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I made my first loudspeaker in 1976 from a Coral kit.  Nothing flash, but it was a massive improvement on the tiny speakers from the 3 piece record player my mum had bought for me and my sister.  That triggered the endless upgrade gravy train that most hifi enthusiasts end up with, and I finally ended up with an Allen Wright modified NAD 3020 and AMW studio monitor loudspeakers.  My mum later bought the AMW's and they were replaced with DCM Time Windows and then I  left Australia for a post doc in Germany and it was all put into storage.  In 1984 we returned to Australia and the HiFi was put back into action.  Eventually the upgrade bug bit again, but this time I decided DIY was the way to go.  Cheaper, and you have complete control over the design, and if something goes wrong it can be fixed because you made it.  I ended up building many power amps from kits, designed and built a preamp, and have made many and various loudspeakers.  The preamp was probably the most challenging and time consuming project, but more than 20 years later I still have it and it is still sounding great.  The preamp project came about after I built a preamp from a kit.  The specifications looked great, but the finished preamp sounded harsh and I preferred the NAD so it was disappointing.  After many hours of fiddling and listening I found that the basic circuit principles were sound, but the implementation was very poor.  Next followed many frustrating hours of trying to work out how to implement the same basic circuit as simple as possible and without any capacitors in the signal path and still have no or negligible DC offset.   Eventually I was successful, and the sound improvement was huge.  The end result was a preamp that is dead quiet, bandwidth of DC to 100kHz, and distortion so low I can't measure it.

Since then I have made various sorts of loudspeakers, closed box, bass reflex, transmission line, full range, and have fooled around with ribbons and electrostatics.  I bought a large electrostatic to try and cure my addition to speaker building.  It worked for 3 years and then the challenge to try and make something that sounded as good as the electrostatic was too tempting.  I love the sound of an electrostatic loudspeaker, there is nothing else that sounds as realistic as a well implemented electrostatic.  However, they do have limitations in terms of room placement, size, directionality, efficiency, longevity and are a terrible load for a power amplifier.  I blew up 2 power amps and eventually the panels lost efficiency with time, but when reasonably new they sounded absolutely fantastic.  A friend with $35,000 worth of high end hand made valve gear demonstrated them to me and it was jaw dropping.  Ribbons can sound almost as good as an electrostatic, but they also have fairly severe limitations.  Full range drivers can also sound good for small ensembles, but the sound falls apart on bigger musical works such as a full orchestra.  So, I have come full circle, back to conventional dynamic drivers.  Fortunately the technology in cone materials and design has greatly improved since the 1970's, so it is possible to make really good sounding speakers nowadays, although all dynamic drivers still use the same basic technology that is more than 100 years old.

Many years of building loudspeakers, and I wanted to do something different.  So what is different about my speakers?   The cabinets are made from solid wood.  I got sick of working with MDF and the toxic fine dust it produces so tried a cabinet made from solid Jarrah.  It sounded surprisingly better than the same cabinet made from MDF, so from then on I make a prototypes from MDF, but the final speaker cabinet is made from solid wood.  Solid hardwood is much stiffer and heavier than MDF so cabinet resonances are much reduced, but solid wood moves with changes in humidity, so the designs need to take that into account.  However, solid wood is expensive and together with the movement problem, solid wood pretty much dictates small dimensions across the grain and hence smaller speaker cabinets, but the sound is improved and they look great.  The baffles and back are removable so they can be upgraded at a later date if required.

So what has this all got to do with mandolins?  The sound of a mandolin is actually surprisingly difficult to reproduce through a loudspeaker.  There is a lot of high frequency energy in a mandolin sound and most tweeters can't reproduce these high frequencies accurately.  First it must sound like a mandolin (not too difficult, although being a plucked instrument the transients are fast), second it must not distort on some notes (more difficult), and third you need to be able to hear the overtones so that each mandolin has it's own particular tonal characteristic (difficult)  In a live situation, every mandolin sounds different, and you should be able to hear that.  Add all 4 together and in practice not many tweeters can do all 4.  I have a cupboard full of tweeters that have failed the mandolin torture test.  The electrostatic is excellent, the ribbons are also very good, but only high end expensive dome tweeters seem to be able to pass the test.   Most tweeters either don't sound quite right, or all mandolins sound the same, or it sounds like there is a wolf note on one particular note, which I find extremely annoying and unacceptable.  These problems are often not visible from the measurements.  So therein lies a challenge - find a tweeter that passes the torture test that does not cost an arm and a leg.  I found one some years ago, but that went out of production soon after I found it.  Fortunately I have now found another.

Here are some pictures -