Do Physicists Or Musicians Design Better Speakers?

While looking at and listening to various speakers, I notice that the designers behind the speakers often fall into two distinct camps: They either have impressive academic credentials, usually in physics or mathematics and design speakers from a technical perspective. Or, they are musicians, or have a musical backround, and design from an artistic standpoint. I've heard speakers designed by scientists that sounded great and not so great and by musicians also with divergent results. Wondering which backround consistently results in great speakers.
I would opt for someone well schooled in electronics and its application to audio, who just happens to have 'good ears'.

IMHO musicians rarely have clue about what makes an audio system sound good to an audiophile, they are much more interested in the music itself and their instruments. My daughter is one, has perfect pitch, plays several instruments quite well, and wouldn't know what a 'soundstage' was if it bit her in the ass, let alone some of the other hallmarks of a great audio system (and couldn't care).

Think for a moment from the prospective of a musician - where is that person when playing. When are they ever in a position to judge what the music they are making sounds like to others who are not part of their group. A dubious credential for making electronis IMHO.
Scientists can design things that will work, but eventually you want to choose among things that all work well, you want the one that "sound best". That is a problem of human brain, how it hears and interprets signals, and so far scientific instruments are helpless there, they can't make those fine and final calls.

Musicians are like diners who know good food but can't cook themselves. May not even recognize the ingredients let alone cook with them. So, a pianist can certainly tell when a speaker is doing it right and when nott, but he wouldn't know what to change where to tweak the sound in the desired direction.

And as Newbee said above, a musician who "merely" plays one instrument in a 100+ orchestra may not even have the basic judgment about how the whole thing sounds in the hall.

So, we need scientist types, and a listening panel with a few soloists and a few expereinced concertgoers. :-)
I agree with Newbee. Best is probably an engineer who loves music and pays attention to what it sounds like.
When are they ever in a position to judge what the music they are making sounds like to others who are not part of their group
The same could be said of non-musicians listening to music. Their preferences are unquestionably valid, but they are not going to have experienced listening to the music as a nuanced interplay in the same way that a musician does. First-hand experience changes one's perspective, so in the end the question becomes are you listening for fulfillment upon the design, musicality, or some combination of the two?

I would bet that no musician going into speaker building does so without scientific training as part of the process. So we're really only speaking here in theoretical absolutes.
A good topic.
Has anyone noticed that a lot of musicians have a real thing for old Luxman amplifiers.Most of the musicians I know own these.These certainly have a very sweet sound but I can't really hear anything unique or special about them.But maybe I am missing something that they are hearing.
There is also a rumour that a lot of musicians own Linn turntables and Naim amplifiers because of their emphasis on timing and rhythm.


I would agree that we're only speaking in theoretical absolutes, and would also say that the question itself begs an intelligent answer, but what the hell, its a slow day! :-)

"...fulfillment upon the design, musicality, or some combination of the two." I'm not sure what this means.

IMHO audio(philedom) is all about making equipment that succeeds at being able to replicate the sound of a 'live event' as determined by the recording engineer, in ones home.

The 'live event' is always determined by the recording engineer. For example, in the case of large orchestral programs, will it sound as if it were heard from row A, or Row H (etc) in the center (natural sound as it represents what you would hear as an audience member such as more hall resonance, deeper bass perhaps, more blending of instruments, flatter soundstage; or, will sound as if you were on it be the podium (great soundstaging effect); or, god forbid, there will be so much multimiking that it sounds like its coming from everywhere with each instrumented spotlighted. Ugh! He will also determine how much compression is needed because the dynamic's might well exceed the users equipment, and the list goes on.

The point is that none of the considerations of the recording engineer have anything to do with experience gained by virtue of being a musician, with the exception of his experience listening to live instruments gives him a leg up on being able to more closely replicate the sound of a live instrument, or performing group, in a recording.

None of the experience of a recording engineer, nor experience as a musician, is necessary for one to construct the equipment necessary to play recordings in the home. All one needs is the technical electrical expertise and craftsmanship necessary to make the devises and the 'good ears' to recognize when they have reached their goals. If they have reached their goals and you have the ability to set up the equipment to operate at its optimum, the only 'musicality' involved is in the pits or grooves. JMHO.
The 'live event' is always determined by the recording engineer.
With the input of the musicians, and this person is usually a musician him/herself. My husband played professionally for over ten years. I've seen the process at work.
It depends on what one considers "better".

From one group's perspective, the purpose of a speaker is to reproduce the signal it receives as accurately as possible. I would think that a physicist would be better qualified than a musician to take on this task.

The there is the group who believe that a speaker must be "voiced" in order to sound "good". A musician might be more likely to design a speaker that suits this group's needs.
the subtle nuances and overtones of certain acoustical instruments are hard to replicate correctly

a musician with a fine tuned ear can hear these things and know when a speaker doesn't measure up

but I find a lot of musicians literally hear the note and focus more on the musical note (was that g or a flat) than the tonal qualities

a lot of musicians have crap audiophile systems

personally I'd want a physics major who really loves music designing things
Do people who read music make better musicians in any sense other than when actually reading a score comes into play?
Having played with many musicians who didn't know how to read music, the overall relevance/similarity is striking.
Some people have the music/design in them, if not taught at the so called professional level.
Who can name a rather famous contemporary guitarist who can't read music?

I realize it's different, but the similarities seem more than relevant to me, begging the question, "Who has the music in them?"

"a lot of musicians have crap audiophile systems"
Well thats just because they invest most of their income in their own instruments. Then maybe on some recording gear
and in general muscicians salries are on the low side.
a musician friend of mine who taught me a great deal about jazz back in art school 25 yrs. ago, had a really cheapo stereo system with "crazy eddie" speakers - believe it or not.. really bad speakers.. his table was'nt too bad, a B&O. Whenever I suggested getting better speakers or amp, he replied to the effect that as long as he was getting just a basic reproduction he did not care to improve upon that.. frankly all the musicians I've known since then have mostly had the same opinion.. their stereo's are basic and they don't care for better.
a lot of musicians have crap audiophile systems
And a lot of musicians have great systems. They just aren't mixing here. You can ask the manufacturers, however, and you'll find out that all of them have sold gear to some very famous players.

but I find a lot of musicians literally hear the note and focus more on the musical note (was that g or a flat) than the tonal qualities
If this were true, they could record an album on the first take, simply by following the recipe. It doesn't happen that way. As well, you're not accounting for the hundreds of albums produced and engineered by playing members of the band. From Donald Fagen to Bob Mould, from Neil Young to Frank Zappa, David Gilmour to Vinnie Paul, etc. ad infinitem, tonal quality and nuance are all they care about. Why do you think Stuart Copeland is so recognizable? Or Alex Lifeson? It has nothing to do with getting the notes right. An electronic tuner takes care of that. It's ALL about tonal quality and tonal signature, all of which are crucial in the final determination as to whether a recording is ready to be mixed, or a speaker is doing its job.

You cannot have one without the other, unless you only wish to appeal to non-musician audiophiles, most of whom would have no idea what recording studio playback sounds like.
I'm friends with a physicist who for years was lead vocalist in a band. He now works as a professional audio consultant, mainly for prosound applications (his clientele is spread across four continents). He is very good friends with a concert pianist. The pianist has come to respect the physicist's ears so much that he won't release a recording until his physicist friend has heard and evaluated it.

I'm also friends with an aerospace engineer and former concert musician whose runs a rather successful loudspeaker company, mentioned several times in the latest edition of The Absolute Sound as either best or among the best speakers at CES (and he doesn't advertise so there's no back-scratching going on).

Both of these individuals design loudspeakers with physics and psychoacoustics as their primary tools. Neither of them design "by ear", and for listening evaluations both use other people rather than themselves.

In my opinion the key is knowing what sets of measurements, along with their proper interpretation, will correlate with human hearing perception. A musician may well know how to recognize when it sounds right, but when it doesn't (and the first try never does) how does he accurately identify and resolve the problem? The most interesting loudspeakers in my opinion are consistently those employing intelligent acoustic and psychoacoustic solutions, and that's the province of science rather than art.
D'Appolito, a physicist designed the Seas'Thors, a MTM design.
Take a look at the neato crossover, + look at the Seas' drivers.
This might help with the answer.
When I first laid sight on the Seas drivers and the D Appolito (sp ck please) I knew right away this was something special.
btw I had a DIY design a speaker for me from Madisound's web, Rick Craig, what a bomb, a waste of $2K.
Stick with Da Man

Seas, best drivers in the world.
You won't see anyone contesting that fact.

Baton Rouge
Seas, best drivers in the world.
You won't see anyone contesting that fact.
Um...actually, you will. Some prefer Dynaudio, GPL, Morel, and others.
Just curious, but is Thor available assembled? I understand the tweeter is dome which some people like less than ribbon etc.
As far as speaker design goes, the only two guys in this industry that know what hell they're doing are Jim Thiel and Richard Vandersteen.

All others are hopefuls, at least until they get aboard the time and phase accuracy wagon, and eventually they will because they will have to.
I'll add that the late John Dunlavy and Pat McGinty also realized this, even though both companies are (sadly) history.
If you can build great sounding loudspeakers who cares what your back ground is? Its about sound not measurements music not nums. Let the engineers design transducers let those with the will and skill design the loudspeakers.
Of course, you are absolutely right. If Brian, my insurance salesman, designed the best speakers I'd buy those and recommend to eveybody else here as well. :) However, the spirit in which I took the question was, what kind of person in real life usually designs or is likely to design a speaker that many people might consider "best". I also emphasize that when I say physicist, technical tinkerer, musician, I am refer to approach rather than formal formal degrees.
"As far as speaker design goes, the only two guys in this industry that know what hell they're doing are Jim Thiel and Richard Vandersteen."

Hmmmmm, who can argue with such accurate information as this? Well, maybe the engineers/designers at such companies like SoundLab, Magnepan, Avalon, Talon, just to name a few, might have a difference of opinion.
SEas/Thor/Apollito only worked with the best drivers.
The man was a genius to figure out the proper crossover in this MTM design.

I can't wait to get the proper amp to these beauties to see just what the potential is.
The Jadis Orch Ref delivers some super clean, ZERO fatigue, imaging, but I'm confident these speakers have even more to offer.
My dream amp is the Cayin 500 with the GU29 tubes.
I couldn't imagine what the monoblocks that Cayin offers would make the Thors perform.
Other than that, I'd like the Jadis DA60 or their lateest top intergrated. But compared to Cayin, Jadis is over priced, by alot.

I'll keep everyone posted if/when I get the big Cayin, from overseas.
Until, its anyones guess just what these Thors hold , locked away.
Zero fatigue, mission accomplished. Of course we are not talking wall banging volume, but who here actually listens to uncomfortably loud music.
Do you?
Do you ever walk into a listening room and the salesman gives you slam volume.
Hideous noise as far as I'm concerned. Especially if you take that speaker to your home.

The Thors are only sold as a kit. But trust me if I can figure the solder points out, anyone can. But you need a high quality solder gun.
Richard Grey soldered mine in 45 minutes for both!!!
The guy is fast.
It would have taken me and a friend maybe 3 hours+.
To assemble the speaker drivers takes 2 hours/less. Just screw them in.
feel free to email me on questions.
I'll take a look at Dynaudio, GPL(?), Morel.
You gotta be joking, right?
The Scan Speak are the cheap line of Seas.
When you get the Seas in your hand , you'll know what you have.
Go ahead take that driver out your cabinet, and compare it to the Seas.
No brainer

I've had the Thors for 3 yrs now.
There's nothing on the commercial maket/walk in store pre-made stuff/that can touch em for under $5..IMHO at any price, within reason of course.
The Tyler;'s as well look very interesting, but not sure how the crossover is worked out.

Baton Rouge
Morel? You gotta be joking, right?
Nope. The EgglestonWorks Andra II happens to be a damn fine speaker, and uses two Morel drivers, in fact.

We've owned (and heard) speakers with SEAS drivers. I find them to be less focused than the Dynaudio, but they have a warmth and roundedness that others don't. When it comes to preferences, there is NO inarguable, as all choices are valid. Well, maybe not Chuck E. Cheese for their pizza. :-)
>> 03-28-06: Stevecham
>> As far as speaker design goes, the only two guys in
>> this industry that know what hell they're doing are Jim
>> Thiel and Richard Vandersteen.

LOL! :-)
Evita the Egg speaker looks like one of those big speakers from the 1970's era.
Remember those?
Guess before your time.
Anyway I'm not impressed by a high number of drivers in a cabinet.
I make exceptions to that rule with the interesting Tyler designes, but only when he uses the Seas, not with the cheap Scan Speak tweet.
Alos I see Ty incorporates the W22 Seas in a few of his designs for added depth to bass.
Yet how he has that 3 3 crossed, I'm not sure, I really should take a trip to Kentucky to hear them. Which i plan to do in about 2 yrs.
Also Ty uses the super Seas W26 in a design, a 3 way.
Most of his big designs are way out my budget and way too big for what I need. Thou I do have a very big cathedreal room, now that katrina pushed into baton rouge.
Still his big boys are too much for the size tube amp I plan to upgrade with.
I'm keeping to these Thors, "my last speaker"
I listen to all classical so the MTM offers me much more than one of the 3 way Ty offers. I do not need the 8 inch, 10 inch woofer for bass, the W17's offers sufficient, + the 2 7 inch mids deliver a cleaner midrange and fuller mids , excellent for all the winds/brass/strings in orch/piano solo/chamber.
The Thor IMHO is the ideal speaker for classical, even jazz.

btw I see the Egg's want $2800+ ship JUST to upgrade the 1's to the 11's model.
Don't even tell me the asking price.
The Thors with upgrade xover cost me...$2K includes ship if I recall. $2K for the pair.
Not bad
Seas world's best drivers for the $.
The Skannings of course are like $700/each. I believe those are Seas as well. I've heard the Seas's are better than the Skann's. That I doubt as far as bass goes, but in the low mids the copper center design in the Seas are "as good as it gets"

Baton Rouge
I don't believe that it really matters who designs a speaker, i.e., a physicist or a musician. Wonderful speaker designs are created by all sorts of human beings, some of whom happen to be musicians and physicists who appreciate fine sound reproduction. Conversely, terrible speakers are sometimes designed by all sorts of human beings, including, but not inclusive of, physicists and musicians.
With the Thors you get to see the guts of the thing. And let me tell you the xover is a real beauty. Dr Appolito was a genius in speaker xover design. Nothing like his work.
btw the picture of the Seas' Excel drivers do not do justice to the actual product.
You need to hold one in your hand to realize the tech craftwork it truly is.
Then to hear it.
If I can desribe it, I would use say, pure neutrality.
Another way to describe the image, high fidelity. (as my old Philips were called, 1980)

Baton Rouge

Chill out bro :), the Seas Excel drivers are very good no doubt, but your passive Crossovered THORS are a serious step down compared to the sealed active pair I just built so don't get so far out in front of yourself. Joe D'App is a great designer no doubt and the Thors are very good but some moderation in your tone should be used as your understanding of driver geniology seems to be a bit new and slightly confused.

Its all application specific, a driver is a tool a mechanism to reach a result so every driver has its strengths and weakness', the Mag drivers has their breakup modes which can limit their application....the skaanings have their limited production price...etc

BTW, stop dreaming of tubes for your speakers, why would you ruin a perfectly great speaker with some 1955 distortion machine like the Jadis or the Cayin? Good lord!

you have a great deal to learn still, and atleast you're trying.
The Thors with upgrade xover cost me...$2K includes ship if I recall. $2K for the pair
The Thor design is free for the diy community.
Also, disabuse yourself: it's not the drive units alone that make the spkr. There are good units from many manufacturers -- it all depends on the application.
Sure the design is free. But how many here can read a schematic and have the necessary time and tools to do it. ?
The kit comes preassembled and takes about 8 hours/less with help from a friend.

"its not the drive units...that ULTIMATELY make or break a speaker"
"there are excellent drivers offered from many manufactures from all over the world that equal Seas' Excel"

"all depends on how they are wired and boxed, anyone can do what D'Appolito did, its nothing special about this man"

Care to explain and make specific mention of these "equally good drivers"

Name me one design under $3K that matches Thors
Other than The Tylers?

Would anyone buy a musical instrument from an instrument builder who wasn't also a musician?

The original question assumes that the skill sets are incompatible or mutually exclusive. I really don't believe that to be the case. Skilled engineers can be wonderful musicians and great musicians can have advanced degrees in engineering.
Onhwy61, for example, Borodin, great composer and eminent chemist (contributed to the periodical table of elements, I believe). On the other hand you haven't heard me play the French Horn. Good engineer-fair horn player, which proves your point, I guess!
Bob P.
Name me one design under $3K that matches Thors
Other than The Tylers?

Eton 11.2 (it)

Dynaudio Twynn---long gone but a very good one (kit)

North Creek---many

Accuton, Skaaning, Scanspeak, Vifa, morel, Visaton, Focal
all make comparable drivers.
Name me one design under $3K that matches Thors
Other than The Tylers?
Now you're talking yourself into a corner, Paul. I'm sure your speakers are excellent, but this has nada to do with the topic at hand. First, you say the SEAS are the best drivers out there. Then, you claim they are "the best drivers for the $". Now, your challenge is for anyone to find a better speaker in the $3K range? Sorry, but "best anywhere" and "best speaker kit for the money" have no correlation with one another OR with this topic.

There is ALWAYS a "better" out there, no matter what you now have. If you're satisfied, great. If you're not--and it appears by your need to vehemently defend your choice that you're not--then listen to other options. Your attempts to discredit components that you have never heard does not negate their performance, nor does it make them disappear.
I knew my comments would draw challenges to the Seas' quality.
"there are hundreds of other drivers JUST as good IF NOT better"

"the driver is only half the equation, the way the bos is designed is as important"
and other such comments.

Eton's? Compared to seas?
You gotta be joking?

North Creek USES THE SEAS' W18.
So where does it come about that the North SEas Excel is better than the Seas Thor Excel
Its the sane driver.

btw go to manufacture list here on the gon.
Look up North Creek
click on Pegasus and Prometheus link


Then scroll down and read more about the Excel and Dennis Murphy's comments.

Here's more comments I expect to get here:

"no speaker is perfect, not even the Thor's, they will have their faults just like every other speaker..."

Then someone has to go blast the Jadis.
Everyone here is a couch critic w/o bothering to do a bit of research themselves.
Come on down to Baton Rouge and bring a few of your cds, give my system a test.
For what i have invested I've very very happy.
I could have done alot worse.
Best bang for the buck.
I'd put these speakers against any speaker under $5K.

Now how are we going to judge?
Well if we are unbias and truthful we will arrive at a true comparison with your top 2 speakers vs the Thors.
Thats if we are honest, which I'm afraid may not be the situation.
So lets all keep to our opinions and move on. IMHO the Thor is my ideal speaker, but have temptations for the big Tylers.
"oh now you say ideal, before you said perfect...duh which is man ..well ...huh?"

Look if you want perfection, you are on the wrong planet.
Or maybe in the future.
I just know from my experience, 25+ lines of speakers, the Thor's deliver what I personally like best.
Maybe not for you, but for me its ideal.
When I get to Tyler's showroom in 2 yrs, I'll post a comparison.

"you are off topic...its not about drivers"
Not sure what that is suppose to mean.

Based on what Zu has accomplished, the nod goes to physics dropouts who get juiced by music.

I don't have a degree in physics or math. What I can say is that as a former musican(not pro) I listen to speakers that reproduce instruments as I know them to sound. As a matter of fact my small experience playing and listening has guided me to make spkr buying decisions that possibly a non-musician would have not made. BTW Branford Marsalis uses a tuntable in his rig. Enjoy the music : )
Well South, which is the spaeker that does reproduce?
Names please?.....

Off topic , one thing I can't stand is "this is the best speaker we have heard"
refering to sales pitch from dealers and owners trying to dump their speaker here on the used maket at the gon.
Look at a few of the JM labs Utopia ads.
I had the opportunity to hear the utopia's at the new orleans audio club meeting at a shop in metairie.
My experience: a wall of sound, better a blast of noise.
The experience took me back to 1974 to the big box era.
Seems like all things return in cycles.
Even crap speakers, but now 4X's the price.

I apologize to those trying to dump the LM's


Baton Rouge

When you can at a minimum solder together your own crossover like my 11 year old nephew does on the subs and speakers we build, then maybe you can criticize other speaker designs. Right now your secondhand knowledge is off topic and wrong. The fact you run those speakers with a 1950's tone control amplifier and don't know it shows how profound the obstacles are for you to reach an informed station in this hobby. It is clear that you BELIEVE what you've been told, its time for you to pursue knowledge. Why don't you email me some measurements of your speakers so I can make sure you've assembled the kit correctly. :)

All you did was save a little money and put some screws in a wood box and you have found Nirvana....I wish I could be so easily amused.
From the past statements you have made it looks like you have created a little friction from some of the A-goners. I applaud your convictions but you should respect other opinions even if you don't agree. That said I will keep my choice of spkrs that I find do justice to the music to myself. I wish I lived in your area just for the live music (jazz in particular) is always to be heard--the perfect reference. Peace,