It's like anything else ... purchase from a well known or at least better known company and have access to product, service, support, predictability, reputation, R&D; etc. or purchase from a boutique company and get possibly better or more custom product and best effort with everything else. Surrounding this realtionship is the consumer's appetite for risk (which is the reality) and state of the art performance (which may be the myth).
As a consumer, I stay away from the real boutique products, no matter how well touted they are because product reliability and corporate predictability, are as important to me as product performance. Having a component in the service shop even occasionally is not for me. If I were a dealer, I would feel the same way for the same reasons.
I shake my head when I read reviews of the real boutique items because invariably they cost a load of cash; are handled by only a handful of dealers (none are ever near me); are as quirky as any other product out there; and to top it off, the reviewer rarely has the product in his possession for more than a few weeks ... so how can you predict reliability?
To answer your question ... they probably are all good speakers, but how would you ever know and who would take the chance?
Rar1: Good points, we all remember the (possibly justified) hype around and then implosion of companies like Audio Alchemy, but what in your opinion qualifies a company to be called a "boutique"?
Well on Green Mountain Audio, I heard the $2900/pr. Callistos while on vacation a month and a half ago, and they are certainly worthy of their praise. Ugly as mud IMO, but quite good sounding indeed.
That said, the point about limited distribution channels does have some merit. The dealer I heard them at treated me very snobishly, and I would never buy anything from *him* after that negative experience... Too bad there are only a few dealers available for the brand.
I have a pr of Caravelles that i bought used,and am very happy with them,very well built,sound great too!there is a couple reviews in the product review section ,also reviews for Green Mountain speakers,,they sound better to me than some of the well known highly regarded speakers ive heard at high end shops that cost as much and more than the Caravelles retail for,,,i dont feel the need to upgrade,im satisfied!
"they are EXTRA-ordinary speakers"
Says who, the hyped audio reviews. Always read caerefully all reviews, comsumer comments, read it 10 X's with a microscope, read between the lines, you'll begin to notice cracks and holes in the "review" =BS.
Sorry but I'm not impressed with these new futuristic sounding titles.
I spent 1 yr reading and posting comments on the Madisound speaker discussion forum, asking questions about drivers.
I got a few answers there and was part of my long timely research project in finding the right speaker for me.
I went with a DIYer design, a guy from Madisound and turned out to be a total dud, a wasr=te of $2K, lucky for me DEnnis Murphy took them off my hands for 1/2 price.
I then bought a kit from madisound and am now a very happy camper.
So do your research.
Big ads in audio mags do not impress me, not one bit.
Compared to starting an automobile manufacturing firm or a nuclear power generating company the barriers to entry for starting a loudspeaker company are very small. As a result there are plenty of small companies entering the field. There is absolutely no reason that a small boutique firm cannot produce and outstanding product. The technical knowledge of loudspeaker design is fairly well understood and in the public domain. There are multiple sources of high quality drivers. Plus any decent woodwork shop can build a high quality cabinet. If the boutique designer has a good ear and takes the time and effort to refine his product it can be competitive with the products from larger manufacturers.
Sometimes the boutique firm's product is higher priced than the bigger firms' offerings because of poor economies of scale resulting from limited production runs. Other times the boutique firm can offer comparable performance for a lower price because it doesn't have an advertising budget, doesn't maintain a large inventory, much smaller staffing requirements, no big production and warehousing costs and eliminating multiple middlemen by selling direct to the customer. It's wrong to paint small manufacturers with a broad brush. As consumers we must do our homework and find those firms that offer excellent performance and high value. They could just as easily be a large or small firm.
I'll add another voice to support GMA's speakers. Amazing product for the money. Can't comment about dealers, but some high end shops do tend to be snobbish.
14 years and still happy with my Caravelles!
As someone who makes boutique speakers and am 4 months into my companies existence (we launched at AXPONA), risk of the company going out of business is what makes people anxious. Which I get, but it is lower risk than you think. It costs me about $50/month to maintain my legal entity and keep my web store open. I might scale back on marketing but I can maintain that indefinitely.
Incidentally, check me out at www.verdantaudio.com
A speaker is largely made from three key parts, cabinet, driver and crossover:
- Cabinet - by far the hardest to get right. It requires knowledge to design, technical skill to manufacturer and is the easiest place to cut corners to save money. I spent six month studying cabinet design and testing different materials to develop one, simple, stand-mount cabinet and hired an aerospace company to produce it for me. This is the foundation for a great speaker and the most expensive drivers and a good crossover are meaningless if this is wrong. There are consulting firms that will do this for you but it is pricey. I am going to introduce wood cabinets at Capital Audiofest and again, I hired a master cabinet maker who specialize in custom cabinets.
- Crossover - By far the hardest to actually do well but it is inexpensive to hire someone to design one for you once you have selected your drivers and have a cabinet design. Once you have a good sounding base crossover, it is also easy to make modifications. I attempted to design my own and they were not good. Hired someone. Tested a few configurations and they are spectacular. I don't even make my own crossovers. Assembly is $15 a unit. Relatively low risk.
- Drivers - No small company is making their own drivers. We all buy from Scanspeak, Seas, Accuton, Eton, etc... Frankly, so do a lot of midsize companies. This is extremely low risk as the companies producing the drivers are large and competent. And, if the world ended, the drivers are backed by their warranty.
The balance is assembly and soldering. Are they using OFC or CCA in terms of wire? What kind of binding posts, ports, etc... Soldering requires some practice but even that can be worked around if you are incompetent with torx screws and quick connects.
The other question is consumer direct or retail.
- Retail adds margin. A small company selling through retail is almost assuredly a poor value vs. a large company. Margins are the same but costs are certain to be higher due to purchasing in much smaller quantities.
-Consumer direct is not necessarily a better value but does allow smaller companies to compete in mid level price points. I can make an acceptable margin and compete with Harman, Kef, B&W, etc... and deliver a product that is as good or better compared to the Performa, R or 700 series if I sell consumer direct. I am a poor value if I tried to sell that same product through retail. Anything below that is very challenging.
If you choose your products correctly you can feel good that the product is made in the USA if that sort of thing matters to you and you are supporting domestic craftspeople at least in terms of cabinet, crossover and assembly. Plus, most consumer direct companies offer you 30 days in-home to demo the product. Try getting your local retailer to let you take home a pair of Sopra No1s to do an in-home demo with no restocking fee.
I think it cuts both ways. There are small companies seriously trying to make a good product and there are companies just trying to make a profit. As always it is consumer beware. It is difficult to audition equipment correctly which is why I am very fond of the companies that allow in home trials and demos. Some of us are lucky to have decent stores near by. Otherwise you have to know what you like, what you want and how to filter opinions and reviews.
As a dealer for years and no longer in business I had been very reluctant to offer products from large companies. Small companies with wonderful people were always my preference. Large companies have no soul and don't care what their gear sounds like. Obviously the sound they produce must sound just like the other guys, but there is no passion. their passion is money. This is my opinion and in no way reflects the opinions of others, nor it is meant to, nor is it meant to upset anyone or to fundamental alter the delicate balance of the audio universe.
Large companies have no soul and don't care what their gear sounds like.
All of them?
Why did you get out of the business?
I ran into some of these boutique type speakers many years ago. As I recall they all sounded pretty good they just seemed to my inexperienced at that stage ears to be not worth the money. The only one whose name I recall was the Linaeum Model 10 which I remember because they sounded so entrancingly good my wife actually was pushing me to buy them! Yeah. Imagine that.
They were made in Portland not far from Seattle and so at one point when I drove them down for an upgrade wound up talking with the designer himself in his lab/studio aka the family basement.
Those speakers were worth every penny. And then some. So I would not hesitate one millisecond to do that again- if I heard the same magic. That is always the key. Go and listen.
I definitely think there are companies pricing their products so that very few will ever hear them and almost nobody will ever really get to know them. There are reasons why prices need to be so high but they aren't performance related. If every little piece requires a long expensive process and if a bunch of people die making every pair, you've got something that is unobtainable to the vast majority of people. Talking points and exclusivity are what luxury is all about.
Like anything it is a matter of capability, efficiency and money. In order to make any product inexpensively you need to invest in expensive machinery and you have to make a lot of copies to amortize the cost of all that machinery and labor over as many units as possible which means you also have to keep the price down so you can sell a lot of them. So jon is right. Who wants to be seen driving around in a Kia. The Rolls does a better job of telling people to get out of your way. You get there just the same. I'd rather get a 911 and just drive around everyone:)
I heard the Lipinsky L 707 at a dealer in NYC. They were really good.
Enjoyed being in business for about 15 years and really appreciated the support I received from those smaller companies I represented. I was living in Golden near Denver and would show every year at the RMAF. We had great show reports, really great. People in then industry would come to our room and literally use the sound as a way to check their own products. The RMAF was my only good source of advertising and when I moved to Washington state that became a much bigger challenge. Not much happening here. Lots of tech nerds with apple music and ear buds.
It was fun however.. I will indulge myself and post below a few show reports, not sure what year they were.
“Though I've heard the Wilson-Benesch Curve floorstanders many times before, I found that they sounded spectacularly good as driven by Kara Chaffee's amazing deHavilland tube electronics . Nothing I heard at RMAF, save perhaps for the far more expensive Vandersteen/ARC system, could touch this rig for sheer midrange purity, detail, three-dimensionality ." Chris Martens TAS on the 2009 show.
deHavilland/Kubala-Sosna/Esoteric/Sounds Real room. "Oddly enough, I believe last year, this room was my runner up. The sound was largely how I remember, but even better. I have my reasons for voting this room "the best" and here they are. It played music for me. Its presentation was very big and wide and spacious, yet intimate. It was as if the music was being played just for me. The timing and pace were right on as was the instrument and vocal definition. No, I don't think this system could fool you into believing that an entire orchestra was right in front of you, but then I didn't hear a single system at the show that could. The front-to-back and side-to-side special cues were intoxicating. At the core of the system are the deHavilland KE-50A monoblocks, which were driving Wilson Benesch Curves. The CD player was an Esoteric X-03SE and the preamp was a deHavilland Mercury III with all cables by Kubala-Sosna (which is new to me). The sound was so damn good I told Kara that if they had a turntable there, it might just push me over the edge. Seriously, as amazing as this system sounded, I wonder what level a solid analog front end would take it to. Here's the icing on the cake for the whole deal - the entire system's cost: $50k. $50k! A lot of dough? Yes. Yet for "Best of Show" at an audiophile event - 50 grand is nothing. Kudos to Kara Chaffee and company for setting up an amazing system with amazing components. The system just shined."