Saturday, November 02, 2019

Building a pair of DML speakers

I have always been fascinated by loud speaker technology.  I have owned several pairs of speakers over the years, but all of them have been conventional cone speakers.  I fell in love with the flat panel speakers the moment I saw them, be it Martin Logans or Magnepans.  I never owned one though.

I recently stumbled upon a new type of speaker technology.  It is called Distributed Mode Loudspeaker (DML).  It was fascinating to see how simple it was yet how incredible the sound reproduction was, based on the reviews online.  I watched a few youTube videos on how to build one and read a few online forums for more info and got ready to build one.  Here is an account of how I built two pairs of the DML speakers and how they turned out.

The DML speaker is built out of a flat panel made of a light but stiff material and an exciter.  The exciter is like a speaker without the cone.  This exciter vibrates the panel to produce the sound output.  The DML speaker is unlike any cone speakers or flat panel electrostatic (Martin Logan) or magnetic ribbon (Magnepan) speakers.  The DML speaker randomly generates vibrating nodes that translate into sound output in different frequencies and amplitudes.  Due to its nature, it generates equal sound both from the front as well as the back of the panel.

The first speaker is a 2'x2' flat panel speaker made out of:
- 2'x2' (1" thick) Foamular XPS insulation board (Home Depot)
- Dayton Audio DAEX25FHE-4 24W exciter (PartsExpress)
- Gorilla wood glue
- Speaker wire
- Solder

That is it!

I rounded the corners of the board with a 3" radius.  Rounded the edges as well and removed all sharp edges.  Sanded the entire panel with 110 grit sandpaper using a orbital sander.  Applied a 1:1 mixture of wood glue and water to the entire surface.  Once dry, I applied the second coat.  This produced a sandpaper kind of finish which is what makes it an amazing sound generator.  Attached the exciter 2/5th from the top and side.  Soldered the speaker wire to it and I was done.  Check out the youTube video for more details on the steps and the reasoning behind them. 

Rounded corners.

Ready for prime time!

I hooked it up to the amp and was amazed by the sound it produced.  I was not expecting this big of a sound stage from such a small (and inexpensive) exciter.  Because of the wide panel, there is no sweet spot like with conventional speakers.  High frequency is a bit pronounced due to the size of the panel.  Imagine a tweeter the size of the panel!  It acts like that.  But, the sound stage is incredible.  I have the speaker placed about 8 ft from the back wall and 1 ft from the side wall.  Maybe the distance from the back wall as well as its omni-directional nature, the sound stage appears to be behind the speaker.  This works great for me when watching movies since the screen is far behind the speaker.

Once I completed the first test speaker, I was ready to build the larger one.  I wanted to see what effect the larger panel would have.  Boy, was I rewarded.  The larger panel had a more flatter response.  Better mids, lower highs.  I am still breaking it in.  Hopefully, it will get better as it ages.

I used the same process for building this speaker as well.  Below are the parts used for the larger speaker:
- 4'x8' (1" thick) Foamular XPS insulation board (Home Depot)
- Dayton Audio DAEX32EP-4 Thruster 32mm Exciter 40W (PartsExpress)
- Gorilla wood glue
- Speaker wire
- Matte spray paint
- Solder

This exciter is the bigger brother of the previous one and there is a marked difference in quality and sound reproduction.  It is also heavier and bulkier.  The only problem with this foam board is that it is scored to make it easy to break it into pieces.  I was afraid that the score lines would create unnecessary vibrations and hence I poured glue into the cracks and sealed them.  I was a bit over zealous and ended up with awkward looking glue lines in the speakers even after sanding them.  Lesson learned.  I would take a fine tube and just squeeze the glue into the cracks and wipe off any extra.  This will keep the surface clean looking.  From this large board, I was able to cut out 2 20"x44" pieces and I am still left with half of the board.  Is 20"x44" the golden ratio?  Absolutely not.  It is not even close to the bronze ratio (if there is such a ratio).  I had to choose between great sounding speakers and good looking speakers.  I chose to compromise and go for good looking ones in order to make sure I could keep them "inside" the house and not in the garage collecting dust. 

I followed the same procedure as earlier to prep the boards, paint them with glue to generate the sandpaper-like surface.  Once the glue dried, I painted it gray with the matte spray paint.  I attached the exciters using the same formula (2/5th) and soldered the speaker wires.

Cutting the corners with a knife.

Filling the scored cracks with glue.

Painting it with 1:1 glue-water mixture.

Panel is ready for testing.  The ugly lines are the scored lines where I applied glue.

Big brother with the younger brother, before the final paint job.

A-B testing.

I also took this opportunity to design and build a pair of stands for the speakers.  I went to Home Depot and bought some poplar boards of different sizes.  The design is a simple inverted T supported on the back by a beam.  I cut the wood to the desired size put the stand together with one screw.  I then coated it with polyurethane to protect it.  I bought dual-ended gold speaker binding posts from PartsExpress and affixed them.  I use one end to connect to the amp and the other end to go to the speaker.  This allows me to disconnect the panel from the stand for transportation or storage.  It also lets me switch panels on the same stand.  I attached soft foam for the bottom and back support so that the speaker is not touching any hard surface.  I used a soft multipurpose cleaning sponge to create these supports.

The final product.

Back supported by a soft sponge.

Dual-ended speaker posts.

I did not expect the panel to reproduce the entire range of frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.  The smaller panel has pronounced high frequencies whereas the larger panel is well balanced.  The smaller panel lacks mid freq response.  It completely lacks low freq (below 150 Hz) response.

As seen in the youTube video, I think making panels with 2-3 different materials and using a crossover will give the best full range speaker.  I am happy with the results so far and am going to enjoy these speakers for the time being.

Here is the final setup.  The speakers were moved into the room to fit in the picture:

The larger panel is better at reproducing mids whereas it also lacks low freq response.  I had to pair it with a sub-woofer to take care of 20 - 150 Hz.  Overall, I am very satisfied with the build.  It was a fun experiment and a great DIY speaker to show off.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Customer service is dead!

That is what I thought, especially in the air travel industry. 

Until my visit to China recently. 

During my domestic travel within China, three things reminded me that customer service in the airline industry was still alive.  At least, outside of the United States. 

First, everybody was offered a free hot meal on any flight over 2 hours!  I still remember the days when Continental would offer hot meals to everybody on domestic flights.  Gone are those days in the US. 

Second, personalized service for every passenger.  On one leg, my neighbor was fast asleep during the entire flight.  When the flight attendants came with food and drinks, they noticed he was asleep and left a note (see note on the right in the pic below) letting him know that they missed him.  And, just before landing, they noticed that he was still asleep and came back with a second note (one on the left) providing information about the arrival city.  They did this to every passenger who was fast asleep!  Now, that is what I call good customer service. 

Third, I noticed thoughtful service even at the airport.  We are all used to the luggage carts lined up in their parking spot.  In some airports, you have to pay to pull out a cart.  In the Shanghai (Pudong) airport, I was surprised to see the luggage carts neatly lined up along the conveyor belt.  Passengers would just come to the belt, grab their bags and load it onto one of the nearby carts and roll away! 

Companies need to look for simple ideas like these to improve their customer service.  Simple gestures like this is what makes up delightful customer service.  You don't have to spend a lot of effort or resources to make your customers happy.   

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Urban street art - Miami Wynwood walls

I happened to visit one of the best places to see urban street graffiti art: Wynwood walls area in Miami, Fl.

The actual Wynwood walls are just a collection of six walls from neighboring buildings.  These walls contain an amazing collection of wall art by artists from around the world.  What's more, the area surrounding the walls has also been converted into artists' canvas.

One gripe, though, is that Miami allows street parking along these murals.  There are several parking lots in the area and it would be best if street parking is eliminated so that people can view and appreciate the art better.

Here are a few pictures of the amazing art in the Wynwood area:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Customer Service - How not to do it

In the day of omnipresent internet, mobile, social media and instant gratification, customers crave for instant answers to their questions.  If the product doesn't speak to you (either by being intuitive or by literally speaking to you), the product doesn't fly. 

I recently stumbled upon a product that literally asked the user to send an email to obtain installation instructions or get questions answered.  Duh!  Are we in the 19th century or what? 

The picture above shows a card that was attached to a hammock I recently bought.  The design is pretty close to being intuitive but can be confusing when it comes to attaching the ropes.  I expected to see instructions printed on the card but all I find is an email address.

What happened to printed instructions?  It could be text or pictures.
What happened to a web site with a user guide?  Video or text or a downloadable document.
What happened to an instructional video on youTube? 

Companies need to embrace the current trends in marketing and attracting customers.  Not just stay in the 19th century. This is such a simple product, a few drawings showing how to tie the ropes would have sufficed.  But the company wants an email from you.  I wonder what happens if they get a million emails from their customers.  Think of the cost of answering them (nope, I don't want a robotic reply) versus a simple illustration on the card attached to the product.

Everyday, I learn something new. In this case, a 'what not to do'.  

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Delighting the customer

A while back I wrote about innovation in elevator technology.  Recently, I noticed the opposite in the heart of innovation: Silicon Valley. 

I was at the San Jose airport car rental center.  The rental center sees a lot of traffic and they have graciously installed what looks like a dozen elevators (it is actually a bank of 8) over a wide area.  There are several locations with buttons for summoning the elevators.

What is interesting about this arrangement is that when one calls an elevator, irrespective of which set of buttons you use to summon the elevators, any of the bank of 8 elevators could answer.  Seldom have I seen an elevator close to me answering my call.  What this means is that the user has to walk all the way (lugging their luggage) to the elevator.  Some times, the elevator moves away by the time you reach it, making it even more annoying. 

We all know that large traffic only enters the ground floor at the same time: whenever a flight lands.  The elevators be programmed so that any idle elevator car always comes to the ground floor to wait.  It may be a bit inefficient, but makes the customer delighted.  Imagine walking into the rental center to find one or more elevators with open doors waiting for you!  That should put a smile on anyone's face. 

Another feature that can be incorporated is assigning a bank of 4 elevators to the closest buttons.  San Jose has two banks of elevators and they could be separately programmed.  Paired with the previous suggestion, this will delight anyone visiting the Bay area.