Misconceptions of Speakers

I went to a number of audio shops recently and auditioned speakers from companies such as Proac, Acoustic Energy, PSB, Paradigm, Magnepan, B&W, Mission and the list goes on.

Anyways, prior to my auditioning of these speakers, I thought that'd I'd see a direct correlation between high price and performance, but that certainly hasn't been the case thus far!

There just seems to be SO many overpriced speakers on the market today. It has become obvious that a speaker manufacturer must spend a lot on advertising to generate reviews in many magazines and thus he has to jack up the price of his speaker to exorbitant price levels.

I’m going to leave out the brands below for fear of offending anybody who got caught up in the hyping of these speakers, and to not risk a lawsuit by the speaker manufacturer.

I had the opportunity today to listen to an overhyped ~$3500 pair of speakers, and I have to say that they sounded decent. However, I didn’t feel they're worth anywhere near their asking price! In fact, that was confirmed when the owner of the store that sold the $3,500 pair accidentally made a comment regarding their sound quality vs. a "Much" cheaper pair of speakers.

I had been auditioning these expensive speakers for about 2 hours and I noticed that in the corner of this store was sitting a small, obscure brand floorstander . I quickly asked that owner if I could audition those speakers and he said yes. I was immediately impressed with the sound coming from the small boxes. Well, after about 10 minutes of listening the store owner abruptly stopped the music and said, "there really is a difference between the $3,500 speakers and the $700 speakers." I instantly got a smile on my face upon hearing him trying to defend the much overrated $3,500 speakers.

The owner, for the next hour or so, tried to defend his $3,500 speakers but he knew that I knew they were grossly overpriced and a perfect example of how overpriced many speakers are. I’m now going to be searching for a speaker that doesn’t advertise at all and who’s relying on the great sound of the speaker to generate interest amongst consumers and NOT skewed media reviews!!
I need more information. A $700 pair of speakers will sound better than a $3500 pair connected to lower end and some mid-fi electronics. In my example the better speakers will sound worse because they are more revealing. The inadequate sound being heard is the deficiency in the electronics being perfectly reproduced by the $3500 speakers. The $700 pair mask the distortion in the electionics.

There is a B&W dealer in my area that has the Nautilus speakers connected to the typical Adcom amps. They sound like crap. I am not surprised.

What audio "store" where you in best buy or circuit city?
Sugarbrie, you aren't going to believe this but the $3,500 speakers were hooked up to an Audio Research VT100MKIII and the cheaper speakers were hooked up to an Arcam AVR100 Receiver!!
Maybe it was the Arcam then and not the speakers? LOL. I own a pair of speakers that retail for $845 and to me (my own taste) they outperform anything under approx $2500 (retail) that I have auditioned with the exception of the Silverline SR-17's. Stuff like this does happen and it is (as always) dependent on one's taste. Proper setup, system matching and the room also contributes a huge percentage to the overall sound. Something can sound great at a shop, but flunk horribly once at home and visa versa.
Bobjohnston drives a great point home perfectly. It doesn't matter HOW much a speaker or component costs or WHO makes it. What matters is how much YOU like the music it makes, not the salesman or HP in the Absolute Sound or whoever.

As an example, I had a friend come over and listen to my modest (about $10k) system for an evening. At the end, he said he prefered the sound of his Cerwin-Vega speakers driven by a Pioneer AV reciever. You know what? More power to him! He gets more enjoyment from the visceral boom and raw power of his system rather than the great imaging and reasonably flat frequency response provided by mine. And I respect him for that. Maybe his ears aren't "trained" to recognize what most high-enders consider the ideal, but so what. He purchased his system on the basis of what HE liked the sound of. Not what some salesman said was superior, not what Stereophile rated an "A" component, but instead what make him happy.

So many people seem to forget what it's all about..
Great comments here by all! This is what is the best part of this site. My only addition is please, please audition at home before purchase if possible. (Unless you buy some Harbeths! [:)] )
I of course did not include the Ab Fab Harbeth speakers in my under $2.5K audition list. Hard buggers to find in the US.
I agree that the electronics connected to it will make all the difference as a true high end speaker will just reproduce what is being sent to it. Similiarly, it is like having a really nice amp connected to a lousy receiver...well, you are only going to amplify the crap being sent to it!!! That being said, a lot of times, you will find companies that have competence in engineering a speaker up to a 2-3k level and after that it you are paying for decorations.. I have found that to be true in a lot of cases where 8k speakers barely sounded better than 2-4k ones. One I have a particularly soft spot for is the Paradigm Reference 100s. They are about 2.5k and sound absolutely awesome. Beat the pants off of a lot of 5k+ speakers and have had a few dealers confirm this as well.
I am in love with my Paradigm Referance Active 40s also. They easily outperform speakers costing many times more.
I would be very wary of any product that immediately sounds impressive. It's been my experience that the better components, those that give long-term satisfaction, generally sound a little bland in the audio showroom. It's not so much what the component does right, but the fact that it does very little wrong.

Listening to music only requires enthusiasm, but evaluating audio components requires a certain amount of knowledge and training. The fact is, not everybody has an educated ear.
Ohhwy61 is right on the money. Products usually "stand out" because there is some specific irregularity that catches your ear. Speakers that are "forward" often seem louder, clearer, offer better resolution due to propped up midrange, etc... Try listening to speakers like that on a long term basis though and it gets old real quick. The same can be said for speakers that have slightly elevated bass sounding "powerful", having "great impact", etc...

I went with my brother to buy speakers quite a few years ago. The speakers he picked out sounded good in the showroom. I told him that they would sound horrible at home. He asked "which ones do you think i should buy". I simply pointed to them. His response was "those are the flattest, dullest sounding ones in here. NO WAY". Needless to say, he ended up returning the "commercially marketable" models and bought the ones that i suggested. He had them for years and now one of his friends is enjoying them.

Something else to keep in mind is that most speakers have well under $200 in parts in them ( wholesale ). Much of what you are paying for is research & development, etc.. Smaller companies don't do as much of this since they don't have the means to do so, but that doesn't mean that they can't produce a very fine product simply by trial and error, fine tuning basic designs, etc...

As a case in point, we've built speakers for $150 total that looked and sounded like some $2500 - $3500 models. Not all products are created equally nor do they share the same design or "mark up" philosophy. Many times, the simpler and lower cost models will easily outperform larger, more complex designs. They just don't offer the volume capability or extension at the frequency extremes that the bigger, more costly models do. That's why the "monitor on stands / subwoofer" design has caught on so well for many people. You can start with good "basic" speakers that don't chew up a lot of space ( high WAF ) and then go for the extreme bottom end at a later date. Not only does the subwoofer extend the bass once it is added, it frees up the monitor so that the mids are even sharper and cleaner while also increasing the volume capability. The best of both worlds and it spreads your cost out. Sean
Don't tease us! Tell me what the brand names of the $3500 speaker and the $700 speaker. I promise to tell noone! Seriously, you won't get sued. You are expressing only your opinion. And I promise to not get offended, if the $3500 is the brand that I think. I will agree with you even not knowing what speakers that you are discussing, there is very little correlation between speaker quality and price. I would add that in judging speaker quality, you have to take into account 1) synergy or lack of it with other demonstration components, 2) your biases as to what sounds good 3) room interactions etc. Most of us have heard tremendous equipment made to sound incredibly awful due to improper matching of components and cables, lousy room placement etc. Sometimes, particularly at low-end or even sleazy, high-end stores, the salesman, who has already sized you up with regard to what you'll pay, will purposely favor one system or one component over another in the way they are set up to make one sound much better than another.
Regarding R&D costs, isn't this partly subsidized to Canadian manufacturers? It seems that I read that they have a huge, well equiped, research facility available to their manufacturers. Of course this would also create a great deal of travel expense for many who use it.
Dekay, the NRC facility in Ottawa is available for use by pretty well anyone, so you're right there. Dr. Floyd resides there and will help out most folks. No different from many other research facilities around the world; the U.S. tends to have advanced facilities attached to universities (e.g. Johns Hopkins) as opposed to being directly funded by the government. Now this may seem awfully handy, until you take into consideration the geography. You're quite right, travel costs would be a very real issue. Canada is CONSIDERABLY bigger than the U.S. with respect to land mass, with roughly 12% of the population of the U.S.; "dropping into Ottawa to use the anechoic chambers" isn't always practical for most. Oddly enough, there are no audio manufacturer's in Ottawa that I know of, but plenty elsewhere in the Canada. I could list'em all, but it would bore even me and I'd have to type it out. ATB, Jeff
Thanks for the info Jeff. Glad to hear that it does exist and it's a wonderfull (no strings attached) program to have, IMO, in order to stimulate small business.
Onhwy61 and Sean are giving sage advice. I risk being a neusance here, but the BBC brainchild monitors like Harbeth and Spendor can be absolute heaven for some ears. Much like they both describe, not necessarily a head turner in the showroom. They are workhorses that have proven over time to be accurate and listenable for hours on end in the close quarters of sound engineer mixing rooms. Both companies have "consumer" models with beautiful cabinets, etc...

Again, not for everyone, but this sound deserves an audition, preferably in your home for a few days. If it is a good fit, you will never look back.

Good luck, Charlie
jeff: do you have a listing of speakers that have come out of johns hopkins' research labs? just wonderin' ;~]
charlie: thank god you're not a proselytizer for bose! ;] -kelly
Come on Kelly, any speaker that starts with an "Aye" has done time in the JH facility, as well as a few others on the side. Well, I'm finished with mer homework for today.
I am sorry if I am kicking a dead horse. I also apologize for my spelling. That should have been newsense. [:)]
charlie: you, of all the folks on a'gon, ought to know what a dead horse looks like. you be kickin' the skeleton of a dead horse. no matter. we know how much you love your harbeths. as well you should. one of these fine days, you're gonna' find time to make it to ces, where you can be bathed in the sounds of all the uk speakers and others whose provenance can't be even imagined. i look forward to sharing your experience and buying you a drink. -kelly
Sounds good to me! OK, I promise to wait at least 48 hours between references to "you know what."
DanVet went immediately to his desk calendar following his post and proceeded to make many, many small X's on it. He is a man of his word.
Yes, those X's represent the days I don't have to take my medication and they let me out in the fresh air for a few minutes. Excuse me, I have to hurry up and finish marking the calendar before the orderly comes back, (you know, the "sharp object" rule.)
Good for you Bob! Sometimes manufacturers get carried away with price, sometimes it is justified. Everybody is trying their best to make a buck these days. It is up to us as good consumers to make sure that we get the best value for our hard earned cash as it appears you have. There are great speakers that cost alot of money and great speakers that don't cost as much, but it is up to us to decide which is the better value and I am delighted that you have procured a good product without breaking the bank.
I can actually believe it. My speakers are out of whack with the rest of the system. A lot of posts here say that you should spend 1/4 or more of a budget on speakers. Based on list prices my speakers listed for $1500. My preamp $2250, Amplifier $2150. Even my Subwoofer lists for $2000. My speakers are up to the task. I've tried speakers costing twice as much and they were never better than equal at best, so I still have the old ones.
Guys, I want to thank you all for participating in this discussion. I found it to be "Very" helpful!

As to the poster who's wants me to divulge the manufacturer of the speakers, I cannot, as I stated above, do that for fear of offending anyone. I've seen people call speakers overrated in the past and get bombarded with hate messages because they struck a nerve, thank-you!
Misconceptions are the bread and butter of high end audio. Audiophiles suffer from a means vs. ends problem of galactic proportions which the manufacturers are promoting. The one thing that is important is the music, (I feel like adding the now famous "stupid" to that statemement, but will refrain to be polite). I remember that when I bought my first system, I had about six records to play on it and a musician friend asked what was the point of having spent a considerable amount of money if I had no records... Fast forward to today. My Thiel 3.5s have served me well for the past 14 years or so, despite a healthy appetite for drivers and cross-over components (2 tweeters, 3 midrange drivers and 2 x-over failures. Thank God for the 10 year warranty!) I now think the time has come for replacements. Sticker shock is killing me! I went to a shop to audition Celestion A3s and was told that they are no longer distributed in Canada. Asked to audition Kefs priced around $5,000 CDN and found them so polite as to be uninvolving. The owner pointed out the Vandersteen 5s and insisted I give them a listen. They were outstanding, sound wise. The clincher, $18,000.00 CDN the pair! The price of a brand new Honda Civic! And Vandersteen has always prided itself on affordable audiophile quality speakers. My intention is not to single out Vandersteen as they are far from being the worst, but how can the prices of audio equipment be justified on the basis of R&D, manufacturing and marketing costs, even admitting that in some cases we are dealing with small volume products? Without being cynical, remember Barnum & Bailey and the fact that the price is set by what the market will bear. A good speaker will play anything (even human speech, what a test!), never mind slam, imaging, back to front depth, inner detail, congestion, integration and all other related mumbo jumbo. Buy the best full range speakers (and generally all other equipment) for the budgeted dollar, spend your money on recordings, listen to music not equipment and please, Dear Lord, stop reading the lunatic fringe audio press. I know I have stopped buying those mags in 1992 and am only feeling sanity creeping in now...

By the way, I sure hope I'll "find" the money for the Vandersteens.
what great advice, this from pbaillargeon. spend as much as you can for a good natural sounding speaker/amp combination first, then you can hear the difference in any source upgrades that later interest you and spend the rest of your money on music. i did this about 10 years ago and now have a huge library of music and equipment which allows me to enjoy the music, as opposed to the sound coming from the speakers.