Experiments Are For Discovery

Don’t do experiments to save money. Do experiments to learn things and get maximum ownership.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

If you yourself aren’t crazy enough to want to build your own amplifier, or construct your own loudspeaker, I’m betting that you know somebody who does. Hey, you know me, and I built my own digital mixing console. That’s pretty “out there” for most audio folks.

The reason people get these bats in their belfries is because building things is fascinating. You get to figure out what actually makes audio gear work – you get a hands-on trip through the actual tradeoffs that industry designers have to handle.

That’s the point of doing experiments: Learning something.

I’ve seen something unfortunate surrounding these endeavors, though. There’s a tendency for people to get into these projects solely for the purpose of trying to save money. When they discover (in one way or another) that doing an experiment is highly likely to actually cost more than buying a finished project, they bail out. Any excitement they had is completely wrecked.

It’s sad, really.

Makin’ Sawdust

It’s pretty easy for folks to get taken in by websites promising that you can build a superior loudspeaker for less than what it costs to buy one outright. The problem with the assertion is that it forces a lot of assumptions onto both the builder and the project:

  • It assumes that the builder knows how to use the necessary tools.
  • It assumes that the builder has the tools handy, or can obtain them for little cost.
  • It assumes that the tradeoffs made in the project design to allow for inexpensive components are well-understood by the builder.

On that last point, there’s one site for speaker enclosure plans that repeatedly touts how the designs outperform far more expensive models. The thing is that the supplied designs DO outperform their commercial counterparts – but only in one area. The DIY speakers are great if you want to get the maximum per-watt output available from inexpensive drivers, but not so great if you want deep LF (low frequency) extension and consistent overall response.

Once you couple the above with having to buy your own tools and deal with your own construction mistakes, you’ve pretty much burned any monetary advantage you might have had. There’s also the whole problem of how amplification and processing costs have dropped like a rock…as long as those components have been engineered into the actual speaker enclosure. If not, you have to provide that externally, which further drives up the cost of your homebrew project.

Now, sure, you might be able to find a sweet-spot where you can build a box with higher-end parts at a good price. If you’re not trying to maximize profit, and you’re willing to ignore the effective cost of your own labor, then you just might manage to save a few bucks in some way. It’s all just a game of moving the numbers around, though, where you can conveniently sweep certain costs under the perceptual rug.

That’s why “doing it cheaper” shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be to have fun, learn something about woodworking, get a feel for what works and doesn’t in loudspeaker design, and ultimately have something in your hands where you can say, “I MADE this.” That’s where the real value is – and that value is far in excess of the few bucks you might save if you get lucky.

Console Yourself

Get it? “Console” yourself? It’s a play on…anyway.

In a purely “cash” sense, I did effectively save some money by building my own mixing system. To get fundamentally equivalent functionality and I/O, I would have had to spend about $1000 more than what the build cost. However, it’s important to point out that other, no less important expenses had already been made.

I already knew about the construction, care, and feeding of DAW computers.

I already knew enough about computers in general to be my own tech support.

I already knew enough about signal flow that I could effectively set up my own console configuration.

I already had enough overall experience to know what I wanted, and be able to actually leverage the advantages of the system.

I already had a spare console if something went wrong.

The value of all that goes beyond $1000. Several times over.

Again, though, that’s not the point of building your own digital console. The point is that you get to have a rig that’s truly yours – that you’re responsible for. You get to pick the compromises that you’re willing or not willing to make. You get to be the “proud parent.” You get to discover what it’s actually like to run a system with a custom front-end.

There was a time when pro-audio gear was something that you essentially had to construct yourself. It wasn’t a commoditized industry like it is now. These days, though, economies of scale make it vastly cheaper to buy things off the shelf when compared to doing your own build.

As a result, you shouldn’t do DIY experiments to save money. You should do them because they’re awesome.