Why Do Some Speakers Have Grilles/Mesh & Others Don’t?


Whether it’s a cheap pair of computer speakers; a high-end surround sound system, or an arrangement of loudspeakers for live sound venues, you’ll often find grilles or mesh in front of the speakers. However, this is not always the case!

Why do some speakers have grilles/mesh and others don’t? Speaker grilles/ meshes are used to protect the driver element and other internal components of the speaker from foreign particles while allowing sound to pass as clearly as possible. This often results in a compromise in sound which is worth it in some speakers but not in others.

In this quick article, we’ll discuss how grilles and meshes protect speakers and alter the speaker’s sound. We’ll also go over the differences between hard grilles and soft grilles, and the pros and cons of having or not having a perforated protective layer.

Note that I’ll be using the terms grille and mesh interchangeably throughout this article.

Related articles:
What Are Microphone Grilles And Why Are They Important?
Why Do Microphones Have Screens? (Pop Filter, Grille, Windscreen)


The Purpose Of A Protective Grille

The primary function of having a grille and/or mesh in front of a speaker is for protection.

This is why you’ll nearly always see these perforated shields in public address speakers, instrument amplifier cabinets, and other speakers that are regularly moved around and have a higher risk of being damaged.

Car audio speakers will also have grilles to protect them from normal wear and tear.

Studio monitors, on the other hand, are designed to sound as accurate as possible for stationary use in audio/music studios. They, therefore, typically do not have protective grilles/mesh.

For the sake of speaker longevity, we must keep the diaphragm, voice coil and the rest of the driver protected. This can be done by keeping the speaker out of harm’s way or by shielding it with a grille.

Grilles and mesh provide the physical protection needed to keep potentially harmful dust and debris out of the speaker drivers and enclosures. They also provide a physical protective barrier from greater physical trauma that could tear or otherwise damage the speaker cone.


Do Grilles Affect The Sound Of The Speaker?

Any impedance to sound waves will affect their propagation, even if grilles are largely designed to not affect the sound of their speakers.

The perforated protective shields known as grilles and meshes do, in fact, impact the sound of their speakers. Generally speaking, the sound quality will be subjectively better when the grille is removed.

Because grilles are placed in front of the speaker drivers, they can affect the sound in the following ways:

  • Sound waves can get blocked by the grille and fail to escape the speaker’s construction.
  • Reflections can send sound waves back toward the speaker cone, causing comb-filtering, phase cancellation and strange resonances.
  • Absorption can happen where the grille mesh absorbs some sound energy and reduces the strength of the sound waves.
  • Rattle can happen if the grille is loose and the speaker is turned up too loud.
  • The grille adds its own resonances to the overall speaker sound (though typically negligible).

Note that, without a grille, the driver’s sound is able to propagate from the speaker without any acoustic impedance from the speaker itself.


Soft Mesh Vs. Hard Grilles

A speaker’s acoustically-transparent protective layer will typically be soft or hard. Let’s discuss the two types briefly.

Soft Speaker Mesh

Soft speaker grilles are made from various fabrics (weaved or stitched), foam and other soft materials.

We see soft speaker meshes on some guitar amps, home theatre speakers, computer speakers, and other speaker types.

The Bose Companion 2 Series III (link to compare prices on Amazon and other online retailers) is a pair of computer speakers with soft mesh.

Bose Companion 2 Series III

Bose is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Home Speaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 11 Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 10 Best Loudspeaker Brands (Overall) On The Market Today

Soft speaker mesh is relatively absorptive and produces fewer reflections, phase issues and resonances than its hard counterpart.

It is also freer to move along with the sound waves, thereby reducing its impedance to the sound produced by the speaker. This quality also makes soft mesh grilles less prone to rattling when the speaker produces high sound pressure levels.

Depending on the material used, the soft mesh grille may often more or less water resistance to the overall speaker design.

As for protection from physical trauma, the soft speaker grille is susceptible to being torn and/or stretched. Once damaged, it may not fully protect the speaker from being torn and/or stretched as well.

I’ve learned over my years of gigging as a guitarist that the soft mesh grilles of my guitar cabinets are easily stretched when improperly packing up with the rest of the gear.

Hard Speaker Mesh

Hard speaker mesh, as the name suggests, is made of hard materials including various metals, woods and hard plastics. These meshes can be constructed and perforated by drilling holes in a thin sheet, or by crosshatching/placing thin strips of material closely together.

We’ll most often see hard speaker mesh on PA speakers, stage monitors and other speakers that are designed for rougher wear and tear.

The Electro-Voice ELX200-10P (link to compare prices on Amazon and other online retailers) is an excellent example of a PA speaker with a hard mesh.

Electro-Voice ELX200-10P

Electro-Voice is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Subwoofer Brands (Car, PA, Home & Studio)
Top 11 Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use

Hard speaker mesh offers improved protection from larger items that could potentially tear, stretch or otherwise damage the speaker cone.

However, because the mesh is hard, it has less give and is more prone to rattling than soft mesh. It’s also that case the hard speaker mesh produces more reflections, phase issues and resonances in the speaker design.

Another downside is that the larger perforations may allow smaller particles like rain and dust to reach the speaker and cause problems.

For this reason, we’ll sometimes find that hard speaker meshes have a soft mesh directly behind.


So Why Do Some Speakers Have Grilles/Mesh & Others Don’t?

As we’ve discussed, speaker grilles provide protection at the expense of altering the sound of the speaker.

So protective grilles are generally preferred for speakers that are susceptible to damage. Common reasons for speaker grilles include:

  • Moving the speakers often from place to place.
  • Placing the speakers on stage.
  • Having speakers in the same room as pets and infants.
  • Having speakers in automobiles.

However, there are instances where the protection of a grille is not worth its effects on speaker performance. Let’s discuss the speakers that do better without a grille.

The first speaker type we should mention that benefits from being grille-less is the studio monitor.

Studio monitors are designed to reproduce audio as accurately as possible. To place a grille in front of studio monitor drivers would obscure parts of the sound waves and needlessly complicate the speaker design.

Even if the monitor was designed to sound excellent with a grille, it would likely cause issues at varying sound pressure levels and require maintenance.

That being said, there are studio monitors that use grilles. One such example if the Yamaha HS7 (link to compare prices on Amazon and other retailers), which has a protective grille over its tweeter but no grille over its woofer:

Yamaha HS7

Yamaha is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Studio Monitor Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 11 Best Subwoofer Brands (Car, PA, Home & Studio)
Top 11 Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use

High-powered subwoofers may also suffer from speaker grilles. This is because their very loud low-frequency waves may cause rattling in the grille and acoustic distortion to the sound.

Subwoofers often come with detachable grilles. The Sony SA-CS9 115W 10″ Subwoofer (link to compare the price on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is a great example.

Sony SA-CS9 115W Subwoofer

Other speakers, like those in smartphones and computers, do not require grilles since they are already enclosed in a protective case.


Related Questions

What is the purpose of a speaker? The purpose of a speaker transducer is to convert audio signals (in the form of electrical energy) into sound waves (in the form of mechanical wave energy). By doing so, speakers can reproduce prerecorded or live broadcast audio in a format that we can hear (sound).

How do I fix a blown-out speaker? Speaker blow-out is an all-encompassing term that refers to a damaged speaker. Blow-out is often a result of a burned or melted voice coil but can also happen from a stretch or tear in the diaphragm and housing. To properly fix a blown speaker, carefully replace the damaged part(s).

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