Category: Orion

Orion; design changes

The cabinet of the Orion is not so complicated and actually is less demanding than a boxed loudspeaker; the general shape just needs to be correct. I needed to deviate (slightly) from the plans to change the appearance to straight lines as my wife really doesn’t like curves on her speakers (no KEF or B&W for me). I decided to build all the individual panels with interlocking box joints as I like the appearance of these joints showing the structure of the wood and variation in colour. However, the box joints do introduce risks; the work to make each panel increases dramatically and inaccurate work may result in panels that no longer interlock nicely. This is exactly what happened, but the result isn’t too bad for a first attempt.

Making the box joints would be most difficult if it weren’t for a Festool jointing system: box joints made easy. You clamp the panels in the jointing system, place a guiding template and just let the router follow the guide. Naturally, I should say box joints made comparatively easy as I really had a lot of trouble making proper joints at first even after thoroughly reading several how-to’s available on the Festool site. Using the router properly is a challenge by itself. You really have to mill in the right direction or the bit will act as a wheel and propel the router forward. If the lateral movement isn’t restricted by using guides or router slides, the router ends up where it’s not supposed to go. Before you know it, you ruin a work piece. I spent many hours practising and making router shapes trying to master the router. This mastering process is far from over though I’m getting less scared of using it. The number one rule when using the jointing system is: no not lift the router while routing. I did this once damaging a template, the work piece and my self-confidence. The normal procedure for making the box joint is clamping both ends of the two to-be-joined workpieces in the jointing system so that they will fit nicely. I milled all the parts separately so that it became important to start a joint at the correct position. I didn’t think of it until later, but I should really have made some guide blocks to have accurate and repeatable positions to work with.

The panels were always clamped strongly between two strips of MDF to avoid splintering when the routing bit enters or exits the panel; this reduced the splintering drastically, although damage remains visible on the cabinets when the natural structure of the wood couldn’t take the stress from the routing.

As I used the Festool jointing system the dimensions of the Orion Cabinet had to be changed to whole centimeters; the router bit is 10.0mm and the box joint step size is 20.0mm. The panel thickness was reduced to 20 mm. The goals for the redesign of the cabinet were simple:

1) No external wiring visible except from the cabinet directly to the drivers. One of the disadvantages of an open baffle loudspeaker like Orion is that you can see the wiring all too clearly which I do not like. When a slot is routed in both box joints of two panels, a small channel is created that can house the wire. Of course, a total four wire pairs need to be hidden.

2) Reduce the chances of failure of a part during manufacturing. This sounds straightforward enough but I started this project without any experience in wood working. I knew from my other hobbies that trial and error is required before you obtain an acceptable result. By practising with the router, I reduced the changes for failure slightly, but not enough. I also knew that I needed to be very careful when cutting the longer panels to length and that I do not have the tools at home to do this. The side panel of the Orion had to be split; the jointing system simply isn’t long enough.

3) No or as little visible screws as possible. The early designs leaned heavily on screws and these were all placed in inconspicuous places or covered by other panels. As the box joints themselves proved nearly strong enough to keep the entire speaker together I used glue almost exclusively so the screw headache was no longer present.

4) Ease of assembly. I spent a lot of time figuring out the correct build order and how to connect what to what. In the end the screwless design resulted in a very simple assembly order and this became less important.

I went to work with these items in mind. Move a panel a bit left or right, reposition a screw, change the joints from odd-even to even-odd between panels, etcetera. Perhaps I overdid the planning phase but I find the result simple and elegant, not showing traces of all the worrying that went before it. The above shows the original Orion profile at left and some of the slight changes evolving into the final variant. The baffle for the midrange was positioned a bit forward to be flush with the woofer cabinet, changed into the dimensions recommended in the plan set when you do not use the curved outline.

NEXT

Introduction
The plan
Design changes
Signal processing
The listening room
Production
Listening

Orion; the listening room

Meanwhile… we bought the house we currently live in because it allowed for expanding our living room. The audio setup was integrated into the design; I even gave the architect a CAD template with five loudspeakers called ‘the holy audio circle’ that was not to be changed. The audio was certainly not the main reason to expand the living room but it did play a very important role.

This is a view of the expansion; not your everyday house. The architect started with several form studies of which one (with side roofs) completely unlocked the solution to all our design troubles. We made a semi-rough outline of the design that we wanted with slanted side roofs, a suspended walkway and a mezzanine high up in the living room. The architect changed the sketch into a real design by removing all bad aspects and adding many a good idea; a spiral of creativity that was great experience.

The view of the living room shows the promiment position of the speakers and the subwoofers in opposite positions just below the stairs to the suspended walkway. The couch will have to be placed in the ‘sweet spot’. There are two cables running to the forward corners, just in case. Fortunately my wife fully agrees with me that it is all right to sacrifice an entire wall for the audio and home theater experience (choose your wife carefully before embarking on your audio hobby).

When are making such a drastic change to your living room there is an excellent opportunity to think about the wiring. Here you can see the tubes for the audio cabling in position just before placing the floor beams and insulating slabs.

The cat makes his round at the end of each working day, inspecting what has changed. In this case, a new floor with audio tubes clearly visible. The very large tubes on either side of the concrete are for the rainwater discharge. The audio tubes near the (still) existing wall are not in their correct position, but the contractor thought it would be easy to pick them up later. The wall was knocked out; the old floor was completely removed and replaced by more beams and insulation.

The inner walls and roof were all prepared in the factory and the house grew rapidly. This is a subwoofer cable tube exiting among the highest concentration of electricity lines; I tried to avoid any 230 Volt lines running near speaker cables, let alone parallel to them. This proved to be harmless.

This is a nice view from the suspended walkway and the mezzanine. There’s no boxed-shaped listening room here! The distance from the mezzanine to ground level is 4m / 12 ft. The mezzanine is used often as a table top gaming platform.

The outside is pretty spectacular…

A second layer of concrete was added; blocks of foam where placed near the audio tubes to create ‘audio pits’ (top: main connection, bottom, rear left and left sub + socket on the audio group). I hammered wooden frames to later hold the hatches in the floor during the weekend. The cables have already been pulled though the tubes by the electricians.

Even though we enjoy laying floors, we did not lay our own as we had no experience with gluing and didn’t feel like experimenting (we’ve been in a mess for half a year; it tends to get on your nerves and depletes your resilience for small setbacks). You can see wooden hatches in the audio pits at the right side of the image. I made these hatches from a few spare floor boards. When I took this image I actually just removed one of the boards with a crowbar. The position of the hatches was carefully specified but they miscounted by one board. Still, I could clearly see the difference between my attempts and a professional at work and my wish (demand, actually) to have the center board run exactly through the center of the living room was very well met. The pits were designed to absorb an error of half a board width, but still….

After the construction company left it was my turn to fix the plaster, paint the walls, place wall sockets and solder the speaker cables. I added some hose clamps to the speaker tubes to avoid them getting lost forever below the floor. This is the main connection board that connects to the audio gear. Needless to say, there is now only one place in the living room where I can stack the amplifiers.

Subproject complete!

NEXT

Introduction
The plan
Design changes
Signal processing
The listening room
Production
Listening

Orion; production

I decided to make the speakers from American Walnut bought in the wood harbours of Amsterdam. It’s very expensive to have rough timber cut the panels of an exact size so I learned how to work with the overhand planer (surfacer) and the thicknesser (vandiktebank) at work. I made strips of 90 and 110 mm wide, glued them together and cut them to the correct thickness. I spent nearly three days in the woodworking workshop explaining the high price of custom-made panels admirably.

I had a few templates made by a CNC router from waterproof MDF, including templates for the floor hatches. The template at the far left is a bit smaller than the panel next to it; this was an error of the milling company but it worked just as well.

I do not have a nice workplace so I worked outside. I just clamp down a panel and start sawing and milling away with the router.

The panels weren’t sawed but milled to size with a template. Not overly accurate perhaps, but a good alternative to not having a decent table saw. Note the damage for this board that fortunately fell in a driver position. I’ll have to pay more attention when buying wood next time; this panel was too thin and couldn’t have possibly been suited for a decent panel.

This is one of the smaller cover plates of the woofer cabinet with a channel for the wiring already in place. This channel should have been routed after producing the box joints and assembling the woofer cabinet; lots of the box joint ‘teeth’ broke off during handling and fitting. For the midrange baffle you have no choice, the channel cannot be routed afterwards.

I also had to learn the hard way that when routing a circle that it’s best to use a jigsaw to remove most material and use the router to finish the circle off. If not, the disk being routed out of a panel separates from the panel and can bounce violently against the still routing router and panel. This destroyed one beautiful baffle. I also tried to route a wire channel through the side of this particular panel, leaving box joints 5mm thick and that didn’t work (1 panel ruined). I also changed the direction of the grain of the wood for the woofer cabinet cover plates (1 panel ruined). With all the practising, failed attempts and rejected panels I ruined enough wood for one additional Orion cabinet. Oh well, it’s a hobby.

The first parts were glued using a disproportionate amount of clamps. I used some random wooden strips to distribute the load and avoid the clamps damaging the speakers. Before you start gluing it is best that you keep filing away at the joints until the panels no longer require force to make a good dry fit. A proper dry fit will also ensure you’ll have the ingredients to quickly assemble the parts when gluing. I started differently and some of the joints, particularly for the front panel with the wire channel, bent a bit during assembly leaving an ugly pattern. I also learned too late that after the glue had dried (I wait for about three hours) you need to rinse the speaker and remove as much of the excess glue as possible (some say scrape excess glue, water may make the surface uneven). In any case, when you wait too long you can only sand the excess glue off and when the box joint isn’t flush you need to chisel it out between the recessed joints; not nice. Some of these beginner mistakes are still visible on the earlier-assembled parts.

This is the support for the magnet mounting of the midrange driver. I used a rampa screw and M5 threaded wire to mount the driver, removing the screw that normally holds the midrange driver together. The wiring runs through the support and through the top plate of the woofer cabinet. I actually needed to practise drilling a hole that long. Drilling the final parts when I didn’t have enough panels left for a replacement was the most anxious moment of the build.

Here you can see the wiring of the tweeter and the midrange running behind a box joint; the row of box joints of the upper and lower side panel are only half as thickness of the panel. I carved a channel from the top plate of the woofer cabinet to the center panel.

The two cables from the midrange baffle are joined by the two woofer cables. I later added the large recess to hold the cables in this folded position. Having a bit of extra length helped during assembly and should I have to resolder a connection I can at least remove the Speakon connector from the speaker. This was a very last-minute addition that was very convenient for the build.

A scary moment; the final panel is in place, covering up all the cables with no more room for repairs.

Here you can see the midrange driver without the phase plug. I started with the phase plug forcing the driver to its mounting but I later placed 15 washers and a hex nut. The phase plug is now screwed on with less force.

The cover of the midrange driver is still present. I cut out an opening and placed a few washers; the mounting is quite rigidly forced against its support. I hope the connection is strong enough or I’ll have to drill out the support and fix another nut & washer to the rear; now it’s a nice blind connection.

The Speakon connector fits in its own box-joint block. It’s a nice addition that was much easier to draw than to make!

Subproject complete!

NEXT

Introduction
The plan
Design changes
Signal processing
The listening room
Production
Listening

Orion; listening

As commanded by the Orion instruction manual, it’s better to start with the accompanying CD with test tones. Although the final wiring setup with three amplifiers should be a no brainer, my quick two-amplifier setup wasn’t connected properly and I had bass set up from maximum cancellation. Naturally, solving this problem helped the quality of the sound tremendously.

A second problem that was less easily solved was that first the left speaker, and unnervingly, later the right speaker, started to produce an annoying buzz. Using frequency sweeps from 20 to 200 Hz the resonance frequency was determined at 60-75 Hz with the buzz appearing to come from either the front panel or midrange support (It’s very difficult to try to find the source of the sound; it changes position as you walk around the speaker). At first I thought that I should have glued the midrange support to the woofer cabinet as that is the only part that is screwed and not glued. Some ad-hoc repair didn’t help. Perhaps the midrange was too close to the midrange baffle? Adding more spacer rings did appear to help, but now I could more clearly hear the midrange hitting the foam strips that should seal up the gap between driver and baffle. A better strip was added solving the problem I just created; I have to admit that using good strips is recommended in the manual. But the buzz remained. I finally traced the buzz coming from the top side panel hitting the top panel of the woofer cabinet; the fake row of box joints doesn’t allow for a good connection between those parts and wasn’t glued. Adding some glue and a few clamps for an hour or three solved the problem. This played out over a period of a few weeks.

When you hook up your new equipment, there is a crucial break-in period. Some people will literally spend days playing white noise to let the speaker get used to hearing itself. Of course, the break-in is completely between your ears. Although you know you have bought something worthwhile, or so you hope, you still listen for errors and shortcomings and worry that you might have made the wrong choice. With this project spread out over a few years and even being aware of this break-in period I still couldn’t listen entirely relaxed. This feeling dissipated over a while and I started to listen to the music and not the speaker. It took some time though, strangely coinciding with the time it took to solve the rare buzzing.

Now, I noticed that many people will write passionately about listening with their eyes closed, being very emotional and literally reaching out to ‘touch’ the performers as they appear to be right in front of them, even when they are just testing a new power chord (power chords are really important to people who sell power chords). For the Orions it is claimed that they nearly disappear acoustically as a source and this enveloping sound field is wonderful to listen to. That second part I can agree with more easily than the first as from time to time I find it quite apparent from what direction the sound is coming. Still, for many recordings the sound does appear to originate from a location right between the speakers and the ‘soundstage’ of the Orions is huge.

I had to get used to the Orions and unlearn appreciating my old speakers that do not really have any bass to speak off. I compensated by running most of the low-frequency content through a pair of very good subwoofers. Getting the balance right between speakers and subwoofers is something I really never managed to accomplish; always too much or too little, always missing a bit of the music. With the Orions this problem is fully solved and the subwoofers can go back to their menial business of playing movie effects. Although the subs are not really required for music, they do really add for some movies (but not the movies that matter). The bass kicks in around 30Hz; frequency sweeps do not really show a response between 20-30Hz. Is it the Orion or my tinkering with the woofer cabinet? But above 30Hz the bass is really nice and I had to convince myself that the subs were really not playing.

The sound of the tweeters is also much improved. Not really surprising as the costs of a single tweeter is about 60 times higher than for my old speaker. Really high and loud sounds such as a piccolo can now almost be enjoyed (I think piccolo’s are only used to wake up people who dozed off during a concert). Brass and wind is more lifelike. And so on. It’s not as if every CD you thought you knew sounds radically different; that only happens when you start listening to good speakers for the first time. But the Orions are much clearer; compared to my old speakers there is no deformation to speak of. The entire project has been very much worth it. Are they better than the better speakers? I do not know; I haven’t heard many. But, the sound of the Kef Reference is in a distant past and there it shall remain.

So, the sound of a pair of Orions is just as good as advertised to me and the detail of the sound is much better than my old speakers. However, compared to the 5.1 setup, a few things are not accomplished. Linkwitz reports on his website that he experimented with a center speaker and concluded it is not really required. It wasn’t even always clear if the center speaker was working with my old setup and it’s not surprising that a center is even less useful for the Orions. Indeed, I did not miss the center speaker at all when watching a movie by myself. However, the lack of a center becomes very apparent when sitting off-axis, even when moving only one hip to the side; the volume difference between the two speakers is enough to not convince you that the sound isn’t coming from the screen. My significant other agrees with the huge improvement in sound quality but more so on the absence of the center. Fortunately the television is mounted high enough that a center Orion will not block the line of sight.

Although the sound field of the Orions is very good, they do not give you any sound from the rear. This sound is missed when playing well-recorded multi-channel music or when watching movies. I’m not referring to those cheap rear-speaker sound effects or overreaching multi-channel recordings. The immersion in sounds of a 5.1 system is more complete than a stereo sound image, even for the Orions. Rear speakers have a low priority though; the costs for full-range rear Orions is a bit excessive.

So what is next? I want to upgrade the Orions to the latest versions. This means replacing the woofers and upgrading the filter. Then, perhaps, I’ll order some more walnut and start producing more cabinets. They take long to build so I should be able to save up to outfit a few in the coming years. The cabinets cost about €100 in wood each and a lot of spare time; most of the other costs have been made; amplifiers and filters are already present, tools lie on a shelf. As there is no need to buy drivers before a cabinet is finished I could hobby on for a while before committing myself to actually buying new drivers. I’ve been even entertaining the thought of replacing the current cabinets with new versions that do not have the shortcomings you can only see when you are standing really close to them. You know, that debilitating trait called perfectionism. But for now, I decided I will do nothing except enjoying my latest completed project!

Do you want to build your own pair of Orions? Visit the Linkwitzs Labs Website.

Introduction
The plan
Design changes
Signal processing
The listening room
Production
Listening

Copyright © 2022 On The Slipway

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑