Make Your Own Monitors
Wilmslow Audio SPL1 Near-Field Monitor Kit
DIY-type nightmare, mates. Will it fall apart the first time you put a vase full of daffs on it? No way — this item is positively kit-tabulous!
If you're prepared to devote a couple of evenings to assembling a very straightforward kit, you can save money, have fun and end up with a superb loudspeaker. Paul White shows you how.
Wilmslow Audio have been around for as long as I can remember — I used to buy speakers from them in the days when I built my own instrument speaker cabs and PA systems, and the company is still going strong. Over the years they have built up a reputation for providing very high quality hi-speakers in kit form, but on looking at their range more closely, it transpires that several of their models are ideal for studio work. One such is the established Home Studio Monitor, a medium-sized speaker suitable for full-range monitoring in a small studio — and we'll be looking at the latest incarnation of that particular kit in the near future. However, on a recent visit to the company, I was invited to listen to their new SPL1 monitor, and I was so impressed with the depth, smoothness and accuracy of sound that I bought a kit there and then. This review is based on the true life story of that kit...
Physically, the SPL1 is quite small, measuring around 328 x 200 x 250 mm. It is a passive, two-way system designed to accommodate either conventional two-wire or bi-wiring connection, both drivers being manufactured by the UK company Morel. The bass/mid driver is the MW142, a chunky little 5-inch device with a nominal 8 ohm impedance. This is driven by a relatively massive 3-inch voice coil and utilises a damped polymer composite cone material, most of the cone diameter being taken up by the domed centre cap. The dust cap proudly proclaims that the unit has a Hexatech aluminium voice coil. The high frequency end is ably handled by the Morel MDT29, a soft dome tweeter 28mm in diameter with a liquid cooled voice coil. Again this has an impressively heavy magnetic system for its size.
The crossover features high grade capacitors, wire-wound resistors and Volt air-cored inductors which the purchaser must assemble on the circuit board provided. If you can solder a jack plug, then you can build this — all the components are clearly marked and assembly is simply a matter of pushing the component leads through the appropriate holes on the PCB, trimming to length and soldering.
Wilmslow's flatpack cabinets are a joy to build — they're very accurately machined from MDF, complete with speaker cut-outs and rebates. The cabinet is a ported design which comes as six panels plus an internal bracing member, and the first step is to glue the plastic port pipes into their front panel cutouts. Next, the supplied self-adhesive damping panels are cut to size and fixed to the inside surfaces of the panels. All you have to do then is to apply PVA wood glue to the joints and tape the whole assembly together with masking tape until the glue dries. Excess glue can be wiped off with a damp cloth as long as you catch it before it dries.
Because of the accuracy of the machining, the parts line up perfectly, but here's one tip: don't glue the back on until you've built the crossover and screwed it to the inside of the top panel. If you build the whole cabinet first, as the instructions imply, then getting your hand and a screwdriver through the bass driver cutout is a bit of a squeeze on a speaker this small.
Having assembled the cabinet, soldered the speaker and terminal panel leads (cable provided) and fitted the crossover, it's time to apply a finish to the boxes before finally fitting the drivers. The neatest way is to use iron-on veneer (which Wilmslow can supply in a choice of natural woods), but for studio use, a spray can or two of black satin cellulose car paint looks equally smart; you can even sink as low as satin black vinyl emulsion and still end up with a good result. If you're painting, it is advisable to give the boxes a light sanding and then a thorough brushing down to remove any dust. If you're using veneer — which is surprisingly easy to apply — then all you need do is dust down the boxes and get ironing.
The drivers and terminal panel are fitted last, again by soldering. Perfectly-sized rebates are machined into the front panel to accept the drivers, and an adhesive foam strip is provided to use as gaskets for the drivers. Before fitting the tweeter, the long-fibre wool provided with the kit must be divided into two and distributed loosely in the top half of the cabinet. Once the speakers are fixed (using the screws provided), the cabinets are ready for use, but you need to be aware that they will need running in for a while before they attain their optimum sound. This is no fad, it's simply that loudspeakers, like any mechanical components, loosen up a little with use. The kit also contains material, frames and fixings for a removable speaker grille, but in true studio tradition, I use mine without!
I found that the kit could be built from scratch in two evenings or less using the bare minimum of tools, though a small power drill is handy for drilling the driver mounting holes and the pilot holes for the crossover and terminal panel fixing screws. I used clamps to hold the cabinet panels together on this occasion, but I have built Wilmslow boxes in the past using just masking tape to hold them together and there is absolutely no problem. As kits go, these are very complete — the only thing you don't get is the wood glue, the solder and the paint. Everything else, including screws and cable, is provided.
At the time of writing, the proper measurements hadn't been completed on this system, so I can't give an accurate frequency response, efficiency or power handling figure. But running from even a modest amplifier rated at 30 watts per channel or so, the result is adequately loud for work in the near field. Quality-wise, I was immediately impressed by the sound, which was surprisingly powerful and solid for such a small unit. By the same token, transient sounds and fine detail were reproduced with great clarity, and I couldn't detect any obvious harsh spots, as is is so often the case even with significantly more expensive monitors. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I haven't heard any ready-built near field monitors that come close to these for anything close to the price. Naturally the bass end is limited by the small cabinet size, but this particular model still has the capacity to surprise by revealing low frequency information that doesn't usually equate to such a compact design.
The minimal effort involved in putting these speakers together is a small price to pay when you consider that you're getting a really good monitor for under £200. For the larger project studio or pro studio, they make excellent near-field reference monitors, while the home user will probably find their range wide enough to use as a main monitor. They also sound great as a hi-fi speaker, which is good news if your hi-fi forms the nerve centre of your home studio monitoring system. Unlike most small speakers, these sound good without sounding forced or coloured, and even at fairly loud listening levels, you have to listen hard to pick out any trace of boxiness.
The last word has to be — don't let kits put you off. These kits are far easier to assemble than certain self-assembly furniture I could mention, and once built, they'll give years of service. And if you do encounter problems, the staff at Wilmslow are not only friendly but very helpful. Aside from the satisfaction of building something yourself, spare drivers are always available from Wilmslow Audio for all their models, something that can't always be said of hi-fi speakers. Even if you don't build the kit, it's worth sending off for the catalogue, which offers a huge range of kits, accessories and separate drivers for hi-fi, studio monitoring, instrument and PA use. As I said, I was so impressed, I bought the product!
SPL1 Speaker Kit, £190 including VAT + £15 carriage.
Wilmslow Audio, (Contact Details).
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Review by Paul White
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