An encounter and lesson in speaker prices ...

Not to long ago, in a shop I like but will remain nameless I got to observe a customer evaluate a pair of systems side by side. The buyer had an eastern European accent. First they listened to the larger system, $50k speakers, equivalently priced amps and digital.

It sounded _really_ good. Then we moved to another system. Slightly smaller speaker pair, around $20k, completely different DAC and amp. Sounded like crap. The digititis was unbearable and the speakers were clearly out of phase. On top of that, the treble and bass balance were now all wrong.

The buyer was "I like them, what colors do they com in? " and that was that.

After the buyer left I looked behind at the amp. Yep, I was right, the pahse was reversed. The darkness of the room and angle made this an easy and common mistake to make. But the rest was unbearable.

What is my point? The people buying the top end gear are not necessarily the one’s with decent ears, so we really cannot trust price points to be any sort of guide to value. If you develop your taste on your own, independent of prices, you can score some fabulously performing gear at a fraction of what this buyer was going to end up with.


Shopping for speakers can be a very challenging exercise. Our "acoustic memories" are relatively short making A to B comparisons difficult.  At the REVEL speaker facility in North Ridge California they have developed a system for blind listening tests when evaluating their products against those of other manufacturers.  Within a few seconds speaker A can be replaced by speaker B in an identical configuration. They invite dealers in for training on how to listen void of expectation.  Ultimately spending as much time as possible in an live environment with instruments and vocals unaided by external amplification can be beneficial. I once observed a blind evaluation where a pair of Boston Acoustic bookshelf speakers were preferred over a pair of Linn counterparts by several "experienced" listeners from within AV industry.  Removing the expectancy of performance based upon price can often be very enlightening.   
Removing the expectancy of performance based upon price can often be very enlightening.  

And money saving. :)

Lets recap on an important part of the OP. First there may be a component that inverts the phase (for this discussion, lets just use this term and not polarity) of the music. That is something that should be stated in the manufacturers spec sheet. That is NOT what is being discussed here. Secondly, it is possible to connect one or both speakers out of phase, either with the amplifier or each other, but not both. Think in terms of a car battery. Red to positive, black to negative. Same thinking goes with your amp and speakers, but in 'stereo'. So then, if just one of the speakers is wired out of phase in relationship with the other speaker (think red to black, and black to red at the connections on one end OR the other), this is what the OP was describing. It results in a loss of bass, and a wider than 'right' soundstage, where there are poor positions recognized for the musicians. 
I live in Northridge and didn't know that Harmon Kardon has a speaker evaluation facility for their speakers for the public.  I will look into it.  Some of their Ultima Studio speakers have had phenomenal measurements.  I'd like to hear them to see if that translates to favorable sound for my type of music (opera, classical, jazz and rock).
That lad is furniture shopping.  That's all that is.  Perfectly fine.

I once know someone who insisted on buying top model B&W speakers since they are great furniture that his banker buddies love.  The green meters from the McIntosh are icing on the cake.

(not saying Mc and B&W are bad products ... aesthetics is way more critical to super wealthy people)