Apple has worked on new iMac's speaker designs since 2019

in Current Mac Hardware
A new filing shows that Apple started working on effective speakers for the small space within the new 24-inch iMac from late 2019.

The new 24-inch iMac
The new 24-inch iMac

If you've been around Macs long enough, then it's a given. The Mac mini has terrible speakers and the iMac has excellent ones.

The Mac mini's aren't so bad that you can't use them, mind. And the iMac's speakers are no match for a HomePod stereo pair.

But generally, this is the consensus of opinion about Mac speakers and the perception hasn't changed with the design of the new 24-inch iMac. Even though that chassis is now so slim that the headphone jack had to be moved to the side because that's the only place where there's room.

You don't redesign something so much without effort. You definitely don't get to redesign it and keep good speakers without a lot of people.

"Speaker Assembly" is a newly-revealed patent application, originally filed in December 2019. It lists 12 inventors, including the prolific Paul X. Wang. His previous work includes related a related patent application on bringing HomePod-style environment sensing to the MacBook Pro.

"Over the past several decades, electronic devices have drastically advanced in their functionality," says Apple in the patent application. "Computer parts have been miniaturized, while also increasing in the amount of performance they can deliver."

"The reduced dimensions of these various components may offer more efficient use of space," continues Apple, "[and] greater flexibility in the placement of components within a housing, reduced housing size and use of material, smaller device sizes, greater ease of transportation and use, and other options for device design."

Yet of course smaller devices and smaller space for components is not ideal for loudspeakers.

Detail from the patent showing an iMac and some internal speaker assembly
Detail from the patent showing an iMac and some internal speaker assembly

"One challenge is to provide integrated speaker assemblies that maintain a broad frequency range and desirable acoustic performance levels, while also having a reduced size," says the patent application.

Apple says that the key problems concern the "limited space available for a back volume," which it also refers to as "speaker volume" -- in terms of space, not loudness.

"[This] is the empty air space in communication with the speaker that can provide air to push against to prevent the speaker from being overdriven," continues Apple. "The acoustic performance in the low frequency audio range can be dependent on the back volume size."

There are also issues to do with power as a large speaker diaphragm in a small speaker volume space reportedly has to be significantly stiffer. "A stiff diaphragm can require more power to produce a desired output as compared to a more flexible diaphragm," says Apple.

After describing woofers and tweeters, and after detailing dimensions for some speaker systems, Apple's patent application gets down to the business of the iMac. It just doesn't use that name.

"In some examples, the display at least partially defines a first exterior surface of the electronic device," it says, "... and a distance from the first exterior surface to the second exterior surface is between 9 mm and 13 mm."

The 24-inch iMac is 11.5mm wide.

"The speaker enclosure includes a five-sided box configured to be sealed to the housing to define the speaker volume," proposes Apple. "A wall of the speaker enclosure can include a flexible portion configured to oscillate and a rigid portion at least partially surrounding the flexible portion..."

Despite not mentioning the word iMac once in its 14,000-word text -- nor even Mac -- all the patent application drawings show the new iMac design. The descriptions, though, are clearly intended to cover all possibilities, including a larger iMac, or another device like a MacBook Pro.

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  • Reply 1 of 7
    robabarobaba Posts: 228member
    Dad was a physicist who tinkered with speaker design as a hobby.  This sounds like the basic process he used to determine  case size after analyzing woofer characteristics.  Wish I had paid more attention when he was teaching me.
  • Reply 2 of 7
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,966member
    I haven’t heard the new iMac’s speakers, but previous iMac speakers have always impressed me. Their sound quality has always belied their size and keeps getting better.

    iMacs always seem expensive, but features like these are part of the reason why. It costs money to research and develop good speakers and unlike other all-in-one computers, the iMacs don’t cut corners.
  • Reply 3 of 7
    zeus423zeus423 Posts: 251member
    Two years working on speaker design. Two months working on new iMac colors. Two minutes working on overall iMac design.
  • Reply 4 of 7
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,213member
    Title should read at least since 2019. December 2019 is merely when the patent application was filed. The US PTO publishes patent applications no later than 18 months after filling, whether a patent is awarded or not, so Apple had likely targeted M1 iMacs for announcement by today prior to the pandemic. [A really fantastic job by employees and suppliers to deliver on schedule!] Apple may have been working on the design since 2018 or even earlier. The iMac Pro with its redesigned speaker system was released in December 2017, and the option to migrate to Apple Silicon was likely pursued well before then (perhaps starting in earnest not long after the cold reception to the December 2013 Mac Pro), as Apple waited for Intel to improve its performance.
    edited June 2021 neilmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 7
    MicDorseyMicDorsey Posts: 100member
    "The 24-inch iMac is 11.5mm wide." No, it is 11.5mm deep.
  • Reply 6 of 7
    neilmneilm Posts: 989member
    zeus423 said:
    Two years working on speaker design. Two months working on new iMac colors. Two minutes working on overall iMac design.
    And not even two seconds of worthwhile thought before making your ignorant post.
  • Reply 7 of 7
    IreneWIreneW Posts: 305member
    Can a speaker enclosure like that really be patentable? What, exactly, is the novel idea?
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