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Check out the latest issue of TAS - there on the cover is a real "monster" of a speaker: the new Wilson Chronosonic!!! With its grills off it looks like the ALIEN about to pounce and devour the hapless listener! Jeez, speaker design has reached a new height of ugliness! Sure, it has the ultimate WOW factor, but it would give your domestic partner a simultaneous coronary and stroke if you brought it home! Wait for the optional backhoe attachment to go along with those hefty sub's - to dig a deeper foundation for bass response!
Speaker designers will always get it wrong because they can only afford to focus on what they think will sell, not on what is right. Speaker designers who focus on what is right feel they can only afford to ’educate’ their prospective buyers so much and still get people’s attention...they consider the number of audiophiles already educated and seasoned enough to be discerning enough to recognize a fully well-thought-out design when they’re confronted with one, may actually represent only a tiny fragment of the buying market. Well-thought-out in a particular technical regard or two are easy to find, but the comprehensive ones not so much (comprehensive does Not mean cost-no-object). Ergo, there are not that many examples of those types of speakers in the market. Furniture-oriented, crazy-looking, technically compromised bargains, absurdly expensive, boring but traditional, etc...pick your poison.
I'm going to kind of go along with the "making acceptable" furniture point by saying that on almost all of the speakers I've owned the finishes are so delicate it's near impossible not to inflict damage/scratches, etc. on them. I totally understand that in better systems the cabinetry is an utterly amazing engineering accomplishment, but how many of us view our speakers from the side once set into place?
Speakers are moved about more than any other component, ain't they? I understand that most manufacturers have to appeal to making aesthetically appealing furniture as well, but given the practical end-user's personal adjustments down the road, would more practical materials detract from the sonics?
When I change cables on my Thiel CS 3.6's I actually get pillows down on the floor to protect the cabinets. They're 108 pounds apiece with the connections on the BOTTOM. No easy task for anybody and risky as hell for the cabinets.
Ouch. My back!
The big Tannoys in the Prestige line do have a bit of a dated look to them, but at least they're not hideous, and they sound even better than they look.
I couldn't afford any of the Tannoys that would satisfy me, so I bought old drivers, designed my own cabinets, changed the foam surrounds to "Hard Edge", built outboard crossovers, and they weigh 192 lbs. each, w/o drivers or crossovers. I believe they would hold their own against almost any of the current Prestige line. They don't look too bad either, a bit utilitarian though.
Aesthetics certainly matter but ...
I am just as much , if not more so , interested in the internal design .
Why not build efficient speakers ?
There are quite a few of us who would rather go the low power amp route with out getting a second mortgage ! There are plenty of affordable low power amplifiers available but high efficiency speakers , not so much .
If the kit designers can do it ...why not the big boys ? They wouldn't have to redesign the whole line , just one or two offerings .
Sure would be nice !
Far too much of what goes on day to day in the speaker biz seems to me to be based on tradition in one way or another - they’re are accustomed to doing certain things a certain way because that’s the way everyone else has always done them...even at times when the design is in other ways an attempt to appear innovative. If speaker manufacturers would spend less time trying to cash in on the latest speaker-design or appearance trends and focus instead on the ceaseless parade of the same, classic, ordinary design blunders I see repeated over and over, maybe then (at least we audiophiles) might be just as well or better served.
Sometimes it seems to me that speaker design is generally seen by manufacturers as something that should be dallied at - to pick from, cafeteria style, the long list of possible design elements - and come away with something that will separate their line or product from everything else out there...you know, you gotta have something to give you an edge in a crowded market - you know, like a gimmick. The idea of just doing what it may take to get everything right in a given design has seemed to have pretty much gone out the window.
Part of what I’m going on about here may be rooted in how we traditionally approach manufacturing in this country.
We don’t necessarily approach wholly from the standpoint of how do we serve the customer’s need. We tend to approach from: I’ve got x amount of ingredient A, x amount of ingredient B and x amount of C. How many different widgets can I make from these ingredients?
IOW, it’s just as much a manufacturing concern as it is a market concern, perhaps more so with speakers because of the extra degree of difficulty and expense of cabinetry involved. That does not lend itself per se to design freedom.
But, OTOH, what difference does it make if you can make any number of widgets and nobody buys them?
But then again, if widgets of one form or another are all that’s available in the market, then what are people going to buy??
Thank you, Ivan. Great points you've made in this thread, by the way...
@inna "Though every element and the interaction of them is important, my understanding is that drivers are the single most important element. I don't want to pay thousands for nice finish, give me great drivers first, nice finish can be optional for those...whatever you want to call them."
You have a most reasonable position. Few people think about crossovers, and that actually drove my point.
In fact, these elements divide and feed the signal to the drivers. Not that it's my rallying cry, but it's a bit like the source is the most important element in the chain. The drivers can only produce what gets fed to them. The crossover determines that. Because these components live inside the box, and don't have the visual impact of the cabinetry / aesthetics or the drivers, we presume the builder has that part of the loudspeaker equation nailed down. Seeing more familiar, high-quality, or exotic components (wire, resistors, capacitors, coils) further puts our minds at ease.
In reality, high-level parts quality actually provides little indication the designer has any handle on crossover theory. It's really something few people understand, and that's why I suggested folks take just half the time spent on their cabinets and learn it.
Anecdote: A friend builds a line loudspeakers that always sounded "distinct" to me. Initially, I wondered if that reflected the midrange driver. After building my own speakers with that part, and hearing other products that used this driver through its growing popularity, that characteristic at all. Over the years, the iterations of his speakers piled up. One day, for whatever reason, he showed me the schematic of a crossover. I felt happy to see it featured a simple design, but my eye immediately fell to a part that looked off by a factor of 10. I began to discuss it with him, and despite his background as an engineer, instantly saw his discomfort with the subject. He told me he had no idea about the different topologies. A mutual friend (a technician, not an engineer) gave him those values way back, he'd employed them in every speaker he built, and would never mess with them. Even as I let him know somehow the decimal point must have got moved over one place, and that he should simply (how much effort and cost would it cost him?) listen to a pair with my suggested value, he wanted no parts of it. But in fact, that perfectly explained the signature sound of his products.
Unfortunately, most of the folks who build loudspeakers I've met have nothing close to his acumen with mathematics, engineering, and the like. That's not to say people don't exist who can explain the what, why, and how of their crossover. But as the hobby has shifted to a more mom and pop type of business, a quick conversation with most people makes it clear cabinets and drivers get the lion's share of attention
"So, what kind of questions should I ask a speaker designer to see if he has a good idea of crossovers and their implementation?"
In my opinion there is no "secret handshake" by which a particularly good crossover designer can be picked out in a crowd.
Personally, I don’t think I could begin to evaluate a crossover designer’s work just by asking him a few questions. And if I had to rely on questions, they would be open-ended, like, "Would you mind sharing with me as much as you are comfortable about what you do, and how you do it, and why?" If he talks a good game, well I guess that’s a start.
Far better of course would be actually listening to his speakers. If they sound good, they probably are good, and that would include the crossover.
The one thing I would caution against is, embracing an exclusive notion of what the "ideal crossover" should be and using that as a yardstick to judge speaker designs from a distance.
Duke, my hypothetical questions would not be of someone looking for particular speakers but of someone interested in how speakers can be built and what it takes to make them sound good.
I don't know a thing about crossovers but I am always suspicious of speakers with multiple drivers. Would you say that three is enough even if the room is big and you sometimes play loudly?
"I am always suspicious of speakers with multiple drivers."
Can you explain what you mean by this?
"Would you say that three is enough even if the room is big and you sometimes play loudly?"
I’m not really inclined to single out the number of drivers as something to focus on. I would be more interested in what the designer is trying to do, and how he goes about doing it, which in turn may or may not call for a particular number of drivers. I suppose there is some correlation between number of drivers and how loud a system will go, but the specifics of a given design matter far, far more than any generalities we might make regarding numbers of drivers.
Let me give an example of what I mean, pardon me from drawing from my own experience but at least this way it isn’t some arbitrary hypothetical: In my opinion, two worthwhile design goals are, good re-creation of the timbre of instruments, and good dynamic contrast. That’s "what I’m trying to do."
The "how" part is, I use driver combinations that a) give me a radiation pattern that is fairly directional and fairly uniform over most of the spectrum; and that b) have about 10 dB of excess thermal power handling capability above whatever in-room peaks we would normally expect. To get more specific, I use prosound drivers, with the high-frequency section employing a constant-directivity waveguide. The woofer crosses over to the waveguide at the frequency where its radiation pattern has narrowed to match that of the waveguide. (A "waveguide", in this context, is a type of horn, designed with pattern control and low coloration as the priorities, rather than acoustic amplification.)
The "why" part is, getting the reverberant field to have the same spectral balance as the first-arrival sound supports good timbre; and if the drivers are only seeing about 10% of their rated power on peaks, they will usually have negligible thermal compression, so the dynamic contrast on the recording is preserved. These aren’t the only things I care about of course, but they’re high on the list.
How many drivers does it take to do what I just described? In this case it would take two to do it pretty well and four to do it even better, and I’ve been known to use more than that, but what would the number of drivers tell you if you had no idea what they were or what I was trying to do? My point being, it's the SPECIFICS of a given design that matter most.
With some designs I see a wall of drivers and with others just two or three. What do they try to accomplish with so many drivers? I always thought that one driver is a theoretical ideal.
Another element is the enclosure. Don't remember the name, I saw speakers by some Dutch company with quite an elaborate enclosure, sort of a labyrith inside the cabinet. Michael Green Audio is another example with his efforts to buld a speaker like an instrument. In fact, he tries to tune entire room to be that 'instrument'.
"With some designs I see a wall of drivers and with others just two or three. What do they try to accomplish with so many drivers?"
See what the designer has to say! I'm sure he has something specific in mind.
"I always thought that one driver is a theoretical ideal."
Out in the real world, theoreticals are secondary to practicalities. A single driver can work well for some things, not so much for others.
As a reviewer my advice to manufacturers; ignore 99% of this thread and carry on.
Many of the suggestions show a cheapness, a belief that cheaper is as good or better. This is a beautiful way to dumb down the audiophile experience. At the same time they would have manufacturers build butt ugly speakers. Wow, that's a real sales bonus. :(
This site is infested with cheapskates. It shows in so many threads, where the goal is the cheapest component. You'll never attain anything close to SOTA with that attitude. Thank God there are manufacturers who don't work towards the lowest common denominator. We have people who would have a coronary if they were to contemplate spending $5K on any speaker trying to give advice on what speaker manufacturers should do. Uh, NO. Not the way to progress in the industry.
Then we have the contingent of people obsessed about appearances. A large number of them are also cheapskates. They completely discount craftsmanship in the industry, as though everyone deserves a butt ugly speaker in their home.
Others of you seem ignorant of the fact that likely over 90% of audiophiles do not care about attaining more complex speaker systems. A very small segment of the population wants more complexity in speakers/systems. Frankly, the entire field of studio-like more complex speaker systems imo has not proven to be inherently superior to a great passive setup. Yeah, I have done the comparisons, several times.
The fact is that if a speaker manufacturer listened to the input here he/she could tank their business pretty quickly. :(
Loudspeaker design is done in the physical world, so it’s a set of balanced out trade offs, like most other endeavors.
No single magic bullet of knowledge, just a set of skills and lore and raw talent ---applied to a problem that is in front of the given person.
Billions of set of individually crafted hearing mechanisms and ear/brains, with vague commonality between them, thus the thousands of speakers which are considered ’excellent’ or ’bad’. No mystery with the more correct question in hand to see it for what it is.
The idea of a single best speaker is just the ’body politic’ trying to assert itself and socialize behaviour patterns so the clan can keep itself safe, over the long term -- from the lions in the tall grass.
Ie, the big loudspeaker on the cover the glossy magazine is the end point in generalization of social/cultural function, the masses standardizing themselves into a set pattern for the benefit of the whole or the benefit of the given ’leadership’ of the clan. The evidential trail or markers/indicators of human physiology and psychology.
Individualism is exactly that: individualism. And everyone’s got themselves some of that. We are lucky if we can find a way to maximize audio qualities for one customer, or even ourselves, never mind all or any given group consensus.
Ha, the first thing that came to my mind was almost the opposite of the
OP’s view. My first impulse is to say build better looking speakers!!!!!
Aesthetics are important to me, speakers are a form of furniture - I will be placing them in a room whose aesthetics I care about and I’ll be staring at the speakers for long periods of time listening.
I know quite a number of audiophiles don’t care so much about aesthetics and frankly, their listening rooms show it; like I’m looking at a frat-guy’s place with every bit of equipment and wire spilled all over in view and little care for the looks of the room. (Though there are also some absolutely beautiful set ups in the virtual systems pictures as well).
Overall I think the aesthetics of speaker design has upped it’s game over the years. That said, some of the design aesthetics are still what an engineer with no design experience would think of as "cool."
This being an audiophile site it goes without saying that we want great sound. So obviously I’m not inclined to say "give me worse sound." But few things to me are more wonderful than a gorgeous lookingspeaker that sounds beautiful.
My 2 cents:
Keep the impedance and phase angles reasonable. The last thing you want to do is make **any** amplifier work hard, as to do so makes more distortion and it will most likely be audible as harshness and loss of detail.
As an example, many speaker designers put dual woofers in parallel, creating a 4 ohm load in the bass. The problem is that most of the energy in music is in the woofers, so most of the distortion the amp is going to make is going to be the result of how hard it has to work to drive the woofers.
A simple way to make any speaker with any amp sound more transparent and smoother is to simply raise the impedance. You can see the implications of this in the specs of any amplifier, tube, solid state or class D.
A second beef is that many speaker companies equate sensitivity and efficiency as the same thing when they are a bit different. It would be better if both specs were stated.
Designers are already building what the market wants. Small,easy to house,sell,ship,make profits off Chinese manufactured bookshelf or tower designs all near identical to one another. Sure a few options exist outside of this but the majority are like I mentioned more similar in design to toasters than art. Audiophiles are so used to this appearance and similarity of design that anything to far outside of the norm will not get much market traction. Its just the way humanity rolls we crave the familiar change is scary. Most all buyers want 2-2.5 way designs mostly with dome and 6 inch woofer or woofers in wood veneer cabinets some may go AMT or ribbon tweeters.
...close your eyes, sit back and enjoy Vandersteen speakers....then open your eyes and feast on the perfect build and finish of them (I have 5A's with their Kowazinga finish.. I had a furniture repair person come to refinish an end table....walked to the speakers and remarked how beautiful they are)
Ralph makes an excellent point in suggesting the amp/speaker interaction be given high priority by speaker designers, and in particular I echo his vote for fairly high impedances and benign curves.
Likewise imo the speaker/room interaction deserves high priority in most cases.
I’d go so far as to say amp + speaker + room = a system within a system.
@inna, "So, what kind of questions should I ask a speaker designer to see if he has a good idea of crossovers and their implementation?"
How comfortable do you feel with the different strategies / topologies that exist?
@douglas_schroeder , "As a reviewer my advice to manufacturers; ignore 99% of this thread and carry on."
Kudos for holding on to the crown for routinely submitting the most pompous and condescending posts any participant!
There's a lack of choice in the omni and coaxial schools of speaker design right now. You know the types of speakers which can address a large sweet spot. We don't all want to sit still listening and if we do time is precious.
Plenty of room out there for 'activity accomodating' speakers which are ambivalent to the listeners moving around the room, standing up, sitting on the floor, etc. There are enough multi-system audiophiles out there to account for selling speakers with a different use case vs simple preferences.
I can't be the only one using a single driver speaker because my listening room doubles as many other things and I appreciate the point source behavior. My music however doesn't play well with the limited bandwidth.
If aesthetics are important then the sound will never be great. I have no problem with people who want to listen to good looking speakers in a good looking room but if that's what you want you don't need to care too much about electronics. You don't need to care about cables at all. Get some good speakers that don't do anything too wrong, sit back and enjoy.
Yeah. Besides, by definition speakers cannot look too good in a usual sense. Or electronics really. Well, some might like Rowland's shiny boxes or Absolare leather wraped cases. Not me. I like the look of Focal Utopia, some Kharmas, and Lansches with their plasma tweeter that also happens to sound great are fine too.
Gryphon amps look good, Ypsilon is not bad. Big Wavacs, oh hell, look great. Kondo sucks. Lamm fine. Pass weird.
But in any case, unless it is extraordinarily bizarre I don't care, and even if it is I will listen of course.
People here often kind of complain about their wives in relation to aesthetics of the gear. I understand. Most wives can be convinced by the performance, I believe.
If aesthetics are important then the sound will never be great.
That’s simply not the case.
First, I’ve had numerous speakers I think were aesthetically beautiful that sounded great. Further, the more expensive speakers tend to be the more beautifully built speakers with even more attention to finish and style. As is the case with most high performance luxury items. Many of the Tidal speakers, for instance, are among the most beautifully made, and are also in the top sphere of performance.
(And I also happen to like the aesthetics of the MBL speakers, which produce some of the most amazing sound I’ve ever heard).
Right now I have Thiel 2.7 speakers in ebony and they are among the most beautiful speakers I’ve ever seen, and they sound superb. So do my bigger 3.7s.
A friend of mine reviews audio gear and often has crazy expensive gear and cabling. His set up is more of a "reviewer" set up in terms of aesthetics - equipment all around. I prefer most equipment to be out of sight, except the speakers, hence all my cabling is mostly hidden, source gear in another room. Yet my system usually sounds more impressive than his, because I put my money into my speakers (and not cables) and especially because I had the room professionally designed for good acoustics, with a high priority for aesthetics so you don’t see the treatments.
There is nothing about high end audio that bars beautiful industrial design as part of the process. And there’s quite a bit of it in the high end.
I agree with Prof. Everything must be designed; a speaker does not design itself. And a physically beautiful speaker can also be a superb sounding speaker - and this applies to electronics, cabling, etc. When it comes to speakers, fit and finish go a long way; and the ability to customize the finished surface (wood, paint, color, etc) is a bonus. For example, my Zu Def 4s are available in an almost unlimited combination of finishes. The only problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I find that this especially applies to electronics.
You can pretty a good sounding room up a bit but room treatments are inherently homely. It's all subjective anyway but anything dealing with sound absorption/diffusion is going to have to have quite a bit of surface area to be effective and will have to be placed where it works effectively. Neither of these things are conducive to good looks. If looks, decor are a priority the sound will suffer. I don't believe there's any way around it.
My living room (in which we put our nice furniture and decor) was good sounding even before I remodeled it with an acoustician. It had an asymmetrical layout with bay windows, a wide opening to a hallway, and a good ratio of furniture and live to dead acoustics. Whether it was speaker designers, or sound mixers, or fellow audiophiles, all of them were amazed by the sound I got in my room.
After the remodel, it’s even easier to get great sound. And the room treatments are all hidden, built in to the structure of the room in a way that no one ever suspects to be room treatment. It’s completely "clean" looking of room treatment in that sense (I hate the look of room treatments).
And I bet my room is sonically better than plenty of people spending far more on speakers, placed in rooms which are aesthetically challenged looking.
It’s just not true to say if aesthetics are important "the sound will never be great." That’s what industrial design, a care for style, and ingenuity are all about.