From top: Sarah Pease’s glass jar portable speaker design, and the David A. Mellis open source creation that inspired it. audioJar image courtesy Sarah Pease; all other images (CC-BY) David A. Mellis.

Who says you can’t make your own consumer electronics? David A. Mellis, a co-creator of Arduino who now is starting a PhD in Leah Buechley’s group, High-Low Tech, at the MIT Media Lab, has shared his Fab Speakers, an open source, portable speaker project:

These portable speakers are made from laser-cut wood, fabric, veneer, and electronics. They are powered by three AAA batteries and compatible with any standard audio jack (e.g. on an iPhone, iPod, or laptop).

Why open source them? Mellis says he designed the speakers to be affordable and easy to assemble, in the hopes that he would “see changes or additions that I didn’t think about and to have those changes shared publicly for others to use or continue to modify.” Speakers are perhaps ideal for this exercise: the housing matters, both aesthetically and functionally, and because a speaker is something relatively straightforward and simple, it’s easy to imagine modifications that retain the basic role of the design.

Big-league design blog Core77 takes note of what sharing this design can mean, as Mellis turns to designer Sarah Pease to imagine an alternative housing:

Here’s a great example of what can happen when experimental research is documented and posted on the web with plenty of explanation and resources. RISD student Sarah Pease, a junior in Furniture Design, took part in an independent study with the High-Low Tech Group at MIT’s Media Lab this past Fall.

Sarah Pease turns to something you probably already have in your house:

Using readily available household items and basic construction methods allow for even further customization and flexibility of the Fab Speakers. Varying jar shapes/sizes can be mixed with alternate feet for different looks.

High-Low Tech Research Group Project’s Jarring Effect

Building speakers was once a common activity, to the point that many, many musicians made their own speakers or amps or simple effect circuits. For all the excitement over DIY these days, a lot of people don’t have this experience – but with Internet documentation, the time is right for more.

Indeed, I’m keen to hear from people who do have experience building speakers: what might improve the sound quality of this design, and looks aside, what would be the best housing shapes and materials?

In the meantime, I’ll have to give this a try:
Fab Speakers [David Mellis @ MIT Media Lab]

More pics:

Via comments, here’s yet another design – Jon Moeller’s adorable “owl” speakers:

I have a bunch of jars, so I may need to give the jars a try here.

  • markLouis

    Just FYI, all speakers can be re-purposed as microphones.  In the old days some recording engineers would amuse bass players by pushing a bass cabinet against another bass cabinet and routing the second cabinet to an input channel.  Of course, the quality is dubious, but amped up and with effects, one person’s dubious is another person’s perfect sound.  It would be interesting to hear what these speakers can do connected to a mic input and amped way up.  Just for the hell of it.

    • kent williams

      If you’re recording a trap set, using a speaker as a microphone is a great way to get low frequency thump.  I’ve seen an NS-10 with a blown tweeter doing the job…

  • Randy

    Interesting ideas but is this really a “form vs function” sort of thing?  As was hinted in the text, good speaker design has as much to do with the enclosure as it does the actual speaker components, and designing good speakers can be challenging.  Add an amp or two and a crossover to this and things can get complicated.  markLouis, I can’t remember how we accidentally discovered the “speaker as mic” thing but we would put headphones on our acoustic guitar bodies to mic them.

  • Jon Moeller

    love the glass jar design. I had the chance to attend david’s workshop and made my own variant here:  The speakers he used definitely need to be in a sealed box to get any sort of bass response, which was a little tricky with the owl design, but I imagine the jars do a much better job.

  • Robin Koek

    I wonder how transparent the sound is distributed with a jar as a sound cabinet. I could imagine hearing the resonances from the glass cylinder all the time, changing important as aspects as harmony and timbre in the projected music.

  • Raaphorst

    So you tried the jars yourself? How do they sound?

    I TOTALLY love this concept. Experimenting with creating different speakers, such a great idea!

  • James Husted

    The glass jar speaker has one problem for me – how do you easily cut the hole to let the wires pass through? You can’t just use any drill to cut glass.