Johann Philipp Reis installed an electric loudspeaker in his telephone in 1861; it was capable of reproducing clear tones, but also could reproduce muffled speech after a few revisions. Alexander Graham Bell patented his first electric loudspeaker (capable of reproducing intelligible speech) as part of his telephone in 1876, which was followed in 1877 by an improved version from Ernst Siemens. During this time, Thomas Edison was issued a British patent for a system using compressed air as an amplifying mechanism for his early cylinder phonographs, but he ultimately settled for the familiar metal horn driven by a membrane attached to the stylus. In 1898, Horace Short patented a design for a loudspeaker driven by compressed air; he then sold the rights to Charles Parsons, who was issued several additional British patents before 1910. A few companies, including the Victor Talking Machine Company and Pathé, produced record players using compressed-air loudspeakers. However, these designs were significantly limited by their poor sound quality and their inability to reproduce sound at low volume. Variants of the system were used for public address applications, and more recently, other variations have been used to test space-equipment resistance to the very loud sound and vibration levels that the launching of rockets produces.
The first experimental moving-coil (also called dynamic) loudspeaker was invented by Oliver Lodge in 1898. The first practical moving-coil loudspeakers were manufactured by Danish engineer Peter L. Jensen and Edwin Pridham in 1915, in Napa, California. Like previous loudspeakers these used horns to amplify the sound produced by a small diaphragm. Jensen was denied patents. Being unsuccessful in selling their product to telephone companies, in 1915 they changed their target market to radios and public address systems, and named their product Magnavox. Jensen was, for years after the invention of the loudspeaker, a part owner of The Magnavox Company.
The moving-coil principle commonly used today in speakers was patented in 1924 by Chester W. Rice and Edward W. Kellogg. The key difference between previous attempts and the patent by Rice and Kellogg is the adjustment of mechanical parameters so that the fundamental resonance of the moving system is below the frequency where the cone’s radiation impedance becomes uniform. About this same period, Walter H. Schottky invented the first ribbon loudspeaker together with Dr. Erwin Gerlach.
These first loudspeakers used electromagnets, because large, powerful permanent magnets were generally not available at a reasonable price. The coil of an electromagnet, called a field coil, was energized by current through a second pair of connections to the driver. This winding usually served a dual role, acting also as a choke coil, filtering the power supply of the amplifier that the loudspeaker was connected to. AC ripple in the current was attenuated by the action of passing through the choke coil. However, AC line frequencies tended to modulate the audio signal going to the voice coil and added to the audible hum. In 1930 Jensen introduced the first commercial fixed-magnet loudspeaker; however, the large, heavy iron magnets of the day were impractical and field-coil speakers remained predominant until the widespread availability of lightweight Alnico magnets after World War II.
In the 1930s, loudspeaker manufacturers began to combine two and three bandpasses’ worth of drivers in order to increase frequency response andsound pressure level. In 1937, the first film industry-standard loudspeaker system, “The Shearer Horn System for Theatres” (a two-way system), was introduced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It used four 15″ low-frequency drivers, a crossover network set for 375 Hz, and a single multi-cellular horn with two compression drivers providing the high frequencies. John Kenneth Hilliard, James Bullough Lansing, and Douglas Shearer all played roles in creating the system. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a very large two-way public address system was mounted on a tower at Flushing Meadows. The eight 27″ low-frequency drivers were designed by Rudy Bozak in his role as chief engineer for Cinaudagraph. High-frequency drivers were likely made byWestern Electric.
Altec Lansing introduced the 604, which became their most famous coaxial Duplex driver, in 1943. It incorporated a high-frequency horn that sent sound through the middle of a 15-inch woofer for near-point-source performance. Altec’s “Voice of the Theatre” loudspeaker system arrived in the marketplace in 1945, offering better coherence and clarity at the high output levels necessary in movie theaters. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences immediately began testing its sonic characteristics; they made it the film house industry standard in 1955. In 1954, Edgar Villchur developed the acoustic suspension principle of loudspeaker design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This allowed for better bass response from loudspeakers mounted in smaller cabinets. He and his partner Henry Kloss formed the Acoustic Research company to manufacture and market speaker systems using this principle. Subsequently, continuous developments in enclosure design and materials led to significant audible improvements. The most notable improvements in modern speakers are improvements in cone materials, the introduction of higher-temperature adhesives, improved permanent magnet materials, improved measurement techniques, computer-aided design, and finite element analysis.