The Science (and a little Art) of Loudspeaker Placement

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The Science (and a little Art) of Loudspeaker Placement
The Science (and a little Art) of Loudspeaker Placement

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The astonishing thing about the physics and acoustical parameters that govern sound reproduction is that, despite considerable effort by many well meaning or at least well motivated individuals and manufacturers, they simply haven’t changed in the last two hundred years, and, just in case you think there is a breakthrough on the horizon, they won’t change in the next two hundred either.

A Little Useful History

In 1876 (yes … more than 13 decades ago!) Alexander Graham Bell patented his first electric loudspeaker (theoretically capable of reproducing intelligible speech) as part of his telephone, which was followed a year later in Germany by an “improved version” from the legendary Ernst Siemens. Two decades later in 1898, Oliver Lodge established the essential parameters for the moving-coil (also called electro-dynamic) loudspeaker design, which is the core DNA from which every loudspeaker since then has evolved.


The first really practical application of this concept (given the available materials and technology of the early 1900’s time frame) was introduced by Danish engineer Peter L. Jensen and his colleague Edwin Pridham, a few years later in Napa, California. Unable to get a patent for their device or sell it to their target customers (the fast expanding telephone companies), in 1915 they changed strategy to focus on what became known as public address, and named their product Magnavox.

By 1921 AT&T (which had been created in 1885), using a device they named the loudspeaking telephone (actually hundreds of them), based on the ideas of Jensen, and his predecessors, created what we would recognize as the first Public Address system for the inauguration of Warren B. Harding as President of the United States, covering a crowd in the tens of thousands, according to newspaper estimates at the time.

The crucial enhancement and expansion of Lodge’s moving-coil principle, which is the functionally practical basis upon which almost all of today’s loudspeakers are designed, was patented in 1924 by Chester W. Rice and Edward W. Kellogg. It is essential to recognize that these first loudspeakers used electromagnets, because the large, powerful permanent magnets we consider common today, simply did not exist, and wouldn’t until some considerable time later.

As is always the case, time and science, coupled to increased demands from core customers such as the motion picture theaters, combined to increase frequency response and the feasible sound pressure levels of the available loudspeaker hardware, often quite rapidly.

Although pushed somewhat to the background, the public address side of things was not dormant. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a very large two-way public address system was mounted on a tower at Flushing Meadows. The eight 27-inch low-frequency drivers were designed by Rudy Bozak in his role as chief engineer for Cinaudagraph (that motion picture theater connection again). It is generally assumed that the high-frequency compression drivers were made by Western Electric.

All of this history leads us to the products we have at our disposal today. Whether they be large powerful systems to cover tens of thousands at stadiums or concerts, down to the small compact surface-mount systems that are seen in almost every restaurant, or public space.


Latest Resource

For Lighting Design, What Software Is The Right Match For Your Needs? (Part 3)
Dig into this final part of a three-part series that looks into choices for lighting design software, including Vectorworks and LightConverse, and how each can best serve the needs of your church.


Article Topics

News · 3D · Audio · AV · Control · Frederick J. Ampel · InfoComm · All Topics

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