Find out how certain types of wood make our speakers sound... well, better.
As TV's Todd Hoffman from the show Gold Rush would say, "Yeah, I know what wood is, but what the frick is a tonewood?" We've been asked that more than a few times now, so we figured it was time to clue all of you in as to what the frick a tonewood is and why it's important to what we do. Well, sit back and strap in, we're about to drop some knowledge on you.
Lesson one: First things first. We're all in agreement that speakers should sound good, right? Right. Well, the materials most commonly used in speaker manufacturing these days (i.e. plastic, MDF, metal, etc.) actually prevent your music from sounding as good as possible. So why do other companies make speakers using these materials? It's cheap and easy. Throw together a plastic box in some factory overseas, stuff it with sub par electronics, mark it up several hundred percent, then sell it as a high quality speaker. Oh look, we just described Beats by Dre's business plan.
Since the goal of both an instrument and a speaker is to produce the best, richest sound possible, it only makes sense to design a speaker using the same materials that are used to design the instruments that created the original sound. That main material is natural, organic, sustainable wood. Certain types of wood are frequently used to build instruments as they have specific mechanical properties, such as stiffness, elasticity, etc., that allow them to reproduce sound perfectly. These kinds of woods are known as, well, tonewoods. Wood varieties such as spruce, yew, walnut, maple, mahogany, and koa, are all commonly used to make instruments and are thus part of this 'tonewood' group. Ever seen high-end instruments such as a Fender Stratocaster or Stradivarius violin made out of plastic? Yeah, neither have we. So why should the sound produced by those instruments be played on a speaker made from materials (cough, plastic, cough) that actually reduce the richness of the original sound?
Sound is created by vibrations. When a material vibrates, it vibrates the air around it, and those vibrations travel to your ear, where they are picked up and recognized as sounds. Different vibrational frequencies produce different sounds. The mechanical properties of a material affect the frequency at which a material vibrates, ultimately affecting the resulting sound the material produces. Quick test, tap on a piece of wood, what does it sound like? Now tap on a piece of plastic. We rest our case.
In engineering terms, a material is described as "orthotropic" when it has mechanical properties such as strength, stiffness, and elasticity in three mutually perpendicular planes. Wood naturally has different values for those properties depending on the direction in which those values are measured. Wood's properties can be measured in the circumferential direction (tangential to the growth rings), in the axial direction (up and down the trunk along the grain), and in the radial direction (from the center of the trunk out). This naturally occurring structure is nearly impossible to replicate in man-made materials such as plastic, particleboard, or MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard), even with today's technology.
The different mechanical properties along the three mutually perpendicular planes of a tonewood are structured in such a way that allows soundwaves to be transformed into three slightly different, yet perfectly complimentary soundwaves as they pass through the material. This enables an instrument or a speaker made of a tonewood to emit a far richer and deeper sound than something made from a material such as plastic that only resonates with a single frequency. The difference in sound is like hearing the completeness of a chord as opposed to a single note. Build your speaker like an instrument, and it will sound as good as one. Makes sense, right?
We've chosen to use four different tonewoods in building our speakers: American Black Walnut, African Mahogany, American Black Cherry, and American Hard Maple. These tonewoods have a lengthy history in the musical industry, so we figured they were a good place to start. As each tonewood type is slightly different from one another, they each act almost as natural equalizers, sounding slightly different, highlighting different subtleties of music similar to how the Dance, Rock, Classical, or Jazz equalizer settings on your music player does. Basically, it makes our speakers sound better.
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