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Electronic devices: how speakers work

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Electronic speakers may have complicated features and configurations, but they all operate on a simple combination of electromagnetics and soundwave production.

Before examining how electronic speakers actually work, it might be helpful to understand the scientific principles behind sound generation. Many of us have heard the old riddle “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” For our purposes, the answer is no. The tree may very well push a lot of air out of the way as it falls, but ‘sound’ is a phenomenon which occurs in the listener’s mind. Humans have sensitive eardrums which receive waves of air pressure from a vibrating or moving object. In and of themselves these waves of air pressure are meaningless, but our ears feed this information to our brain, which in turn translate these waves into recognizable sounds. The tree in our riddle can be large or small, far or distant. What it generates is disturbances in the air, which we TRANSLATE as sound.


If we apply that same principle to the world of electronic  sound reproduction, we see that speakers duplicate the work of the tree. Speakers also disturb the air in front of them, causing soundwaves to be projected through space. Eventually our ears pick up enough of these waves to send to our brains. In turn, our brains convert the vibrations into music or speech or even unintelligible noise. Our ears are usually passive receivers- they will feed any and all external noises to the brain without interpretation or prejudice. Our brains must decide which sounds are worthwhile and which are ignorable. This is why you can listen to a stereo  and not realize the air conditioner   is running- your brain can filter out extraneous soundwaves.


So how does a speaker actually work? The answer lies in a combination of electromagnetism and human comprehension. A speaker is made of several important components: a permanent magnet, an electromagnet called a voice coil, a suspension device called a spider, and a conical membrane called a cone. All of these parts are held in place by a metallic structure called a basket.


A vibrating object such as a guitar string generates soundwaves much like rings on a pond. These waves are actually disturbances in the air which radiate in a steady pattern or frequency. A sensitive microphone has a thin piece of material which begins to duplicate the wavelength of the guitar string because air particles are striking it. This vibration is turned into electronic impulses and recorded on an electronic storage medium (CD, cassette tape, vinyl album, etc.). When the medium is placed inside an appropriate player, the electronic impulses are fed through an amplification system which can increase the volume (amplitude) of the signals. These signals are sent out to the speakers.


Read more about how speakers work on www.wireless-speakers.org

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