Is it really possible to compare A/B speakers??

This post is directed to the more technical members of A'gon.

I've been reading numerous posts and audio reviews which compared various brands and models of speakers against each other. For example, in one thread a member said he was sure speaker A sounded all-around better then speaker B because when the two speakers were compared at a dealer's shop, they were in the same sound room, driven by the same equipment, same source material, and so forth. For discusion purposes, let's just accept that all relevant conditions were the same.

Here's my question. Even if all relevant variable factors were controlled and the same, can one still fairly say they "A/B'ed" two speakers??

And here's the basis for my question. As I have been reading and trying to understand the science and technology behind what drives input signal to speaker output, I have come to appreciate that there are many other variables that can affect what comes out as sound.

For example, every speaker on the market has it's own electronic fingerprint so to speak that can affect how it interacts with the amp being used, e.g., efficiency, impedance, phase angle, and so forth -- all of which changes over the frequency range. I'm not even touching on home room acoustics.

Another case in point, one member (M-1) commented that a certain speaker (A) he listened to at a dealer sounded hot and caused hearing fatigue as compared to another speaker (B). He fairly concluded that speaker B was the better sounding speaker.

Interestingly, another member (M-2) questioned how M-1 could come to such a conclusion. His experience was totally opposite.

I don't recall that either member mentioned the type of equipment that was being used. However, M-1 was certain that the dealer listening conditions were identical.

Many of the more technical A'gon members have posted numerous threads about the synergy or lack thereof between tube amps and solid state amps with varioius types of speakers that present certain loads to the amp.

If such is the case, then I'm back to my origianl Q. Is it really possible to compare (A/B) speakers even if conditions and variables are identical??

If the answer (or consensus) is "NO," then how can one in the market for new speakers make an intelligent and informed decision?
Excellent question, Bruce. And, yes, if the amplifier being used in the comparison is a significantly poorer match for one speaker than the other, the results of the comparison can be very misleading.

But IMO it is not necessary for the amp to be an ideal choice for both speakers, it is just necessary that it not be a poor matchup with either one. How to assure that? By doing one's homework, i.e., research. Seeing what kinds of amps experienced users of each speaker have settled on; reading Atmasphere's paper on "Paradigms In Amplifier Design"; and examining and analyzing impedance curves and other technical data for the speakers, if available (most notably, as provided by John Atkinson in Stereophile's reviews). How to learn to interpret and utilize those curves, and the other data that is presented? JA's comments are often helpful, as is research of past threads here at A'gon. And perhaps also via a Google search of the name of the speaker + the term "impedance curve."

Best regards,
-- Al
First, I concur with Almarg's observations.

Re your last sentence, I don't believe you can make an 'intelligent and informed' (as I interpert that phrase) decision based on the best A/B demo set up in a store. You can only do this in the room you are going to use the speakers. Speakers interact in a serious way with their environment.

An in-home A/B listening would be done with long sessions with each speaker, not by just quick switching (a process which I believe masks more problems than it will ever reveal) using reference materiel and hardware with which you are very familar.

But that doesn't mean that store A/B comparisons are without value. IMHO, you can do A/B comparisons of speakers with less than perfectly 'matched' ancillaries but you will only be able to draw gross conclusions as to the absolute value of either speaker. Apart from obvious tonal differences, which are easily observable, a lot of the ultimately critical subtlies involved in speaker performance can easily be overlooked. They more often than not can only be discerned in long term listening sessions in a familar environment with familar equipment.

So if you conclude the store A/B demo's are really only very general guidelines as to speakers potential, as I do, and as I think the merchants intend, then I think they are of some, if limited value.
Speaker A on the left speaker B on the right. Then try to compare both sets.
Not a well phrased question. As asked the answer is YES. There are variables and these variables can be accounted for. But what I really think you're asking is when people post that they heard this speaker or that speaker and like one over the the other, are they taking into account the numerous variables involved? You would have to make that determination case by case.
Onhwy61, I think you are on the same page as me and Al. I am dubious that Polk's solution solves the underlying inherent problem of compatibility and synergy between the speaker and the amp and other gear. Al's thought may be the most practical -- to focus on cases where the compatibility and synergy between the speaker and electronics is "out of the box" a poor match. Perhaps a call to the amp or speaker manufacturer is a possibility.
I actually did the A/B speaker test with Linn Majik 140's and Lipinski L 707's. I used an all tube system 1 speaker at a time, then hooked all 4 to a Linn Classik SS all in one unit. One clear advantage is that I got to compare the speakers and wires in the room that I play them in, and on my equipment I've also done it with speaker wire to hear if there was any difference. The only problem is that you have to own both at the same time, which can be very expensive depending on what you're using. Whenever I listen to speakers, no matter where I am, it takes no longer than 60 seconds or so for me to know if I like them or not. Happy listening.
My experience runs counter to many of the opionions. The room becomes an extension of the speaker, having a greater effect on bass response and linearity as well as off-axis frequency response. Just because a speaker sounds poorly in one room does not preclude it from sounding better in another room.

I don't really know of any room that will be equally appropriate for two speakers, so IMHO the whole thing is a nice fantasy, just not something that is going to be of much value in the real world. The amp matching thing takes a back seat to the room matching thing IMHO.
Viridian, which take me back to my original Q. How can one make a good judgment call on speakers?? It's almost a hit or miss exercise. Which causes me to laugh at the OP asking folks to chime in on the best speaker on the market. It's a joke.
My own take is that you must qualify any judgement on the relative merits of two loudspeakers with "in that room" (first and foremost) and (to a lesser extent) "in that system". Per Al, the latter can largely be controlled for, but often it is not. Beyond the potential amp/speaker mismatch, there is also possible variation in the source - particularly if it's vinyl. I have two turntables/arms/carts in my system and they do sound different.

Per Viridian's comment, I agree 100% - the room is the thing. Ignoring this factor leads to several complications in the task of judging a loudspeaker. Beyond the blanket judgements based on A/B comparisons that you might see in these forums, there is also the matter of published loudspeaker specifications (which often use anechoic measurements to hold the room "constant").

However, the use of published anechoic Frequency Response charts to demonstrate a speaker's superior "accuracy" is - IMO - both misleading and counterproductive. I'm gonna guess that your room is not an anechoic chamber. If you ever compare any of those published anechoic graphs with your own in-room measurements, you'll quickly see just how much they diverge. IME, below app 150hz, you're hearing the room as much as (or more than) you're hearing the speaker.

So, IMO you can't pass universal judgement on the relative merits of two loudspeakers from an A/B comparison in a single room. Nor can you judge the relative merits when you hold the room constant with anechoic standards.

IMO, every A/B should be qualified for the room.

Some great responses from all of the above contributors.
As previously stated, the speaker needs to be matched to your personal room acoustics, personal musical tastes, tonal preferences, amplifier being used, and tonal accuracy of source components... Not to mention the sonic and tonal contributions from interconnects, speaker and power cables, fuses, outlets and more. You might be able to narrow down your choices a bit by comparing them in a dealer's system, but the true test is to take the time, effort and patience to properly set up one pair at a time at home. Find a dealer who will work with you and allow you to audition them in your system. Don't expect the first pair you try to nail it on the head. Most of us have gone through dozens of speakers over the years to get the sound closer to our tastes. Have fun and experiment! If your favorite music does not "stir your soul" emotionally, keep trying...