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Technology Showcase: Surface-mount Loudspeakers

A scan of the market shows the same old speaker technology continues to improve.

Technology Showcase:
Surface-mount Loudspeakers

May 1, 2006 12:00 PM,
By Bruce Borgerson

A scan of the market shows the same old speaker technology continues to improve.


Surface-mount “Hybrid Cars”: Self-powered and Networked

Soundtube SM590i

Think of the familiar surface-mount loudspeaker as a four-cylinder, gasoline-powered compact car. Then, recall the vehicles of 1961: VW Beetle, Ford Falcon, Chevy Corvair, and the first front-wheel-drive Minis from England.

Now, look at the compact cars of today. Quality has improved vastly, while more manufacturers are flooding the market with a profusion of nameplates. Nevertheless, the fundamental technology is the same as in the swinging sixties.

It’s much the same with this category of loudspeakers. Forty-five years later, we still see one or two small drivers, a transformer, a sturdy enclosure, and the necessary mounting hardware. (Hybrids are the exception, as is noted in a sidebar on p. 82.) However, in parallel with their automotive counterparts, today’s surface-mount loudspeakers look sleeker, work more efficiently, and outperform what was available in 1961. Installation is easier, as well. All hail incremental improvements!

As with automobiles, loudspeakers have become a teeming, global industry. Choices now available to the systems contractor are bountiful. The manufacturers listed here represent, to our knowledge, those currently offering surface-mount products of the qualifying types for widespread distribution in North America. This overview is limited to models intended for commercial distributed music systems: Similar models intended primarily for home use — taking company marketing materials at face value — are not included here. To keep the survey manageable, qualifying loudspeakers must have a low-mid driver diameter of 8in. or less (combined if dual drivers); weigh less than 20lbs. (9.1 kg); and offer mounting brackets and a 70V/100V transformer, either standard or as a factory-supplied option.

Nearly all the loudspeakers described share common characteristics, with exceptions noted in most cases. Because of the weight restriction, some type of polymer (plastic) molded cabinet is the norm. Most have a wide nominal dispersion pattern: a minimum of 90°×90°. The loudspeakers offer at least four transformer taps, as well as 8Ω bypass operation, with taps selectable by an external switch. The standard mounting bracket — again, except as noted — is a basic C- or U-type yoke.

The Architectural Acoustics division of Peavey leads off with a duo of two-way systems. The ISM 5T contains a 4.5in. woofer and 1in. polydome tweeter, and claims a frequency response of 92Hz to 18kHz. Weighing in at 4lbs., the ISM 5T accepts the VersaMount 10 wall bracket. The matte-finish ABS cabinet comes in black only. The larger (8lb.), weather-resistant Impulse 6T has a ribbed trapezoidal cabinet (black or white) containing a 5.25in. woofer and 1in. soft dome tweeter. Mounting is via an optional Versamount 35 bracket.

The little guy in Atlas Sound’s Strategy Series is the SM-42T, with a 4in. woofer and 1in. tweeter. The step-up SM-52T (7lbs.) has a 5.25in. woofer and 1in. mylar tweeter, while the big brother SM-82T has an 8in. woofer and 1in. titanium tweeter coupled to a waveguide for 65 degrees of symmetrical coverage. All models in the series are weather resistant and compatible with Omnimount brackets.

Bose FreeSpace 32SE

Two models in the FG series from Bogen Communications share the same rounded-rectangle styling: the FG15 and the FG30. Both are indoor speakers, the 4lb. FG15 with a 3in. woofer and 3/4in. mylar tweeter while the 6lb. FG30 sports a 5in. woofer with the same tweeter. The splash-proof FG20S has a 5in. polypropylene woofer and the same tweeter, all housed in a rugged cabinet with an epoxy-coated grille and stainless steel contacts. Only the FG15 is available in white.

The Bose FreeSpace 32SE and its predecessors are familiar icons in this loudspeaker category. This latest iteration of the line follows the company’s proven formula of a single 4.5in. HVC (helical voice coil) driver in a weather-resistant enclosure. Six transformer taps are selectable from 1W to 32W, and frequency range is given as 90Hz to 16kHz. Weight is 5lbs., and matching white or black U-brackets are included.

Community has one of the few wooden cabinet offerings with its CPL23. The MDF enclosure contains an 8in. woofer and a coaxially mounted 1in. dome tweeter, both magnetically shielded. Weight is 16lbs., and an integral yoke mount is included. Also offered are two models in molded cabinets: the weatherized I/O 5T and I/O 8T. Both provide 90°×50° nominal coverage, include Infin-A-Ball mounting brackets, and feature auto-resetting driver protection. Both have 1/2in. mylar tweeters, paired with 5in. and 8in. polypropylene woofers, respectively.

EAW’s commercial product line offers the diminutive SMS3 for tight spaces, with a 4.75in. carbon fiber woofer and 1/2in. mylar dome tweeter in a 4.9lb. package. An articulated wall-mount bracket is included. Moving up the line, with similar features, we find the SMS4 with a 5in. woofer and 1/2in. ferrofluid-cooled tweeter, and finally the SMS5 with a beefed-up (1.25in. voice coil) 5in. woofer and a 3/4in. tweeter for higher output power. Threaded inserts allow use with optional mounting hardware.

Canada’s Enforcer Sound Products has moved into the market with two sleek curved-back cabinets. Weighing in at 6.25lbs., the weather-resistant EFG502 encloses a 5.25in. woofer and 1/2in. tweeter. The superficially similar EFG502 beefs up the woofer (from 10oz. magnet to 16oz.) to boost power handling from 40W to 50W — and weight up to 8.75lbs.

Electro-Voice has been a prime player in this market for decades, and recent product offerings demonstrate the company’s determination to hold its ground. The latest entry, at the top end of the category in size and power (123dB max SPL), is the stylish ZX1i. The rigid enclosure contains a weatherized 8in. LF driver and a 1in. exit true compression driver. Horn options are 100 degrees symmetrical or a rotatable 90°×50°. Unique to this model is an ASC (automatic saturation compensation) circuit that reconfigures the network to a current-actuated high-pass, rolling off low frequencies to maintain a safe amplifier load and unaffected vocal range performance. E-V continues to offer the popular, bean-shaped EVID series, including the 4.2 (dual 4in. drivers) and 3.2 (dual 3in. drivers). The unique one-arm mounting system allows a variety of horizontal and vertical aiming angles.

Electro-Voice ZX1i

Extron enters the fray with its recently introduced System Integrator Series. The surface mount versions for the series include the SI 26 and SI 28, featuring LF drivers of 6.5in. and 8in. respectively. Both utilize a 1in. ferrofluid-cooled aluminum dome high-frequency driver. Other features include a paintable grille and enclosure and their patent pending V-Lock mounting system.

Italy is flexing its muscle in the world loudspeaker market, as evidenced by three solid entries from FBT. The Studio Pro 9T, available in black or gray, handles up to 50W through an 8in. woofer and 3/4in. tweeter. Dispersion is given as 90°×60°, and weight as 10.5lbs. The smaller Studio Pro 4T (also black or gray) has a 5.25in. woofer and tips the scale at 7lbs. The Studio 3T (black or white) houses a 6.5in. woofer and a coaxially mounted 1in. tweeter, takes up to 30W, and weighs 9.2lbs.

For those who prefer music encased in metal, J.W. Davis has the DY-30T indoor/outdoor system in a die-cast aluminum enclosure. Contents are a 4in. polypropylene woofer and 1in. soft dome ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. It’s not heavy metal, as weight with bracket is only 5.4lbs. Available in black or cream.

The esteemed Control series from JBL Professional has secured a broad niche at the upper end of the market. Both the Control 25AV and Control 23T feature overload protection, a high-impact polystyrene cabinet, weather resistance, and JBL’s Invisiball mounting system. The Control 25 employs a 5.25in. polypropylene woofer and 3/4in. titanium-coated tweeter for a frequency range (-10dB) of 70Hz to 23kHz. Weight is 9lbs. The Control 23T (4lbs.) has a 3.5in. woofer and 1/2in. titanium-coated tweeter and claims a 100Hz to 21kHz frequency range.

For many people, the name Klipsch evokes visions of large corner horns. But the company has diversified in recent years, and now offers commercial loudspeakers, including three in the weather-resistant CA series. The largest is the robust CA-800T (18lbs.), with an 8in. woofer and 1in. titanium diaphragm HF driver. A comparatively deep 90°×90° provides good pattern definition, and five power settings are provided at 70V between 60W and 3.7W. The zinc-coated C-bracket has an oversized knob for quick angle positioning. Stepping down in the line are the CA-650T (6.5in. woofer, 13lbs.) and CA-525 (5.25in., 9lbs.).

England’s Martin Audio, famed for its big touring rigs, serves the commercial market with the smaller cabinets in its Architectural series. The AQ6 is an indoor two-way system with a 6.5in. woofer and 1in. doped fabric dome tweeter mounted in a 90°×90° conical horn. Frequency response (+/-3dB) is given as 80Hz-20kHz. The structural foam ABS cabinet is light gray, and total weight is 14lbs. Mounting bracket and 30W transformer are optional. The elegantly packaged and ultra-compact C115T (3.7lbs.) uses a 5in. coaxial ICT driver to fit everything into a cabinet about 8in. square. (ICT is a patented design that uses a separate coaxial dome tweeter, but with a deep skirt that sits inside the woofer voice coil and is powered from the same magnetic gap.) The weather-resistant polypropylene cabinet is available in light gray or graphite.

With an uncompromising commitment to fine woodworking, OAP Audio slides under the weight limit with only one model, the NF-60. The high-compliance 6.5in. (2in. voice coil and 30oz. magnet) woofer extends lows to 80Hz (-3dB) while the 1in. ferrofluid tweeter takes highs up to 20kHz. Multi-tap transformer, bracket, and weatherized versions are add-on options.

Posh P2

Another Italian manufacturer nudging into North America is Outline. The indoor-only IS5T aims squarely at the middle of the market in value, featuring a 5.25in. cone driver and 1/2in. neodymium tweeter packed in a sealed cabinet weighing 7.5lbs. The weatherized IS6T has a 6.5in. woofer and 3/4in. neodymium tweeter in a quasi-trapezoidal cabinet with integrated C-bracket. Both models have dual-tap transformers (15W/30W) with bypass position.

OWI is another American company eschewing plastic in favor of die-cast aluminum cabinets in its indoor-outdoor line. The P5278P, housing a 5in. polypropylene woofer and 3/4in. polycarbonate tweeter, claims a frequency response of 75Hz to 20kHz from its petite 5.25lb. cabinet. The larger T870 and T874 models weigh in at close to 9lbs., but offer more power from a 5.25in. woofer and 1in. tweeter. The two models are identical except for the four-tap 70V transformers: 2.5W to 15W for the T870 and 5W to 40W for the T874.

Two products from Posh live up to the company name with elegant, understated styling and premium internal components. The Posh P2 incorporates a 5.25in. LF driver with doped paper cone, butyl rubber surround, and Kapton former voice coil. The HF driver is a 3/4in. sealed unit. Offering frequency response of 75Hz to 18kHz, the P2 weighs in at 7lbs. The smaller P1 shares the family good looks and contains a 4in. woofer with the same tweeter. Both models have trapezoidal ABS cabinets and include a steel C-bracket.

The innovative AD-S82/H from QSC Audio steps forward with several innovative features, including the IntelliDock mounting system. The docking station, permanently affixed to the wall bracket, has aiming hardware and wiring connections; the main speaker simply snaps on, locking in place. The AD-S82 version (16.2lbs.) has an 8in. woofer and 1in. titanium dome tweeter on a 90°×60° rotatable horn. The high-output AD-S82H (16.9lbs.) has a beefed-up woofer (2in. voice coil) and a 1in. compression driver, boosting maximum peak output to 119dB SPL, compared to 116dB for the standard version. The smaller AD-S52 has a shielded 5.25in. weatherproof woofer and 1in. neodymium tweeter; a more conventional ball mount replaces IntelliDock; and the horn is not rotatable.

With their slim profile and sleek, unobtrusive front grilles (not even a logo), Quam’s weather-resistant FM series loudspeakers blend discreetly into any décor. The three loudspeakers in the series (FM4X1/70, FM5X1/70, and FM7X1/70) use 5in., 5.25in., and 6.5in. polypropylene woofers respectively, with a 3/4in. dome tweeter on the smallest and a 1in. version on the two larger. All have a six-position selector switch for five taps (1.25W to 20W) or off for the two smaller speakers and 8Ω for the largest. All are lightweight, ranging from 5.5lbs. to 8.3lbs. The larger two models are offered in black only.

Two models from Sonic Systems’ Soundsphere technically fit the restrictions for this category, but feature a unique spherical waveguide — it looks like a hanging light globe — for essentially omnidirectional coverage. Intended for indoor applications, the Model 110B has a dual-cone 6.5in. driver and weighs in at 8lbs. Frequency response is specified as 70Hz-12kHz (±6dB). The Q-6 is a two-way weatherized version, with a coaxial 1/2in. dome tweeter over the 6.5in. woofer. Frequency response extends up to 17kHz, but weight remains a modest 8lbs.

Soundtube Entertainment offers two models that look identical but have different coverage patterns and power output. This allows system designers to keep the same look while choosing the model that works best in that part of the room. Both the SM500i and the SM590i have coaxial 5.25in. polypropylene woofers and a 1in. convex aluminum horn-loaded tweeter. The SM500i lists a maximum SPL of 107.5dB with a broad 120-degree coverage, while the SM590i claims 109.5dB with 90-degree coverage. Connectors are four-pin Euroblock, and both use Soundtube’s SpeedLever captive ball mounting.

Speco Technologies is making a big splash in the marketplace with a full line of commercial sound products, a line which appropriately includes two weatherized surface-mount models. The 6.6lb. SP-6AWD/T sports a 6.5in. mica-injected poly woofer and a 1in. PEI (polyetherimide) dome tweeter and claims a maximum power handling of 100W. The 5.3lb. SP-5AWD/T encloses a 5.25in. poly woofer and 1/2in. PEI tweeter and handles 80W maximum.

Tannoy of England markets three all-weather units in this category that incorporate the ICT point source coaxial driver. (See Martin Audio, p. 84.) As the names imply, the i5 AWT, i6 AWT, and i8 AWT house ICT drivers with, respectively, 5in., 6in., and 8in. woofers behind the common inductively coupled 1in. aluminum dome HF driver. The optimally tuned, molded polypropylene cabinets are available in charcoal or white. Fittings are provided for optional MB 6 or Omni Series 20 hardware.

The F-240 and F-160 Series loudspeakers from TOA Electronics are engineered, according to the company, to combine maximum efficiency with flat frequency response when mounted in a typical half- or quarter-space environment. The F-160 uses a 5in. woofer and a 1in. dome, while the F-240 steps up to a 6.25in. woofer and 1in. titanium dome tweeter. Cabinets come in dark gray or white, and the optional bracket accommodates wall or ceiling mount with 90-degree axis rotation.

Turbosound’s spiffy Impact 50 not only sports a striking “medicine capsule” shape but also offers (along with black and white) a cabinet molded in bold Turbo blue. The innards are equally worthy of attention, with a 5in. LF driver complemented by the 1in. ferrofluid-cooled neodymium soft dome tweeter. Weight is a trim 4.8lbs., but the multi-tap transformer and mounting bracket (several choices) are optional.

Closing out the show is Yorkville Sound of Canada, with four models in its Coliseum Mini series. The smallest, the 40W-rated C110, packs a 5in. woofer and mylar tweeter into the sculpted ABS cabinet. Mounting is with included L-bracket or via rear threaded inserts. The weatherproofed, 100W-rated C120 features a unique, swiveling “eyeball” mylar tweeter behind the removable grille; woofer is 5in. diameter; and weight is 4.7lbs. The C130 moves woofer size up to 6.5in., extending maximum SPL to 116dB and upping weight to 6.6lbs. Topping the series is the C170 with its 8in. woofer, 1in. mylar dome tweeter, and net weight of 14.5lbs. The three larger units include U-brackets, and transformers are selectable for 6W, 12.5W, 25W, or bypass.

Bruce Borgerson,currently proprietor of Wavelength Communications in Ashland, Ore., installed surface-mount loudspeakers around the Bay Area for about one year, from 1977-78.

Surface-mount “Hybrid Cars”: Self-powered and Networked

Most background/foreground music systems continue to use 70V/100V lines, a technology that has been with us for almost as along as the gasoline engine. It survives for much the same reason: low initial costs, proven reliability, and satisfactory performance.

However, distributed music systems now are entering a new era — rapidly. The hybrids are upon us.

One driving force behind the change, of course, is networked digital signal distribution. With more and more large installations — hotels, theme parks, airports — digitally encoding all audio and dumping it on a network, it only makes sense to leave it there as long as it is economically feasible to do so.

The other is the onslaught of low-cost, lightweight, and highly efficient power amplifiers. No longer restricted to weighty “on-the-ground” racks, the amplifiers can be moved to the ceiling for mounting either inside individual loudspeaker cabinets, or as separate modules for powering a group of nearby loudspeakers. In some cases, consultants are specifying systems that integrate components normally reserved for high-end professional systems.

One large Houston hotel, for example, employs smaller Meyer Sound self-powered systems (UPM-1P) as the distributed ceiling loudspeakers in ballrooms, meeting rooms, and most high-ceiling public areas. Signal distribution is via the BSS Soundweb networks. Initial unit cost is much higher, of course, but each covers a much larger area than typical 70V loudspeakers and eliminates all costs associated with amplifier rooms.

Other companies are devising smaller-scale systems targeted exclusively at the foreground/background market. NetCIRA, a division of Japan’s Fostex company, now markets a full line of components using networked audio distribution with Ethernet-based Ethersound protocols. NetCIRA’s relatively small and lightweight (about 6lbs.) receiver/amplifier modules can be placed in the ceiling plenum. The power output of 10W or 20W is adequate for driving a single, large loudspeaker or a cluster of smaller loudspeakers.

If there is no building-wide IT network already in place, or specified, the 10V/100V approach remains the most cost-effective solution. But as Gigabit Ethernet takes hold, and networked AV signal distribution spreads to all levels of the industry, we can expect the installation of multi-tap transformers to be winding down.

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