Advertisements

Walnut and Copper Speakers

How I built my own set of custom speakers

“Huh, the built-in speakers on my TV really aren’t that good…”. Seems like an innocent enough thought, right? Well, I tugged at that loose thread of a thought until I reached its logical conclusion: I’m going to have to build my own custom speakers with a solid walnut housing, and spun copper drivers.

How the hell did I get there from the simple observation that my TV speakers were a little sub-par? I’ll open the doors to my mind and show you. I’ll also show you exactly how I built these speakers if you keep on scrolling down…

BUT FIRST, I have to plug my social media. I’m sorry. I have to do it. It’ll be quick and painless, I promise. If you like DIY, woodworking, and random tech projects, check out my Instagram page! I post all of my projects there along with all the tips and tricks I learn along the way! You can find me @zacbuilds (direct link: https://www.instagram.com/zacbuilds/ ) Ok, that’s it, now back to your regularly scheduled DIY post.

I started out thinking I’d just buy a soundbar. No problem, probably less than 100 bucks and a quick trip to the store. A few hours of internet research later and I learned that soundbars are pure trash and only trash people can bare having their ears subjected to the sounds that come out of them (obviously, I’m just kidding, but some of the opinions I read online weren’t far off this haha).

A few MORE hours of internet research and I learned that the best value when it comes to speakers is really building your own from DIY kits. Fuck me. Here we go down DIY project rabbit hole, again.

Before I even knew it I had my credit card out and I was ordering the Overnight Sensation DIY kit. It’s a pretty popular kit and it’s available from a bunch of different online retailers. After exchange rates and duties (I’m a dirty Canadian) the kit ended up costing me ~$200 CAD.

Included in the kit was 2 woofers, 2 tweeters, a plywood housing and all of the various internal components you need (more on these later).

While I can confidently say I built the speakers, saying I built the subwoofer is pretty much a complete lie. It would be much more accurate to say that I re-skinned an off the shelf subwoofer. I found a local guy selling a used Klipsch R-12SW for $250 and decided to use that as my jumping off point.

Why didn’t I buy a DIY subwoofer kit too? It’s not that they don’t exist. They very much do. The problem is that there’s no subwoofer kit that matches the styling of the Overnight Sensation. From the beginning I really wanted both the sub and the speakers to share the same coppery drivers and overall style. Klipsch, as far as I know, is the only company that has coppery subwoofers. So that really limited my options.

Also, the DIY kits were almost all more expensive than this used Klipsch. So I saved a bit of money by going with a brand name (how often do you get to say that sentence!?).

Did I mention that the speakers are completely passive? That means they need an amplifier to power them. Yup, that’s another expense. That $99 soundbar is starting to look pretty good…

This is a Denon AVR S540BT and it now controls my entire living room. My speakers and subwoofers plug into it and then it’s connected to my TV via an HDMI cable. Through the wonders of technology, it turns on and off when my TV does and if I adjust the volume on my TV it adjusts its volume to match. I can control my whole setup with just the remote that came with my TV.

That’s fantastic because my number one fear doing this project (other than that the speakers wouldn’t work and everyone would laugh at me) was that I was going to turn into one of those guys with like 8 remotes. You know what I’m talking about, when you go over to someones house and turning on their TV is tantamount to solving a Rubik’s cube. Ya, I didn’t want that haha.

I can’t believe I got this far and I didn’t even mention how they sound!

I was actually blown away by how good they sound. To be fair I was blown away that they even worked when I first plugged them in, but then my next thought was “Wow, these actually sound great!”.

I’m no audiophile, so my opinion shouldn’t count for much, and I’m probably heavily biased because of the emotional attachment I have to the speakers. That being said they’re the best speakers I’ve ever owned and I love listening to them. The first few days I had them, I’d just sit on my couch and do nothing other than listen to my favorite songs.

Ok enough details about the speakers themselves. Let’s talk about how I made them already, smash cut to me in the shop.

You might be forgiven for thinking the speakers was made from a single piece of walnut with a piece of ash inlaid into it, but really, it’s a bunch of different strips glued together.

So to start this project I began by ripping a bunch of walnut into 2″ wide, and 5″ wide, pieces. When I buy my lumber comes in random widths and lengths so I choose 2″ and 5″ because it optimized the yield on the particular pieces I bought. Walnut is expensive, I didnt want to waste anything I didn’t have to!

The wider strips were used for the subwoofer and the thinner strips were used for the speakers.

I also ripped two 1/2″ wide strips of ash to use as accent strips.

It’s time to start “the glue-up”! I kicked things off by applying a thick bead of carpenters glue to my wood strips.

I figured that the easiest way to make the housing for the speakers would be to make a single “sheet” of wood by gluing all of my strips together and then cutting that up into individual components.

Pictured here are the wider strips that I used for the subwoofer housing, but the process was the exact same for the speaker housings.

If you didn’t understand what I meant when I said “sheet” of wood before, hopefully, it’s more clear now.

I rolled each piece of wood onto it’s flat and then clamped them all together. I used big long bar clamps to clamp across the width of all the pieces and then used smaller F-clamps to clamp the whole sheet down to my table. Clamping everything down to the table helps to prevent warping and twisting. That way my sheets are nice and sheet-like after the glue dries.

WARNING: This method only works if you know your table to be flat! If you were to attempt this on a warped table, you’d end up with a warped glue-up which would make the rest of the projects a lot more challenging. Trust me, I know this from experience.

Note: That layer of plastic I have draped over my work surface prevents my glue-up from gluing itself to my wood table top. That would be bad haha. It also makes the cleanup way easier!

Now to rinse and repeat! Except without the rinsing part… Sorry, I always get my shampoo and woodworking instructions mixed up.

After the glued dried on the subwoofer sheet I set it aside and did the whole thing again, except this time with the smaller 2″ strips to make the speaker sheet.

Thankfully you don’t have to clamp carpenters glue for that long before it sets. Usually, 30 minutes is all you need for good adhesion, and full cures come within 24 hours.

After the clamps came off of the speaker sheet I ran it through my planer. I did my best to make sure that all my strips of walnut and ash lined up perfectly, but there’s always going to be small misalignments between the individual strips in terms of height.

Inside the planer are spinning blades that remove the highest points of anything passed through it. By repeatedly passing the sheet through the planer and lowering the blades on each pass I ended up with a perfectly smooth and flat sheet. Ready to be cut up into small pieces.

I just LOVE it when the whole project fits through my 13″ planer. In this case, though, I have mixed feelings, since only the speaker sheet fit through the planer. The subwoofer sheet was too big, but hey I’ll take 1/2 over 0/2.

Since the subwoofer sheet was too big for the planer I hopped into my time machine and went back to the 1800s.

Using a hand plane I slowly scraped very thin layers of wood away until I had removed all of the high points as was left with a flat and even sheet.

This was a great workout. When I was making these speakers it was still early spring, the temps were in the single digits (celsius) and here I was working away in a T-shirt.

Doing all this work by hand provided me with a good opportunity to catch up on the audiobook I’ve been listening to, Frank Herbert’s Dune. I remember seeing the movie as a kid (and playing the video game!) and not really understanding what all the hype was about. Now as an adult I’m happy to say I have a much greater appreciation for the story and the concepts Herbert was exploring.

After I was done with the hand plane I used my belt sander to sand the whole thing down. A good hand plane with a sharp blade leaves the wood pretty smooth, but it’s no substitute for a proper sanding.

The belt sander in its own way does a good job of leveling surfaces as well. If I didn’t have the hand plane I probably could’ve done the whole job with the belt sander, but it would’ve taken longer and made a lot more dust. So yay for the hand plane! Sometimes centuries-old technology is still the right tool for the job!

Finally, after all of that planing, I had 2 sheets that were flat, smooth and ready to be cut up and made into speaker housings.

At 6′ long, the sheets were a bit too cumbersome to be pushed through my table saw. To make the speaker sheet a bit more manageable I grabbed my track saw and cut it in half. The left side would become the left speaker and the right side would become the right speaker. Or maybe it was the other way around. Honestly, I didn’t keep track 🙂

Note my ridiculous setup here. Half of the sheet was supported by the table, my right hand supported the other half, and the track saw cut down the center. This was awkward, to say the least. Probably not the safest setup in the world. A much better approach would’ve been to set the sheet on the table with a sacrificial piece of wood beneath it. That way the sheet would’ve been fully supported and I wouldn’t have to worry about the blade of my saw ruining my nice work table. You live and you learn I supposed!

With the sheet split in two, I hopped back on the table saw and continued to divide it into smaller pieces.

Each half was further subdivided into 4 pieces. A top, a bottom, and the two sides. I made a series of 45-degree cuts and paid careful attention to how I cut each piece. I wanted the grain of the wood to be continuous around the entire visible part of the speaker.

In other words, I wanted the grain to “wrap” around the speaker. I started with the left side and worked my way counter-clockwise around to the bottom.

One detail I knew I wanted these speakers to have from the very beginning was a chamfered inner edge. I don’t know what recess of my mind that detail came from, but it was clear to me from the start that it HAD to be there haha.

I cranked the table saw blade back to 45 degrees and cut a small section out of the inside edge of each speaker housing piece to create that chamfered edge.

Based on my research I’m pretty sure that, ideally, the front face of the speaker would be perfectly flat so as not to interfere with the sound waves coming out of the speaker. Like I said though, I’m no “audiophile”. and I doubt I’d ever be able to notice any degradation in sound quality caused by the small lip. I made a choice to prioritize style over audio quality, and I’d do it again!

My design for the speakers was relatively simple. I’d preserve the original front and rear panels from the DIY kit and build the rest of the housing so that they would slot into it.

The front and rear panels were made from 3/8″ thick plywood and had rounded edges that I removed by cutting them off on the table saw.

I tossed the rest of the housing from the DIY kit into the garbage. I felt kind of bad about throwing away so much wood, but I really had no use for it. I wish I could’ve found a site that sold just the speaker components and the front and back panels. If anyone reading this happens to run a website that sells DIY speaker kits, maybe consider selling a kit like that!

So like I said, I wanted the front and rear panels to slot into the housing. In order to do that, I had to cut some channels into my housing pieces! In woodworker parlance, these slots are called dados. Don’t ask me where that name comes from, I have no idea!

I cut 2 dados in each of the pieces. One at the front and one at the back. The one at the front was set in 1″ from the edge and the one at the rear was set in a 1/4″ from the edge. Each dado was 3/8″ wide (the same as the thickness of the plywood panels) and 1/4″ deep.

I probably should’ve used a dado blade to cut these channels, but it’s a really time-consuming process to switch out the blade on my table saw so I cut the dados using a normal saw blade by repeatedly cutting the same piece of wood and adjusting my fence over in 1/8″ increments.

I was surprised to see that my DIY speaker kit didn’t include a speaker wire terminal. You know, that plate on the back of the speaker where connect the speaker wire? Ya, that thing. I guess the kit creators intended for these speakers to be hardwired at all times? I don’t know.

Regardless, I wanted my speakers to have a quick disconnect terminal so I ordered some along with the DIY kit. Thankfully they weren’t very expensive, at $1.31 each. It did mean, however, that I was going to have to drill another hole in the rear panel of the speakers.

I grabbed my 2-inch hole saw, marked the location of the new holes and drilled away.

I had one last modification to make to the front and rear panels. I wanted to paint them matte black. We’re all still doing matte black right?

Oh… what? That trend was over 5 years ago?

Shit.

Well I painted them matte black anyways, because I like it 🙂

Assembly time!

You can’t see my face in this shot, but if you could, you’d see I was brimming with excitement. I had been working for multiple days at this point and still had yet to see anything that even remotely resembled a speaker. That was about to change though.

I applied more carpenters glue to my 45-degree corners and into the dado channels on 3 of the 4 pieces of the speaker housing. I skipped the glue when I came to the bottom piece because I didn’t want it to be permanently attached. I still need to access the inside of the speaker housing so I could wire up all of the various components and install the drivers.

There’s a pretty common jokette in the woodworking community that you always need more clamps and that was definitely the case here. I used every clamp I had to hold the speaker case in perfect alignment as the glue dried.

If I had more clamps, you can be sure I would’ve found a use for them.

I figured the odds of these speakers working on the first try were about 10:1. I wanted to have a way to access the internals of the speakers in the inevitable case I had to make some repairs or modifications.

To preserve accessibility I decided to screw the bottom of the speaker housing in place. I piloted out 6 screw holes and screwed the bottom to the rest of the housing using 1 1/2″ #8 wood screws.

All hands on deck, we’re now entering uncharted waters!

This is the part of the project where I was completely out of my depth and threw myself at the mercy of the instruction manual. I’ve never wired up the guts of a speaker before. Hell, I’ve barely even done any soldering before. But hey they say you have to step out of your comfort zone to grow, so I jumped in with both feet! I had my laptop on standby in case I needed to look anything up.

The first step in wiring up these speakers was soldering 12″ long speaker wire leads to my woofers, tweeters and terminal plates. This was relatively simple, all I had to do was strip an inch or so of speaker wire down to the bare wire, thread it into contacts on the various components and then melt solder onto the contacts to secure them in position.

Ok, so far, so good. I can handle this (I’ll just keep telling myself this until it’s true)

This is where things started to get a little crazier. I Installed my woofer, tweeter and terminal plate in the speaker housing and pulled the speaker wire leads out of the bottom.

Once that was done I had to wire up and solder the “cross over”. Now I’m going to attempt to explain what the crossover is, but I probably won’t get it 100% right because I’m not that bright.

The cross over is an electrical circuit inside the speaker that splits the input single into 2 parts. It sends the higher frequency part of the input signal to the tweeters and the lower frequency part of the signal to the woofer. Sounds simple enough, but it’s really a spaghetti bowl of resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

Luckily the DIY speaker kit I bought came with an easy to follow wiring diagram. All I had to do was twist the leads of various components together and then solder them together so they wouldn’t come apart. I did a dry, solderless, run first, to make sure I knew where everything went. Then, one by one, I soldered each connection together.

As an aside, it turns out that if you burn your finger badly enough the fingerprint reader on your phone won’t be able to read it anymore. I learned that after I tried to blindly reach for my soldering iron. Won’t be making that mistake again haha.

See. Just like I said. A tangled bowl of spaghetti.

I was really worried that all of the exposed leads and wires would shift around while I was assembling the speakers, make contact with each other, and then short out. To prevent that I glued all of the individual components in place to the bottom of the speaker case. That way nothing would slide around during install or transport.

I buttoned the speakers back up and set them aside for a bit while I got caught up on the subwoofer front.

Again, the laminated sheet of wood I made was too big to comfortably push through my table saw so I brought the saw to my table. Thankfully my track saw can also cut at a 45-degree angle. Using the same procedure as I did with the speakers I cut my subwoofer sheet into 4 pieces. A top, two sides, and a bottom.

Now here’s where the construction of my subwoofer housing and the bookshelf speaker housing diverges. Instead of cutting 2 dados in the housing, I had to essentially cut 1 big dado/channel that would envelop the whole subwoofer.
I cut 2 control lines into each piece of the subwoofer housing. One at the front, inset 1″, and 1 at the back, inset 1/2″. Each line was 1/4″ deep and was the boundary of the big dado/channel I was cutting into each piece.

I then used my trim router to remove 1/4″ of material between those 2 control lines. I used a 1/2″ straight bit set to 1/4″ deep.

This was time-consuming, and a bit awkward to do, but I really couldn’t think of a better way to do it. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them in the comments!

This part of the process was painful. I had to start permanent and unreversible modifying the subwoofer for the project. I used a sharp chisel to remove the Klipsch logo. Turns out it’s just a sticker. I cringed the whole time I did it.

After that egregious act of vandalism I continued my rampage and removed the 4 pegs that held the front fabric cover in place. They were threaded in and easily removed with a pair of pliers.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but, I didn’t stop there.

In my pursuit of a completely clean front face, I also removed a status LED from the front of the sub. Actually, scratch that. I don’t feel bad about the LED. It was ugly and I don’t know why Klipsch put it on the front face of the sub, I think it should’ve gone on that back.

After my hands had stopped trembling and I made peace with the monster that I had become, I filled all of the newly created holes on the front of the subwoofer.

I used regular old wood filler. Once it dried I sanded it back until you couldn’t feel where the holes used to be. I took this opportunity to sand the entire subwoofer with 80 grits sandpaper as prep for the new couple of steps.

A slightly rough surface is good for both glue and paint adhesion after all!

Woo woo! Everyone back on the matte black everything hype train!

I painted the front and back faces of the sub with the same matte black paint I used on the speakers. I’ve come too far at this point to not have them match.

The nice thing about matte paint is that it’s really good at hiding small imperfections. The slight difference in texture around the spots where I used the wood filler was completely hidden by the paint.

I had to break out my bigger clamps for the sub. Instead of doing everything with dainty little F-clamps I used these big bar clamps.

It’s funny when I was doing the dry fit, everything fit great. As soon as I applied glue and re-assembled everything I had a much harder time getting all of my panels to line up perfectly.

In the end, I got it, but it’s funny how things always seem to get 2X harder when you attach a time limit to them.

I sanded both the subwoofer and the speakers once the glue had dried. I started with 80 grit sanding pads on my random orbital sander and worked my way up to 220 grit sanding pads.

By the time I was done sanding that subwoofer was so smooth I could practically see my self in the walnut (no I couldn’t, that’s dumb).

With everything sanded to 220 grit I was ready to apply my clear coat. For this project I used a satin hybrid oil and water floor varnish. Normally I like to roll clear coats onto my projects, but for this project, I decided to change it up a bit and brush it on.

That inner chamfered edge creates a thin strip that would’ve been basically impossible to clear coat with anything other than a brush. I was expecting to have a hard time getting a brush stroke free finish, but to my suprise, the clear coat leveled itself out quite nicely. In the future, I’ll have to try brushing on more finishes.

Cutting (or painting a straight line) with a paintbrush was something that I used to really struggle with. I’d get all up in my head about how it was impossible to draw a straight line with a paint brush. Eventually though, through practice, I learned to stop caring and just do it. It sounds flippant to say, but I really think the biggest difference now is that I just don’t think about it as I’m doing it and I’m able to get much better results.

To help isolate the speakers and keep them from rattling around when I’m pumping my loud rap music I placed these soft rubber feet on their bottoms.

I thought I’d get real fancy and cover the screws on the bottom of the speaker with the feet. Probably would’ve worked better if I didn’t buy clear feet haha. Next time I’ll get black ones.

The good people at Klipsch must have been spying on my designs because when I bought the subwoofer it ALSO came with rubber feet on it. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but either this was one hell of a coincidence or the corporate espionage of Klipsch knows no ends!

I removed the feet before I reskinned the subwoofer so all I had to do to reinstall them was mark their new locations and screw them in place.

The last few times I’ve posted a project on Imgur and Reddit people have asked me why I’ve paid a professional photographer to snap photos of me while I do my projects. It feels great because I shoot everything myself. It’s like when someone accuses you of hacking in a video game, but you aren’t hacking.

This is me with my DIY self documenting rig. Just a camera (Sony A7iii + Tamron 28-75mm f2.8) on a tripod. I’ve got a 7″ monitor on top of it that I rotate 180 degrees so I can see how everything is framed up before I start recording.

Recording? That’s right. I roll video the entire time I’m working and then when I get home I capture stills from the video files. That way I don’t have to worry about capturing the perfect moment, I can just scrub through the video until I find the perfect moment.

I use the same camera (minus the monitor) to do all the still photos of the finished project back at home too.

I’m ashamed to talk about it, but I know people like to know, so let’s talk about costs. Keep in mind, I started off shopping for a $99 soundbar.

First, we have the speaker kit. That was ~$200.
Then we have the subwoofer. That was $250.
Next, we have the AV receiver. That was $250.
Finally, we’ve got the wood and all the other supplies used to make the cases. That was another ~$200.

Bringing the grand total to ~$900. Seeing it all laid out like that really makes me question my own judgment…

Using hardwood instead of the supplied plywood (or ideally, MDF) probably makes these speakers sound slightly worse. I doubt I’d ever be able to hear the difference, but the small voids and air pockets that exist inside of natural wood can theoretically distort the sound waves.

But as you can see from this photo, I have a little bit of a wood theme going on in my living room. I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of sound quality to keep everything “on brand” haha.

I actually built the TV stand and the coffee table in this photo. If you want to check out those builds you can find them
Here: Coffee Table
And here: TV Stand

This cute little guy is the tweeter, specifically it’s a Dayton ND20FA-6 tweeter. He’s responsible for play back of any higher frequency sounds.

Higher frequency (higher pitched) sounds are better played through smaller speakers. Their small size and low mass means that they’re able to vibrate more easily at faster rates.

Fun fact: The tweeter is just friction fit into the front face of the speaker. No screws or glue hold it in place. According to the instructions I got, that’s how its supposed to be, which kind of surprised me, but hey what do I know, this is literally the first time I’ve ever built a speaker.

This guy is the woofer. I like to think of him as the middle child. He’s responsible for the mid range frequencies. He does most of the heavy lifting, but as far as his parents are concerned he may as well not even exist. (Don’t worry, that’s not a subtle dig at my parents, I’m an only child haha)

The actual speaker itself is a HiVi B4N 4″ Midbass. Frankly this speaker is the only reason I picked the kit I did. I love that coppery gold colour and how nicely it pairs with the matte black and the walnut.

This is the back plate terminal I was talking about before. I was really surprised that a couple of these weren’t included in the DIY kit. Without it I would’ve had to hardwire the speaker wires inside of the speaker and then run them through the breather port above.

If you’re going to attempt to build your own speakers I highly recommend you pick up some of these!

Feeling cute, might delete later. IDK.

This is Bing. she said it was important that I pay the cat tax on all of my posts. She also sat their patiently waiting for me to finish taking all of my photos so I could resume showering her with affection.

She’s also enamored with the subwoofer and will sit directly in front of it while I’m listening to music.

Alright, that’s it for this post.

Time for me to kick back and enjoy my new speakers. Thank you for reading this far.

If you have any questions or comments, hit me below and I’ll do my best to answer.

  1. Found your site through your post on Reddit regarding this build. I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to share your builds. I really enjoy reading through your projects and the photos are great!
    Thanks again!

    Reply

    1. Zachary Matchett-Smith June 10, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Thank you so much Tracey! I appreciate you taking the time to read my writing and check out my builds 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: