knowledge, combined with my experience as a musician with excellent ear training, enables me to consistently properly interpret comprehensive measurements to produce loudspeakers that correlate strongly with listener preferences.

PSB In-Room Platinum Loudspeakers

Not every loudspeaker in every system need be invisibly installed. Some listeners prefer a well-finished, high-performance elegant system, and some installations offer no practical alternative at certain locations. The PSB Platinum Series provides a range of choices and has been designed to integrate with CustomSound in-wall and in-cabinet models for precise tonal balance and spatial response.

Bringing it all home
A great home cinema or whole-house entertainment system will require appropriate equipment, a high performance speaker system, quality audio and video components, and good advice from an experienced custom installation professional. Such experts cam be found at CEDIA, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the benefits of custom installation among consumers, architects, designers and builders. These custom installation specialists offer an intimate knowledge of available products and their suitability to the environments and needs of the client. They also know how to install the gear for best performance and enjoyment.

So go ahead and make those entertainment dreams come true - it is an investment to be enjoyed by family and friends for years to come.

- Sherlock Ohms

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