I was kinda expecting this reaction, so I’ve narrowed my question strictly to the technical domain.
But since you’ve asked- then no, the final sound is what matters, and the speakers I’m looking for are to be well auditioned before buying.
However, the potential of a speaker with a 50$ tweeter is far lower than a speaker with a 300$ tweeter (it isn’t the cost per se, it’s the component specs which are far better). There is simply way more that can be extracted from it. That’s why I prefer to start there.
Any speaker (or any other device) is made of design + components. Both of them must be good. No design, good as it may be, can substitute high-quality components. So, I prefer to try those with the best components in my price range as a rule of thumb. If their design sucks (it happens)- It’ll be heard and I’ll move on to the next one.
Fritz speakers comes to mind. Most of his models have higher end drivers. Although mostly known for his stand mount models I think he does offer floor standing versions of many of his speakers. Although I have never personally listened to any of his speakers I have been curious to try them out. They have received good reviews here and on most of the other audio sites.
Your premise is faulty. For most loudspeakers the most expensive component by far is the cabinet. Look at your Merlins, or anything by Wilson, Sonus Faber, B&W, YG, Magico and others. They all use good drivers, some even custom made, but not necessarily the best (most expensive?) ones. The talent of the design team overwhelms driver cost as the major contributor to a loudspeaker's final sound quality.
Thank you both for your decisive opinion, but my experience (which included working closely with a speakers & drivers manufacturers) suggests otherwise. The cabinet is very important and by no means am I looking for speakers with inferior cabinets. It all has to be good- design, drivers and cabinets- save none.
And no cabinet/design can compensate for the limits of a mediocre driver.
Try to play loudly an uncompressed kick drum recording on a 2 way speaker with Scanspeak P17WJ00- an inexpensive 6.5’’ woofer of decent (but not great) performance, popular with several speaker brands. The result may be the destruction of the driver. Why? because it doesn’t have enough excursion, it’s rubber surroundings are too thin and it lacks magnet power. For the same reasons, even before the breaking point, the kick drum won’t sound very punchy.
Try the same with Scanspeak 18W/8545-01 (found in the Merlin VSM and Proac 2.5), or any driver from the morel MW series, and it’ll eat it without salt and sound wonderful. Why? Strong thick surrounds, plenty of magnet power and long linear excursion. and these things cost more. In this example, the driver, given a 2 Way design, is a clear limiting factor that no cabinet or design can compensate. Same goes with driver’s bandwith, inherent distortions and what not. And I want as little limiting factors in my speaker components as possible.
So, recommendations, anyone? BTW, the Fritz’s look good and I’ve never heard about them before.
I don't think that the premise is faulty, it is just not the only one possible. But I would be cautious about price/performance correlation. High quality is always expensive but average quality can be expensive as well. I too believe that the drivers themselves are the most important part of a speaker. $20 drivers in $5000 speakers? No thank you. And I doubt that any designer can make them sound spectacular, pretty good perhaps but nothing more.
Build your own, the above kit use the very best drivers ScanSpeak has to offer. It however also includes a fully developed Cross-Over Schematic, that ensures the drivers work together properly - you can go as crazy as you want on parts quality here - an All Duelund CAST component Crossover ? :-)
The PBN is a very good deal. If you are looking to spend a little less, the Klang Tong Nada would be around $3K, with ScanSpeak Be and 6.5" woofer.
You can have it built as a floor stander by TaylorSpeakers.com or as a stand mount.
Commercially, based on parts quality, this is a $20K speaker system if it had basic parts. With the upgraded Mundorf caps it would be higher.
Comparing the PBN and Klang Tong kits to commercial speakers, Gryphon uses the same line of woofers, and the current Magico tweeters are built on the same tweeter motor.
The impedance of the KT is easier to drive. Without hearing it in the room it’s hard to tell, but for me the PBN may be a little too flat, especially in the bass, whiel the KT has a bit of a boost I would probably prefer. However, this is not very accurate criticism to make via charts alone.
The 3-way design and dual woofers of the PBN will give you a lot more dynamic range, but the KT will really amaze you all by itself. :) I say this owning similar woofers in my reference system.
At the price level you're considering by necessity there will be compromises. If we were talking about $50k loudspeakers, then there would be no excuse for anything but premium drivers. At the $5k level a loudspeaker designer has to juggle the cost of the driver, cabinet, crossover components, wire and hardware such that the end result still performs well despite not having the best components in every area. Some designers will splurge on drivers and others will spend more in a different area, yet each pathway can yield an excellent, high value loudspeaker.
Other than the Accuton, I've used every driver mentioned. In every case, with good crossover work, the finished product would be very good. I think that your letting the price of a single driver get in the way of the finished product. Peter mentioned one of his kits and it is very good. Not sure that you'd want to go the DIY way at all, but considering your comments on a few parts listed, these should fit the bill. These are Morel Parts, the tweeter is similar to what you listed, except this tweeter offers a bit more detail than the 30. These were designed by Jeff Bagby, a well known and valid speaker designer by any standard. Basic cabinets are included, but you'll need to do some cabinet work to bring the cabinets to the level of a $5000 retail speaker... the speakers and design itself will hold up sonically at that level.... these are $1000 a pair.
This might be way off from where you were going, but I thought I'd throw it in.
Personally I’ve found the Merlin VSM a great platform for development. With the designer's unfortunate demise, you can find well-priced used examples. Upgrade caps, resistors, and wires in the crossover and caps, resistors and power supply in the BBAM, and you’ll have about as much as any two-way can offer.
"With all due respect" - this is all "such a load of BS!"
It's the total design of the baffel, cabinet, drivers, and cross-over that makes the "sum of the parts" sing like nothing else... or... not.
I absolutely... guarantee you... that if you try a set of WaveTouch Audio Grand Teton stand-mount monitors... you will sell your Merlins, Harbeths, Wilsons, Marten's, Maggies, and all else! Nothing sounds any better... certainly for the money!
Try them - it will cost you nothing if you don't agree... but... you will!
So, in general, the retail price of a single speaker is 10x the driver cost. It goes up and down, but that’s it in general.
So, it pays to go with a custom-speaker builder for a good design. Taylor, Selah, etc.
Otherwise, for a $5,000 pair, on average, you’ll be getting $250worth of parts (retail) in each.
There are some exceptional values though, Monitor Audio among them, which I consider very good sounding, but since they make their own drivers, it's quite likely they are actually charging more than 20x a single speaker.
Lawrence audio is also another company that has exceptional value in terms of parts cost.
NONE of this makes a speaker worth buying though. :) As @bassdude said, the whole package matters.
If you're looking for a floor standing speaker, the VMPS RM30 has dual 6.5 " woofers, 3 ribbon planar mids, a ribbon tweeter, and a 10" passive radiator in each speaker in a slim, but deep cabinet. If you can find a used one with auricaps and silver wiring to the bass, that would be an upgrade. These are 120 lbs. per speaker and have soundcoating on the interior. They are very dynamic, transparent, with great clarity and are adjustable at all frequencies. Used ones would be about $1800-2400 depending on upgrades. Another speaker to check out would be the Evoke Eddie's. It had similar looking drivers (1 each per speaker) but it has more expensive drivers and crossovers--also a very solid cabinet. It is a larger monitor at 24" H, 10" W, and 17" D. The Eddie is new and they are running a special pricing on it until a certain number are sold.
You know, self-sufficiency can be great, but let the professional designers build speakers and other stuff. I can sometimes argue with Atmasphere here about certain points but I will not argue about how to make a great amp, or any amp for that matter.
I don't like so-so quality parts though, but nor would I want or be able to to pay $6k for one driver. But $20, $30 doesn't sound right to me when it comes to expensive and presumably high-end speakers. If they would have to charge $6k instead of $5k while putting better drivers in there, that would be fine with me. Another reason to have fewer but higher quality drivers. And please no 50 cents capacitors and $1 per ten miles wires.
So, if you were looking for a $1,500 speaker, my kit, the LM-1, would fit the bill. It will cost between $350 and $500 to build depending on crossover parts or if you build the cabinet yourself. ;)
Sounds fantastic, and a great crossover designed by a true gentleman and scholar. << cough cough >>
Ok, some of that was a lie, but it's free, and incredibly well measured and documented.
Well... yes... you can approximate the stellar sound of the WaveTouch Audio Grand Tetons with the GamuT Reference Series, or Nola’s, or PureAudio Project OB’s, or the top of the line Legacy’s, or certainly the Linkwitz Orion’s / LS521’s.
But, nothing else comes close for less than 5-10+x the cost of the Grand Tetons.
The Grand Teton’s are an assemblge of relatively inexpensive parts that produce sound to rival the best speakers of any type available.
And... the facinating thing is the Grand Teton’s present the marvelous sound of open baffle / dipole speakers (which most of these are)... yet... are ported cabinets.
Again... it’s the total design that makes the difference... and... of course a designer who is a gifted "artist" and not a scientist or engineer. It is truly an "art" and not a "science."
As one who endeavors to sell capacitors to perhaps the forty or so principal speaker manufacturers in N. America, I've reached the conclusion that the majority of designers focus on drivers, cabinets, and crossover design, with the quality of crossover piece parts a distant fourth in priority. Most OEMs source crossover piece parts out of habit or marginal cost considerations parsed down to a few dollars if not pennies. The more complex the crossover, the sharper the pencil. Moreover, the task of undertaking systematic comparisons between crossover piece parts is daunting and rarely undertaken.
But any hobbyist who has made such substitutions understands the gains in this area that reveal the potential of a first rate driver. Personally I wouldn't purchase a speaker from any manufacture who can't articulate the rationale of his choices of these piece parts.
ClarityCap OEM Sales
Fully agree on the SB drivers I too find them to be excellent quality and very consistent. I designed a Kit for SB Acoustics as well.
Look at the LM-1 for instance. The drivers are about $90 / speaker, but I challenge anyone to find fault with the crossover design, or the sound actually, and unlike all commercial speakers, the design docs are open to the world.
I’ve also seen commercial makers use inexpensive drivers with extremely good integration and balance, and some use expensive diamond tweeters and end up with.... well, not so good. :)
By the way, the LM-1 uses the same tweeter as found in some Krell, older Magico and Sonus Faber designs. It’s not an expensive tweeter at all, but damn nice. :-)
By the way @dgarretson - I did use Clarity ESA's in the recommended crossover. :-) I have a feeling you and I should have some drinks if you are in the San Francisco area, we'd get along just swell.
Wow! I didn’t expect such a big (and fruitful) discussion. Thank you all for your comments, seriously!
In any case, here are a few answers to some of your comments:
About DIY: I have nothing but profound appreciation to people who can build their own speakers, and have no doubt that when you "cook your own food" you have much better control over the end result, and can make up your own mind regarding if and how to compromise or cut corners. However, this isn’t for me. I don’t have the patience, the tools or the know-how. Maybe someday after retirement...
About brands who make their own drivers: I have mixed feelings about those, and after many auditions over the years came to the conclusion that it’s the same as any brand. They do theoretically have the ability to use better drivers than competitors who buy them off the shelf, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be tempted to cut corners as anyone else. I’ve heard speakers from Focal, B&W, Dynaudio, Monitor Audio (only the platinum line sounded good to me), Morel, and others who make their own drivers. Some were fantastic, some were mediocre and some were awful. A very vivid example for me came from Morel, one of my favorites (and with whom I worked before- great guys). The Octave Signature 5.25’’ is a phenomenal speaker, IMHO one of the very best compact monitors out there (excluding some super expensive exotics). Drivers, crossover, cabinets- all of very high quality and working together marvelously. On the other hand, the relatively new Octave 6’’ is simply awful (read the stereophille review- it’s all true...). I have no idea what went wrong. They make everything from A to Z, have all the experience and knowledge and yet... summing up this point, the brands which produce their own drivers should be judged the same as everyone.
About electrostatic speakers: I can’t connect visually. It has nothing to do with how any of them sounds... not in my living room. Totally a matter of taste here.
About Scansonic: It just so happens that 2 weeks ago I went to the local importer, auditioned 3 of them- the 2.5, 3.5 and 5. Didn’t like them. The 2.5 (apologies in advance to whoever enjoys them, it’s only my opinion), was simply terrible. Muffled, out-of-control "single note bass" and just sounds wrong. Waaaay too much pressure is put on these 2 tiny drivers, with the down-firing port just making it worse. The 3.5 and 5 were far better in every respect, but still, nothing to write about home. Again- Scansonic owners- take no offence, it’s just this one guy’s opinion.
About the ratio between part costs and retail: This is exactly my point. I’m not looking for the ones that sell for $5,000 pair containing 250$ worth of parts (retail) in each- a 10X ratio. I’m looking for the exceptional ones. I’ve already brought some examples (and looking for more) but here’s another one: http://www.teddypardo.com/speakers/sp1v.html
These little ones contain parts which retail for about 2,000$ (Drivers only- over 1,000$: Seas W12CY + Seas T25CF), and are sold only for 3,000$. This is a phenomenal parts/retail value, and I’m sure it isn’t the only one. BTW, I’ve auditioned these (they sound freakin’ amazing) and had a very interesting conversation with the designer (teddy- a very nice, modest and interesting person). They aren’t for me strictly due to their minute size. If he had a floorstanding 6’’ version- I would have already purchased them. Bottom line- there are way better ratios and better return for the retail price invested- but it does require digging in, and also asking for other peoples recommendations.
A few words about crossovers: It is indeed difficult to asses the quality of the crossovers, it isn’t an off-the-shelf part like drivers that can be easily compared. However, after opening up a few speakers in the past, it can be easily seen if corners were cut. I’ve seen many crossovers built from cheap parts, far from the drivers or the cabinet level. And why wouldn’t they? Nobody sees them... However, sometimes there are surprises. One of the reasons why I like my humble Merlins so much is because no corners were cut, including the crossover. They contain a very well built to the point of over-engineered crossover. Why? probably because the late owner of Merlin (R.I.P.) took his work very seriously, with real passion. That is the spirit of engineering I’m looking for.
About Marten: Timlub- thanks for tweeters recognition! seems right. I’ve auditioned the Formfloor and they were great. I did have a few issues with them, but not deal breakers. Overall, they seem to present a very good value. I’ve also auditioned the Miles 5 at a friends house- these were simply PHENOMENAL. They were so good I could’t really find anything I would like improve (given the room size). However, these are not for my pockets, maybe 2nd hand someday.
About your recommendations: Thanks! there were some I’ve never heard of.
To elaborate on a theme by Dgarretson, why not buy speakers that sound good, and improve the crossovers? Retain the same values, but use better components, especially caps.
It’s a rare crossover that can’t be vastly improved for $500 in parts. I did this for a neighbour a few years ago - he had some nice bookshelf speakers and was thinking of upgrading, but to improve the sound had to spend thousands. I suggested upgrading the two crossovers, $1000, and the result was spectacular. Night and day.
I have owned, serviced and sold many pairs of speakers over the years. I can tell you without a doubt that measuring a speaker by the total cost of the drivers is a mistake. I would use some specific examples, but I don’t want to step on any toes.
This would be just as big of a mistake as judging a great painting by the quality of the canvas and paints. You are paying for the talent and ear of the designer. More expensive drivers do not equal better sound. Grasshopper, do not focus on the tech, focus on the music.
If you dont want to make your own, here's a finished product for your consideration, using very high quality ScanSpeak Drivers that I have worked with for many years in a variety of the products we make.
From its maker
You are so right about speakers built with .50c tweeters etc. Take a look at the Wilson Benesch Square 2. Nice floor stander. The mid/woofer is about a $500 piece manufactured in house, literally So much engineering not only in their drivers but the enclosure as well.
If you dig a little you can find an expanded view of that mid/woofer. Exceptional.
To those who are sure I'm making a great mistake etc., I’ve said it before and I’ll say it one last time: I’m not in this since yesterday. I’ve owned myself over 20 pairs of speakers, worked in hi-fi sales for several years and am well acquainted with driver & speaker manufacturers.
According to my experience, a speaker is nothing like a painting, a musical instrument or a work of art. It’s like any other technical device, same as an amp or a car. And no design, ingenious as it may be, can surpass the inherent limits of sub-par components. Take a look back at my kick drum example. there are things that a basic driver simply can’t do.
Your experience may be different, and that’s fine. But that wasn’t my question, and I WILL NOT put my money on expensive speakers made from cheap parts UNLESS I have first ruled out those who offer a much better parts/retail ratio.
@Rippet: I’ve owned a pair of Adagios for about a year, and had mixed feelings about them. There were some things they did great but also some serious problems. The part (pun intended) that I couldn’t live with eventually was the tweeter. I have no idea which tweeter it was, but for my ears it was muffled and too "dark". I don’t know if it was the voicing the manufacturer intended from the start or an attempt to mask some tweeter’s limits by narrowing some of its bandwith in the cross, but something there wasn’t to my liking. On the other hand, it had very good, uncolored mids and exceptional bass. The heavy, very well designed transmission line cabinet has no doubt a substantial part in it. I do recommend it to people asking for my advice, but I was unable to live with it eventually.
Best thing to do is go out and audition loudspeakers you feel fit your needs as your needs will be quite different to others just like my needs are different to yours. My only word of caution which if you say you have knowledge of driver manufacturers you will be very aware of; expensive drivers can often mean either custom made or limited run models so any repair/replacement needs further down the line will leave you with nothing more than silent boxes!