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Cloned drive units?

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  • Cloned drive units?

    This post is copied and edited down - source here.

    Originally posted by mhennessy View Post
    I've spent far too long trying to find any correlation between objective data and subjective impressions in these reviews - it's pretty unusual to find any in my experience. More likely with loudspeakers than electronics, of course, because loudspeakers do actually sound different ;-)

    The trouble is, sound is almost entirely a product of our brains. Amazing though they are, the mechanical parts of the hearing system are pretty simple in the context of the overall picture, where the brain does an awful lot to turn the spectral information from the auditory nerve into something we understand. Not only that, but it has to tell us where the sound was, and filter out the multiple versions of the same thing caused by all the reflections in a typical room. It's no wonder music has the ability to move us, given how direct a connection to the brain the ear has ...

    It's so hard to buy poor sounding electronics these days that hi-fi reviews should turn full-circle and report what they measure first and foremost. With loudspeakers, the situation is rather different. OK, perhaps not with exotic capacitors, but certainly material choice - especially cone material - is definitely a factor. Well, once you've designed the system. No amount of RADIAL cones would make any of my attempts sound good because I can't do the system design - I know a little bit about it, but only enough to understand how difficult it is! Principally the crossover design is what you hear - and there are relatively few people around who can do this well - not least because there are CAD packages the spit out values for you, and this is quite good enough for the big companies with targets to meet...
    Can we explore this further?

    The author hints that cone material is a defining factor in the loudspeaker, but also that the crossover is 'principally (what) you hear'. Comments?

  • #2
    Bog-standard technology

    Originally posted by Pharos View Post
    ...Of course Alan is in a prime position to place a hierarchy of the importance of speaker parts in a system, but my guess would be; (1) Driver quality (2) Xover quality, (3) cabinet quality, each of which has its own set of sub component requirements...
    Whilst my instinct is to agree with this list which puts the drive units in pole position, I have to agree with Mark's post #3 when he kindly suggests that the crossover is the challenging bit.

    In fact, thinking this through, both comments are correct. The drive unit's inherent potential for fidelity and the crossover must be considered as two sides of one coin. They are inseparable. I guess that my initial reaction that the drive unit is paramount is borne from my rejection of conventional woofer/midrange drivers based on what my novice ears told me a quarter century ago was just 'not right' about vacuum formed polypropylene. No amount of money would motivate me to roll-up my sleeves and spend man months perfecting the all-important crossover for a cone/cone material which I did not feel completely comfortable with on fidelity performance grounds. That would be like painting a detailed watercolour without a continuous supply of fresh, clean water to mix the bright colours and wash the brushes: the result, no matter how much care and attention was applied would be murky and bear a disappointing relation to bright reality.

    What amazes me is the almost universal insensitivity to the logical and actual relationship between the quality of the bass/midrange driver - its cone material, the crucial material of the surround, cone profile and general assembly - and the expectation of high fidelity. It is a lamentable fact that most bass/midrange drivers that are found in speakers costing $$$, themselves cost under $10. Possibly only $5. In quantity only $2. Ask yourself: can you really expect advanced engineering for the price of a couple of glasses of beer? Can you expect consistency if not fidelity? So when I see a beautiful close-up colour photo of a woofer/midrange driver in even a UK brand speaker and recognise it as a far east 'dollar a drop' unit, my motivation to invest time listening to what a glass of beer buys the hapless consumer utterly evaporates. I'm inundated with price-offers for drive units I have no interest in. The suppliers just cannot get it into their skulls that Harbeth makes its own drive units in the UK (shock! really - why you do that? Crazy 'spensive!) and we are not driven by cost-down.

    There has to be a connection between R&D, performance and ability to deliver. Apple's business model is one of delivering advanced performance at a high-end price ticket and making a good return to fuel the next round of R&D. This business model does not exist in audio at all. There is no R&D in drive units. There has been stasis for a generation. I'm disappointed that journalists rave about the latest speaker to cross their desk when if they looked more closely they'd recognise the same, tired, conventional, bog-standard 'dollar a drop' woofers week after week, year after year, decade after decade. But each new speaker system is greeted as another miracle, another step forward. With such poor engine technology you have to ask yourself: who is kidding who?
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      The industry's secret?

      Originally posted by mhennessy View Post
      ... To put it yet another way, I could (but won't) name two loudspeakers from two other manufactures. They both use the same tweeter. I listen to one of them for hours at a time. I can't be in the same room as the other for more than about 5 minutes. The problem is with the treble, but not the tweeter...
      Ummm. You have unwittingly touched on the speaker industry's dirty little secret. I'm not sure if I should even mention this, but as an amateur pugilist ...

      How sure are you that the problem is the crossover not the 'same' tweeters?
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

      Comment


      • #4
        Swap tweeters ....

        Originally posted by A.S.
        How sure are you that the problem is the crossover not the 'same' tweeters?
        Good question. From memory, I'm pretty sure that both have the original label on which shows the same Vifa part number, but I'm aware that is no guarantee of anything...

        One has a replacement faceplate to control directivity, but having compared this to the stock faceplate, its effect is pretty subtle compared to the differences I'm reporting between the two systems.

        But as you've raised the point, I'll borrow the loudspeakers in question after Christmas and see about some measurements - and an obvious thing to try would be to swap the tweeters between boxes.

        I'm convinced that to-do lists only ever get bigger. Really must invent that time machine :-)

        Cheers,

        Mark

        Comment


        • #5
          Inter-specimen variations?

          Hi DSR,

          Nice to see you on here

          Your comments about that Vifa tweeter are interesting, and fit with my experiences. While my initial point started by comparing two different systems, where in one the tweeter level is quite obviously (and deliberately) set too high, I think you might be on to something re. variability between samples of the same model. All drive units vary in their sensitivity from new to some extent, of course, and I've been told by at least two sources that ferro-fluid can cause problems with some designs after many years of use.

          Of course, some companies rigorously measure and select drive units and/or adjust the crossover to suit each sample. Most don't. But maybe these days, it might not be necessary with careful choices - I'm sure that some manufacturers must be more consistent than others, and perhaps paying extra for more consistency might be money well spent if it means not having to adjust crossovers on the production line?

          Regarding active designs, I'm happy to accept that they have the potential to sound better, and certainly, I think they are easier to design. But just because those might be generally accepted truisms, it doesn't automatically follow that every designer will be able to extract every ounce of potential from an active design. Nor does it mean that an active system will somehow magically fix poor drive units or other problems elsewhere. At work, most of what I listen to is active, but I could probably name half a dozen passive loudspeakers that I'd rather listen to. Again, it's back to my system design comment that started all this off...

          Glad you're enjoying the LS5/9s. I must admit that I got mine out of storage a few weeks ago and was relieved to find that they still worked well. Of all the BBC designs, I still have a soft spot for this one, but they aren't as smooth through the midrange as I'd remembered them, and the tweeter has a bit of a peak at 10-12kHz. It was 10 years ago when I last listened critically to them in my system, but as I say, I still quite like them and can't think of anything else of that age that I'd rather use. Of course, things have moved on a fair bit since then.

          Alan, I'd be very interested in seeing your measured curves - if nothing else, it would be useful data for me to use when trying to sort out my measurements (assuming your examples behave similarly to my pair, of course).

          Cheers,

          Mark

          Comment


          • #6
            BS masks supplier sourcing truths

            Originally posted by mhennessy
            ...Your comments about that Vifa tweeter are interesting, and fit with my experiences. While my initial point started by comparing two different systems, where in one the tweeter level is quite obviously (and deliberately) set too high, I think you might be on to something re. variability between samples of the same model. All drive units vary in their sensitivity from new to some extent, of course, and I've been told by at least two sources that ferro-fluid can cause problems with some designs after many years of use. Of course, some companies rigorously measure and select drive units and/or adjust the crossover to suit each sample. Most don't...
            I'm surprised that my point has been missed. I'll spell it out: the market is awash with 'cloned' drive units. That's a nice way of saying that they were not actually made by the originator of the design, but by an unauthorized third party entirely as a money-making enterprise.

            I have never actually seen or heard of a SEAS cloned drive unit. There are many examples of 'north european' drivers - woofers and tweeters - available from far east suppliers; some are the proverbial sweat shops, here today, gone tomorrow; others are readily available from ostensibly long established and physically large factories. Ignore the labeling; that is no guarantee of anything. If someone is intent on cloning another's driver, forging the label and packaging is a trivial issue.

            What manufacturer worth his reputation would be interested in buying such copies? You'd be very surprised indeed. The financial temptation is immense, and since we know well that the consumer is completely and utterly distracted with BS, this is an issue - as I said, the industries dirty little secret? - that no one on the outside could even contemplate. A visit to a clone-shop (be it English shoes, fine watches or merely tweeters) reveals an armory of reference (i.e. original) parts. They are all there - just ask for the part by name. Then the haggling begins. $50 becomes $20. $20 becomes $10. $10 becomes $5. Do you really think that a tenth of the price buys any sort of QC assurance, material traceability or longevity? Of course not.

            Now, saving money is no crime, but it does open up serious problems after the first batch arrives and is sifted through, perhaps with 100% measurement. I cannot speak from direct experience because I've never been tempted to buy cloned tweeters, but from discussions with those who have it is the stuff of nightmares. First, no two are assembled alike and this gives cosmetic issues on the customer-facing side of the unit (excessive glue, off-centre being typical). Second, no two measure alike (an exaggeration) and the inter-specimen differences are sometimes alarming - a variation from the loudest specimen to the quietest of perhaps 3 or 4dB is not unusual. Then there is the significant variation in the fundamental resonant frequency, the wild variation in damping at the low end of the tweeter working range (possibly because the genuine part used ferrofluid damping with being expensive, is eliminated from the clone), then all sorts of low-level colorations and resonances in the diaphragm and especially the tiny surround (very much a black art at high frequencies), increased distortion and all the rest. I find it depressing that the public, fed a diet of BS are laying out good money for loudspeakers which, according to insider reports, are using the nastiest of cloned drive units with very serious batch to batch QC issues. All to save cost.

            We take deliveries of all our main tweeters directly from SEAS in Norway, via TNT to our door. Many a time I have helped offload the cargo. I can assure you that one of the hidden costs that Harbeth UK is willing to pay for is to have genuine tweeters. The woofers we make ourselves.
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK

            Comment


            • #7
              Too small to chase?

              Originally posted by A.S.
              I'm surprised that my point has been missed. ...
              Actually, I had a feeling that that's probably what you were alluding to. I'm surprised it goes on to that degree, though: it must surely be a violation of intellectual property laws?

              I'm not an IP expert, but the firm I used to practice with in Toronto has the reputation of being one of Canada's foremost IP (copyright/trademark/patents) firms, and I know from my colleagues in that area that they were regularly retained to bring enforcement proceedings against vendors of knockoff Nike t-shirts or Rolex watches or Vuitton bags, or what have you.

              Of course it's a losing battle and one can never completely stem the tide, but the major brands cannot be seen to be acquiescing in a pirate's unauthorized use of a brand name or trademark.

              Perhaps the driver unit manufacturers are just not big enough to take this sort of concerted legal action?

              Comment


              • #8
                How long a problem?

                I was really hoping that wasn't what you meant!

                Cloning is a massive problem in the electronics industry - power transistors and many types of IC are especially commonly cloned. This article was first published many years back: http://sound.westhost.com/counterfeit.htm - and there are some more pictures here: http://sound.westhost.com/fake/counterfeit-p2.htm

                Fake drive units are rather more insidious, as most people aren't going to notice any problem - especially if they take home the examples they auditioned in the dem. The worst-case is perhaps a few negative comments from people on forums who aren't getting the sound that a review might have suggested, but we all know there's many other reasons why that might happen, so no-one is going to suspect anything as unpleasant as fake goods. At least with fake power transistors they alert you to a problem pretty quickly (and often dramatically!) - hopefully at the testing stage before a product has been shipped.

                Have you any ideas on when this started with drive units? I'm guessing it's a more recent phenomenon than in the semiconductor world, as it's much easier to buy a re-labelling machine than the necessary plant to make drive units, but that's probably just wishful thinking...

                Comment


                • #9
                  '...just use them...'

                  Originally posted by mhennessy
                  I was really hoping that wasn't what you meant!...Have you any ideas on when this started with drive units? I'm guessing it's a more recent phenomenon than in the semiconductor world, as it's much easier to buy a re-labelling machine than the necessary plant to make drive units, but that's probably just wishful thinking...
                  I have been aware of cloned drive units for about ten years. It is normal to have to pre-pay 100% to an overseas supplier before the goods are shipped. If you have your own in-factory procedures and/or in-factory personnel in-place at the distant supplier that you can absolutely trust (as Apple do at Foxconn, China for example), then if the parts fall below an acceptable standard they never leave the factory, you don't pay for them and that's the factory's loss. If however you don't have those eyes and ears working for your interests alone, you are setting yourself up for a nasty shock when the container arrives.

                  What then? Sales dept are screaming that they need product to sell. You've already blown cash on crap and Accounts say they have a cash flow problem. The leadtime from the genuine manufacturer is weeks or months. I'm sorry to say that the commercial reality is that those parts are going to be used even if they are half as loud or twice as loud, whether they 'bark' or distort or fail in a year. And because the public are fretting themselves witless over non-issues (too long a list to mention) the manufacturer gets away with it.

                  And you wonder why I get so irritated by the obfuscation that is audio marketing?
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    "IP" - what's that?

                    Originally posted by EricW
                    I'm not an IP expert, but the firm I used to practice with in Toronto has the reputation of being one of Canada's foremost IP (copyright/trademark/patents) firms, and I know from my colleagues in that area that they were regularly retained to bring enforcement proceedings against vendors of knockoff Nike t-shirts or Rolex watches or Vuitton bags, or what have you....
                    I don't think that, from the comfort of your heated office in Canada you quite understand the mindset.

                    "Intellectual Property" is a completely meaningless concept to the sort of person who is intent on cloning. Quite the opposite: I've seen the sly grin and puffed-out chest of a drive unit cloner who, placing the original and the clone on the desk asks which is real. And I must say, the cloned Danish woofer had a better cosmetic than the original part.

                    These chaps are though capable of original thinking. Their handicap is that they need western brands as the door-opener. Given enough time, they will develop their own-brand products and they will find customers, and they may well be superior to the western products they cloned. The worrying thing is - and here I do speak from experience - that what they consider a workmanlike sample of a new concept (that is, original thinking) and what the customer expects can be quite different. Then the difficulties really start. The customer illuminates some aspects of the sample which are not acceptable - for example, a peak or trough in the measured frequency response. A north European supplier would have perhaps 50 years of accumulated in-depth knowledge about the likely source of such an issue, and its remedy. Not so the cloner. Using low-cost labour, he would make 10, 50 or as many iterations of the design as necessary, changing one small element each time, until purely by chance the issue is solved. Then he'd fix the design and start production. That's fine until - as it will - another little issuette crops up .....
                    Alan A. Shaw
                    Designer, owner
                    Harbeth Audio UK

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Money grabbing capitalism?

                      The tendencies outlined in the last few posts dishearten me by consolidating my view that capitalism is morphing from a simple ideal, in which a company sets out to fulfill the public's needs, and in so doing makes a profit.

                      That process is in principle entirely reasonable and can be very morally carried out, with alpha testing, quality control, and responsiveness to any customer complaints, and with compensation where applicable.

                      But it seems to me that increasingly what it is morphing into, is a predatory money grabbing mechanism, concerned primarily with maximising profit, and paying scant regard to customer satisfaction, or even to major complaints.

                      In the case of production of a physical item, it manifests the quality of its construction, although thew cosmetics may be emphasised at the expense of integrity of design, but in the case of more abstract commodities there often is no such manifestation.

                      I have in the last few months had to litigate against my braodband supplier, and also to complain about my energy supplier taking excessive amounts of money from my bank account, a process which it has been doing and which I have repeatedly complianed about for 8 years,

                      If I am typical in the amount of money that I have 'lent' my energy company, and that is multiplied by X million customers, the company is borrowing millions of pounds at zero interest, and we can be sure they are getting a high rate of interest on it.

                      Whilst this is an aside to drive unit manufacture, the business principles involved have a very similar ethical tone, and I suspect that bad practices, a relative exception 40 years ago, are fast becoming the norm at present.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Cloners rules

                        Originally posted by A.S.
                        I don't think that, from the comfort of your heated office in Canada you quite understand the mindset. ....
                        Oh, I think I do. I wasn't suggesting that the cloner would give a damn about anyone else's intellectual property rights. Obviously not.

                        However, what I was saying that I was a bit surprised that the driver manufacturers (SEAS, Scanspeak, Vifa, etc.) don't seem to be enforcing their rights by pursuing the cloners more vigorously. Is it that the design of a driver is not sufficiently distinctive to be capable of copyright protection? Would it be a good idea for them all to put small brand logos on each driver, which it clearly would be a problem to copy? Or is it just not worth it to them, financially?

                        Your mentioning Apple puts me in mind of a parallel with Harbeth. Both companies were/are (past tense for Apple, present tense in the case of Harbeth) run and operated and driven by a very committed owner/designer who would not bend on matters of quality and principle, and eschewed the kind of corner-cutting so common in the commercial world. Oddly enough, both companies are highly successful and profitable as a result (albeit on very different scales, of course). Perhaps Harbeth is the Apple of the audio world?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Suspicious tweeter sound

                          I have seen a very popular Canadian loudspeaker company using this particular 25mm aluminium dome SEAS tweeter (the one that looks similar to SHL-5's main tweeter from the customer's side) on many of their models but everytime when i hear those speakers with that SEAS tweeter, i just cannot reconcile the high frequencies with that on the SHL-5. They are just so different sonically. But they look exactly the same on the outside.

                          And i was wondering could a crossover make so much difference. In fact, many other manufacturers also use this 25mm aluminium dome SEAS tweeter (from the outside) & so far, none sounds like those used on SHL-5.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Create your own competition

                            Originally posted by EricW
                            Oh, I think I do. I wasn't suggesting that the cloner would give a damn about anyone else's intellectual property rights. Obviously not. However, what I was saying that I was a bit surprised that the driver manufacturers (SEAS, Scanspeak, Vifa, etc.) don't seem to be enforcing their rights by pursuing the cloners more vigorously. Is it that the design of a driver is not sufficiently distinctive to be capable of copyright protection?...
                            This is where it all becomes rather tricky. First, to protect IP there has to be some significant novelty in the idea. Novelty in a drive unit fabricated from bought-in off-the-shelf parts? What's the novelty in that?

                            Second: European drive unit manufacturers, probably to a man, are somewhat trapped by their need to escape from high Europe labour and social costs and have set-up offshoots in the very countries where cloning is rife close to the material sources which they would otherwise be expensively transporting to Europe for final assembly. This solves the short term cost-down imperative. Unfortunately, it stimulates another problem which has cultural roots. Asians have a burning desire to be their own boss. They will serve what they see as an apprenticeship just long enough to acquire the connections, the supplier and logistics list, the technical knowledge and the customers. Then they will set-up in direct competition, drawing on the very same suppliers for the very same piece parts and offer them to the very same customers. That is the way of business in the far east. We have to accept that urge drives GDP success and if we in the comfy west were a bit more get-up-and-go, we too could have spectacular economic growth. But you can't engineer an entrepreneur; that push has to come from within and shouldn't be suppressed.

                            So, assuming that there is IP, and that IP is protectable, you'd have to have a deep legal fund to attack a cloner, because tomorrow he or his competitors (his own staff who themselves burn to be their own bosses!) will relocated their factory-in-a-forty-footer to other cities and the game continues. I speak with the benefit thirty years of direct experience in the region, and even I am sometimes surprised by the ingenuity to circumvent rules and obstacles!

                            Here is a conundrum then. Supposing that one of the technically brightest, best educated and straight far east tweeter designers invented a really fine unit, every bit the equal or better than the best European tweeter we currently use. Suppose I was technically very impressed by that unit, its consistency and the technical knowledge behind the design. Would you turn your nose up at the fact that it's made far offshore or would my personal endorsement reassure you? And even if you don't like the idea now, roll the clock forward twenty years and ask yourself how about then, when there simply may not be any alternatives. Personally, the Apple experience has taught me that what really matters is not where goods are made, but how well they are made and the procedures for assuring that high standard, day in, day out. That mandates, above all other considerations, the management of people.
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Morals?

                              I would like to suggest Alan that there is a major quality which is essential to completing any task to high standard.

                              The need for integrity applies to the research, design, and construction of a tweeter, and the decision to copy/clone another's creation requires the deliberate negation of it both morally and legally.

                              Comment

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