Which material sounds better for speakers construction? Wood, Ply or MDF?

Im guessing they use mdf these days because its cheaper.

Just make all walls 2.5 inches thick. Brace front to back with old (dry and shrunk) hardwood. And use granite glued onto the front. Voila! Success!!!
It helps to hear, literally, what is going on, by listening to the cabinet’s walls through a stethoscope, playing music and test tones. You find two things:
  • Flexing of the cabinet walls allows low bass to come through. Out in your room, this adds in phase to the direct sounds coming from your woofer, making the overall presentation warmer, and adding bass ’ambience’ below 80 Hz. The bass is less tight, less defined, of course. Probably makes the hifi sound ’better’ at soft volumes.

    For low-bass flexing, braces help, granite helps, thick materials help, thin plywoods do not. Thin carbon fiber does not. Solid hardwood will split given time. Think here about maximizing panel ’stiffness’ or rigidity, not its ’strength’. Cement, concrete? Sure! FYI, paint the inside of wood cabinets with thinned-out wood glue-- as the surfaces of MDF and plywoods are porous, absorbing bass pressure whenever the woofer fires off.

  • The other stethoscope discovery is that a cabinet lets voice range sounds, in the 200 to 300 Hz range, come right through. This makes for ’scratchy’ sounds in wood boxes and for ringing sounds in granite and metal. These vibrations do not come from the SPL inside the cabinet (unless there is a large, undamped (loud) standing wave inside). Those 200-300Hz vibrations come from the direct excitation of the cabinet material via the screws mounting ’that’ driver. When you loosen all its screws, all of a sudden, the walls go silent!

    One fix is to use rubber-mounted screws, but this makes bass impacts ’rubbery’. KEF and others tried this in the 80’s, giving it up after sales tanked from all that loose bass. The driver could be mounted to a regular inner cabinet with a vibration-isolated cabinet wrapped around it. Unfortunately, this leaves those inner-cabinet vibrations undamped, which get back to the driver, making its cone vibrate (= noise).

    When these tones get into the cabinet material via those screws, there is no way to damp them, and no way to brace against them, because they travel inside the cabinet material, not on the surface. If those screws cannot be rubber-isolated, the cabinet material needs to have ’high internal damping’, which is not a property of metal, cement, nor most woods. Cabinet thickness does not matter here, at least for making something to fit in a home.

For a home constructor, I recommend 3/4" Baltic birch plywood cabinets, or at least for its front panel, with braces inlaid 6-8 inches apart, center-to-center. But BB plywood is such a tough wood to work with and to make pretty! Two 1/2" BB layers glued up with Elmer’s Carpenter’s Glue made a front panel that was a bit more dead to those midrange tones getting into it from the screws, but not enough to justify the extra work. It made far more difference to put 1/4" wool felt on the front baffle to suck up the tweeter’s reflections before getting on with designing the tweeter’s crossover.

Roy Johnson
Green Mountain Audio
MDF can be affected by relative humidity, which in turn affects any attached veneer. One must totally seal all exposed MDF surfaces to render it immune to the affects of humidity. Kind of a pain. 
^Solid wood and plywood are even more susceptible. Solid wood, depending on treatment, will swell, or in the case of low humidity - crack. Plywood will begin to bend in as little as 60% RH. It takes very high humidity (>80%) to warp MDF - the level that would make for an unhealthy household.