Discussions surrounding Acoustic Audio Speakers tend to get pretty heated and with plenty of flaming.
In reality, sound quality is not difficult to measure either by ear or with measurement instruments.
There are two ways to approach speaker quality
…and this is where the opinions start flying and tempers flare up.
One – Subjective listening and Speakers:
Some reviewers and audio enthusiasts believe that the only way to determine the superiority of acoustic audio speakers is to listen with your ears.
~ They may listen to many designs using the same reference stereo speakers system. Each speaker will be played the exact same material and chosen carefully over time.
This is certainly a valid approach and it does represent how we naturally listen to music and acoustic audio speakers.
It seems that this is also a good way to choose one speaker over the next.
The problem with this approach is that hearing among humans is very different. What may sound very good to your ears I may not like at all…
Still, in my opinion good sound is good sound. If a played sound is largely similar to the recorded sound then the speaker is doing the job well.
Usually you can determine the quality of a loudspeaker by listening to it for a few hours.
Two; Using Measurements and Response Data with Acoustics Audio Speakers:
Measurements are very important because it may be very difficult to hear what a loudspeaker is doing right or wrong.
The measurement is a benchmark where you can see problems within the design.
Reputable Acoustic Audio Speakers (and the companies that make them) will address both listening and measurements to achieve the best results.
Most speaker companies do not include their speaker measurement data for three reasons:
1. They don’t want to share their secrets.
2. They don’t want to share their audio speakers’ problem areas.
3. The customer probably will not understand them anyway.
And, comparing one speaker to the next based solely on its measurements is a poor way to make a decision. It is true that you can somewhat predict how a speaker may sound based on its measurements but some of the data is very complicated.
Impulse response plots, frequency response graphs, and spectral decay are some of the measurements that loudspeaker designers use.
And each speaker driver will perform different and interact with a crossover differently so understanding all of this is simply too confusing to the average shopper.
If you are interested in learning how to determine the merit of a specific acoustic audio speakers design using measurement data try these tips:
1. A good speaker is the sum of its parts so you should start with well performing and measuring drivers. Use speaker drivers that have good measurement data.
This data is often provided by companies that sell the raw drivers. If you can obtain the driver type and model you can often see how the raw driver measures.
2. Driver spacing should be kept as close together as possible given the design choices of the cabinet.
3. Time coherence should be addressed and met if possible.
4. Phase coherence should be addressed and met if possible.
o Most loudspeakers are neither time or phase coherent as this is a painstaking process.
o The rewards are usually very precise and accurate imaging along with dynamics that are very crisp.
5. Dynamics and driver compression
o Good speaker drivers are not cheap, so cheap loudspeakers don’t usually include high quality speaker drivers. Quality costs!
o When playing music, it should be very easy to hear the difference between instrument types. Poor speaker designs will tend to compress dynamics making them all sound of the same volume or intensity.
It is a good idea to use a familiar recording to check dynamics. Dynamics are also the speaker’s ability to scare you or make you jump when a sudden increase in volume arises.
o Higher sensitivity speakers (above 88db) usually are better at achieving high dynamics. But a poorly designed high sensitivity speaker may also sound very colored and unnatural.
High sensitivity is not always an indicator of a high quality loudspeaker. Don’t rely on this; just note it when checking the specs.
o A speaker that can reproduce dynamics very well usually has well engineered and well built speaker drivers.
There are a few ways to determine the cabinet’s integrity.
o The knuckle rap test. Rap your knuckles all over the cabinet. (Not just in one location.)
The sound from your knuckle should not sound like a hollow box. The harder the box, the better the internal bracing.
The dead sound of only your knuckle making a sound is a very good indicator of speaker box quality.
o The overall speaker weight – a small bookshelf speaker should weigh at least 25 to 30 pounds (the higher the better).
A typical floor standing speaker should weigh at least 60 to 70 pounds. (the heavier the better) Designs lighter than this will probably have high cabinet resonance and may sound colored (unnatural) while playing music. Of course, the larger the box the more it should weigh because of the bracing necessary to damp the larger panels.
7. A well executed speaker crossover
o Crossover design is difficult for a consumer to measure because you cannot see it.
o Listen to some very high end speakers. This is a good way to see what is possible with loudspeaker design and may give you a benchmark as a comparison.
o A poor crossover will typically suck the life out of the music. If it sounds dull and uninteresting the crossover may be part of the problem. Crossover design problems are pretty tough to ‘hear’ though. But speaker crossover networks
are where most of the damage is done in loudspeaker design because passive crossover parts are damaging to the signal.
8. Baffle edges should be rounded off or front baffle felt should be used such on Wilson Audio loudspeakers.
What makes Acoustic Audio Speakers sound bad?
Most poor designs on the market are built because the speaker was created to make substantial profits for the company making them.
The goal was not to increase the company reputation by building a superior product at a fair price. This is one reason that the DIY speaker box is such a great alternative.
People often think or hear that Bose makes the best speakers on earth. Don’t bet on it.
Bose has a very large advertising budget. And they use it.
But how much of their acoustic audio speakers budget contributes to the sound quality? Little I’m afraid.
A good alternative to Bose is Polk Audio Speakers -AKA – Polk Speakers. They make a much higher performance product for around the same price as Blose.
What do most Poor Performance Speakers have in common?
• Speaker drivers may bottom out very easily
• Dynamics sound compressed and or strained
• Bass sounds boomy
• One note bass (this most common in band pass or ported designs)
• The music probably does not sound real or like you are there in the concert or blues bar. A good design will give a good impression of how the real event did sound when it was recorded. This realism should very convincing on a high fidelity audio system.
• Most poor speakers also have a poor set of measurements.
Getting your hands on this data can be the trick though.
Cheap speakers don’t usually accompany a set of accurate measurements. (If any measurements at all)
How can I learn to hear the difference between good and bad speaker designs?
1. Take your time when listening to a speaker. Don’t worry about spending hours listening to various speakers. Don’t try to make a decision in one day.
2. Listen to a wide variety of loudspeakers
3. Try to listen to several speakers using the same equipment at the store. (sometimes the sales clerk will allow this)
What qualities do excellent loudspeakers all share?
• Excellent pitch definition
• Slam and bass weight (can also be achieved by adding a good subwoofer)
• Music sounds very natural in tones with low coloration
• Image placement – sound stage should be deep behind the speakers and wide far outside the left and right of where the speakers sit. This trick is very difficult for cheap speakers to achieve accurately.
• Center image – a solid center image should be present when listening to two channel music. If the main speakers can image well then other speakers in the set (if using surround sound) should also sound very good. They are usually designed very similar.
How to get Better Acoustic Audio Speakers:
Smaller speaker companies usually are banking their reputation on any given speaker design. They have more to lose if the speaker does not sell well. They also tend to offer better warranties than the large manufacturing brands.
Don’t shop for loudspeakers the same way you shop for a receiver. Speakers don’t necessarily benefit from mass production the same way electronics do.
Acoustic audio speakers are much more labor intensive to build and are usually very expensive to ship. To see our Speakers (Products) and the best home theater systems visit our products page.
Large speaker manufacturing companies tend to cut costs wherever they can.
Remember, profit is their goal not product reputation. They overcompensate for reputation with high-dollar-aggressive ad campaigns.
Another way to get high performance and low cost is a speaker kit. Speaker Building – Build your perfect speaker with our parts and supplies from crossover components to full kits. You buy the parts and put them together using premium components. The savings will be substantial and the performance of the best rated kits is very high indeed.
I think this is one of the best ways to get a high performance acoustic audio speakers system in your home for less money.
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