December 6, 2023

Why I stopped using T-nuts and what you should use instead

It only takes one DIY project gone wrong to realise what a big mistake it can be to use Tnuts to secure a driver. Or you might be stubborn like me and it might take several incidents before you give up on Tnuts forever!

Now I'll admit, I still have uses for them. If you need to secure castors to dollies that carry heavy loads, Tnuts are ideal. But for mounting drivers, there is a huge potential problem. 

To illustrate, here's a problem Tnut removed from a subwoofer:


What happened?

In this example, the Tnut became dislodged. When you insert the hex head screw, it can easily push the Tnut out. In this example, I had actually drilled two different sizes of hole into the MDF to prevent this from happening. It didn't matter. It happened anyway. The weakness of Tnuts is that they resist twisting fairly well, but if they are pushed out by the screw, you're in trouble.

Now, you might be thinking you can just unscrew the driver. Not so. Now you have one screw that can't be easily undone.

Next you try with a spanner to pull the head outwards, so that Tnut prongs will bite back in. Often what actually happens at this point is not what you're hoping. It simply cuts a circular trench and the Tnut digs in and keeps spinning, like a car that is now bogged in mud. Sometimes you have to cannibalise the cabinet to gain access to the Tnut. You might be thinking a hand to hold the Tnut is enough. Again, not so! A tight grip with pliers is required. The Tnut can also jam. 

The alternative?

The better choice is also in the photo - threaded inserts. Just like Tnuts, they are installed on the rear side of the baffle, on the surface opposite the head. They are easiest to insert prior to gluing up the baffle to the cabinet. You'll need an allen key or hex head bit in the cordless driver.

What makes them better?

In short, they don't tend to fall out. A Tnut resists rotation much more than it resists being pushed out by the screw on assembly. A threaded insert adequately resists rotation but more importantly, it has a thread which bites in to the hole in which it is inserted. The thread means it won't come out unless you bash it out with a hammer.

Still not convinced to ditch Tnuts?

Ok a few more horror stories.  Sure, I'll play the clown in the interests of public education.

I was working on a prototype build for a custom church organ speaker. Yes, it happened. Tnut came loose and it prevented me from removing the driver. I was able to get some access inside the box. To hold the Tnut so I could unscrew it, I had to make up a quick jig. It was quite some time ago, so I'm not sure if it took 3 hours or just felt like 3 hours.

In another episode, I was helping a client assemble a kit where I supplied drivers and flat pack and he had built it. In this case, it was a long trip and that's when you don't want anything to go wrong. I had a calibration job to get done - the last thing I want is a Tnut coming loose. Yes - it happened!

There are many more stories like this. I'd like to say I learn quickly. In reality, it's often through mistakes.

March 23, 2022

Specialist subs - moving beyond sealed and ported subs

When it comes to mass produced subwoofers, it makes sense to manufacture generalist subs. In 2 channel systems, this will mean moderately sized sealed subs. For home theatre, it usually means ported subs. These conventional designs are good all-rounders. They can easily cover 20 Hz - 80 Hz and even dig deeper than that.

So what happens when you want to go beyond what you can get out of one or two fairly conventional subs? If you're buying from the conventional hifi retailers, the price goes up quickly as you start to move into 15" or 18" subs. You pay a lot more but do you actually get that much more?

In over a decade now of going into rooms and testing how they perform, one thing has become clear. You can do a lot better, when you know your room. Once you do understand your room acoustics and how the sub will perform in different positions in your room, this gives rise to some different goals. Many people assume that all subs in a system should be the same so that one doesn't bottleneck the system. In reality, the opposite is often true. When you have more than one sub, often they are not all doing the same job.

The heavy lifter

In some rooms, you may have one position that is ideally suited to very low bass. It's usually due to having the best room gain in the bottom octave. It could also be because this particular position allows a larger sub than other locations, which might be limited by things like windows, doors, speakers, furniture. In a multi sub set up this sub doesn't necessarily need to cover the upper bass. This type of sub suits a ported, bandpass or horn alignment. Where this type of sub is used, normally it will handle the lower bass without any help from the other subs. Hence, it will allow any other subs to be smaller.

The infill sub

If this is the second sub to be paired with a heavy lifter, it won't need to cover the low end. That means generally it can be more compact. Typically an infill sub will cover 40 - 80 Hz. It might be a conventional sub with a standard hifi driver in a sealed box. Its purpose is to fill in dips caused by room modes, where we can't find a single position that avoids all dips. 

The thumper

This is the name that I give to a sub that functions as an infill but that is designed for higher output. We can achieve this with a bandpass design, giving up some extension to get higher sensitivity. This is the case with a recently designed sub that I cal "lil thumper." It has 92 dB sensitivity. We can also achieve this using pro drivers, where the sensitivity might range from 93 - 97 dB.

The stealth infill sub

Sometimes we need an infill sub to fill in some dips, but we might need that sub in a position that might localise. This can happen where the sub is located around the back of the room and quite close to the listening position. If you aren't careful, you may be able to tell where the sub is located and that can be distracting. For this type of sub we have to be careful to avoid any features that would give away the location of the sub. This can come from air leaks, turbulent ports that chuff, ports with port resonances above the passband or horns with ringing above the passband. Even a sealed sub, which by design avoids all these things, can still localise.

This type of sub is tricky, especially where it must fill in dips in the mid and upper bass. Extra care must be taken.

Does this all sound confusing? Watch this space, as I will be adding some example that will make the use of these specialist subs more clear.

March 16, 2022

What happens when a bass box is too large

Recently we had a client bring in a custom loudspeaker cabinet which had been built for some vintage drivers, featuring a 15" woofer. Much to my suprise, initial modelling indicated an enclosure that is much too large. More commonly, cabinet size is compromised and smaller than ideal. We usually want a box to be smaller than it could be. Hence this is a surprise when it goes the other way. This prompts a fair question: how do we decide how large a ported enclosure should be? 


How low can you go? 

First we consider the maximum bass extension that we can achieve with a given driver. Typically we start with the driver free air resonance (fs). This provides an initial guess at the potential bass extension. Of course, the actual potential depends on all parameters. So the quick way to find out is to model a standard alignment such as Chebyshev. Shown white in the plot below.

Green shows an EBS alignment, in which we give up 3 dB of sensitivity to achieve lower bass extension. This type of alignment involves a trade-off in which we give up maximum output in order to achieve lower bass. We should think carefully about this in this instance, as we're dealing with a 12" driver with limited output at very low frequencies. It may be worthwhile in small rooms with considerable gain. 
The next example (red) shows a compromise we might make to downsize the cabinet. The white alignment is 90L but we can get it down to a more modest size (65L) in this example without giving up much.

So far these are all workable choices, with typical trade offs with sensitivity, extension and size. But here is an example of a badly designed bass box - one which is larger than beneficial. 

Blue - an oversized bass box. In this case, the cabinet is 300L. 

What's wrong with this box?

Of course, there is always the practical issues like WAF, aesthetics and the extra challenges that go with very large boxes that are hard to handle and fit in your room. Aside from these issues, we also have a box that is hard to properly brace without it becoming extremely heavy.

Like with the EBS cabinet, we've given up some midbass punch, but we've also got an undesirable peak around tuning.

What can we do with an over sized bass box?


After the box is built, we can sometimes rescue it by changing the tuning. 

Here, all 3 cabinets have the same volume (300L) but different port tuning. We can remove the peak at tuning by lowering tuning by 2 Hz. If we tune higher, the peak gets worse (dark blue). 

So we can see that if your cabinet is larger than required for a balanced design, the best passive solution is to lower the tuning and effectively convert to an extended bass shelf design. If the extra extension isn't wanted, then there are two choices: EQ or rebuild. If EQ is used, we can overcome any sound quality issues and we expect to achieve higher SPL and hence more dynamic range. On the other hand, if we rebuild the cabinet, it's likely that we can end up with a more desirable result. The new box can be more aesthetic and we can also include more cabinet bracing, given that this tends to reduce net volume.

SPL vs extension

Quite commonly, audiophiles who don't understand the SPL cost of bass extension often will choose bass extension over maximum output. This is why we now have the modern trend of subs with impressive extension that actually lack the dynamic range required to fully appreciate it. There is actually no point in having bass extension to 12 Hz if you don't have enough SPL capability to actually appreciate that bass extension.

So let's compare the above alignments in terms of their actual SPL. In each case, power level is chosen to reach xmax above tuning. 

Red: 65L cabinet tuned at 20 Hz with 210 W
White: Chebychev alignment 90L tuned to 19 Hz with 160W
Green: EBS alignment 225L tuned to 15 Hz with 83W  
Blue: Oversized cabinet 300L tuned to 14 Hz with 67W

Excursion - we can see that all these subs would require a rumble filter below tuning

In the case of this specific sub, I'd argue the larger cabinets are not good choices for all but very small rooms with a large amount of gain. 103 dB modelled at 16 Hz is not a very good result. In many larger rooms in Australia, the low bass output could be very unimpressive.

On the other hand, the much smaller 65L cabinet achieves 110 dB in the midbass. If we carefully optimise position, this sub will likely offer impressive performance in a much more attractive package. The 2 dB greater output compared to the larger version will actually sound about one third louder. Bigger is not always better!

January 5, 2022

Lil Thumper build

First the internal baffles are glued together and Tnuts are tapped into place. 

It's a good idea to seal the internals before assembly. Later, it will be difficult to access. Here I'm using Duratex rolled on. A heat gun speeds up the process so that we can move on quickly. 

Now the back and braces are laid out. You can see the braces sit into machined trenches.

 These braces are laid down first. 

The next bracing pieces lock into the others. When combined with the trenches on the back panel, this ensures all the braces are located in the correct positions. No guess work involved.

 Braces are now secured to the back panel.

Lining is glued in place. Here I'm using high density panels that we also use in bass traps. Normal speaker box lining is not quite so effective at damping port resonances. I've found that thicker and higher density material works much better and ensures the output is clean.

 The baffle is laid out and now glue is applied.
Lowering the internal baffles into place.

The first side panel is glued into position.

The second side is glued into place.

Now with the second side in place, the clamps are moved.
Solid timber braces put into place. These will be glued in place later. The absorber panels are already glued in place. Later, access is impossible. The unpainted parts are the trenches on the sides, top and bottom.

Top panel clamped into place.
This is a dry fit to show the internal structure.
I haven't taken photos of the assembly of the solid timber braces and the port, which has four pieces, with round overs on both inlet and outlet. There is also a brace not shown. This part of the build was fairly involved, with many panels being secured in rapid succession. It's difficult to handle the camera when dealing with polyurethane glue. 

Now with all panels in place, clamps are re-positioned. The timber here allows less clamps to be used, applying the force over a larger area. Otherwise, more clamps with small spacings are required.
This is the rear of the sub. A circular cut out allows the driver to be inserted into the internal baffle. The amp is then installed to a panel that goes over the top.

The enclosure is left over night, then the next day, sanded and a small roundover is applied to all the joints.

Next the driver can be installed. I like to insert string through the holes so the driver can be re-positioned. Otherwise the driver might not be rotated correctly and the pilot holes might not line up.

The driver is lowered into the internal baffle. Cables are routed to avoid hitting the cone. Foam gasket avoids air leaks.

Next the back panel is added and the sub is tested.

It's not pretty, however, this sub is now located behind a large couch and can't be seen in the room.

January 4, 2022

Lil thumper

Previously I referred to this compact bandpass sub, originally proposed for a client requesting a bandpass sub. However, I quickly realised it was ideal for another client seeking a quality compact sub for a lounge room system. This sub would be hidden behind a couch - I had already tested all viable positions in this room and determined that this particular location was ideal. 

 A classic driver 

This sub is built around a variant of the classic Peerless XLS series of sub drivers. 


Given the vast array of drivers now available, the classic drivers are often overlooked. However, this project serves as a reminder of that clean and articulate bass that made this series of drivers legendary. The particular variant I'm using here is the Scan Speak version - 30W/4558T00. As with all Scan Speak drivers, we see excellent build quality, including a die cast aluminium frame which is well ventilated along with an aluminium shorting ring to lower inductance. Unlike more typical modern drivers, the surround is quite large relative to the linear excursion capabilities of the driver. Hence at xmax, this driver is not in any way pushing the limits of the suspension system. The modest 51mm diameter voice coil along with the shorting ring means a very low inductance value of 0.83 mH. 

 4th vs 6th order bandpass 

A 4th order bandpass, such as we are using here, offers a few advantages. Firstly, the sealed rear chamber provides inbuilt excursion protection. Even if we aren't using a rumble filter, the driver is protected from extreme excursions by the sealed air spring in the enclosure. 6th order and ported designs don't offer this protection and this means they require a high pass (rumble) filter that is not adequate on many plate amps and which is not available on AV receivers. This usually means we need to add an external DSP device. In this case, a 4th order design meant we could simply use the DSP filters built into the AVR. The enclosure is also smaller than a 6th order design.

How does it sound? 

Exactly as expected with this driver, the bass is clean and articulate. True to its name, the bass is punchy due to its tuning. As this is a fairly casual system, mainly used for music and Netflix, this client wasn't aiming for the kind of LFE extension home theatre enthusists normally choose. From the very first test sweep it was clear that this would be a trouble free sub. 


Shown here is the nearfield response. You can see the port resonance at 520 Hz. The chamber is lined with 50mm thick high density acoustic material, which is very effective at damping port resonances. This is no the lining that you normally see in speakers and subs. It's extra high density Martini Absorb XHD, as used in bass traps. The lining typically used in speaker boxes is often not adequate for a bandpass design. 

Cabinet design

The driver is surface mounted onto a double thickness internal baffle (36mm thick) and secured with T nuts and cap screws. The driver faces a sealed chamber adjacent to the 200W plate amp. This provides excursion protection. The driver magnet faces the front chamber, which has a rectangular port. The internal baffle is heavily braced on both sides and the result is a very inert cabinet.

In this design I've opted for a rectangular port. It performs better than a shelf port due to reducing the surface area. A shelf port extending all the way to the sides would have higher port compression. A round port limits the options for getting the right length. In this design, I needed precise control over the port area, so that I could get it to terminate at the internal baffle. With a round port, I'd have to accept big steps in sizes. With this design, it took some careful juggling to get both volumes optimised and to have the port match the depth of the rear sealed chamber. Round ports also introduce some challenges with flaring the inside and also with build sequence. 

Flat pack

As with all our builds, a CNC machined flat pack is available.

Big thumper - 6th order bandpass sub with Dayton Reference RSS315HO

Previously I introduced this design as a custom sub offered as an upgrade to a smaller bandpass sub they initially intended.  

The driver: Dayton Audio Reference RSS315HO 

RSS315HO is a driver that works in many designs. It's a driver intended for car audio use, mainly due to its parameters which suit a small enclosure. Often the HO versions of the Dayton Reference series work well in horn designs but in this case, it also works well in a bandpass enclosure. What I like about the Dayton Reference series is that they are well optimised for sound quality, avoiding the temptation to go extreme in xmax and instead focusing on aspects that give us high quality bass when the design is right. 

Why bandpass? 

The short answer is "because the client requested a custom bandpass sub." But why would someone choose bandpass over all the other options. In the past, bandpass subs have been unfairly associated with low quality subs. Often either really cheap computer mini subs or one note noise makers. Many audiophiles after decades in this hobby have not actually experienced a serious bandpass sub. In reality, bandpass designs offer some strong advantages with serious potential. However, let's cover the downsides first.  

Why to avoid bandpass 

Bandpass subs are more difficult to design than sealed or ported designs. They are highly sensitive to misalignment. The final result can often be different to a computer model in ways that makes the final design perform poorly. Many programs are not sophisticated enough to accurately predict their real behaviour. So there is always a little more risk that the final result won't rise to the level of expectations. Further, we see higher group delay with bandpass designs, coupled with port resonances out of band that can seriously degrate the sound. Often typical speaker box lining won't effectively damp the resonances, leaving us with a sub that doesn't sound quite right. Hence, in a poorly excuted design we could see multiple compounding problems.

In a well executed design we can achieve some compelling advantages, including: 

  • higher sensitivity where we are willing to reduce bandwidth
  • reduced cone excursion for a given SPL level
  • lower distortion related to the above advantages
  • the front chamber further lowers distortion due to acoustic low pass filtering
  • greater maximum output and dynamics
  • the ability to drive a sub harder before distortion becomes objectionable

 The cabinet and bracing design

This cabinet has two main horizontal braces that also form part of the port walls. Shelf ports also form the internal walls of the ports, which wrap around the enclosure. Since all the output of a bandpass sub passes through the ports, their design is critical. Bandpass subs are typically more prone to audible port chuffing. Hence this design has very large ports with flares on both inlet and outlet of both ports. 

Build photos coming ...

A tale of two bandpass subs

Covid lockdown here in Australia has seen many people stuck at home with renewed focus on enjoying their listening rooms. During lockdown, one client approached us looking for a custom sub similar to one he had heard in the past and found impressive. He presented a fairly simple bandpass design, based around a budget 8" driver and a simple and easy to build cabinet. I could see how this design could work for people wanting an easy to build project but I had concerns about applying a bandpass design to other drivers. They tend to be very sensitive to swapping out drivers. I also felt, we could offer something far more impressive. So I presented two options. I'll call them "big thumper" and "little thumper."

Big Thumper was a large 6th order bandpass with a 1kw amp and a Dayton 12" driver. Given this is a music sub with fairly generous allowed dimensions, I was able to maximise sensitivity and achieve 91 dB voltage sensitivity. Lil thumper was a more modest animal, using an old favourite driver - a variant of the Peerless XLS range paired with a 200W amp. This was a smaller and simpler design - 4th order bandpass. That means effectively a sealed box sub with a front chamber attached. This bumps up the sensitivity and filters the distortion. Normally a sealed design would achieve 86 dB at 40 Hz (2.83V) but here with a bandpass design we can get it up to 92 dB.

This client chose to go ahead with the larger design but then another client chose to go ahead with lil thumper.

Lil Thumper - a compact 4th order bandpass sub >