Archive for March, 2014

Driver TS Parameters: Fs (Free Air Resonance)

Posted March 5, 2014 By Andy Kos

The loudspeaker’s resonant frequency (often listed as Fs on spec sheets) is the frequency at which the driver’s cone and voice coil will tend to move easily. You’ve probably seen footage on TV of a bridge in the US wobbling around and tearing itself apart due to the wind causing the bridge to move at its resonant frequency – in case you havent, take a look here:

The resonant frequency is influenced by the weight of the cone and voice coil (sometimes referred to as the moving mass) and the stiffness of the parts that return the cone to it’s central natural rest position. If you were to apply a sine wave signal to the speaker outside of a cabinet,  the speaker cone’s movement back and forth from rest position (known as excursion) will be significantly more at the resonant frequency than at higher frequencies.

Just as in the instance of the bridge being ripped apart at it’s resonant frequency, care has to be taken to avoid damaging your speaker. We wont get into the finer points of this here, but it’s something to be aware of, and you should be aware that many speaker designs recommend the use of a High Pass Filter, typically just near the resonant frequency of the driver being used. Cabinet design can influence the recommended HPF, as for example in Bass Reflex Designs, the tuning of the reflex port can actually reduce cone excursion at the resonant frequency, but have the side effect of allowing increased excursion just below the resonant frequency. The purpose of the HPF is to keep the driving operating within a frequency range that does not allow excessive excursion – without the HPF it is possible to damage your speakers through excursion without exceeeding the power handling capacity of the speaker.

Its generally a safe bet for most designs to assume your driver wont be able to effectively product frequencies below it’s resonant frequency, and from a simplistic point of view, using a HPF just above the driver’s resonant frequency is a good way to stop your drivers being ripped apart from over-excursion.

A driver with a resonant frequency of say 50Hz will not be effective at sub-bass in the 30Hz region, so would be a poor choice for this application. A driver with a resonant frequency of 30Hz would probably work well from 33 Hz upwards, subject to an appropriate cabinet design, so could be used for sub-bass. Certain speaker designs (such as horn loaded speakers) work a little differently, and different results can be achieved.

However, if you are replacing an existing driver in a Ported Bass Reflex cabinet (one of the most common types), it’s generally a good idea to choose a replacement with a similar resonant frequency. The original speaker cabinet would have been tuned to match the driver, and putting in a significantly different driver will result in a mismatch, resulting in less than optimal performance, which in serious cases can result in premature failure of a driver due to over-excursion.

For serious sub-bass applications, the lower the Fs, the better. For mid-range, the resonant frequency of a cone driver is often irrelevant, as the operating frequency range will usually be significantly higher than the resonant frequency.

In compression drivers, the resonant frequency needs to be taken note of. Its normal to use compression drivers well above their resonant frequency, a typical 1″ exit compression driver would have a resonant frequency of 500-600Hz, and it’s normal to specify the minimum operating frequency an octave higher, which would be 1000-1200Hz. At it’s resonant frequency, the diaphragm on the compression driver will naturally move a lot more than normal, in a compression driver this can be catastrophic, as the metal dome on the compression driver can hit the front of the housing, and cause the diaphragm to shatter. Keeping an octave above the resonant frequency ensures the compression driver’s diaphragm stays within relatively low excursion limits.

It’s possible to damage diaphragms with bass and mid frequencies quite easily, it is for this reason that it’s common to put in a 1st order high pass filter ( a single capacitor) in series with a compression driver when it is used in an active system. This protects against accidental erroneous connection to the wrong amplifier, and it’s good practise to do this if your system has numerous connectors which look similar.

Once you start looking at the Thiele Small Parameters, you will start to become aware that speaker parameters all interact.  The formula which for Fs is as follows:



Cms is a measure of the suspension (surround and spider) compliance. Compliance is the inverse of stiffness. High stiffness is low compliance. Low stiffness is high compliance. Stiffer suspension will make the resonant frequency higher, looser suspension will make the resonant frequency lower.

Mms is the mass of the moving parts of the driver, including ‘air load’. A heavier cone will have a lower resonant frequency, and a lighter cone will have a higher resonant frequency.

You can read more about Mms here:

Power Compression

Posted March 5, 2014 By Andy Kos

When selecting speakers, it’s common for people to just look at maximum power handling, and many manufacturers make a point of specifying seemingly unbelievable power handling capacity of 1000W or more. Its quite rare for manufacturers to specify power compression though, and it seems to be often overlooked by system designers.

It seems that loudspeakers to handle what appear to be insanely high levels of power compared to 10 or 15 years ago. Has there been some amazing technological breakthrough? Do we need to re-write the physics text books? No, it’s still just basic physics – so what are the changes?

Firstly, modern materials used in the construction of voice coils are able to withstand significantly higher temperatures before failing.  Why is this important? Well Cone loudspeakers are in fact very inefficient, with even the best transducers only converting around 5% of the electrical energy supplied into sound, the majority of the remainder is converted into heat. So a 1000W bass speaker running at full power may well be converting only 50W into acoustic power, and 950W of heat. Thats like having a 1kw bar heater in your bassbin! That’s a lot of heat, which can cause big problems.

Aside from improving construction materials, manufacturers are also refining designs to maximise heat transfer away from the voice oil, this also contributes to the increases in power handling capacity we are experiencing.

What’s all this got to do with power compression?

Enabling speakers to handle much higher temperatures might seem a good thing, as it increases maximum power handling, but it also has a detrimental effect. Most voice coils are made from copper or aluminium wire, both of which have a positive temperature co-efficient of around 0.4% per °C. What’s the significance of that? You will have heard of superconductors, which operate at extremely low temperatures in order to try to reduce and minimise resistance.  Loudspeaker voice coils  unfortunately work in the opposite way: as the temperature increases, the resistance also increases.

A modern state of the art voice coil is designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, often operating at up to 3000C or more when driven at full power. 0.4% may sound insignificant, but remember this is per °C – at only 2300C the voice coil DC resistance has almost doubled which causes the voice coil impedance to increase accordingly. Some simple maths and you can quickly see that the increase in temperature  can make your 8 ohm speaker start behaving more like a 16 ohm speaker.

So after setting your sound system carefully at the start of the night, an hour in, and it doesn’t sound as loud – you might wonder whats going on. Two things: firstly, your ears have a self defence mechanism: there are 2 tiny muscles in the middle ear that will contract when the ear is exposed to loud sounds. This contraction will reduce the loudness of the sounds reaching the inner ear, thereby protecting the inner ear against exposure to loud noises. This isn’t power compression, but it’s something to be aware of, as you may well be tempted to turn up the volume, I know from experience that a typical DJ will certainly try this, and end up running his mixer into overdrive in the attempt to get more volume.

The second factor is power compression, a typical loudspeaker can lose 3-6 dB of volume once power compression kicks in.

You could think of power compression a bit like the aerodynamics of driving a car. When you start moving, a certain level of power from your engine sets you hurtling forwards at high speed, but as you go faster, wind resistance increases, so you stop accelerating. You need to apply more power to increase speed, but wind resistance keeps increasing too, so you have to apply even more power.

If your amplifiers have headroom, your instincts will make you want to turn them up, to restore the original volume level. To some extent this will work, if you’re familiar with the maths, you’ll see whats going on. Your 8 ohm speaker at room temperature happily accepts 1000W from your amplifier, and gradually reaches an operating temperature of say 250°C. Your resistance has doubled, and your ‘new’ 16 ohm speaker will probably only be receiving around 500W from your amplifier. In a way, as the speaker reaches temperature, it ‘protects itself’ by reducing the power it is operating at, stopping it getting any hotter. If it were to cool a little, the power would increase again, causing it to heat up.

Lets suppose you turn the gain up on your amplifiers, determined to try to push 1000W through your speakers. As you apply more power, you will generate more heat,  perhaps reaching 350°C or more, with your speakers resistance continuing to increase to perhaps 20 or more ohms. Essentially you are fighting a losing battle, as you turn the gain up, the speaker fights back with a higher resistance. You will eventually reach a limit, either your amp will run out of headroom and you cant turn it any louder, or the other possibility, which happens all too often, is your speaker will overheat, and burn out causing catastrophic failure.

Now you know about power compression and the fact that speaker resistance increases with heat, you’ll probably realise that you actually have to push a speaker very hard in order to cause it fail – so if your speaker suddenly fails and you smell burning, the only person to blame is YOU, as you now know better than to try to fight power compression by applying more power.

Now consider what effect power compression will have. 3-6dB loss at full operating power is almost like switching off half your PA system. To achieve the same consistent volume you will need twice as many speakers!

What’s the solution? Either buy speakers with headroom, e.g. if you want to operate at around 500-600W, you might want to consider purchasing speakers rated at 800W or more. At 75% of rated power, the effects of power compression should be much less significant. Also, try to select speakers with improved cooling technology, that suffer less from power compression. Avoiding power compression could make your speakers twice as loud, meaning you could take half as many to the gig!

There are other side effects from the increased levels of heat in a speaker, T/S parameters can vary, bass can sound boomy and mid frequencies can sound muffled. For the best sound quality, its best to try to  minimise power compression effects,