"Against design"

Yet another interesting blog from Mr. Weiss, this time on the design of speakers. As he goes:

Audiophiles want ugly speakers. Really. This sounds almost funny. Why would you want something that’s ugly?

The reason is very simple. If it’s ugly, you think–it must be good. No one in their right mind would pay $100,000 plus for a box with some cones in it, an unattractive thing at best, unless it was GOOD at doing what it does. Conversely, a speaker which is beautiful, or at least one where a great deal of work is evident in its industrial design, is not to be trusted. That speaker is, in the mind of the audiophile, trying too hard, like a woman all gussied up, hair, cosmetics and clothes all concealing another reality. Could not possibly sound as good as it looks, to be blunt about it.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite fifty years ago. Before that AR monitor speaker, owning a really (sonically) impressive horn speaker was the ultimate. And those speakers, made by companies like JBL, Voight, Klipsch, Electrovoice, et al., were often very beautifully designed as pieces of furniture, a trend almost entirely absent today. Speakers such as the Paragon, Metregon and Hartsfield would not be out of place in the Museum of Modern Art, or any contemporary interior design magazine. Most audiophiles have never even heard of these speakers, let alone listened to one.


I concur to the above; speaker design in general has become trite (and non-organic) to the point where consumers, in getting so used to it, rejects whatever breaks the long-established mold of more or less square boxes, as well as other aspects of speaker engineering that goes contrary to the general norm (like small drive units, the type of driver used, etc.) when atypical design goes on to produce a prejudiced stance on the associated sound quality.

With regard to the enclosure materials used, how often does one see them made of carefully finished hardwood? OMA (via above link) and Daedalus comes to mind as some of the very few to hone real hardwood into beautiful speakers, evoking the feeling of something natural and organic - of something all too rare these days. My own speakers are made of fiberglass, definitely not an organic material, but their shape - what I'd regard "organic" or certainly curved, even to the point of being a sculpture - has led to numerous negative remarks:


- Just for being different? Almost every time I look at my speakers seems to do something different about them; the way the light hits them, the amount of it, ones angle to the speakers, mood, etc. - the magic of curves, if you will.. ;) Most importantly their design comes from a functional standpoint, and the non-parallel sides are only a plus acoustically.

Please chime in on the above...
Have a look at dc10audio.com
Have a look at dc10audio.com
Interesting notion, but I'd read it slightly differently. I think people want cutting edge tech for a high five/six figure price tag and think that exotic materials and complex curves demonstrate that kind of technology. It's not that they're ugly, per se - it's that they're hard to manufacture.

That formula might inevitably make for "ugly" speakers, but I doubt that that's not the important point. I personally think that the Ferrari Enzo is hardly beautiful, but I understand why people find the shape appealing. Same with MBL, Vivid Giya, etc., etc.

BTW, in the high touch vs high tech battle of aesthetics, high touch still has its representatives. In addition to Daedelus, think Sonus Faber, Dali or ESP. They are definitely fewer in number, but they're out there.

Just one viewpoint for you.
Its all much nicer looking than what most would get at Walmart.

Its all relative.

Not sure exactly what is being complained about.

Markets speak for themselves in regards to what sells.
Question: why do so many box/driver speakers use MDF instead of real hardwood?
why do so many box/driver speakers use MDF instead of real hardwood?
See the answers by Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio and Jonathan Weiss of Oswalds Mill Audio ("weisselk") in this thread.

The main reasons seem to be (a)cost, and (b)difficulty of manufacture (assuming that the goal is manufacture to a high standard). Also, I would expect, lack of the necessary expertise in many cases.

-- Al
One other negative as far as hardwood goes (especially if you are manufacturing in significant numbers) is the issue of reliably sourcing consistent quality material. MDF has consistent physical qualities and is readily sourced, a manufacturer can always count its availability and predictable pricing and sourcing. Hardwood is more variable (knots, warps, moisture content, color, and density) from board to board and it isn't always certain that a particular wood is available in the quality you want at the price you want to pay.
Or you can of course use both hardwood and MDF :-)

PBN Audio

Good Listening

So there's really no sonic improvement to be gained by using hardwood?
So there's really no sonic improvement to be gained by using hardwood?
See the post by Lou Hinkley of Daedalus at the link I provided earlier. I would not consider your statement to be a precise summation of what he said.

-- Al
I did see - and read - the link. Hinkley's statement was guarded at best and dealt more with bracing and overall construction rather than pure sonic benefits - other than his own opinion about hardwood.

I'd tend to believe that hardwood WOULD perform better, but that also could be bias.
And thank you for those links, by the way.
A good overall design that fits the listeners needs best will perform best, hardwood or not.
Martykl --

Thanks for your input.

There may be an interpreting angle in Mr. Weiss' (and the rest of us) assessment of design and what makes it beautiful or ugly, but notwithstanding he equates the more typical box "designs" with their more expensively priced and "eccentrically" designed siblings as being ugly at least partly with the a scientific reference: he sees an inverted relationship in what dictates the design of high-end speakers when comparing his own products to that of the more general "competition." As he points out:

Back to OMA, I’ve always tried to explain to people who ask how we design things, that the design process starts (and ends) with the acoustic engineering. We begin by modeling a prospective speaker based on what we want it to do- how big must the horn or horns be to accomplish their task? How will lower frequencies be handled, and how low will we go? This process is devoid of any aesthetic considerations, it’s pure engineering. Later, our industrial designer, David D’Imperio, works with us to maintain the engineering integrity of the design while making it look like something you want in the middle of your living room, not hiding in the corners.

The high end audio industry has been successful at convincing a very small audience that they should want things that are baffling to everyone else. To reverse the downward spiral that describes the high end industry today requires a rethinking of both its audio engineering and its industrial design.

The general problem with high end audio speaker design would then be assumed - not wrongly, I find - as differing (i.e.: baffling) design manifestations that dictate functionality as part of a marketing tool to promote and distinguish ones product - not vice versa.

Coupled with this is the core aspect of sheer size, a banality from one perspective perhaps when choosing speakers insofar sound quality is paramount (as in: if great sound requires large speakers, then so be it), but something that is likely one of the deciding factors why so few would buy a pair of the larger OMA speakers - or other larger, and beautifully furnished speakers; their homes (and spouse) dictate audio equipment, not least its size, and so sound, yet again, becomes secondary.

What I like about (in this case) OMA speakers is that they're large and exude a natural, organic quality with no excuse for functionality; what follows aesthetically is grounded in audio engineering and the catering to what emulates live acoustic, real-performed music (or so I suppose). Looking at the materials used - oiled hardwood, solid aluminium, and slate - one can indeed almost smell them.

(to reiterate)
To reverse the downward spiral that describes the high end industry today requires a rethinking of both its audio engineering and its industrial design.

...as well as an overall mentality among audiophiles, so to accept these changes, to break with established and conventional molds of speaker design, perhaps in part in grounding ones reference more highly to live acoustic music and, dare one say it, listening more with the body than the mind.
Mr. Weiss' follow-up to "Against design" - "Art vs. furniture:"

... audio design is much like furniture, in that the relationships between form and function are easily convoluted. We live with these things in our homes, surrounded by other domestic furnishings. Because of that, we project the same codes that inform our furniture onto our audio equipment. Yet we like to think the form of something like a loudspeaker, follows from its function.That is not necessarily so. Virtually all box type speakers have made terrible engineering (read-function) compromises to fit the expectations of what the manufacturers think the consumer wants. They then try and decorate and fancify these boxes so they blend into the disaster that is most modern domestic interiors. The fact that sound comes out of these boxes at all is really just an alibi for their form. In fact, many loudspeakers are placed in ceilings and walls in affluent homes, where they exist (barely) only as function. The form is simply gone. This gets around the issue of how to deal with the loudspeaker as an object, at least until you have to listen to it coming out of the ceiling.

Hard to advance the art of loudspeaker design building the same old 2 ways and slim towers the market demands.
Interesting perspective by the OP. I thought the more modern designs were in part a response to what was previously found unattractive in older speaker designs. Some of the older speaker designs were of some necessity due to the amplification technology of that era.
Some years ago, but much closer to today than some of the previous designs, Thiel's speakers were actually praised in an article in Architectural Digest.
I think that the promotion and wider use of multiple speakers for home theatre use might have had an influence on many more recent designs.
I've often heard that the use of MDF; besides offering costs benefits, might be better for the environment and perhaps more importantly was better at reducing stored energy. I wonder if the use for an all solid wood speaker might be driven to appeal to the consumers desire for pride in ownership? All things considered the use of MDF with solid veneers might be the value leader. Though the use of alternate materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, etc., is interesting to me, I use speakers with MDF with solid wood veneers and the speakers that I have been considering are the same. If my budget permitted the German Physiks in carbon fiber finish might be mine.
I used made speakers with MDF panels with 1/8” skin veneer. MDF wood is like a sponge to compare to the plywood. MDF absorbs the impact while the plywood bounces. 1/8” skin does almost nothing but appearance. Plywood cabinet speaker sounds more extended to compare MDF cabinet speaker. The MDF speaker sounds rolled off and more like easy listening music. The plywood speaker sounds real and open.

I rarely read anyone talks about musicality. People only talk about the sound. The reason people keep change equipments is because they are listening the sound. There is no end of upgrade if you are looking for the sound. There is always better sound with bigger and better cabinets and materials. There are too many MDF speakers with no soul. MDF can’t dig your heart and emotion. Last couple of decades, many people and audio industry have lost musicality with MDF speakers.

Musicality is hard to measure for men. It’s hard to distinguish a good sound and musicality for men. I, with 30 years in audio, can’t distinguish musicality and a good sound easily. I hear every speaker before we pack for shipping. In 10-15 minutes of final listening inspection, I am not confident that the speaker is musically up to our standard. So, I ask Jackie (woman) to do the musicality inspection. Jackie listens few songs and gives me “OK.” Musicality is hard to measure for men. So, if you are not sure, you’d better trust woman’s ears.

MDF speaker doesn’t have potential. We don’t compromise in hi-end audio. Since when we gave up the quality of sound for the cost and inconvenience? Audio is art! The speaker is a musical instrument. We can always tone down the screaming speakers which has potential. We shouldn’t eliminate or roll off screaming frequency from speakers.

Wavetouch Audio
Phusis, thanks for the OMA link. The speakers and Stands sure look very impressive and sculpture like and meticulous . Kudos to the designer in breaking the mold and going 'against design'. I would be very interested to know what it costs and more importantly how do the speakers sound!
A new blog from Mr. Weiss titled "Stereo as furniture:"

Today even manufacturers of $100,000 speakers, which tend to be large, go to great lengths to make the front baffle of their speakers as narrow as possible- the result is tall, skinny and deep. This is a very bad idea acoustically speaking, but it does address the unspoken fear in the industry of people not wanting to look at a speaker in their living room – at all. They are in effect trying to make a very expensive thing disappear, which is sort of insane. This is the space audio equipment occupies in our culture today, guilty fetish objects, trying to disguise themselves because no one loves them. A pity.