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How different is one adequately designed loudspeaker to the next ? (marketing issues like amps?)

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  • How different is one adequately designed loudspeaker to the next ? (marketing issues like amps?)

    Just to preface this, that I am a proud owner of a pair of P3ESRs, which I am very happy with.

    On the topic of amplifiers, I am well abreast of the views here in relation to amplifiers, i.e., that there is no perceptible differences between any adequately designed amplifiers when each are operating well within their operating range, at the same volume level.

    Now, I have a curiosity in terms of speakers, both Harbeth and non Harbeth – In reality, how different is one competently designed loudspeaker from the next competently designed loudspeaker? In other words, is there any theories in the same vein as the above position that I have outlined with respect to amplifiers? Are consumers being lead down the garden path with respect to loudspeakers and marketing, perceived (psychological) differences etc?

    Perhaps this is a silly question and I expect the answer to be a fat “NO, of course speakers are very different to each other (Harbeths and other brands), and generally the more you pay, the better quality you will get”, but I just want to find out what are the gotchas of speakers, if any?

    Thanks!

  • #2
    Speakers are the real challenge

    The thing with speakers is that they operate at the interface between the electrical and the mechanical. They have to deal with such issues as mass, resonance etc., and hence they perform far worse than electronics.

    Just look at the measured performance. Few speakers can produce an even remotely identifiable square wave, and similarly their frequency response and distortion performance are way off the mark by the standards applied to electronics. In short, speaker design (and room acoustics for a similar problem) are where the advances need to be made.

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    • #3
      Moving parts, sonic signatures

      Unlike the electronics, speakers have moving parts, utilizing different materials and countless other variables in terms of the ability to reproduce sound from a given signal.

      Of all of the components of an audio system I believe speakers have, by far, the greatest difference in the eventual sound output. Only a phono cartridge (with its moving parts: stylus, coils, magnets, etc.) would have a genuinely perceptible impact on sound to any great degree.

      Of course, as willem mentions above, room acoustics also have a profound effect on sound, more so than any wires, interconnects, or even most electronics might have.
      Last edited by elviejo; 24-08-2015, 10:21 PM. Reason: addition

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      • #4
        Transducers are really an entirely different problem

        Originally posted by willem View Post
        .... In short, speaker design (and room acoustics for a similar problem) are where the advances need to be made.
        I agree of course, but to me the interesting and hard part about something like speaker design is that I'm not sure that (in contrast to dealing with weightless electrons), perfection or anything like it is even achievable.

        That's the thing about dealing with the physical world, where things have mass. A speaker must have enough mass to be stable and rigid, but at the same time have as little mass as possible, so that it can start and stop quickly, in response to the signal. The cone should be as stiff as possible so that it doesn't distort or blur detail, but ideally should have no resonance at all. Large enough to be able to reproduce bass frequencies, but light enough to reproduce transients. And so on.

        I suspect that designing an electromechanical transducer will always be an exercise in intelligent compromises.

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        • #5
          Switching speakers

          Originally posted by Buck Fast View Post
          Just to preface this, that I am a proud owner of a pair of P3ESRs, which I am very happy with.

          On the topic of amplifiers, I am well abreast of the views here in relation to amplifiers, i.e., that there is no perceptible differences between any adequately designed amplifiers when each are operating well within their operating range, at the same volume level.

          Now, I have a curiosity in terms of speakers, both Harbeth and non Harbeth – In reality, how different is one competently designed loudspeaker from the next competently designed loudspeaker? In other words, is there any theories in the same vein as the above position that I have outlined with respect to amplifiers? Are consumers being lead down the garden path with respect to loudspeakers and marketing, perceived (psychological) differences etc?

          Perhaps this is a silly question and I expect the answer to be a fat “NO, of course speakers are very different to each other (Harbeths and other brands), and generally the more you pay, the better quality you will get”, but I just want to find out what are the gotchas of speakers, if any?

          Thanks!
          The best advice that a hifi salesperson gave me was to in response to me wanting to listen to a pair of cerwin vegas, I knew they were not typical 'hifi' fare but he suggested buy the speakers you like the presentation of, get a sufficiently powerful amp to drive them where you want and spend the rest on a CD player. That advice was pretty solid in hindsight. He no doubt knew that the speakers were a more important reason for how a system sounds.

          I have heard a few switching demos between speakers and if we could ignore their relative sensitivity you get a very definite impression that speakers sound very different, akin to twiddling with a graphic equalizer.
          Getting to know my C7ES3

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          • #6
            Difficulty of comparing speakers

            Speaker differences/preferences, to be valid and objective, need a precision level matched DBT just as any other part of the system does. They don't enjoy any special status on this count.

            The big problem here is that these DBTs aren't at all easy to set up. The sound heard is the result of the interaction between the speaker and the room, and can change with marginal changes in speaker positioning, so placing the two speakers being compared even side by side doesn't rule out audible room interaction differences that will then invalidate a DBT. So you want to place the second speaker in the exact place vacated by the first, and the time it takes to do this means that rapid changeover is ruled out, with consequent effects of that on the DBT validity.

            Preferences will almost certainly stack up differently than how these would in a sighted subjective test where the usual non auditory cues will have a significant impact on which one is preferred.

            Speaker buying decisions are best made with the speaker in the listening position in the target room, with music of choice. If you like what you hear, buy it, stop dwelling on the decision, and enjoy the results. If you don't like the sound, move on to another speaker. Unlike electronics, speaker performance charts are so difficult to interpret, that they can't be used for anything other than a shortlist for the above effort.

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            • #7
              HK listening room for DBT

              Interesting article here about Harman Kardon's listening tests and their special listening room with a speaker shuffler: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/1045...dardised-sound

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              • #8
                Speakers and fatigue

                You only have to walk around an audio show for an hour to understand how different speakers can be. It tells you nothing about which are "adequately designed" - or not, which is down to objective testing and listening (e.g. fatigue).

                10 badly designed speakers that sound similar doesn't tell you much about how a good speaker sounds.

                Anyway, it may be more about drivers. Some companies' reputations are based around their drivers.

                Harbeth's primary focus on the driver is made clear in this AS quoted article.
                http://www.hifiwigwam.com/news-from-harbeth/

                {Moderator - cannot source this article on a site other than an audio forum}

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                • #9
                  Today's generally nasty sounding speakers

                  Speakers can sound wildly different. Often, speakers from a company will sound different to others in their range, showing a complete disregard of any 'house' sound. This is, I would imagine, due to incompetent design and/or putting style and price breaks before quality.

                  When you do see the occasional speaker measurement in the mags, you will observe that many are anything but flat in response or accurate. Naturally, a response which is all over the place means that a speaker will be anything but neutral in sound.

                  Some manufacturers prefer to engineer a sound to make their speakers 'different'. The trend nowadays, appears to be a wide dip through the mid band and a rising HF, giving rise to listening fatigue. This is probably an attempt to make the speaker stand out from the crowd in a demo room but does nothing for an accurate, natural sound.

                  Sometimes, I despair at the many nasty sounding speakers of today and wonder where/why it all went wrong ???

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Pander to the (ageing) customer

                    Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post
                    Some manufacturers prefer to engineer a sound to make their speakers 'different'. The trend nowadays, appears to be a wide dip through the mid band and a rising HF, giving rise to listening fatigue. This is probably an attempt to make the speaker stand out from the crowd in a demo room but does nothing for an accurate, natural sound.

                    Sometimes, I despair at the many nasty sounding speakers of today and wonder where/why it all went wrong ???
                    I recently attended a demonstration of speakers made by a well-known US brand, whose product line starts at a price comparable to that of the M40 and rises to 10 times as much. The majority of the audience - along with the presenter - could be characterized as being of an age at which one's high frequency hearing acuity might well be compromised.

                    Do you suppose that certain speaker manufacturers might be tailoring the high frequency response of their products in an attempt to compensate for the audiometric deficiencies that would be typical among their customer base?

                    {Moderator's comment: Factor in the designer's long hair too....}

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Tuning the speakers to taste

                      Originally posted by IMF+TDL View Post
                      Do you suppose that certain speaker manufacturers might be tailoring the high frequency response of their products in an attempt to compensate for the audiometric deficiencies that would be typical among their customer base?
                      Perhaps. But against this market size limiting approach, better would be to do what many active speakers offer now by way of many options to alter the shape of the frequency response curve to allow the one speaker to cater to a range of music genres and room environments/listener preferences.

                      Of course the basic curve has to be smooth to start with, no amount of shaping can make up for one that isn't.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        !!!

                        Originally posted by IMF+TDL View Post
                        Do you suppose that certain speaker manufacturers might be tailoring the high frequency response of their products in an attempt to compensate for the audiometric deficiencies that would be typical among their customer base?
                        Audio ******!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Up-close and personal with loudspeakers

                          The answer is that at a macro level, seen from 2000 feet, a car is a car is a car. But as we know, get up close and personal, and the differences really start to become significant.

                          Superficially, loudspeaker vied at, or listened to at, a distance can sound pretty similar. But seat yourself closer to them, say a metre or two away, and those micro differences are magnified. Don't be fooled into thinking that speakers even of the same size have the same characteristics! You absolutely have to listen for yourself, side by side if possible.

                          General explanation of what you will hear and should listen out for, here.

                          Some of the biggest brands make the most fatiguing, hard on the ear speakers - perhaps most do.
                          Alan A. Shaw
                          Designer, owner
                          Harbeth Audio UK

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Design for basically flat?

                            Originally posted by IMF+TDL View Post

                            Do you suppose that certain speaker manufacturers might be tailoring the high frequency response of their products in an attempt to compensate for the audiometric deficiencies that would be typical among their customer base?

                            {Moderator's comment: Factor in the designer's long hair too....}
                            An interesting point but more likely it is because the majority of speaker designers are no spring chickens, so their HF might well be limited. However, there is no excuse for not designing a speaker which measures flat, using instruments. Surely, that is a first priority and would make for better balanced speakers.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Equipment churn because of bad speakers

                              I would say price is not always a very good indication of performance when it comes to loudspeakers. I have seen far too many at high price points $10k, $15k even $25k and beyond have terrible off axis specs and bad resonance issues that even a $350 speaker did not have. I have also seen really really great performance from some speakers costing less than $2k. You never know.

                              By and large people tend to prefer accuracy from loudspeakers in listening tests. I know I do. So you would naturally think this is what most designers would strive for, but you would be wrong. I have seen way too many freq response charts that look anything but flat to believe that's what many are going for.

                              In my opinion far too many speakers are inadequately designed offering the consumer poor performance and thus poor value for their money. You don't have to look very hard for proof of this. Just look at how often the average audiophile changes around equipment trying desperately to correct for poor loudspeaker performance.

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