Not long ago, we started to notice a distorted “buzzing” sound from our left and right front speakers in our family room, particularly when the TV was playing something with a lot of bass (like explosions, engine noise, or gunfire). I love our family room speakers. They’re made by an English company, Castle Loudspeakers, who are known for their quality audio characteristics and furniture-like cabinetry. However, Castle Severn Mk 2 speakers (the ones I have) haven’t been made for many years, so original replacement 5″ carbon-fiber woofers are no longer available. If you search the Internet for “Castle Severn,” you’ll find dozens of posts from forlorn audiophiles, bemoaning the fact that they can no longer find replacement parts for their beloved Severns, and asking what types of speakers others suggest they replace them with.
But knowing a little bit about home audio, I realized there’s nothing “magic” about what’s inside a speaker. They’re just a combination of magnet, rubber, glue, paper (or carbon-fiber in this case), and some wiring. A quick web search for speaker repair in my area brought me to the humble website of The LoudSpeaker Store in Kent, Washington, which is just a couple towns over from where I live (they also have a Facebook page here). The website advertised the ability to “re-edge, re-cone, repair, restore or provide parts” for a number of high-end speakers, and they had excellent local reviews from seemingly very satisfied customers. I called, and the shop’s owner, Paul Johnston, answered the phone. I could tell within the first five minutes this dude knew speakers. He informed me that the address isn’t on his website, because he works out of a shop attached to his garage. He gave me the address and I told him I’d be there within 30 minutes.
Rather than lug both speaker cabinets to Paul’s shop, I figured it would be easier to remove the two woofers and bring them separately. I unplugged the left speaker from its in-wall terminals, removed the fabric grille from my left speaker, then used my Leatherman Wave to unscrew the four Allen-head bolts holding the woofer in the cabinet:
I carefully removed the woofer from the cabinet, and because the wiring terminals weren’t marked, I snapped a photo so I’d remember which one was red and which one was black:
I gently rested the on top of the cabinet, then noticed I was going to have to de-solder the terminals:
A few moments later with a hot soldering iron, and the woofer was free!
Repeating the process on the right speaker was no problem:
I jumped in the car and drive the 15 minutes to Paul’s shop. I knocked on the garage door (as instructed) upon arrival, and the door rolled up… revealing Paul standing in a garage packed floor to ceiling with speaker cabinets.
Paul is slightly shorter than me (which just means we’re both short), slightly older than me (I’d put him in his late 40s / early 50s), has about the same build as me (nobody would accuse either of us of skipping dessert), and rocks the same professorial goatee as me. The title on his business card reads “Owner and Chief Loudspeaker Biologist.” He gives off a friendly confidence that leaves zero doubt that he knows the $*&# what he’s doing when it comes to loudspeakers.
Paul welcomed me in and guided me through the garage to the workshop area… which was full of speakers in various states of repair and construction, parts, audio equipment, tools, and testing equipment. We started talking HiFi, and it turns out we both knew many of the same people in the industry. When the conversation came around to Bob Carver, he asked if I’d met Bob before or after he’d ditched the toupé. I laughed and confirmed that I was very familiar with “Bob and his dog Spot.” 🙂
Within seconds of handing Paul my damaged woofers, he’d identified the problem: the “spiders” on both drivers had come unglued from the “basket.” Here’s how those parts fit in to a whole speaker assembly:
Paul wasted no time getting to work. He started by meticulously cutting away the dust cap on each speaker so he could inspect and verify that the voice coils were in good shape (they were). He then used a specially formulated glue (which he developed himself) to re-attach both spiders, inserted some clear plastic to protect and keep the voice coils centered, then placed both speakers in his “drying area” to let the glue set up:
Once the glue had dried, Paul attached the repaired drivers to his tone generator and ran a few test sweeps. They sounded great, with zero hint of the crunchy noises that had previously plagued them.
At this point, Paul was ready to glue new dust covers onto the repaired speakers:
He then used large nuts as weights to keep the dust covers in place as they sat in the drying area:
The entire fix took about 20 minutes, but I was Paul’s shop for an hour and a half. Why? Because Paul’s an extremely interesting dude. As my dust covers dried, we talked audio equipment: Klipsh, JBL, SpeakerLab, Carver/Sunfire, Acoustic Research, et al. We talked cars (he had two matchbox Ferraris on top of his monitor). We talked Wurlitzer organs. We listened to music (he seemed impressed that I identified Kraftwerk playing on his system). He worked on some custom speakers he’s building for a client, and showed one of the prototypes for of a speaker line he’s building.
But the best part of today’s visit was meeting a local business owner who does top-level work on high-end audio loudspeakers… without charging his customers an arm and a leg. For fixing impossible-to-replace carbon-fiber woofers on a set of speakers that cost $1,400 new, Paul charged me only $20 per speaker… and in doing do ensured that the next time anything goes wrong with any of my speakers, he’ll be my first and only phone call.
Even if you don’t live in the greater Seattle area, I still wholeheartedly recommend The LoudSpeaker Store to any of my friends looking for speaker repair. Paul’s website includes shipping instructions for out-of-town customers, and I based on the quality and value of his work, I’m not surprised that many people take advantage of it.
Upon arriving back home, I couldn’t wait to re-install my newly repaired woofers and test them out. I used the top of the cabinet to rest the speakers as I re-soldered the terminals:
I used my Leatherman to screw them firmly into place:
Then I admired my handywork:
To test them out, I tuned to a satellite music channel known for heavy bass beats and cranked it up. The speakers sounded fantastic, with no hint of crackle. I put the fabric grilles back on and victoriously announced to the house that the speakers were fixed!
So the moral of today’s story is that even if you have rare, impossible-to-replace speakers, there are guys like Paul out there who can have you in and out of their shop, at a very fair price, with your speakers back online the very same day.
I invite you to like The LoudSpeaker Store’s Facebook Page, and to visit their website or call Paul at (206) 409-4724 if you have sick speakers. I’ll now confidently crank all my speakers “to eleven” knowing that if something goes wrong, help isn’t far away. Thanks, Paul!