The best comes from the one-man-band companies, IMHO. Those of a sole proprietorship, where the artist can do as he sees fit. Usually the best value is also found in this type of gear, too.
Many companies with competent engineers will from what I hear from a few in the industry only design on paper with no listening tests or comparisons to fine tune the sound
Mostly true except for their giga$ "statement/ trend-setting" products. Importantly, large companies are also very well equipped to c.a. design products that perform well "enough".
*Tweaking is labour intensive and therefore expensive: it adds variable cost & R&D costs making the end product unmarketable (at the profit margins the corporation requires).
*Confirmed designer engineers are expensive and often work as consultants; having them on board full time would be VERY expensive -- if such engineers were willing, in the first place. Most are self employed or have their own consulting agencies.
*Small (garage) operations are often undercapitalised. So they lack the testing equipment and they have to revert to labour/ consultants. Since even this is expensive, they rely on and sell, the owner/designer/etc's design experience and tweaking "knowledge/art".
When such a company is small (employing 1-2 part-timers, the husband & wife, etc) they can indeed offer bang for buck. When they get larger, operating costs go up and some/many of them can no longer offer the same bang for buck as readily.
At least, the "entry fee" to this market is low: anyone with knowledge and understanding CAN come up with a product that MIGHT sell. Hardly so if it were a car, for example.
OTOH, the hi-end market is too small to attract mega investment in synergies & manufacturing optimisation that could give better bang for the buck. Compare to the automobile industry for example: a Merc containing 20-30000 parts & heavy R&D sells for the same price as a pair of big Kharma, etc.
Gregm, I'd like to add to your comments:
1) Many, if not most engineers may design great products, but usually are not well enough versed in marketing, business models, and don't have the finances to compete in the 21st century. They become consultants or journeymen for major audio corporations. Their careful design parameters are then usually compromised by corporate accountants.
2) Giant hi-end corporate entities (Harmen comes to mind) will pay finance games within their different corporate product lines to make sure that their "bottom line" is a winner, not necessarily their products. A popular item may have a HUGE profit margin thus supporting a potentially superior product that has "under performing" sales. But this is actually "life support"...if this superior product fails to continually meet the "numbers"...it's history. Someone has to pay for the huge marketing, advertising, and corporate structure costs. And that someone is YOU, the consumer!
2) Small corporations that are owned by the engineering genius may very well be undercapitalized, and may not have a viable long-term business model, as many engineers are just not particularly adept at running a business. So a business partner (usually a "moneyman" investor) is bought on board to make a go of the product. Clashes in personalities and business philosophies develop, and that "wonder product" stops production after a few years. The name tag is bought by a giant corporation. Sometimes the original engineer works for the new corporation, but he is still a slave to his "masters", the corporate bean counters, and the corporate marketing model. Quality and innovation becomes secondary to sales and profits.
3) There are standout small companies that have been around for years. Quality is high, the engineer has full control over production and marketing, and there is no monstrous corporate structure to increase unit cost. Advertising is kept to a minimum. The build quality, reputation, and a personal relationship with customers, provide a loyal consumer following, resulting in these same customers being a great source of advertising. Ralph Karsten of Atma-sphere is probably the best example here!
I own a pair of Harmonic Precision Caravelles. You can read the review. They are made by Starsound Technologies. A little company, just like you spoke of. Beautiful quality top to bottom with sound to die for. The best darn monitors these tympanics have ever heard..and I've heard oodles. Not inexpensive, but delivers big time, and considering the price of the Jmlab Micro Bes: a steal. The Micros were the best monitor speakers I had ever heard until the Caravelles. peace, warren
Look up the thread in the archives started by Sean, "Current trends in multi-thousand dollar speakers."
If you think a big company or a high price buys better, you might want to rethink that position.
Some of the long standing companies offer some very good speakers for the money. Many companies put 60%+ of their costs into the cabinet. I'm sure that beautiful cabinet makes them sound so much better! Some just flat out lie about their product.
They're still a FEW honest designers out there that care about the sound and keep costs under control.
The best values in high fidelity products come from the large corporate entities (Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Yamaha, etc.). I base this statement upon a combination of sonics, reliability, features, price and availability. These companies typically don't court the audiophile market and instead target the mass market, but audiophiles would be foolish to ignore the tremendous value of a Sony $250 CD/DVD or a $350 Panasonic receiver.
The large corporation are also the source of the major advances in music reproduction. Their large research capabilities coupled with their marketing clout are responsible for FM radio, reel to reel tape, long playing vinyl, stereo, CD, DVD and hi-rez digital.
Small to mid-sized companies excel in refining and perfecting existing technology. They target the audiophile market and regularly demonstrate that they can substantially improve upon the sonics offered by mass market oriented manufacturers. When taken to extremes these manufacturers are capable of producing state of the art sonics, but usually at extreme costs.`
All of my comments are generalizations and there are any number of exceptions.
I have been friends with the owners of what was (and still is today by comparision to big international companies) a very, very small company. We are talking here of two guys, a briliant design, and not much in financial and manufacturing power. You could say they had limited means and were on the ''respirator'' for quite awhile. BUT they stuck to their ideals, and made no compromises on performance and quality. Today, their products have been acclaimed worldwide, they have countless awards, and are at the top of their price-point categories in every model, including their new $ 50,000.00 flagship. They are distributed alongside Nagra and dCs. Not bad. Keith Jarret owns a pair. So does Norah Jones, a recent purchase. Same goes for David Chesky who used them them for years. This is of course a very shortened list, but you get the idea. You could arguably take any of their speakers and find that they favorably compare with anything 1.5 times the price. Julian and Bruno, if you are reading this, this is for you! Congratulations Verity Audio! Check them out at verityaudio.com . I am not a dealer, I am not in the audio industry. But what can I say, I just think these are the best.
Well, do you think that a final listening show down with the Caravelles on their dedicated stands vs the Europas, will generate interesting feedback or change ones impressions. Nah. It's kind of like Bush supporters going to see Farenheit 9/11 and finding it tasteless, biased, slainted and totally misrepresenting our president. I think Europa owners would find the same thing. Say?--the Caravelles should sound better they cost 4 times as much. Alright, they are significantly more complex bass to treble, but not 4 times as complex. They are beautiful, but not 4 times as beautiful as the Europas. This is a no win situation. Posting my impressions of a speaker that will not come off well against the Caravelle? NEVER. Not enough KY for me to sit back in that dark Caravelle unfriendly barrel. This was inspired by a couple of audiophools over at my house listening to some serious music. They were not Caravelle owners (not yet at least) but they sure heard what I've been raving about. Hope you Audiophools are having a great Summer. I certainly am, living in paradise. A beach bums paradise, that is...peace, warren