Whats the deal?

Why do people, myself included, place so much emphasis on build quality and appearance over sound?  It’s so strange that I’ll do just about anything to make my system sound better apart from using tone controls or buying / enjoying speakers that don’t use high quality drivers, cabs and crossovers.  It’s like I have an audiophile checklist of dos and don’ts

A good example would be the fact that I have bought and listened to many different models of Paradigm speakers and the only ones that I loved were the Signature 2 V.2.  I have loved the way  many other Paradigm speakers that I owned looked or were built but when it comes to sound they were all too bright.  Sure they image well and have good dynamics but I see so many posts about paradigm that have a similar tones (no pun intended).

Why oh why do we spend all kinds of $ trying to make speakers that we don’t like sound like speakers that we do like.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy new speakers as opposed to new amp, source, wires, room acoustic treatments trying to put band aids on speakers that we don’t like?

Kind of reminds me of marriages where the Wife is a total jerk yet the Husband will stay with her forever because she’s beautiful.  
If you listen to music, you should use tone controls when you need to.

If you listen to gear, avoid them.

What I mean is, using tone controls can help you enjoy more music from a wider era. Using a good loudness switch can help you enjoy music at more times of the day when you are not necessarily sitting for a performance. Nice to see a number of top-end integrateds including them now.

If you are listening only to audiophile recordings with an audiophile checklist, that really narrows your scope, and makes me wonder if you care about music, or just some set of tones and sounds that you find pleasant.

But in terms of gear, yes, it's hard to justify performance on it's' own merits for most. In 300 years the ideal playback system will look like a rectangle that is transparent and the size of a deck of playing cards. Hard to justify several month's salary for that.

Room acoustics before cables. Also, I really think every audiophile should build 1 pair of speakers in their lifetime. A small two way would be ideal. They'd learn so much and give up on the cable chasing phenomenon we are in.

To partially answer your opening question, I think it's because there is a direct correlation between build quality and sonic quality, especially in speakers. Cast baskets over stamped, braced cabinets over unbraced, short coil/long gap over long coil/short gap. And these features cost more to source for the manufacturer, and thus are reflected in the price.

For electronics though, the range of build vs. sound quality is very wide, with progressive US companies such as Schiit, Wyred 4 Sound and PS Audio, to name a couple, offering very high value, build and sound quality components.
Hmm Erik, for your plug on cables, I never did buy into the cable debate but must disagree.......to a point. Got the room, got the treatment, got the equipment.........all very nice high end stuff, mid fi to the millionaires. Sounds great even with blue jeans loom. Recently I learned a lesson I'll not soon forget. Bought some used high end speaker and ICs and there was a real noticeable improvement at all levels, depth, clarity,  soundstage, presentation.....you name it. What once was great is now superb. Never thought I'd say this. Cables can make a diffetence

Ok....this may be a little bit out there....but....

Audio does not have to be a one dimensional hobby (sound).  For many, it can be a multidimensional medium that provides value/enjoyment with both sound and art and where we can appreciate it for musical truth, craftsmanship, looks and status (for a few).

And, maybe most importantly, for the journey...as often the twists and turns with different gear are themselves interesting and enjoyable.
Cables can make a diffetence


I never said otherwise. My messages have been consistent:

  1. Deal with room acoustics first,
  2. Much of what you do with cables you can do with a speaker if you tweak the crossover
  3. I question the price / performance ratio of a lot of cables.

You have answered your question perfectly - they stay with their beautiful wives, especially if the wife is not too annoying.
3. I'll certainly agree with that! No question that it is a truth in audio. Did not mean to imply any inconsistency in your words of wisdom. Just wanted to say that cables can be an improvement. It can also be a costly mistake.
Why do people, myself included, place so much emphasis on build quality and appearance over sound?

... Why oh why do we spend all kinds of $ trying to make speakers that we don’t like sound like speakers that we do like.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy new speakers as opposed to new amp, source, wires, room acoustic treatments trying to put band aids on speakers that we don’t like?

IMO more often that not it has nothing to do with wanting to stay with the build quality and appearance of the speakers. Rather, it is due in part to the fact that applying band-aids of various kinds usually involves much less hassle than changing speakers, and perhaps less risk of winding up with sonics we like even less, and in part to the fact that it can often be difficult to properly identify the root cause of a sonic issue. And perhaps in some cases it is due to expectations that such band-aids will be necessary no matter what speakers are chosen.

As far as appearance is concerned, though, most of us care about the appearance of our house and its furnishings, as well as the appearance of our cars, and we like to have some degree of pride of ownership in both. In general I see no reason for speakers and audio components to be any different in those respects. In his post above Snapsc expressed it somewhat differently, but said it well IMO.

-- Al
I don't know many hobbies in which the appearance of the gear/object is a non-issue. Cars. Trucks. Guns. Cameras. Computers. Wrist watches. Boats. Horses (and the gear you put on them). Heck, even tractors.

I also don't know why there is any reason that beauty and function can't coexist. And when they do, its a win-win. And sometimes sublime.

And as mentioned, stereo equipment goes in our homes. Some people care what their homes look like.

Beauty and function are not mutually exclusive; my wife is pretty and a wonderful person. (I'm the troll she stays with....who knows why.)
Heh Erik, agree 100% about your cable comments. The room is really the most important thing to get right IMO.

I want to see a beautiful tractor.... :-)

Okay, I guess what I was trying to say is this...

Whats the prettiest, most expensive, highest pedigree speaker that sounds like garbage?  Someone chime in here.

Next, whats an ugly speaker, off brand perhaps, inexpensive, could be old (?) speaker that just blows the doors off said above speaker?

Which do we choose?

(I'm the troll she stays with....who knows why.)
She knows why, but she may never tell.
There is more than one beautiful wife out there and there is more than one beautiful tractor, too. I had them both (tractors, I mean) and I still miss them...


gasbose and glupson....I’m a sucker, I think most tractors are beautiful. I have a Kubota L4400 4wd. It is not a shiny anymore as in the picture below but I still think it is a fine looking machine:


As far as ugly speakers that perform well......I don’t mean to step on any toes but there are some ugly speakers out there. Almost everything Wilson makes is hideous to me. Particularly the Alexandria model. The top end Vandersteens seem pretty ugly to me. I’m sure their well heeled owners don’t think they are ugly and I’m assuming they sound good enough (for that kind of money) that they don’t care about how they look.

I had a pair of B&W towers that I thought were ugly (I don’t like the tweeter wart on top) and they did not sound to good either....but they had been abused.

I am a city kid and my only tractor experience was really those two Matchboxes. I loved them. If you only knew how much of my carpet did that red one plow. Your tractor does look like some real thing. I can see why you like it. Too bad it came out after I stopped buying Matchboxes. I would have probably had feelings for it, too.

I’d like to know who here picks pretty over performance, at any point in amassing an audio system?.

speakers, far more than electronics must have both performance and esthetic appeal.

I found out quite by accident locating the electronics outside the listening area a very good idea. when or if possible. in such cases the esthetics of the electronics is a moot issue.

as for build quality generally speaking, and how much ‘bling’ it seems to inherently possess, Americans are notorious for buying with their eyes. food. cars. clothes. spouses.shoes. jewelry. phones. if its not attractive, asking a lot of money for it will not work out well.

when a thing has an enormous price tag, like an amp, DAC, rack, TT, etc., looking very nice, polished and shiny will go a long way to its cost being accepted. add in it weighs a ton and well now, this must be worth a lot of money, right?

Weight alone is not going to justify its cost with an experienced enthusiast. for these, it is ‘all about performance’. weight, build, technology in play, which add  up to aid a thing’s  justification, but it is performance we chase more than bling.

at the onset, or once we attain gear which has  presumably lofty levels of presentation, we face the obstacle of extracting synergy from the accumulated mix.

it is that ‘synergy’ and obviously, budgetary constraints whichreemain as our ever present  obstacles on the high end highway.

I guess pretty has its place when the lights are on, but who listens with the lights on anyhow?

I choose none of the above. Great sounding speakers will not be too ugly, at least to me.
Whats the prettiest, most expensive, highest pedigree speaker that sounds like garbage?  Someone chime in here.

My two pet peeves are Golden Ear and Dali. First has a really ragged, second has very elevated, top end.

After that, Magico. Much much better sounding than the previous two, but to my ears never get the tonal balance right, especially with female voices and pianos.

PS I only posted this so a lot of people would go nuts and reply.

You are welcome,

I believe appearance enters into the equation 99% of the time regarding choices we make.
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Some tractors are beautiful where others are just plain looking.  What matters most is the work they can do.  Just like some speakers look like art and function excellent there are just plain speakers that sound magical.  Can see my equipment anyways, I like to listen in the dark, or close my eyes.
Different strokes for different folks. 

I’m confused by the OP.

Who is choosing looks over sound in their speakers?

This is an audiophile site; if anything, it’s a place where people are more dedicated to sound than looks.

That said...it’s not like sound and beauty are mutually exclusive. There are so many speakers out there it’s not hard to find a speaker whose sound AND looks you like.

Personally I LOVE the look of beautiful audio gear, especially a high quality looking pair of speakers. So aesthetics matter very much to me.   And has been pointed out before, speakers often go in rooms where they will be on constant view.  They are a piece of furniture in that respect, so it makes sense any number of us would care what a speaker looks like.

But this hasn’t forced me to end up with speakers that look bad. I’ve been able to find great combinations of aesthetics and performance.

And it doesn’t matter how good the sound is from our speakers, most of us end up tweaking our system to get the best. It’s what we do. We are audiophiles. :)

I have recently in my late life, discovered a dream HiFi System which actually 'wowed' me and is not too 'unrealistic' in the price.  Fortunately the speakers look good and solid, and I think would attract the 'wife' approval in the siitting room.  The same brand have their new integrated amp, its all in that silver metal look, actually looks nice, neat and very purposeful.  Because of the brands reputation (the client list looks quite impressive with famous names) for that tantalising sound, no nonsense solid engineering and build I have every faith in the components.  The only consideration is finding that extra money but will still cost less than a new average car.....
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For any speaker larger than a bookshelf model I also see them as furniture. They are large. They sit in our homes often in plain view. They have a function. Why not be attractive? Most of want our furniture to be attractive.

I have Aerial 7B Speakers. I got them for free (which, in many things trumps beauty and function). They are finished in black ash. They look nice, they exude quality and they are exceptionally well made but they are monolithic.

You could see monkeys smashing bones in front of them with 2001 Space Odyssey blaring.

If I were buying them or something similar today I'd pay extra for a natural wood finish.

I have a Madrigal Proceed HPA2 amp. It it all business. Dull gray. One big silver button, two tiny lights. It exudes power and seriousness but looks like something from a factory.

My Audio Research LS-16 has a face and reminds me of what people thought robots would look like in 1950.

Get a load of this CDP. Not my cup or tea but it certainly has a design aesthetic:

I believe you can have beautiful sound and aesthetically pleasing equipment.  My Sonos Faber speakers are works of art and fit it well with my surrounding living area - plus they sound superb.
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If you have enough money you can get any look you desire .
Look at it this way. If something costs a fortune, sounds fantastic, but looks like a piece of junk that will fall apart at any minute would you buy it? I don’t think so. Re the cable issue I never thought I would join what I used to call the crazy cable club and then I heard what Synergistic Research could do in my system and suddenly I had laid out $10K in cables. But it was the only thing left to tweek. I must have listened to midline cables from a dozen different companies and yes there were differences but it wasn’t always clear that it was improvement. With the SR stuff there was no question.
I said this in another thread once and I still think it is true and someone should make it happen:

Some of these fine high end cables and power cords are beautifully made and beautiful to look at (including some that I own) regardless of what you think about their actual benefit. But then we stick them in some rack, closet or cabinet coming out of the backs of our components.

Someone needs to make equally beautiful components in which these gorgeous cables come out the front where they can be seen and admired.....as well as heard.