Where Sound Comes From
Nestled away in the countryside of Japan lies the birthplace of one of the best Warren G lyrics ever to be heard. Located within a three-hour bullet train ride to from Tokyo is to Tohoku Pioneer, the R&D, design, and manufacturing facility for Pioneer’s high end car speakers as well as the professional grade studio monitors and home speaker line TAD. For the uninitiated, TAD home speakers are like the Rolex of home audio. Their higher-end setups will run you a cool $78,000.
Speaker design hasn’t really changed much in the past 100 years, over time access to better materials has made it physically possible to create better sounding speakers but the principles of sound will never change. So really, what’s the difference between a $20 eBay speaker and $400 speaker?
Engineering Premium Sound
If you ever want to appreciate something, see how it’s made. In our case, we got an up close opportunity to do just this at the Tohoku Pioneer factory. For some background the founder of Pioneer, Nozomu Matsumoto, created the first A-8 speaker in 1937. While today they are most known for car stereos, speakers are actually a bigger part of their DNA then most people would think.
Before the mass production of any speaker, Pioneer’s designers will make a prototype speaker by hand. From there they will do extensive testing in an anechoic chamber, this is a specially designed room to completely absorb all sound reflections. By using a free field sound environment they are able to measure the direct sound the speaker puts out allowing them to tune the speaker for a “pure” sound.
From there they will take the speaker to reverberation room, this is exactly what it sounds like. This room will reflect all of the sound emitted, allowing the Pioneer engineers to measure the sound energy the speaker puts out. By testing in this room it is used to simulate the environment of a car. Unlike home stereos where you can position the speaker just right, in a car you’re pretty much restricted to putting the speaker in the door where the sound will be reflected all over the interior of the car.
After testing has been completed in the anechoic chamber and reverberation room the engineers will use that data combined with a sound engineer's trained ear to create the final design for the speaker.
Building Premium Sound
While they have factories all over the world, the Tohoku Pioneer factory is where the process all begins. Walking through their production area is like walking into an operation room in the hospital. It’s an extremely controlled environment where the word clean is an understatement.
Like watching a doctor perform open-heart surgery, watching them assemble speakers is very similar. In the same area is where they also make their high-end TAD speakers. For TAD speakers, there are only three people in the entire world that are certified to construct them (think of Hattori Hanzō from Kill Bill).
Testing Premium Sound
So wait, there’s more? There sure is. A car speaker has to be able to survive a huge range of conditions. Think about when you’re bouncing out of your seat after driving over a pothole, well a speaker has to be able to withstand the shock just as much as you. Speakers in your car door have to be able to withstand not only 100+ degree temperatures, but they need to be able to survive in the instance of water getting into the door. Ever have a dash crack after years under the sun? Well they also test speakers for this as well. By using a UV machine to simulate the sun, they can make sure the speakers retain their structural integrity with prolonged exposure to the sun. Pioneer has an extensive reliability testing room to measure all of these areas.
Listening to Premium Sound
After all the research and development, craftsmanship, and testing we can get to the fun part: listening to music. So next time you’re stuck in traffic listening to music, look down to your door and know that those Pioneer speakers bumpin went through a long process to get there. For those that don’t have Pioneer speakers don’t feel left out. If you drive a Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Ford, or Dodge chances are those speakers are made by Pioneer.
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