Speaker Grills: With or without?

(image taken from google.com)

Background

So, I’ve been for a bit of time, bored not having anything significant to try in my own system, so I’ve been thinking about what to write about. Hence, I since there are a lot of things to talk about, I want to discuss a burning question which has been in the back of my mind since forever: how exactly does speaker grills affect sound quality?

Set-up

20161021_2156431.jpg For this, I’ve been experimenting with my Sony SS-k10ED, which as you may have known, I have owned for quite some time now. As old as this is (2009, I presume), it’s consistent I have a a good idea of the characteristics of the sound with the grill on. I’ll just have to see what differences there are without the grill. I’ll just spend some time without the grill of the SS-k10ED to notice the differences. Obviously everything else will be the same. Placement, distance apart from each other, how far I’m listening from the speakers. Then, I’ll listen to songs I’m familiar with, to see what differences, if there are any, that I can notice. Of course, as a disclaimer, if your speaker does have a grill and you take it off, it might give you a different result than what I notice with my speakers. After all, not all speakers are made equal. I’d like to think they all have their own personality, by design. Despite the possible differences, this may serve as a good basis for other similar speakers out there.

Background cont.

Now, getting into some other background details, I wanted to write about this because theoretically, according to my sources (Dad, Wikipedia as reference, and forums), they theoretically should be acoustically transparent. However, as the laws of physics would allow it, that is not the case, because they will always affect the sound. Speaker grills (or grille) are there to serve as protection for the “driver element and speaker internals” as Wikipedia quotes. I know, Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, but with little written about speaker grills, it is one of the only options I have for information provided above. In other news, reading from forums, there are many different takes on speakers grills. I tend to see over half prefer listening to their speakers without them on. Others keep them on for aesthetic purposes, while some don’t hear a difference, so they keep them on. One group that is also a majority in the forums I’ve read, is the group that keeps them on when they’re not listening to them, and off when they’re not, to keep curious little ones or environmental factors from possible destruction. So far, it’s definitely supported that protection is one of the purpose of speaker grills.

From a personal experience, with my dad’s system over the years, he has listened to his speakers with the grills on. He has tried several times, due to my curiosity, to listen to his speakers without the grills, but after awhile he puts them back on. “It’s too bright in the treble region” as he would probably say it. And it is, in my opinion back then, as well. So for years with those NHT T6’s, we’ve listened with the grills on without a problem. In fact, we both preferred it that way. With other speakers according to other people, they can hear a difference in that the sound is more transparent, open or more detailed than with the grill on. In a KEF manual book according to someone in the forums, it is said that they recommend taking the grills off for serious listening, and then replacement afterwards. So this implies that those specific speakers should sound subjectively better without the grills than with them on, as with other speakers in general based on the feedback in forums. If they don’t sound better, it should not sound any different, based on the same feedback.

Outcome

So now, what I heard from this little experiment. There is certainly a difference between the speaker with the grill and without. What’s affected most, which is also supported by replies on the forums, is that they affect treble the most. That makes it more obvious because I’m experimenting on bookshelf speakers for the most part, which handles the treble and to some extend the bass. As speaker grills are part of the speaker in this case, my Sony SS-k10ED, I feel like, makes an effort to accommodate sound with the grills on. In my opinion, in this case, I hear that the sound is better with the grills on, in contrary to the opinions of people on speakers in general. It could be speaker specific, but it seems like the grills are taken into account when they were designing the speaker.

Based on what I heard, these Sony’s sound better with the grills on because they sound more way more natural with the grills on than without. This goes to say that it sounds less natural without. Also in this specific case, the treble sounds too harsh, which makes for unnatural sounding instruments, hand-claps, cymbals, not to mention vocals. It has it’s perks though, as I thought overall it felt more open, more released without the grills. However, the grills acts as a form of restraint, which keeps it from doing too much. It tones down the treble, but it does so in a way that makes the sound natural. And I like natural. Natural sounds realistic and not fatiguing when I listen to it for long stretches of time, which I do. This preference is just leads to one of two outcomes. That’s why I will keep the grills on.

On a final note, this is all subjective, and some people could say it is better sound, because it is more open, which is true, as well. Then, as it did, it comes down to preference, which lead me to my preference of keeping the grills on. It goes to show there is also a case, albeit rarely seen in forums, where the sound is “better” in a subjective terms, with the grills on. In fact, this is two instances of such cases, with the case of my Dad’s system.

Conclusion

I hope this sheds a light on some affects of keeping the grills on or off when listening to your speakers. After conducting this no-so-experiment experiment, I realize maybe I should have conducted it with more quantitative results as well, but since at the current moment I have no means and now idea how to, I just stuck with the quantitative results. Again, the results may be different for each specific speaker type, model and make. I just used what was available to me, which were my bookshelf speakers, so really, REALLY, take what I write with a grain of salt.

Until next time.

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