Greenest, Healthiest Speakers in the World

If you’re serious about improving the air quality in your home, no stone must go un-turned.  We all know that plywood and MDF kitchen cabinets are a very common source for formaldehyde gasses being emitted and breathed in inside the home, but what about other stuff?
Formaldehyde is used in so. many. things, including zero-VOC paint (this is an incredible story for another blog post), carpeting, furniture finishes, wood glues holding the furniture together, even “food safe” wood glue used in cutting boards, such as Titebond III.
In our modern world and with our modern standards of living, there is no perfect product we will find, and we will never reach “zero toxicity” unless one has very unique skills and time and sometimes, money.  But what we CAN do is review all items with an open mind, and see where we can optimize and get rid of toxins.  Just because speakers facilitate fun and entertainment, doesn’t mean they can slide under the radar without scrutiny.
We can get our boogie woogie on and still improve indoor air quality.
Based on my search, there is only one speaker company, in the world of the internet at least, that pays any attention to health in the manufacture of their speakers: www.roleaudio.com.  They make the following claims:
  • formaldehyde free plywoods made with PureBond® formaldehyde-free technology
  • MDFs that use no urea or formaldehyde in the manufacturing process.
  • assembled with non toxic glues, non-toxic sealers to prevent off-gassing
  • painted with non-toxic paints certified by the Greenguard Environmental Institute.
  • grills of nylon fabrics with no urea or formaldehyde added
First of all, these speakers, like many high-end speakers, are incredibly expensive.  For those that are trying to rid the home of toxins, high-end speakers aren’t in the budget.  But besides that, are their claims actually true?  Are their speakers really safe for indoor air quality?  Are they really that green?
I’m not familiar with PureBond technology, but I do know that plywood and MDF used to be held together with adhesives containing urea formaldehyde, and they are sometimes now held together with a phenol formaldehyde, which is just another version, but IS 50-100 times less likely to become airborne.  So, the plywood they’re using may be safer, but will still cause reactions in people.
What about the claim that they use non-toxic glues?
Andy Pace of the Green Design Center, which is in a nearby town, shared that he has tested water-based non-toxic glue (Titebond II and Titebond III), and has found that they emit anywhere from 100 – 200 times the legal limit of formaldehyde.  This was really disappointing to hear, especially in terms of wood cutting boards.  Titebond III, which is used for cutting boards because it is considered “food safe,” had the higher level of fomraldehyde.  The urea formaldehydes become airborne and pollutes the indoor environment.  I don’t know about Titebond Original or Titebond Hide Glue.
They said that they are using non-toxic sealers to prevent the off-gassing.  If their glues were truly non-toxic, why would they need to seal the glue joints with something?  There are products that you can paint on or use to seal joints that will stop gases from emitting, but they don’t state what products they’re using.
They claim to use non-toxic paints certified by the Greenguard Environmental Institute; however, they don’t state which certification they are referring to – the Institute appears to have multiple certifications.
We’ve all been led to believe that zero-VOCs mean increased indoor air quality and human health.  But the regulations requiring that paint by free of VOCs has nothing to do with human health or toxins, and has everything to do with outdoor air pollution.  It was interesting to learn that almost all zero VOC paints emit formaldehyde and a list of other things that harm us.   Specifically, zero-VOC paints contain formaldehyde precursors that create formaldehyde during the curing process.
The EPA began regulating VOCs in various products in the beginning in the 90s, because of the propensity for them to react with low level nitrogen and UV to create smog (outdoor air pollution).  So, now we have zero VOC products, but although the manufacturers give the illusion that this means the paint ingredients are safe for human occupants, in reality, it just means that the product doesn’t contain chemicals that contribute to OUTDOOR air pollution.  They actually contain chemicals that are highly toxic to humans, including ammonia, butyl acetate, and acetone.
In conclusion, the Role Audio speakers could be healthy, but as they share no substantive information about what plywoods, glues or paints they are actually using, there is no way to know.  Therefore, they are definitely not worth the money in my opinion.
So, what’s an audio-loving person to do?  Make your own speakers!
The bad news first — although we can eliminate all the toxins in the cabinet or baffle, and eliminate the stain, paint, and toxic glues, the speaker components themselves (the cone drivers) are often if not always made with toxic off-gassing adhesives.  That is why many of the speakers available for sale on http://www.parts-express.com have a Proposition 65 warning.  But eliminating all that other stuff is a really big portion of the toxin that are normally there.
You could ask a carpenter to make speaker cabinets out of real wood, and ask them to either screw them together or use hide glue, or you could simply ask them to make a board with a hole cut out, for the use in an open baffle design.  Eliminating the cabinet means less wood and less labor, which could mean less cost.
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Another option is instead of having speaker cabinets or open baffles, slim that down to one wood open baffle for a bass woofer crossed over at 150 Hz, and it with two exciters.  When selecting a bass driver for use in an open baffle design, it is a good general rule to try to find one that has a Qts of at least 1.27, or higher.  But optimizing speakers for real is a real lengthy process if you want to get geeky, which is why going with someone else’s design may be a good starting point.  Otherwise, just messing around and experimenting with the actual sound you hear and making adjustments till you like it is the pragmatic poor man’s way of building speakers! 😉
After watching some legit videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKIye4RZ-5k), I’ve come away with three basic concepts to guide us in the selection of panel material to which you can attach the exciters:
  1. for the panels (to which the exciters are attached), the desirable qualities are for the panel to have high compression strength (stiffness) as well as flexibility.
  2. the exciter should be placed off center, using the 2/5 / 3/5 ratio.
  3. for truly full sound, one will need a subwoofer that is crossed over at 150 Hz, as the exciters/panels will produce sound from 130Hz to 20KH.
For those who don’t care about the toxicity of materials, ceiling tiles and XPS pink extruded polystyrene are most recommended to use as panels for the exciters.  Here are some non-toxin-gas emitting potential baffle materials alternatives.  I think a reasonable size for one panel would be 2′ x 4′.  You can source the following materials from The Green Design Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
  • Rewall – fast food industry plastic coated paper
  • MGO board – cement board – lighter weight
  • Homasote – recycled compressed paper, 440 sound deadening board.
  • Compressed Cork
  • Echopanels
The exciters are very low cost, and you only need one or two:
Here are a few options for woofers to use in tandem with the exciters:

 

 

 

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