Are more expensive speakers better?

Recently, I found out an interesting thing while reviewing audiogon threads. Many people were not satisfied with their current speakers and were trying to "upgrade" their system, seeking other people's opinions/advices/recommendations. And most people used the phrases like "best bang for the buck" or "at that price range". Does that mean more expentive speakers are better?
As I have moved up through the Vandersteen speaker line 2Ce, 3A, 3Asig, and now 5, I have found that more money does buy better sounding speakers, but this is always assuming that I was driving them with good quality components. But speakers are probably the most colored component in the stereo chain. It is well known that there are some fairly inexpensive but good sounding speakers out there, ie Stereophile has reviewed some B&Ws-- that are real overachievers, but there are others such as Paradigm, NHT, PSB etc.

Really expensive speakers (IMO) only sound good with really expensive components (well, at least good quality electronics). $20K speakers will likely sound lousy if driven by cheap sounding electronics. But then there are also some inexpensive, but good sounding electronics, ie NAD, Rotel, Adcom etc come to mind.

The approach I've taken is to up-grade speakers only when I'm pretty sure my electronics will support them with better quality music-- the "diminishing returns" principal applies here too.

And as always, audition, audition, audition. It's essential to learn critical listening skills, and this takes time and effort, if you're going to be consistently successful in up-grading. Books have probably been written on this subject. Good Luck, and Cheers. Craig.
Not always. Speakers, like all other components, are subject to the law of diminishing returns. If you want what high enders think are the ultimate speakers, you will have to spend gobs of money. In some circles, quoting $50,000, $75,000 or even $100,000 for a pair means state-of-the-art. Anything less and they think you are missing something. The ultimate integrated insult/putdown being to call anything mid-fi. So with a price point in shallow orbit, this leaves an awfull lot of room to for such mid-fi speakers as Vandersteen 5s, Thiel CS 7.2, Magneplaner 3.6, and the list goes on. Speakers happen to be the most difficult component to design and build, the most prone to likes and dislikes in the litener and the one having to contend with interfacing with the room in which they will operate. If cost is not a consideration for you, you can disregard all mention of bang for the buck etc. If, on the other hand, you, like most, have a budget, then you will have to live with a certain degree of compromise. Believe me, if you take cost into the equation, you will realise how precious little return you normally get even by doubling or tripling your initial investment. Get the best you can afford of a size that fits your room and enjoy the music. Naysayers say nay, no matter what.
Don't waste your money on speakers. Save it for expensive cables instead. The cable manufacturers will be glad you did...
More expensive advice is always better. Send us money, and we'll give you a better answer.
Are expensive cars always better ? Not if your requirement is that it have a wheel at each corner and get you where you're going to.

It depends on your requirements.
Instant gratification enters high end audio.

Lots of the threads you mention are from people who don't care about the sound enough to go to a reputable dealer; listen, borrow the speakers, set them up in their room, listen to them, and make an independant decision without the help of a magazine reviewer or audio buddy to hold their hand and tell them what they are hearing.

How does anybody know what your sonic values are, what you listen to, how your room is set up and decorated, what your other equiment is, and what YOU want it to sound like when you are done.

To thine own ears be true.

Your opinion, based on your research is the ONLY one that counts. There are lots of great products out there at most every price point that can give you what you want. And none of this involves the opinion of someone in ____________________ (fill in the name of your favorite obscure city)
fact is, relatively inexpensive speakers (< $2k) that are well-conceived and manufactured can sound FABULOUS driven with $100k in electronics/frontend/wire. the inverse of such a combination produces an opposite result; i.e, $100k speakers sound like dog shit smells driven by $2k in electronics, etc. it's all a matter of balance. but, then, as "a beautiful mind" portrays: madness and genius are sometimes, perhaps often, closely linked. -cfb
If the goal is to achieve a theoretical 100% perfect sound, as you move upwards from within a mfg line, the starting point towards achieving this 100% is higher. The biggest killer of speaker performance is room interaction. A less expensive speaker may sound better in a given room than a more expensive speaker. Let us say that the room cuts the speaker's potential in half. This said, the most expensive speaker max out at 50% of the goal while the less expensive speaker max out at, lets say 40%.

Now for the fun part. Each component in the chain interacts with each other. Buying the best of everything does not guarantee the best sound. Lets use this analogy. A major league team can go out and sign the best players at each position, yet never win a championship. There is the lack of chemistry that comes in play. This chemistry also is applied to system matching. The infinite variables involved with matching components to maximize sound is astounding-->speakers, speaker wire, preamp, interconnects, source, amp, power cord, line conditioners, etc. This is why you cannot assemble the perfect system with one purchase. There is the much publicised trial and error, buy and selling that you see on audiogon. A true audiophile would never be satisfied and will always be searching. Are more expensive speakers better? Not necessarily, but it does give you a higher starting point from which to start your quest to the ultimate sound.
There are some great $3000 speakers and plenty of lousy sounding $20,000, $30,000 and $50,000 speakers. There is little to no correlation between quality and price.
Doesn't the baseball analogy fall apart by looking at the Yankees? I know they didn't quite win this year, but they were darn good and basically win every year by spending a lot more than everybody else.

I once read that beyond $4k for speakers, you were buying the bottom few Hz and the top several db. That has always seemed about right to me - there are many speakers in the <$4k range that to things REALLY well but are not the last word in bottom end extension, and would not necessarily fill a large room or play AC/DC at concert levels. Examples that come quickly to mind are the Dunlavy SC-III and Dynaudio Contour 1.8. There are many others to be sure.

I think it is also safe to say that to achieve "the ultimate", you're going to have to spend more. It is not safe to say the reverse - that is, that if you spend more, you'll get closer to the ultimate. -Kirk

To achieve greater quality in ANYTHING typically requires more money and research. Whether or not the money and research are used wisely or in the most worthwhile or productive manner is another story. As you know, some things in high end are STRICTLY cosmetic based, which can add DRASTICALLY to the cost without doing anything for performance.

Bottom line: More expensive speakers ( or components for that matter ) SHOULD sound and measure better, but that is not necessarily the case. Every design involves trade-offs. Which trade-offs you can live with or can't live with is a personal thing. That is why audio is so "subjective". What you hear and like may be different than what i hear and like. Regardless of price. Sean
Pbb; you say calling any component/speaker "mid-fi" is the ultimate insult. And you go on to state that Vandersteen 5 (my speaker), Thiel CS 7.2, and MG 3.6 are "mid-fi". Are you *&%@&8%*^$# serious??? And yes, I'm insulted. If you stand by such assertions, you're an insensitive and really out of touch ass, or maybe you just have so much money that $10-15K is pocket change to you.

What do other A'gon members and readers think of Pbb's remarks/conclusions. No cheers here.
I'd just add that in Robert Harley's TAS review of The Vandersteen 5s, he put them sonically in a class with much more expensive speakers such as the Avalon Eidolons and some other highly regarded speakers, and declared them "world class". I had enough guts to actually state what kind of speakers I own. Perhaps you'd care to tell us about YOUR system, or at least your speakers. Do you use Bose? CRAIG.
You go, Craig!!! I wasn't going to rise to the bait on this one, but I have to agree that the speakers listed as "mid-fi" are anything but. Infact, the Vandy 5's, Thiel 7.2's, and Maggie 3.6's will run rings around many far more expensive speakers. This is one very clear case where spending more often on speakers does NOT result in better sound quality.
Scott (Sdcampbell)-- thanks much for your support, it just "made my day". Sorry gang, but I just couldn't let Pbb's insulting tripe go unchallenged. Craig.
I walked away with a slighlty different take on what Pbb said. I "think" he meant that, due to their pricing, that the Vandy 5's, Maggie 3.6's, etc... were "mid-fi" in the eye of some "hi-enders". This pertains back to his comments that it takes $50K, $75K or $100K to achieve "state of the art" performance. If you don't spend this much on speakers, those people would in turn tell you that it was simply "mid-fi" because it was not on the "hi-end" of the price spectrum. To further bring the point home, Pbb also stated doubling or tripling your investment may not get you much in return, i.e. that the Vandy's may be able to hang with others in the $20K to $30+K range.

Maybe i mistook what he was saying, but i don't think that he meant to insult anyone or any specific models of products. He simply said to buy the best that you could afford. Sean
I love the van 5's ! I used to own a set - sold them because they were too big for my listening room. Given a cost-no-issue choice, I actually preferred them to the handful of big-dolla 20-40K speakers I've heard. They have the most natural, full weighted presentation I've ever heard in a speaker. In fact to gush-further they are my favorite speaker of all time. Lastly, they're the only reasonably sized reference grade full range speaker I know of.

Seriously I don't think van 5's, thiel 7.2's or maggies can even remotely be called 'mid-fi'. When I hear midfi, I think of components like the adcom gfp-650 preamp.

Are expensive speakers worth it ? I think so. They tend to define the character and performance of a system more than anything else.

One thing that a person must first do is evaluate what they like. Aesthetics ? Bass ? Imaging ? High detail or a more forgiving sound ? Room/spousal compatibility ? Class of your other components? Once these parameters are evaluated, I think the sweet spot for great speakers is in the 1000-3000 (used) range. I've owned a half dozen or so speakers in this range and they were all excellent in their own way.
craig (garfish): i think sean is correct. were pbb actually insulting your speakers, or you, by calling them "mid-fi," i'd be plenty pissed, too. in this instance, however, i believe he was listing your speaker and others to demonstrate ironically or satirically how absurd it is to include vandy 5's in a listing of supposed "mid-fi" models. perhaps pbb could have made his intentions a bit clearer but i don't think his post was meant to criticize anyone but those who look down their noses at any speakers costing less than $50k. -kelly
In any given price range, there are X number of speakers. The best of those are going to give you the most bang for your buck in that price range. This works if more expensive speakers are better, the same or worse. While not all speakers that cost more are better sounding, the general trend is that way.

Look at any line of speakers. Do their cheaper speakers sound better than their flagship ones? Doubtful, because any smart company would just increase the price of the speaker that is out of line if it is too cheap or discontinue it if it was too expensive.

Some brands offer a better sonic value than others (almost anything vs. Bose or Bang & Olufsen) because some other speakers are offering something other than just sound. Bose offers ease of use and easy to hide speakers, while B&O offers speakers that you would NOT want to hide (although they must match your decor).

What you want in a speaker should guide your decision. Do you want to see them or not? Should they be pretty, or are looks unimportant? How much bass extension do you want? How large or small do you want them to be? How much do you have to spend?

The last one will immediately cut down your field of choices to a workable number. Choose the best of what you want from the category you are in.
Reading Pbbs post I think he was supporting Vandersteens and pointing to the sometime ridiculas reviews given in high-end mags. Stereophile sometimes seems almost incapable of admitting that anything without a ridiculous price tag is listenable. I remember a review of Vandersteens 2ce sometime in fall of 2000 that left me thinking that they (John Atkinson) do not even know how to set up a test correctly. On the other hand they have given hugely favorable reviews to very pricey stuff, Wilsons and Genesis, that can't keep a flat frequency response. Needless to say I'm not excactly a big fan of that mag and there is some sweet irony that the folks who bought the parent company last year are pushing them toward HT.

Sincerely, I remain
Hey, I resent that comment about B&O speakers Mike. I think it's insensitive and insulting. (Sorry, couldnt resist.) But seriously, I remember quite a few B&O speakers that sounded fine. They were just always too expensive for their performance, so you either had to be indifferent to price or buy them new for 50% of retail. If they still make speakers, I have no idea what they sound like now.

Mike is on the right track, though. Is one maker's more expensive speaker better than the lower priced speakers by the same maker? With some exceptions of course, I should hope that the more you pay Vandersteen or B&W or whatever, the better speaker you get. (I really have no idea of what their actual prices are) better than a $2,000 something else? Maybe, maybe not.

Well, it's a new day, and my temperature has returned to near normal. Several posters above-- whose opinions I respect-- had a considerably different "take" on Pbb's apparently inflammatory (to me) comments. So perhaps I was out of line to "blow up". And thanks to those who offered support for my irascibility. BUT, Pbb should write more clearly.

It may also be that I am especially sensitive about the V5s because I've only had them 2-3 months, really like them, and it took me a year to pay for them.

One thing I have learned re audio and this Forum is that you NEVER, EVER insult another person's stereo system-- that may be an even worse offense than insulting his family members, including the dog.

My apology to Ddhpark for being a distraction on your interesting thread. Calmly, Craig.
Somehow my last sentence got cut off and I didnt notice until it was too late to edit it: Is a $6,000 B&W speaker (I really have no idea what their prices are) better than a $2,000 speaker made by someone else? Maybe, Maybe not. I certainly know of a few $2,000 speakers that I think are better than a lot of more expensive speakers.

Under $2,000 is a more expensive speaker better than a cheaper one? With a few weird exceptions (good and bad), probably.
Garfish: I auditioned the 5's in a Vandersteen preferred system (all AR gear). I feel that "most" auditions of these speakers will be somewhat hindered by the room itself and speaker placement (the subs are in the same cabinet as the rest of the drivers). I did read your posts on "the hoops that you jumped through" in order to properly set them up, but let's face it, this is not going to happen @ many shops. This can be said of many speakers, of course, but I would guess that the 5's may need a bit more attention than the norm. The subs, by the way, scared the crap out of me, when they kicked in on a piece (we were listening pretty much in the near field). It had been quite a while since I had listened to a full range system.

In keeping with the thread, "proper setup" and the room are @ least 50% of the sound of any decent speaker, IMO. You really need to "live" with a speaker in order to benefit from (in excess of 80% of) what it can do under these conditions.
Dekay; you are "right on" regarding set-up of the V5 speakers, ie because of the "in room" adjustable bass, it does take some time and effort to get it right, but when done right, I think most would agree that it is certainly worth it. Yes the bass can be spectacular, and to me HQ bass was a BIG selling point of this speaker (I don't have room for separate subs).

Also in keeping with this threads subject, as I moved up expense wise in the Vandersteen line of speakers, music got better. But the improvement wasn't linear, and by far the biggest improvement came when going from the 3Asigs ($3500.) to the 5s ($11.5K)-- that's the way it should be, and that's the way it was. R. Vandersteen builds honest value into his speakers at each price point. I would also admit that there is some music that I still much prefer on the 3A/3Asigs rather than the 5s. The 5s are a much more revealing speaker; the 3As more forgiving. Cheers. Craig
Craig, I was really thinking about getting some Bose speakers for my waiting room, (so I can steal back the PSB 300i pair there now for another use.) I am really insulted. Brought to tears. Charlie

p.s. Just kidding. I love you man. Can I have your Bud Light?
Natalie, i'd rather be smart AND rich. Unfortunately, i am neither. : ( As such, you guys are stuck with me until i can find some way to achieve both.. : ) Sean
dcamacho1: i can't agree with you. i've owned 3 pairs of avalons and i'm still mighty damned sensitive. -cfb
Garfish my friend. No or yes, I forget exactly how you put it. I was being (or attempting it seems!) to be ironic or sarcastic. Fear not, I thought the Vandersteen 5s were probably the best speakers I heard. My only complaint, up here in Canada, with the Loony sinking daily, they retail for $18,000$. I don't know what they actually would sell for, I don't think the dealer carrying them has ever sold a pair. Maybe I can get the demos down the road for half! No, the point I was trying to make was based on a nasty exchange I got into with someone on AA, an apartment dweller who is in the market for Utopias, who did not like my tone or the tone it seems of Vandy 5s. I think some audiophiles come from a socio-economic strata that cannot be seen by the naked eye from where I stand. Briefly put: no you don't have to spend anywhere near 50 k for all the sound you will ever need; speakers that I consider beyond my means, but that sell for a fraction of the price of the Wilsons and Utopias etc.(such as the names I quoted) offer outstanding sound and a lot of speakers even at half or a third of the ones I mentionned, should not leave any half sane person truly wanting. There is a large selection but, at least in my world, money is always a concern. We all can't be Enron execs with wheelbarrowfulls of allegedly for now ill-gotten gain. From a very middleclass lawyer in a soon to be Third World economy. PBB
Me again. Just read Sean's post. That is precisely what my intention was. I think that if you can't design, build and market a top speaker for less than $15.000 USD, you should get yourself into another business. Luxury yachts maybe? Listen to the damn equipment and stop looking at the label and price tag is what I mean. Geez, "I'm just a soul who's intentions are good, Lord, please, don't let me be misunderstood", with sincere apologies to The Animals, have a pleasant and musical weekend, one and all.
Dear Ddhpark,

I will build for you the ultimate speaker system. It will consist of six 7-foot tall towers. Two will contain 8 (each)12" Scanspeak carbon-fiber woofers. Two will contain 6 (each) Lowther "full range" drivers brilliantly solving the no-lows-no-highs problem of Lowthers by using them only for the midrange. Two will contain 16 (each) Revelator tweeters. Three inch thick MDF will be used for the cabinets, internal wiring and binding posts will be pure, oxygen-free osmium. Weight, delivered, will be 16,000 pounds. I will include a set of 24 6" tall spent Uranium spikes at no additional cost.

Amplification will be provided in a separate 6'x6'x3' module and will consist of 32 SETs wired in parallel.

My cost to build these,include hand-rubbed Rosewood veneers throughout will be $10,000.

My cost to purchase the SETs from Malaysia and rebadge them with my own marque will be $2500.

The cost to you will be 1.7 million dollars.

I will then write a lachrymose letter to TAS complaining about the death of the High End and appealing to (all genuflect) The HP for financial assistance.
Garfish: I love how you defend the Vandy Fives, even if you have some trouble spotting irony. I've had my Fives for three years and I'm more attached to them every day. As you have stated, carefully following the set-up instructions is critical. Beyond that, the Fives are so good that they seem to respond favorably to an endless stream of tweaks and upgrades elsewhere in the system

I believe that the Fives could very well be my last speaker. Richard has some exciting modular updates and upgrades coming up and I firmly believe that the Fives, properly set up and backed up by first class equipment and cables, may be about as good as it gets.

I once heard Richard talking about more expensive speakers and his take was that once you reach a certain price point, in order to make more expensive speakers you have to start adding multiple drives and doing other tricks that often are counter-productive.

Email me your phone number if you want to discuss what I have done to try and get the most out of my Fives. My system is truly magical and all of my efforts at achieving that magic have centered around getting the most out of the Fives.
Hi Pbb; and thanks for the well stated clarification of your original post. As noted above, I've calmed down, and with the help of some other A'gon members, I understand what your original post actually meant. So, my apologies for my own excess sensitivity (and crass remarks), which a couple of days ago was well over 100 dB (1 watt @ 1 meter)-- sort of like horn speakers. My nominal sensitivity is usually only about 87-88, like Vandersteens;>). Cheers. Craig.
Pctower; thanks, I really appreciate your comments re the V5s. And I agree in that I'm sure the V5s will be my last speaker too. Cfb thanks for comments re Demacho's remarks--I agree with both your comments re Avalon speakers in that I admire them too, and seriously considered the Circe', but I have a very good relationship with my local Vandy dealer, and of course really like the V5s. Cheers. Craig
Hi there. I have now an upgrade kit for my previous post. The parts are the following: " " . Please insert one before the expression mid-fi and one after the expression mid-fi. Please make sure that the polarity of these sensitive semi-passive lexicographic components is respected. These, along with a number of yet to be released upgrades from our R&D Dept., should reduce considerably the static generated and produce a better focused image of my thoughts.
A Third World Economy that the general population is to stupid to see.
Great post Pbb
Usually, but not always. The post should read ... bigger and expensive speakers better? For one major reason; they create life-like sound and images: tonal, timber, size, space, dynamics and more ( you can't describe it other than say that you're there or they are here feeling) Untill you have heard them with right electronics and set-up, you think, they probably sound similar to '"your budget speakers" or may be tad better. But THE lifelike BIGNESS SCALE they create is what you pay for. There are some exceptions of course in 10k-30k range bargain speakers, that compete with thoes mega bucks Wilson, Grand Utopia or Pipe dreams. THEY all create big lifelike scale in all three directions. I think thats my point.
Thank goodness. I really didn't want to have to built it.

The seriousness with which some of our members take these forums absolutely flabbergasts me. I have thus far received three private emails in which I have been told:

1. Scanspeak does not manufacture a 12" carbon-fiber woofer.
2. Lowthers cannot be used in conventional cabinets as mid-range drivers (with extensive technical detail and links to Lowther websites.
3. 32 SETs could not be successfully wired in parallel. (Well, duhhhhhhhhhhh).
4. An incredulous query about my understanding of how difficult it would be to design a X-over for such a system.

Some folks here just ain't got no lives.
Comfedboy take a look at my previous post, lets not bring this to a philosophy... i heard electrostates for first time 3 weeks ago. with electrostats around i'm very surprised that people still pay for box LOUDspeakers more than the cheapest electrostat($2500) and they could as easily take the money intended for vandersteins b&w paradium(spelling) and the rest of the pack, save alittle more, and go get some electrostats... and hear their music like never before!
Lots of speakers in all price ranges sound good. What I hear when listening to the expensive stuff (here my experience is with the Wisdom Audio M-75)is that they do everything well. Lots of affordable speakers will get part of the frequency band right but fail miserably (usually in the deep bass) elsewhere. Also, I find line source speakers to generally be superior. Whether the price is justified or not the line source speakers I've heard (and the line source emulators like the Pipe Dreams) tend to be expensive. You get what you pay for.