I feel bad for speaker manufacturers


Think about it. If you were going to start a company that manufactures audio components, which would you pick? Arguably the worst business to get into would be the speaker business. Right? First, it’s painstakingly hard to market a new speaker that can break through in today’s ultra-competitive environment. Second, the development costs are relatively high because you have to invest in expensive cabinetry (at least on the high end) , electronic components, and drivers. And except for bookshelves, you have to absorb or charge so much more to get your product to your customers because of the relatively large size and heavy weight of the product. Third, and again especially if you have any floor standing speakers of any size, which, let’s be honest, any speaker company that wants to make money will have to have, you have to pay to hump these things to shows around the country and likely internationally as well.

Now let’s compare the life of a cable manufacturer. Let me state up front that I am a big believer that cables, interconnects, digital cables, and power cords can make a big difference in the ultimate sound of an overall system. Tires on a car, right? And yes, they also have several variables to deal with: silver, copper, tinned, dielectric, shielding, connectors, cryogenic, etc. But they’re all small, light, and relatively cheap. You can ship your product for next to nothing with almost no risk of damage, and you can travel to audio shows carrying all of your wares pretty much in a medium-sized backpack. Oh, and then there’s this. While speaker manufacturers are lucky if they can retail their products for four to six times their cost of production, cable manufacturers get to retail their wares for ten, twenty, or even fifty times or more of their manufacturing cost. There’s the well-worn tale of speaker manufacturers coming to shows in a rented minivan while cable manufacturers show up in Ferraris. It’s sad but funny because there’s some truth to it. I credit @erik_squires with generating this thread because in his recent thread he made me think about how hard it is to successfully create and market a truly successful speaker today. Anyway, it almost seems unfair, especially since speakers contribute so much to the ultimate sound of our systems while cables, while crucial, contribute RELATIVELY much less. What say you?
soix
What the marketplace today needs is a "world-beater" speaker like the DCM Time Window. Debuted in 1976 at $660/pr and finished production years later at $1200/pr after a total of 30,000 + pairs! Near perfect phase and impulse response (thanks to the genius of Steve Eberbach). The speaker that made Ann Arbor, Michigan famous! Alas, largely forgotten by today's younger audiophiles.
The DCM TW 1 succeeded by: innovative design and a price that made it affordable by most anybody - and sound quality rivaling that of the Quad ESL! Truly a breakthrough product at the right time (mid-to-late 70's).
Smart marketing counts for a lot, too! Look at the success of Tekton! 
Let us not forget the Dahlquist DQ10 (John Dahlquist and Saul Marantz), the Vandersteen 1 and 2 and the BBC LS3/5A. All appeared in the mid-70's and offered near-SOTA sound at affordable prices!
Last, the Snell Type A shook up the speaker world when it appeared in 1977 at a price of $1390/pr! 
Yeah the DCM time windows look a lot like the vandersteen model 2s and 3's. Not surprising since I believe they were built on the same principal -time/phase correctness...
soix,

I sort of half agree.

It’s clear that at least some portion of audiophiles don’t really grasp the difficulties and costs associated with running a speaker company.

And that what seem like some high prices are actually justified when you understand the economics involved.

BUT....

My problem has been....how *far* can this be taken?

Does this mean that any speaker product out there is fairly priced, or priced along the same justification? It seems to me we can’t just do away with the idea of being "price-gouged" or "taken to the cleaners" or just outright scammed. Surely some speaker prices are more justifiable in terms of manufacturing costs.
So for instance in the Joseph Speaker threads, the cost of the Joseph speakers are argued to be a "fair" and reasonable extrapolation given material/production/design/business concerns.


That’s a different form of justification than, for instance, ’X is worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it.’
Because if we go with that latter form of justification than ANY speaker price can be justified if *someone* pays for it.   It could conceivably include scams because...well...someone paid for X so X is worth that much. If we appeal to this type of value only - worth whatever someone will pay - then we have taken leave of the type of justification offered for Joseph or other speakers being "fairly priced based on X, Y, Z calculations."
So if we are sticking to the type of fair-price extrapolations in the Joseph thread, it seems to me not all speaker prices are going to survive that justification.

And frankly, there is something like those calculations going on when I find myself rolling my eyes at the prices for many high end speakers ESPECIALLY the upper end of many high end brands. Statement products and some below the statement.

The prices seem just ludicrously beyond what both the materials and engineering/manufacturing expenditure could justify. The only justification seems to be "someone will buy this at this price."

And I’ve seen numerous insiders mention how a number of speaker manufacturers - who may for instance be also trying to sell to the lucrative Asian market - have been told "this speaker will not sell unless you price it much higher." So they must raise the price - arbitrarily as it’s related to actual costs - and the speakers sell.

So, if we accept speaker value as "whatever someone is willing to pay"...well...almost any price becomes justified.

But if we talk of speaker value in terms of what seems reasonable pricing given the overall costs of that speaker manufacturer, then it seems there are all sorts of rip-off level pricing, related only to ideas like "If I price it much higher someone will figure it must be that much better."


gee.... Vandersteen since 1977... still here and innovating
most models do not even keep pace with inflation...
DCM, DQ, Snell, And many others dead sadly...

time windows w matching subs were darn good but no match for a pair of Vandy 3... time moves on....time to play some Tull on the Treo CT..

Living in the Past....
and I might add cabinets made here in USA starting at $1,400 the pair for VLR or 1 ci thru a retail shop where you can hear them....

before ya buy...


DCM speakers sure imaged great.
Shame they didn't continue on with that type of speaker when they were bought/sold.
The original DCM Time Window was my very first "high-end" speaker. Sold my JBL L100 Century’s to get them. Traded the DCM’s back about 9 months later for Magnepan IIA’s and have never owned anything for my reference system since that wasn’t some sort of a panel speaker. Even 35 years later...
I just bought the Watkins Gen Four. Primarily because I liked the guy, and the speaker cabinet, made in my country. Is that bad?

They sound good too.

But, yea, thinking of making my own cables. I just purchased the Goal Zero 1000W battery - so no wall power for me.
Hard to get cleaner than a DC battery - I guess its all on the inverter now. And the power cable.
I too had Time Windows....wired up Dynakits and a Rek0kut table - Grado arm and cartridge.....
Infinity in Chatsworth, CA was fantastic and U.S.A.-made.  Nice mid-grade lines and with the RS line moving toward higher-fi but they too got absorbed into the global acquisition abyss of same name product ruin.

Also to agree, DCM's had a really nice 'sparkle'.
I couldn't possibly disagree with this OP more.

Speaker manufacturers are basically limited by their ability to engineer a product. A speaker is fairly large and heavy, but it's generally made from inexpensive materials.

Contrast that with building an amp. Very few if any amp manufacturers are specifying transistors of their own design. The technical challenges of designing a good circuit are at least as complicated as designing a speaker, and you're dealing with much less flexibility in components. Beyond that, manufacturing and machining metal is vastly more expensive that working wood. The logistics of moving a heavy amp aren't any more complicated or expensive than moving a speaker since weight is what you pay to ship, not size. 

Speakers are the easiest things to design and build which is exactly why it's such a competitive segment. Amps and components are much more challenging to design and build well which is why that segment is much less diverse. 
Change in ownership is often bad for speaker companies! I agree that the original Chatsworth Infinity speakers (when Arnie and Cary ran things) were really special! I still have a pair of the Monitor 1A's and a pair of 2000A's! Both sound real good with my GAS gear (also from Chatsworth)!
i will keep banging the drum because it’s fun.....five parts in signal path, no emiter resistors, liquid cooling with analog control of temp and pump speed for constant bias, tube front end, HRS suspension, built in 128 V dbs for speaker wires and input XLR......

all from a “ speaker company “......

i agree the Infinity were something special, my first high end speaker as the Qb....

When I look at threads that are started here sometimes the thing that pops into my mind is "how old are you". Trying to apply yesterday’s paradigms in today’s market doesn’t fit. Senior citizen discount day is cool but it’s a world of it’s own. Keep in mind I’m not saying there are fewer in-room listeners today cause there are more. What I am saying is, listeners today are not trophy collectors vs the years in the past. In todays world the music, game, show or movie performance is the trophy not how big of a faceplate you can fit in the room or how exotic a speaker looks.

The 70's,80's and 90's were a ton of fun for speakers, and audio in general, but now is a new age just as exciting (even more) but don't look for the old paradigms to fit in with our modern world. HEA from the late 90's up till the age of low mass was probably the least popular age. It never made the generation jump.

Michael Green

Ya, you should send Matt Polk a check. Unemployment has been rough.
The high end speaker market is also primarily serving an audience that's getting older and whittling down in number, and with real estate getting so expensive in metro areas, fewer and fewer people can afford to actually own a traditional stereo system. Seems like every RMAF I go to, all the millenials are at Canjam and the greybeards are listening to speakers.

Therefore much more practical to enter the high end headphone market--the margins are higher as you are just designing a single full range driver with no crossovers and no expensive cabinet. Plus demographics seems to heavily favor this market over traditional loudspeakers.
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I'm not sure how expensive the electronics s speaker are. But I do know MDF is extremely cheap. And to build a box is simply.  Plus once you have a design you setup jigs and run your lumber. I get the overhead of building,  electric......  but small companies dont need that much space.  I can build cabinets all day long I'm my garage with very little overhead.  
Just think if you GET RID OF THE BOX what you might have--a speaker that actually reproduces music!

Magnepan maybe, and entry-level models are not expensive in today's market.  For the poster who "got rid of his JBL speakers," I am proud of you no matter what you changed to.
I could not agree with Prof more. I have never heard an ultra expensive speaker worth the price. Building Loudspeakers is way easier than building electronics especially if you use someone else's drivers. Anyone know how expensive a surface mount PCB unit goes for? Way more than CNC saws and routers. Now some companies like Magico go out of their way to make things as complicated as possible. I did hear a pair of S3s that sounded very nice. Most companies have a sweet spot in their line where price and performance meet. 
pcc67 is right. A lot of us build our own speakers and there are some fabulous drivers out there that you can use. I build my own subwoofers because no one makes one that meets my specification. I do not like plate amplifiers is the reason and I already have room control in my processor. I just want drivers in stiff heavy boxes. 
Pity the poor speaker manufacturer who tests and tests and tests and finally comes up with a design that he deems worthy - only to have some sad sack purchase them, stick them in a corner with a Pioneer receiver and give them a bad review on the internet.

As for the OP's comment about wires being "tires on the car", I could not disagree more.  The speakers are ultimately where the rubber meets the road and the minuscule changes brought about by cables are often negated by them.
The way to go is to develop a tweak product that provides an inexplicable and mysterious benefit, get core supporters to rave about that product with hyperbole laden descriptions of the massive improvement this new thing provides, charge an arbitrary price for it...maybe 5 thousand bucks or so,  get the supporters to vigorously oppose and reject any questioning of the validity of the tweak, and sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
As for the OP's comment about wires being "tires on the car", I could not disagree more. The speakers are ultimately where the rubber meets the road and the minuscule changes brought about by cables are often negated by them.

@jnorris2005 -- Actually, you and I completely agree.  My analogy was meant to imply that you can build a Ferrari and optimize the engine, suspension, etc. (i.e. the more complicated stuff), but if you skimp on the tires it's all for naught.  Similarly, if you go to the trouble of finding your ultimate source, preamp, amp, and speakers but connect them with cheap cables, you undermine the performance of all the goodness the speakers and electronics could otherwise provide. 


@prof  -- totally agree with your assessment.  But there are two sides to this coin.  If you've taken an economics course you're aware of the term "luxury goods."  These items, like jewelry or paintings, derive their value because they're desired, and the higher you set the price, the more desireable they actually become.  And yeah, I'm sure there's an element of this in the speaker market, especially at the highest levels. 

But, there's another way to look at this.  What if a speaker manufacturer found a way to build a magnificent speaker through technology or whatever that outperformed speakers 10x their price?   Let's say his speaker cost him $1000 to build, but it competes with or even outperforms other speakers that cost $5000 to build and sell retail at $20k.  Should he charge $4000 for his speakers, or should he price them at $20k?  In the end, there's a difference between price and value.  If the $1000 at cost speakers outperform other $20k speakers at retail, do you really care what it cost to produce them?  In the end, it's the end result that matters to me as an audiophile.  If someone can figure out how to achieve superior results at a lower cost, good for them!  I don't care how much profit he makes, I'm only concerned with what I hear in my room.  But, especially with speakers, if you dare to overprice your product you are flirting with disaster.  Anyway...
An amplifier manufacturer once told me, "if I knew what I know now, I would have gotten into cables instead of amplifiers."

Audio is no way to get rich.  If it were easy anyone could do it.  If somebody were interested in getting into the audio industry I believe the most important consideration would be to follow your passion.  Some have done quite well with speakers such as John DeVore, the boys at Zu, and Lou Hinkley at  Daedalus, to name but a few.
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I think i'm going to disagree on the base that there's about a million loudspeaker manufacturers out there and the path has been paved as to their audible value in a sound system while there's still a pretty large group that believe all amps sound the same. As to cables my test between a pair of several different brands with sensitive speakers I found the differences much smaller than using the very same money towards upgrading a component. 
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What are the odds it’s not Michael who’s flagging your posts? Heck, gotta be 2 to 1.
@geoffkait 

I know it's not you. You've got too much character for that. 
Exactly. It’s not me. Let’s see if you can guess who. I’ll give you three guesses. The first two don’t count.
Hi there
You are right, speakers are the most tricky and expensive part of audio complex. They must convert rather formal electrical signals to highly natural acoustic ones. All existing methods of design for such devices have achieved their limitation already. Really, we have nothing new in this field for last 30 or 40 years. I have designed a new method of signal processing and have an American Patent for it. It allows improve quality of amplifiers and acoustic systems without rising of their price. To design this method, I tried to make high-quality audio equipment accessible to everybody. You can find description for the method itself and its applications on my LinkedIn page:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/vladimir-benkhan-206a8b170
Regards
Vlad Benkhan
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Well, V, lay it on us! This seems to be a place to make outrageous, over the top claims with no proof so let's hear it!

We keep seeing this assertion that "yesterday's paradigms" "don't fit" in todays marketplace. The Vandersteen and Magnepan "paradigm" is just as valid as it was before the mythical "low mass" revolution didn't happen. That's just a bumper sticker slogan, meaning nothing. We are being asked to believe that people who don't care enough about sound to buy Vandersteen or Magnepan (or Eminent Technology, or Tekton, or any other good HEA loudspeaker) ARE interested in a loudspeaker which can be tuned. Yeah, sure. This "new" consumer, today's "paradigm", doesn't sit and listen to music critically, and doesn't care about non-tunable loudspeakers, let alone tunable ones.

Question: What makes any of the above loudspeakers "high mass"? In what sense? The drivers in ESL and magnetic-planar loudspeakers, and the driver's support structures, are lower in mass than the dynamic drivers and their "tunable" enclosures, are they not? So are the excellent Vandersteen Balsa Wood-structure drivers, and the "enclosures" they are mounted in.

"Tune" a loudspeaker to do what? Allow more resonance? Great idea! Musical instruments are tunable for a very good reason---they play notes. The notes are either correct (in tune), or they are not (out of tune). A loudspeaker cannot be "tuned" to achieve an isolated, desired effect, unless the loudspeaker was designed without a target objective. Is reproduced sound now suddenly a purely subjective matter? "Tune" a loudspeaker to play a certain recording "better"? And retune it for another recording? Good luck selling that to the "new paradigm" consumer, whoever that mythical creature is.

@bdp24 

 You ever see a violin with a hunk of metal you turn to tune it? That's how Mikey's work. 2 inch paper tweeters are the opposite of low mass, too. 

The point I made, which he flagged because it disagreed with him, was that all that heavy 70's era stuff has only gone up in value for the last few years primarily because millennials are buying that stuff up. They're also the demographic primarily responsible for the rise of vinyl again. Incidentally, a medium that sounds best when made with as much mass as possible. 
L-100 for $4k
i think that’s cool
and not just for us old folks....

now back to my Swamp Music

Tony Joe !!!
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I’ve never seen an audio product that wasn’t Tunable, just some more variable than others, so to me it’s comical that some folks here get so mad when someone else makes an adjustment to their sound.

That's like someone throwing a 1st grade fit over someone adjusting the tuning peg on any stringed instrument.

MG

But here’s a funny, maybe the most.

Kosst teaming up with bdp says "You ever see a violin with a hunk of metal you turn to tune it? That’s how Mikey’s work."

Well lol yes, that’s exactly how you tune an instrument. At least when we Tuned instruments in my 1st grade music class and everyone since that’s how they do it. You literally turn whatever material is being used. And, another funny, yes you do this to make stable fundamentals and harmonics. Make more resonance or less, it’s how we all tune. I’m surprised you guys don’t know how tuning works.

MG

Sorry kosst I usually don’t answer trolling but this was too funny to let you and your friend get by with. You 2 can get back to your BS rants again lol.

Coming from a man who has MGA Tunable REV 6 signature speakers, they do tune just like instruments do.
So @tjbhuler, when you play a recording in which the bassist, guitarist, and pianist are playing a song in the key of G flat, you can "tune" your MGA Tunable REV 6 signature speakers so as to make the song F sharp? (warning: it’s a trick question ;-) . If you can (could), why would you want to?

Hi bdp24

Please give us an example recording. thanks

MG

Hi bdp24

It looks like you're asking about a couple of topics here. High Mass/ Low Mass and Variable/ Fixed tuning.

"Question: What makes any of the above loudspeakers "high mass"? In what sense? The drivers in ESL and magnetic-planar loudspeakers, and the driver's support structures, are lower in mass than the dynamic drivers and their "tunable" enclosures, are they not? So are the excellent Vandersteen Balsa Wood-structure drivers, and the "enclosures" they are mounted in."

and

""Tune" a loudspeaker to do what? Allow more resonance? Great idea! Musical instruments are tunable for a very good reason---they play notes. The notes are either correct (in tune), or they are not (out of tune). A loudspeaker cannot be "tuned" to achieve an isolated, desired effect, unless the loudspeaker was designed without a target objective. Is reproduced sound now suddenly a purely subjective matter? "Tune" a loudspeaker to play a certain recording "better"? And retune it for another recording?"

If you wish to step outside of your BS slogan mode, I'm sure you'll find Tunees willing to share with you here. Would that be of interest?

MG

when you play a recording in which the bassist, guitarist, and pianist are playing a song in the key of G flat, you can "tune" your MGA Tunable REV 6 signature speakers so as to make the song F sharp? (warning: it’s a trick question ;-) . If you can (could), why would you want to?

@ bdp24 sorry, for what are you basing your premise on?
Mikey, 
What instrument exactly do you tune by twisting a piece of metal in it? Not pipe organs. Not saxophones. Not violins. Not drums. Not any instrument I can think of! Adding mass tunes things. Reducing mass tunes things. Adding or subtracting tension and length tunes things. But rotating a weight doesn't tune anything that I can think of. You don't seem to know how tuning actually works. Just because you turned a knob on a drum or guitar to tune it doesn't mean turning knobs itself is what tunes things. 

A lot of people have tuned speakers by adding ports, horns, mechanical resistive elements, mass, and tension, but you're the ONLY one who put a piece of metal with a knob in one. 

Electrified instruments have used all kinds of electronic tricks to tune their sound too. The microphonic properties if tubes and some kinds of caps are well known and used for that reason, along with components specifically designed for those purposes. 

You don't advocate anything resembling any of those well understood and employed strategies. Instead you dismiss them as if they don't even exist. You claim you're a pioneering expert in tuning when, in fact, tuning the voice of instruments, sound systems, and performance venues has been a thing since instruments and sound systems were invented and played in front of people, and nobody in history has ever used wooden blocks, undersized and unshielded wires, or rotating masses to do any of that.

You're good at making it sound like your ideas are new and different, but the things you say don't make any technical sense. You're "low mass" jive can only reduce a component to an echo chamber. After all, an echo chamber is nothing more than a circuit element vibrating inside a box. That's widely regarded as a bad idea if your goal is high fidelity sound reproduction, but there are definitely ways of adding that effect to any sound system more predictably, more effectively, and less expensively than what you advocate.