Designer and tea connoisseur, Joey Roth is back with a new audio solution, the Steel Speaker, a monolithic slab of metal and maple wood engineered to diffuse sound down and outward in all directions using a wooden sphere. The wireless omnidirectional speaker’s outward sculptural identity belies the complex hidden engineered soul within. We asked Joey about the concept and process behind his omnidirectional speaker:
Obviously a focal point, apart from the aesthetic, could you tell us how you came to the conclusion of the hardwood ball shape for diffusing sound? Did you go through various geometric options before deciding on the sphere?
I started experimenting with cone shapes, with straight, concave and convex cross sections. I found that the more convex the cone was, the better it sounded (and measured). Eventually the cone became so convex that it started to resemble a ball, so I went with it.
Noting your previous ceramic speaker design, are there elements/solutions in this speaker that are directly the product of what you learned from designing those first speakers (and amp)?
The Steel Speaker is a culmination of everything I’ve learned about audio engineering since launching the Ceramic Speakers back in 2010. The Steel Speaker is a mass-loaded transmission line, which is a type of enclosure that takes advantage of quarter-wave harmonics to extend the bass response. It is a rewarding speaker design, but it is complicated to get right. Thanks to advances in simulation software and my growing understanding of speaker design, the Steel Speaker was possible.
I also learned that there were a number of features that could be subtracted from a system like the Ceramic Speakers, which is fairly minimalist already in the world of audio, while retaining or even enhancing the product’s functionality and meaning. For example, integrating a mono amplifier designed specifically for the driver allows both a more uncluttered design and more control over the interaction between amp and driver. Similarly, leaving out a potentiometer and on/ off switch in favor of an amp with extremely low quiescent current and an RCA plug that allows interaction with a pre-amp simplified and clarified both the industrial design and circuit.
Finally, I designed the Steel Speaker to be manufactured locally in small quantities. I plan to never hold more than a few week’s inventory. This allows a greater level of build quality and investment of margin that would have gone to warehousing back into the product.
These are omnidirectional and appear to be designed as a solo solution. Were they also designed to work in stereo mode?
Yes, that’s part of their design. Each speaker has a single RCA input on the base which allows it to connect to one channel of an RCA source or passive pre-amp. This means that two Steel Speakers can connect to a line level source in a stereo configuration. I’m working on a passive pre-amp with volume control and multiple source inputs that will complement the design of the Steel Speaker. This should be out in mid 2016. For now, two Steel Speakers can be used with most RCA sources and pre-amps on the market.
Favorite audio speakers you currently own or simply admire that provided inspiration in the design of your Steel Speakers?
I love the Zigmahornet design. It is an earlier transmission line with a unique sound, and I love the elongated proportions. The Duevel Planets are the only other commercial omnidirectional design that uses sphere diffusers, that I’m aware of. I haven’t heard them, but the reviews are positive. While I also haven’t heard them, the Brines Acoustics transmission line speakers were influential from an engineering perspective.
Thanks to Joey Roth for his photos, sketches, and insight about this convergence of engineering and beautiful design. The Steel Speaker is available now for pre-order in raw and graphite for $450 via JoeyRoth.com.