A History of the Loudspeaker


The humble loudspeaker has a rich story to tell with regards to its history, littered with some of the greatest minds of the 20th century such as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Ernst Siemens. However our story begins with the pioneers of the telephone system where the first real world need for a loudspeaker came to light, after all the telephone wouldn’t have become the success it is if we couldn’t hear the person on the end of the line! In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the first ever electronic loudspeaker design, as part of his new telephone system which, as we all know now, was a roaring success. It wasn’t always plain sailing however, there was some competition to the electronic loudspeaker from a compressed air based solution although this suffered from a poorer quality of sound in comparison.

These initial speakers were fine for use in telephones where no great volume of sound is required, however there was a growing demand for more powerful speakers and in 1898 that demand was met with the first moving coil based speakers. It was with these movable coil speakers that two enterprising gentleman setup the first public loudspeaker system, the humble speaker had made the transition to loud speaker and was capable of being heard for large distances from the actual speaker. The original patent for movable coil speakers was filed by another name you may recognise, Edward Kellogg and with the initial moving coil speakers using electromagnets, it wasn’t till the price of permanent magnets began to drop that the true power and dynamism of speakers was to be revealed.

In the 1930s the first combined speakers began to appear, featuring the standard mid range speaker that we were all used to, but also an additional woofer speaker to produce low frequency sounds and a tweeter speaker that would reproduce the highest frequencies of sound. This multi part approach allowed a single speaker to output a much broader range of frequencies and hence, quality of sound. It was during this period that the first improvements in sound quality were made by isolating the speaker out of the way of external vibrations and echoes, usually upon some sort of makeshift speaker stand.

As demand grew for high quality speakers, they were originally introduced on mass by chains of cinema’s who wanted to provide the best possible audio experience for movie goers. Often these large scale audio systems would feature a whole range of woofers, mid range and tweeter speakers, carefully positioned on quality speaker stands that vastly improve the quality of these early speakers. The early pioneer of these larger speaker system was Altec, whose “Voice of the Theatre” system became industry standard in cinemas and movie houses.

These days modern speakers still resemble their early predecessors on the outside, however this is not so true on the inside thanks to the help provided by computer aided design and modern materials and manufacturing methods which have improved the overall quality of sound produced by ten fold and the quality is certainly noticeable.