Speaker manufacturers or box manufacturers with off the shelf drivers?

This is nothing new, it has existed for decades.  There are several good makers of speakers that make their own drivers and those that build boxes and put ScanSpeak or some other "purchased" drivers in their boxes.  

This is not ment to be demeaning or a put down, it is more of a question.  With so many speaker "builders" using off the shelf drivers...is this simply a "high-end" version of Radio Shack or are these legit high-end products? 

 I do not know if other manufactures sell their drive units to box manufacturers....

If you build your own, your profit margins skyrocket.

If you don't, you have to sell speakers at least 10x your driver cost.

And yes, you can get genuinely world class speakers either way. The panache of exclusivity is harder to maintain when pundits can go to a local source and try to price out your speaker themselves.

Hi whatjd,

I'm the expert here when it comes to questions like this. 

Speaker design is basically a game of trial and error. The speaker designers will deny this because A) some of them really believe they know what theyre doing and B) others will be too embarassed to admit they dont. 

A typical speaker is an mdf box. Some use harder materials like rock. The box is glued together just like a table or chair might be. Drivers are then screwed in. The last part is the crossover. This is automated with the use of 'puter programs. Then comes the finish. This is done by the design department. 

Now speaker designers have been using this method to churn out hundreds of designs over the last few decades and it looks like it will just keep continuing for the foreseeable future. 

Unfortunately if you want the best sound, you will need to use a different method than the one just described. 

Part of the problem is the issue of TRAPPED REAR WAVES. Even Magico has not been able to solve that. 

In conclusion, all speakers on the market are flawed. They are all mass produced using the same method and are not custom tuned to your needs. 

Do not spend any money on these expensive items. That is my recommendation.
I'm the expert here when it comes to questions like this

Yeah, right.
To the OP
certainly a legitimate question. There is a LOT more to speaker design than just catalog shopping drivers or even inventing your own. In a dynamic driver speaker, creating your own from scratch is daunting to say the least and IMO sort of stupid because it completely ignores the law of comparative advantage, however there are areas where it makes sense to collaborate- to wit the magical Vandersteen pistonic carbon and carbon balsa core drivers built on seas and Scanspeak baskets/ magnet assembly. Since 1977
Kenjit what would you reccomend the OP or anyone else do? Not own speakers of any kind cause they all suck? 
I’ve been wondering this same question lately, since I’ve been looking at buying some speakers from a small company that uses high end drivers.

My questions are how much better is the r&d and testing methods of large companies like kef, dynaudio, etc, come into play in terms of sound quality.  These smaller companies do not have these test facilities.  Also, it seems like the fit and finish of large companies nears perfection, whereas small companies look, hand built shall we say.

And my other question is does the real magic lie in the sum of the whole  of the parts?  Can a speaker built by a master speaker builder, in his shop, tuned by ear, sound better than anything comparable?  I mean, I assume its possible to have speaker “a” with $50 drivers, $100 crossovers designed well, stout enclosure, sound better than speaker “b” with $250 drivers, $25 crossovers and an enclosure with lots of resonance.

And lastly, I’m thinking that its easier to resell large brand name items, Focal, Kef, Klipsch, over small boutique companies.
Perhaps this all why I have enjoyed some of my times with Magnepans, they are not off the shelf drivers places in a MDF box. 
Again, simply asking a question.  With some of the replies it would seem that dynamic drivers in a box is what people think of for speakers.  Planer, Electrostats, the Heil driver and others seem, at least to my memory, to exist. 
OP take a look at Buchardt or PS Audio speakers if you think there is no new.
Whatever you do ignore the know nothings around here. 
You know who they are.
My speakers are Audio Note AN-J/lx's, Audio Note makes their own drivers and is obsessive about matching drivers in a stereo pair. From their website:

Consistent performance is a major issue in loudspeaker design and unfortunately all drive units vary slight from each other, even if they look the same and have the same basic specification. Many loudspeaker manufacturer’s will tell you that they provide “computer matched” crossovers, and whilst this may be true in one sense (each crossover may have been matched to have the exact same capacitance, inductance and resistance) this essentially “passive” method does not adequately take into consideration the mechanical and acoustic variance present in the drive units themselves, where minute differences in acoustic behaviour will result in quite substantial differences in performance and sound. Therefore, to obtain the best possible combination of drivers and crossovers, we have developed a dynamic matching process. This ensures that each loudspeaker in a stereo pair matches a ‘master curve’ and also its partner, to within 0.4dB; to the best of our knowledge, no other loudspeaker manufacturer achieves such close matching and tests 100% of its production.

Also kenjit is an expert on trolling but not speakers. :D
The design is as important as it's execution. And too many do not ever address even the easy details. Let alone the hard one's.
I Think it comes down to being a smart consumer an educated audio enthusiast and training your ear/brain. Speaker design is an art and a science and its up to you to decide if a speaker represents a good value for your budget and tastes.

Also don’t forget that driver designers are experts at what they do and make them often at an economy of scale that would be much more if they were bespoke for each speaker company.

To use a car analogy, a lotus Elise
I once rented had a Toyota engine and transmission. It was a fantastic exhilarating ride and if I didn’t live in a NYC I’d probably own one. Did the Commuter car components (though tweaked) take anything away from the car? No, in fact it made it affordable and reliable.
This is fascinating.  I am a small speaker manufacturer and drivers to me are one of the thing that stressed me less.  There is a lot of work that goes into choosing the right driver in terms of testing with your cabinets and materials but there are lots of bigger manufacturers that use stock drivers that make AMAZING speakers.  
To name a few, Wilson (small mods in some cases) Avalon, Marten, Joseph Audio  all use stock drivers.  These guys make some of the best products in the world and they use stock drivers from Scanspeak, Eton and Accuton, Accuton and SEAS from the companies above. 
I have been told that Revel has since moved production internally but the drivers in The Performa3 line were SB Acoustic when it launched.  Doubt this?  I still have a pair from years ago with SB drivers in them.  The tweeter had a waveguide designed by Revel.  That was what made it their own.  
There are crappy speakers out there and you can spot them and avoid them.  Check out this series of articles from audioholics:


See links at the bottom of the page for other relevant topics like this one on the explicit elements of a driver:


in the series they touch on all aspects of speaker design other than utilization of exotic cabinet materials (aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber, stone, etc...) but those materials are clearly superior to MDF based on guiding principles outlined in this series.  
I will admit that i designed my products so that if Audioholics took them apart, they would be pleased with what they found.  
Good luck to you in your shopping.  
Most of the speakers I have owned and liked, with one exception, make their own, especially Magnepan.  The only speakers I have owned with off the shelf drivers were Dahlquist DQ-10,  

I am sure if I were to start a "speaker company" tomorrow, it would be easiest to build a box and use some ready made dynamic drivers. 

It's mostly about economy of scale and available resources. Most speakers companies are small compared to main steam manufacturing. It's impractical for most speaker companies to build drivers in house especially when considering they use eight to ten unique drivers in their lineup. Furthermore, the skill-set and tool-set are somewhat different. There are people and companies that can do it all but that's rare and usually yields expensive drivers and products. Every manufacturer has vendors. No speakers company makes everything. It's much more expensive building your own drivers, unless you can build and sell many thousands of them, than buying from a vendor.

We are a small speaker company that decided to design, develop and build drivers for our own use. We build our own AMT drivers. It was a major investment in many ways. We went through the process because we wanted something very specific which didn't exist. We have had seven speaker companies (4 well known) contact us about using our AMT drivers. We politely declined because we don't want to be a driver vendor.

As with most things, it's more about good design and implementation than the actual parts. Aluminum, wood, MDF, carbon, carbon fiber, concrete, gold, unobtainium, plastic, plywood or whatever all have their place with their own properties. Anyone stating one material is better than the other without showing multiple materials optimizes for that specific application is engaged in marketing. Cost is part of the equation.

There are some brilliant speaker designers that can build excellent speakers using off-the-shelf parts at many price points. Buy what sounds best to you. What's inside the box is secondary.
 What's inside the box is secondary. ?  Not all speakers are boxes.

Magnepan, Quad, Martin Logan and others.  But if a person wants a box with Scanspeak or other "of the shelf" drivers...that is good for them, it does help for making many more choices.  I guess we could talk about the crossover components, but that would also be secondary. 

There are some brilliant speaker designers that can build excellent speakers using off-the-shelf parts at many price points.
Anybody can do that. Its a matter of opinion if something is excellent. 

I’m not the expert here when it comes to this!

Well this is an interesting topic. I had a conversation once with another audiophile who said a box store salesperson told them that "X" brand of speaker were no good because they use "off the shelf" drivers. Hmm I thought, that’s interesting because most speaker manufacturers do. The magic comes in how those drivers are implemented, the design of the cabinet itself ie. bracing, time alignment etc., the cabinet materials used, crossover design and voicing of the speaker. Not everyone can afford to design & build their own drivers.

Salk Sound & Daedalus are examples of small manufacturers who build wonderful speakers but use "off the shelf" drivers. If you want a truly hand built design from cone material up, look at Voxativ. Then compare the prices! Still other manufacturers have driver companies build drivers to their specs. Which is better? I guess you have to let your ears decide.
Well, at one time a Pontiac, Olds and other "long gone" GM cars had their own engines....then they became the same Chevy engine and chassis with different grills and bumpers..and Wow, guess what happened, imported car sales became very real, so perhaps some American consumers can think for themselves.  At one time many of the world's leaders were driven around in Packards and other American cars, but as the film "Tucker" displayed, without anti-trust laws being enforced, many will make different choices.  Much of what I feel is/was the true spirit of this countries values/thoughts are in the poetry or book of "The Road Less Traveled"  "The Road Not Taken"

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


As a lifelong Michigan resident your words are so true. My father worked at one of those engine plants and I recall when a whole new one was built. Each GM manufacturer had their own unique twist to their designs. Then the idea of a "platform" emerged with chassis and drive train all the same and only cosmetic differences in body style. It did lead to economies of scale but also made cars far more bland. I have no problem with a speaker manufacturer using off the shelf components so long as they are implemented on a creative way or have their own special tweaks.

Loved the poem btw!
well, are you familiar with cost of entry to an industry? off the shelf drivers could be state of the art vs a small company trying to make their own drivers. its similar to a small company trying to build a jet plane. since many of the established driver manufacturers have been around for decades and have already done the R&D, why bother even competing with then unless you have a significant advantage somehwere? (ie: alien provided materials technology no one else has).

secondly, the box...is what shapes the sound, like a instrument cabinet. body of a guitar, or a chello. significant work involves in the shaping and building of it, which is easier than building the drivers. you can buy 3d simulation software to simulate the internal volume etc, plus if you have good machining or carpentry skills, you can build them. if its just a box, then that Radio Shack, but high end boxes are layers of dense materials from wood to carbon fiber to metal.
Scanspeak drivers are great, by the way.  Not the totally off the wall high priced spread, but really good.
All i got was people do not understand economic activities such as comparative advantage, or have disillusions about mainstream budget and housing spaces.

But none of this is a surprise to me.
high end boxes are layers of dense materials from wood to carbon fiber to metal
no. its mostly mdf. 
whatjd    Always enjoyed the work of Robert Frost. Thanks for sharing.

I don't think it's quite the same as GM. Their classic example that comes to mind is Camaro vs Firebird. Very similar cars using the same platform. In the beginning they used brand specific engines. Each brand was allowed to tune their own suspension to help built different identities. Ultimately they ended up almost identical. Marketing people know two flavors will increase sales. Major auto manufactures have the resources and skill set to built whatever they want as long as it is profitable.

Look at the smaller auto manufactures that source their engines and many other parts from other manufactures and vendors. It is not economically practical for small auto manufactures to expand their operation into building engines and commodity parts (starters, bearings....) only to sell a small number of cars. Lotus cars come to mind. They use Toyota engines and likely other parts as well. If they decided to expand into manufacturing engines they would likely fail.

Most speaker manufactures are like small auto manufactures. They buy drivers from driver manufactures and crossover parts from various vendors. Some outsource their cabinets. The parts they choose to use doesn't guarantee that the end product will be good or bad. It's up to the designer/engineer to design, choose components, develop and execute a viable product at the target price point.

Yes, what's inside the box is (should be) secondary. How a speakers sounds to the buyer should be the most important aspect. "Box" is speaking figuratively. Yes, the design, materials, parts and implementation of the design will dictate how the speaker will perform.

Obviously not all speakers are boxes with drivers and crossovers. Along with manufacturing Arion speakers we also import and distribute Analysis Audio speakers. Both our brands are exclusively open baffle designs using light membrane technology. All the Analysis drivers are designed and built in house. Arion AMT drivers are designed and built in house. We build our own drivers because they don't exist on the open market. Doing so is expensive but allows us the ability to fulfill our design goals.  Magnepan, Quad, Martin Logan and others fall in the same category.


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@ebm “ I am chairman of the bored “ Iggy Pop 
.... think I will go play some....

:-) enjoy the music
Why are most high end speakers manufacturers using mdf for their boxes?
because its a cheap nasty material. Its good enough though for most folks. But some manufacturers think its not good enough and they use other materials. 

if mdf is used, do you think one box that has substantial bracing performs like another box without any bracing? And what are the merits of mdf. It’s hard to understand why so many speaker manufacturers competing for sales through good sounding products would use such a material if it was a horrible choice. Does it all simply come down to cost or are there other benefits to using mdf?

mdf is a good versatile material. Its easily available, cheap and
easy to cut. A box without bracing will vibrate more. 

In your years of high end speaker building, what materials have you found that work best?

You will need a concrete box 100 inches thick all the way round. 

 I understand that you manufacture all of your own drive units.
How much of that comes into play with regards to the exceptional sound you achieve in your designs?

Zero. Off shelf drivers work fine. 

Would you say crossover design is important or you just use whichever resistors and capacitors you have on hand at the moment?

Its not that important. It can always be adjusted if you
get it wrong. 

And lastly, are you still currently developing any products that we should keep our eyes open for?
No. Not for the public. My designs will remain for personal use only. They are being developed to meet my unique requirements that the worlds finest speakers could not satisfy. There are plenty of speakers out there already for the rest of you.

In your years of high end speaker building, what materials have you found that work best?
You will need a concrete box 100 inches thick all the way round.

kenjit, you are talking about a cube of concrete 16 feet on a side, per speaker. That is 151 yards of concrete. 614,400lbs of concrete. 307 TONS of concrete. PER SPEAKER. 

Are you sure about that???

Are you sure about that???
it may need to be even thicker. Without trying it, hard to know. 
" Without trying it, hard to know."

It seems you haven't tried anything. All your musings are bouncing around in your head and for some reason, you seem compelled to release on us. How is is a benefit to anyone reading your scribble when you don't even know for sure if anything works the way you think it should? Theories don't count for much in audio.
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By the way kenjit that wasn’t some totally random detached from reality flaming wild guess. "A concrete box 100 inches thick all the way around", which is what you said, really is 151 yards of concrete and really does weigh 307 tons. Its a fact. You could look it up.

But look. 100" thick all the way around is 200" wide which is over 16 feet and that’s per speaker, meaning you need a room over 34 feet wide just to fit the speakers snugly side by side! Oh, and a 17 foot high ceiling.

A full load is 10 yds. So kenjit, you are talking about 15 truckloads of concrete PER SPEAKER!

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for mass loading. But 307 TONS!?!?!
And your reply: " it may need to be even thicker. Without trying it, hard to know."
Hilarious. Absolutely bust a gut crack me up hilarious.
It really helps everyone understand where you are coming from and the extent of greatness with regards to being the number one imaginary speaker designer / builder of our era!
Indeed. And now, in appreciation of audiophiles the world around, the first annual Imaginary Speaker Designer/Builder of the Year Award goes to.......
I hereby award you the coveted Golden Unicorn

To me, speaker designers are like chefs.  Optimally they pick the best ingredients and know how to combine and prepare them such that the dish is appealing to the customer.  On the margin I think the chef supersedes the ingredients.  For an audio example, I’d take Joseph Audio speakers with their “off-the-shelf” Seas drivers over those of several manufacturers that use “proprietary” drivers because the way Joseph combines the ingredients sounds (tastes) better to me.  It’s really a sum of the parts thing and how a designer weaves them together — and, just as importantly, how that combination melds with one’s own unique personal tastes — that’s more important than the quality of any one ingredient IMHO. 

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for mass loading. But 307 TONS!?!?!
Whats wrong with that? Airplanes weigh a lot. So do rockets. We can not only build them but we can make them fly.Its not rocket science.

Lastly, I’m surprised that you aren’t more willing to share your extremely high quality speakers with the rest of the world
It seems that most of you are happy with what is already available on the market. Theres no point in having something even better if you cant appreciate it.

you just throw random value caps, coils and resistors at the crossover and then cross your fingers and hope it works? Do you then take measurements and adjust accordingly? If so, what instruments do you use to test and measure your speakers? Are they calibrated and used correctly and if so, do you have documentation stating that; we deserve to see this if so!

I have been known to tune speakers BY EAR and BY HAND. Many of the speakers i hear arent even tuned right. The instrument I use are the ears on my head. Yes you basically throw a bunch of parts together and see what happens. That is how its done by everybody. There is no cookbook that tells you exactly what parts to use. Active tuning is easier for me. I dont like having to build and take apart components repeatedly.

how does a completely open baffle design where you cut out the siding in your house and mount your off the shelf driver in your wall compare to your 8 feet thick concrete sidewall enclosure design?

Its basically the same thing. An enclosure of the size and weight i suggested would be a house or bigger.

If you are looking for state of the art sound there are no shortcuts.

I was asking you which materials worked best in YOUR designs, you know, like the ones you built in reality

I will not disclose details about my own designs as they are proprietary.


Master Tuner and Perfectionist Audiophile bar none.

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kenjit ~ " I will not disclose details about my own designs as they are proprietary."
               I will not disclose details about my own designs as they are imaginary.

Now, how does one know which is true?
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Ahhh Kenjit....

I worked for a loudspeaker designer, and actually some of what Kenjit is saying has some truth to it. A cabinet with the side walls getting wider to the back, not norrower would actually help attenuate some of the standing waves within a loudspeaker cabinet. They aren’t really pretty looking though, and let’s face it, when showing off a system, looks often so very important to the investor. (understandable)

Mike whom I worked for does not design drivers, and with a slew of world class drivers literally designed by engineers with decades of craftsmanship to draw upon, he doesn’t have to. However as another designer indicated, sometimes the device doesn’t exist for your application (like Arion), then you really have to make it yourself.

**Arion, by the way I heard your amplifiers at our factory, pretty darned good stuff mate!**

Consider the fact that specialists are designing drivers, capacitors, resistors, terminals etc. It might not be a bad idea to source some of the best components that work well together using skill and experience, than to ignore what is out there and try your hand at beating the best that already exists.

MDF is pretty dense, and it’s uniform in it’s performance. Mike, he’s used HD3 (1.6 times denser than MDF) and now uses 4mm sprung steel plates laminated to the insides of his MDF cabinets. The steel plates are electrically connected to the ground terminals, Faraday cage and ground planes connected to the amplifier and then source. Using pure copper screws to absorb the ringing effect of the drivers against the baffle of the loudspeakers. Using copper as the speaker basket would also be optimum, why? Copper’s Youngs Modulus.

Many unknown designers of quality audiophile products simply don’t have the resources to compete with the larger scale manufacturers marketing budgets. However, when you do get to hear a real performer, you’ll never mistake it for the lesser. Some people like to use cars as an analogy, so I’ll use one that makes sense to me. Driving down the highway seeing beautiful muscle cars and sports cars, I never confuse them for being the pinnacle of performance, as I’ve been to drag strips and formula racing, there’s no mistaking it when you’ve really seen it.

No, I have worked with a clever designer who with experience, and the trial and error Kenjit spoke of make stellar devices. I am sure there are many who have invested the time and effort to be great at their craft, who just aren’t the marketing giants the big names are, and their products are known to a local community who are aware they exist.

Not many make there own drivers most have other make to spec. And if a company does make there own it doesn't give them that much of an advantage over using the production and design capabilities of the world's best transducer manufacturers. 
Progression of a speaker company:
1) Make from OTS drivers2) Have OTS drivers tweaked.3) Have driver company manufacture to your spec.4) Buy sub-components from driver companies and assemble.5) Full turn-key

Where you are in that progression is a function of volume, margin, exclusivity (ties back to margin), and business model, both yours and of available driver companies.

OTS drivers can be excellent, but you are limited to their parameters so it can be difficult if building a product family, as large volume companies do, that is "consistent".  Tweaking parameters on OTS can allow you to avoid a trade-off you really didn't want to make, or even change your cabinet size a bit for aesthetic reasons.

Building your own drivers is about differentiation, but also about controlling the margin stack, accepting less "profit" in one part of your operation to support another design decision.

If you have a high dollar high margin product, you may have more flexibility w.r.t. custom design at low volume as well.

Low cost custom MFG in Asia has changed business models as well. Where it may have made sense to bring it in-house before at a particular volume, now that volume is much higher as someone can do a somewhat full custom for you cheaper, similar to how many companies do not manufacture in house any more, at least for most subassemblies, unless really high volume.