Loudspeakers are without question the most fun part of the audiophile journey and or a home theater investment. Many people think that what they are buying when they get new speakers are a collection of tweeters, woofers, mid-range drivers and a crossover but many speaker engineers suggest that while the working parts of a speaker are quite important - the speaker's physical enclosure is the most important factor in the sound of what you are investing in.
Traditional speakers are internally made of MDF which is better known as plywood. Plywood is actually a very good material for making speakers as it is dense and can be easily worked with. Its also very low cost in many parts of the world which helps to keep the overall retail price of the speaker down in the global marketplace. At the high end speaker companies look to go beyond traditional MDF for their speaker enclosures and start looking for alternative materials that range from high tech to over-the-top insane. Provo, Utah based Wilson Audio uses a resin called "X-material" that is much more dense and heavy than MDF which results in a very inert cabinet. This material has been tweaked over the years but is the basis of their high levels of success in the world of high end loudspeakers.
Another company on the extreme of audiophile topics is Magico. These uber-high-end speakers are made from metal that is braced together in ways that remove cabinet resonance in ways never seen before. The intricate weaving of aluminum creates a framework that is an audio blank slate for the drivers. It creates a platform for a very dynamic, controlled sound. When non-audiophile hear how much speakers like Wilson Audio and Magico cost - they often gasp but this level of internal engineering is like bringing the sophistication of a reinforced S-Class Mercedes to the inside of your speakers.
Some speaker designers work to have little to no cabinet. Bowers and Wilkins isolates their tweeter on top of their speakers to remove some of the reflections. Electrostatic speaker companies use ultra-thin film that in the case of MartinLogan, you can actually see through to recreate sound. This type of speaker has an openness that is stunning to listen to. Other speakers like MBL from Germany, use a more omni directional design.
The Exterior of Speaker Enclosures
Another place that designers of speakers get creative is the exterior of speakers. Customers have to live with speakers in their homes thus they need to match the decor. The levels that some go are just as extreme for the outside of the speaker as they do on the inside. One of the most famous options for speakers is to paint them in car colors. Speaker enclosures can be "sprayed" with paint from companies like PPG to exactly match the tennis-ball green on your Lamborghini if so desired although that might effect the resale of your pricey speakers in the event that they hit the resale market one day. Black speakers sell the best on the used market. Other spin-off colors from black like Astin Martin's dark titanium, Mercedes brilliant silver and Audi's pearl white all look pretty special once installed in a beautiful home.
Wood finishes are another option that wrap the enclosure of many high end speakers. Speaker companies go to extremes to find the most exotic wood veneers on their speaker that range from woods like "bird's eye maple" to "zebra wood" to "quilted maple" to "rosewood". Most speaker companies today, look to renewable sources for wood veneers to be more "green"
Speakers can be built from any number of materials from plastic soundbars and computer speakers to dense, exotic resins or the most space-aged metals. They can be finished to match a 1967 Ferrari 250 GTB-4 in Rossa Forte red or in furniture grade, exotic wood finishes. If you have the money and want the best of the best - there are top-level speaker companies making you every range of speakers that you could dream of. Enjoy the process of shopping for your next set of speakers. It should be a fun process.