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- high price does not always ensure quality
- you don't have to spend ridiculous sums of money to find a high-quality speaker...
There are many brands that are known for their performance for the dollar that are not off the charts expensive. Check out Legacy and several others mentioned with alot of devotion from their owners on this and other forums.
The BBC article is a good one though and although a bit predictably, using a major UK manufacturer as an example (B&W, one that I respect and like their offerings very much...), they do 'lay it out there' in a fair amount of detail. They do however seem to shy away from actually defending anything above the top BMW's price point even though they mention the upper-strata priced speakers at least once or twice as a reality of the audiophile world.
Personally, I think alot of manufacturers in the high price ranges over-price their speakers (and components!) and while they should command a premium price for those that ACTUALLY perform better (not all do), I do think they've "hit the bowl or bottle" a few too many times :-) and overdone it. My 2 cents...
This article misses a huge factor in high end speaker production, economies of scale, or lack thereof. It's infinitely more expensive to make one or ten or 100 of something than it is to mass produce it. Most speakers north of say $20K are made in relatively low, sometimes very low, quantities. This effects pricing greatly.
I couldn't agree with Jond more. Most of our hobby it seems depends on firms with only one or two people behind them, though they appear to be major players. It is obvious when tragedy strikes or one simply retires. The lack of high volumes makes much of what we admire very expensive.
It does raise an interesting point though, would high volume make something no matter how good it sounds a new "mid fi". I read some one describe McIntosh as being solid mid fi equipment despite its hi end cost.
Better sound is in the ear of the beholder. Generally the cost of goods for any high end speaker is about 15% of its MSRP. After that, costs can go anywhere. Some high end speakers are embedded with about 40% of marketing and distribution costs. Certainly low volume, like anything else, will lead to higher markups. Hearing is believing.
Adding to this... I work for a very high end luxury wine producer we have a wine that sells for $425 per single bottle, and we're launching a new one in 2017 that will retail for $600-800 per bottle.
It's a different market and mentality, and different metrics need be applied. Something a this level is ultimately worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and the best wines are from a small plot of land that can't be reproduced anywhere else.
FWIW - our cost of goods is btw 21-23% of retail.
I've always felt that extreme high end speakers should always sound great since the designers aren't restricted by cost…the genius is in lower cost stuff where designers have to really think about what's important and come up with something sounding great anyway (and they do, thank you Alan Yun). Great wine makers do this also, if sometimes inadvertently. Note that that small plot of land for the exclusive wine could also produce wine that sucks in a bad year, so it's not necessarily always a plot specific pricing scenario, unless it is. Or isn't. Or something.
And that is essentially the difference between audiophiles and the rest of the listening world. Most people form different schemas for live and reproduced music. For reproduced music they make allowances for limited bandwidth, limited dynamics, and intrusive cabinet resonances.
Audiophiles try to get reproduced music to match live music as much as possible, and apply the same standard of sound--more or less--to each.
The article rightly points out that conventional speakers are trying to reproduce the sounds, bandwidth, and room-filling dynamics with a few square inches of diaphragms. When the prices reach $200K and above, it's fair to wonder if they're doing it wrong...
...especially since Bob Carver has come out with a 22-diaphragm, 13 ribbon (per speaker) line source plus powered subwoofer with an 18-60Khz frequency response, capable of 120dB clean peaks, and nearly nonexistent intermodulation distortion. It retails at $15K/pair including sub.
If it's everything that the most recent TAS review claims, this could set a new paradigm for the expenditure required to put the Berlin Phil or Basie Big Band in your living room.
If it could truly do that for $15K, it's sort of a bargain compared to the other methods to achieve that, such as the WIlson XLF and the top line Magico and YG speakers.
Big prices should mean big high quality speakers.
Smaller speakers are fine too but when the price of a small speaker gets too off the charts that's when I start to wonder if it's a good investment no matter what the "build quality".
Of course many live in tight quarters especially in cities so it's not so big a problem to find good quality speakers up to the task.
But if the buyer is happy in the end it's all good.
10-02-15: Johnnyb53I certainly agree that physics dictates that to achieve the dynamic headroom and room-filling bass of live music, you need a large amount of cone area. But that is only part of the story. The magnetic flux, heat dissipation & excursion rate of the driver play an important part in how much air it can move, whilst the lightness and stiffness of the cone balanced with the right amount of damping are important for dynamics and transients. Indeed the excursion rate of the Magico S7's voice coil is measured at 15-mm linear movement and produces clean and undistorted sound pressure levels up to 120dB @ 50Hz/1-meter. And the S7 is running 3 x 10" bass drivers.
Both line source and point source speakers have their pluses and minuses. Building a line source with the quality of drivers used in the S7 for example would be tremendously expensive, and unnecessary imho. We're already talking about a 300lb speaker capable of frequency response from 20Hz - 50kHz. Bob Carver's speakers achieve similar frequency response and SPL's, though the question of which loudspeaker has more accurate and coherent sound staging and imaging & is more musical are the more important considerations.
Then there is that hard to define thing I call "havingness". The feeling a particular product gives you just by owning it. One thing is for sure, there is room enough in this hobby for all budgets and opinions which are as wide and varied as the number of loudspeakers out there.
I would add a questionmark to that statement, followed with the reply: generally, no. Audiophilia seems the most interested in (re-)creating its very own thing, which is not necessarily (i.e.: rarely) getting at the signuature of live, acoustic sound, but more of a subjective need to refine micro rather than macro aspects; to each their own indeed.
And I guess that's just fine, yet still the void looms: how many speakers/setups are capable at emulating fairly closely the body, tone and physicality of a saxophone, a drumkit, a piano, violin, an ensemble, a full scale orchestra? Not many, I'd say, and I'm wondering whether many an audiophile are really interested in achieving this goal. For them to attain the fullness, ease and scale of real live music I'd say the size (and type) of speakers is one of the very determining factors, but letting ones speakers take up much space in the living-/listeningroom, certainly where the space is not dedicated solely for this purpose, is a rarity these days, and looking at the prices of larger speakers it would seem the monetary range of $40-50k+ has been patented for this segment - not exactly bait for popularity and widespread use.
So, why do big speakers need to be that expensive? They don't, but when manufacturers make small, standmounted speakers costing north of $15-20k (which is really nuts, if you ask me) it's easy to see why their larger siblings cost a small fortune. Because, everything matters, the saying goes, but not all equally, I'd add. Take a look at the upcoming topmodel from Tekton, a BIG speaker for a very fair price w/DSP option (and this is just an example; I have no affiliation with Tekton):
Perhaps some would scoff at their rustic looks and the use of an 18" bass unit, but getting down to brass tacks (without having auditioned these) and letting sound rather than luxury looks reign supreme I don't see why they'd fail to do impress on par with items costing 10 times or more their price (how's that for a challenge, Mr. Fremer - care to review these and compare them to your Wilson's?). Perhaps you'd end up getting "only" 95-98% of what the comparatively sized, yet MUCH more expensive typical high-end alternatives can muster (they'd even exceed them in core areas), but at this price?
High-end audio in large part has become ridiculously overpriced, and whenever I've heard or read people claim this or that component being too cheap I've wondered why they didn't end up calling the others too expensive instead?
While high end audio gets increasingly expensive, note that I bought my Silverline Preludes for 400 bucks (nearly new), my latest minty REL for 200 (my other beloved REL was also 200 bucks), my Jolida amp was around 1300 or something (new and upgraded), and so forth (previously owned AQ cables bought for a fraction of new stuff…etc)…all sound incredible together in my listening space, and although I can afford more expensive things I think it's more fun to find the mojo outside of retail and hype, and highly recommend this approach. Also it should be noted that the things I bought that didn't work for me (an otherwise well regarded cartridge, some beautiful looking but somehow inaccurate speakers, cable that didn't meet the hype) were sold on for profit, or simply returned for refund. Win friggin' win.