Speakers Break Us In

In the early 1960s, on his IBM Selectric typewriter, Hunter S. Thompson copied down the entire novel A Farewell to Arms.  He wanted to feel with his own hands the flow and rhythm of his favorite writer: Ernest Hemingway.  The words in this amazing book, the sentence structure, sometimes long and detailed, sometimes blunt and precise, shaped Thompson’s own revolutionary style of writing.

In front of you is a pair of speakers.  Each speaker is twenty-one inches high, twelve inches wide, and fourteen inches deep… a bit larger than usual bookshelf speakers: roomy.  These speakers have Audio Nirvana drivers that are 6.5 inches in diameter mounted four inches below the top.  There is a single hole 3.5 inches in diameter that is four inches from the bottom of each speaker.  Simple: one driver, one bass port.  The cabinets of the speakers (the boxes) are bamboo plywood constructed with wood glue; no nails, no screws.  They are completely hollow save for a two inch thick layer of natural lamb wool that covers every inside surface.

These speakers have never been played.  Rap your knuckles on the outside of one.  The wood is hard, but releases a pleasant hollow knock of reverb.  Rap your knuckles again.  It gives a nice knock that resonates in the room.  You’re in a cozy living room with shag rug, a brown sectional, a cloth easy-chair, and round walnut tables with shaded lamps.  There is a real fireplace across the room from where the stereo is set up, the fire ripping around a log of madrona that will burn forever.  You drop the needle on the Acoustic Research turntable running through the Marantz receiver.  Into the virgin speakers the moving coil cartridge translates:  The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin, nice and loud.

The speaker drivers are starting their first shock of break-in, like running through woods before a path is worn.  The soft surrounds and the spider of the speaker drivers stretch. Micro-cracks in the diaphragm epoxy spread and allow the cloth fibers to move more freely, to bend and to twist. The spider is becoming supple.  The speakers are experiencing something they thought impossible, yet it seems like Jimmy Page was inside them the whole time.    

When Robert Plant is finished, rap your knuckles on one of the speakers again.  At first your knuckles might not sound different on the grained wood, but if you play music through these speakers day after day, a mystical change will grow in the fibers of the wood, the vibrations will find themselves, the dark reverb will deepen, and the natural wool insulation will remain beautifully invisible.  Hunter S. Thompson didn’t copy a couple pages; he copied down an entire book.

The tree that this bamboo came from still carries attributes of many generations of plants, animals, and people who lived and died in the soil around it. This wood was brought from distant countries like East India and China.  Families and entire lineages make up the character of this wood. Oral history courses through them. Their music is revitalized with every generation.  They create, innovate and better the land, like immigrants.     -GHA