Do I have to choose functional over pretty?
January 16, 2009 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What's so special about speaker cloth? Can I replace it with regular fabric?

We have a large built-in bookshelf with compartments that house stereo speakers. The compartments have rectangular cut-outs, probably 15"x20", covered in speaker cloth, which I'd like to replace. Can I use regular fabric (I had picked out a nubby woven semi-lightweight upholstery fabric) to replace the speaker cloth, or will that really affect the quality of the audio? We don't use that stereo all that much, but when we do it would be nice to be able to hear it. :) Thanks!
posted by missuswayne to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In theory, speaker cloth is acoustically transparent. That is, it doesn't absorb or distort the sound. YMMV as to whether that's just hokum.

I would say that any fabric made specifically for upholstery application will definitely absorb sound since it is much heavier and bulkier than speaker cloth. And, it probably won't be equally absorbed across the frequency range. You can get cheap speaker cloth at Radio Shack.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:16 AM on January 16, 2009

Yeah it matters quite a bit. Speaker cloth needs to be acoustically transparent, or at least close to acoustically transparent.

You can go online or on Ebay to buy speaker cloth that is designed for the task in different colours and finishes. Just for an example.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:17 AM on January 16, 2009

Speaker cloth isn't magic but, as noted, it's supposed to be as acoustically transparent as reasonably possible. If the available colors/styles of actual speaker cloth aren't too your liking here is a simple test: air moves quite freely through speaker cloth so you can try breathing through other fabrics that are to your liking. This isn't a perfect test but it's probably good enough. If it's hard to breathe through the cloth it's not going to be good speaker cloth. Yeah, you'll get some funny looks at the fabric store.

You can even try this at home with your speaker and various fabrics you've got around the house, just to hear the effect. Generally, poor speaker cloth materials will make the speaker sound muffled or not as bright sounding.
posted by 6550 at 8:36 AM on January 16, 2009

Parts Express is reliable and cheap for speaker cloth.
posted by caddis at 9:11 AM on January 16, 2009

An easy and reasonably reliable test is to hold the fabric up to the light. The more light you can see through the weave, the better the cloth will be for speaker cloth.
posted by one at 9:21 AM on January 16, 2009

A friend re-covered her speakers in thin white fabric (not speaker fabric, just cotton) and they look great & sound totally fine. I dunno about using nubbly upholstery fabric, though. Maybe experiment with just freehand wrapping it over the speakers and having a listen of some kind of high-resolution music with lots of high & low-end sound details, before you do anything permanent, see how it sounds to you?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:25 AM on January 16, 2009

It's probably fine if you are not an audiophile. It would help to pull the fabric very tight over whatever you are mounting it to so it is as thin and permeable as possible.
posted by chairface at 10:30 AM on January 16, 2009

Not to threadjack, but a corollary question: is speaker cloth necessary to get the best sound, or is it just a standard component due to aesthetics?
posted by baphomet at 10:34 AM on January 16, 2009

baphomet...The speaker grille (and fabric) protects the drivers from damage (more or less) They keep your cat from sharpening it's claws on your woofer.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on January 16, 2009

@baphomet: It depends. Some speaker grilles (mostly the rather expensive ones) are ostensibly designed to intentionally affect the sound of the speaker. Other speaker grilles are, like @Thorzdad says, protection from cats.
posted by strangecargo at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2009

A friend of mine, his dad used some crazy looking upholstery type fabric to cover his speakers. It actually looked great. I remember it sounding good, although we were usually listening to the stereo during parties when dad was out of town.
posted by orme at 8:49 PM on January 16, 2009

is speaker cloth necessary to get the best sound

actually, the best sound comes from no cloth, no protection, no sonic impediment between your speaker and your ears. Take your grills off for critical listening. :)
posted by caddis at 6:06 PM on January 17, 2009

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