A Note About Loudspeakers
- 25 Dec 2006 05:29
I have written about this many times before but I keep forgetting that more of my readers are first-timers than longtime habitués. So, even if you know little or nothing else about audio, be aware of this:
The loudspeaker will determine how your music system sounds. Not the amplifier, not the preamplifier, not the CD or DVD player, nothing but the loudspeaker. Speakers, even the finest, are far less accurate in terms of output compared to input than any of those other components. The speaker will be invariably the weakest link in the chain, the link that limits the quality of sound reproduction.
I am always cynically amused when an audiophile brings home a shiny new amplifier in his hot little hands, breathlessly connects it to the dinky little box speakers anything larger than which his spouse won’t allow, and turns on the music. The sound is exactly the same as it was before with his older, cheaper, less fancy amplifier, but of course he will not admit it. If he had spent his money on better loudspeakers instead, the improvement in sound would have been inarguable.
But what is a “better” loudspeaker? The standard model, employing forward-firing dynamic drivers with a passive crossover in a closed box, has been refined to the point where further improvements are most unlikely. There are small ones and big ones, simple ones and elaborate ones, $600 ones and $45,000 ones, but if they are correctly designed (admittedly not always the case), the sound will always be of the same general quality—wide-range, smooth, effortless, but not quite real, with a slightly closed-down, boxy characteristic that says: loudspeaker, not live. There’s a ceiling in performance with this type of loudspeaker, maybe at three or four thousand dollars, above which you get very little, if anything, regardless of the hyperbolic claims and insane prices of some ultrahigh-end models.
I have revived the old-time “monkey coffin” label, used by 1970s hi-fi salesmen, for this category of box speakers. There are dinky little monkey coffins and huge expensive monkey coffins, but they all sound like monkey coffins, more or less. If you seek sound that more closely resembles live music, you have to look into loudspeaker designs that depart from the standard model. Two of these have been reviewed in this Web ’zine, the Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 5 and the Linkwitz Lab “Orion.”
They are the two best speakers known to me at this juncture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t others. I shall try to explore the newer electrostatics, full-range ribbons, powered dynamics with electronic crossovers, etc. Some are not so easy for a reviewer to obtain on loan, especially if he isn’t one of those thinly disguised handmaidens of the industry. We shall see. At any rate, I am through with monkey coffins.