First of all, thanks to all that have posted recently expressing support for my posts! It's good to know that people find the information I post valuable
Some of what I will post now will be familiar to those who have read my posts before, but unless someone new goes back several months in the thread, this may be new information (at least for people also new to this thread).
And I actually appreciate
's skepticism, for the exact reasons he states. Every dealer claims that they sell the very best products, and every manufacturer claims the same. Unless there is something objective to back all that up, it's all simply marketing hyperbole and totally subjective. As
"One swears by Kef Reference or Dali Epicons, another thinks the new Wilson speakers with the new silk dome tweeter and new voicing are the best at various price points starting with the new Sabrina's at $16,000 to be followed by the newly awaited version of the Sophia 3 at $23,000. Then there was the dealer who thought the Magicos were the cats meow or the Maggie 3.7s."
Let me preface my own thoughts on this subject by stating right up front that I am a hard core
skeptic. I literally started the Pikes Peak Skeptics society and am a member of many other skeptical organizations (in fact, I once did a presentation on High End Audio "snake oil" products for the annual Colorado Skepticamp event). As a skeptic, I am dedicated to following the evidence where it leads, vs. leading the evidence to pre-ordained conclusions. As human beings, we are all susceptible to confirmation and expectation bias, and I realize that I am no different. It is exactly this frame of mind that led me to Harman products - specifically JBL and Revel - to begin with.
As I mentioned above, without some kind of way to objectively evaluate sound quality, all we are left with is marketing hype and subjective claims. The good folks at Harman recognize this - which is why they institute strict scientific protocols for testing their speakers both internally, and against the competition. In order to reliably determine which speaker does in fact sound best, it is absolutely necessary to completely level the playing field. So many factors can mess up our subjective evaluations of speaker sound quality:
- Different speakers evaluated in different rooms with different source material
- Sighted tests where it is possible to see which speaker is playing at any given time (giving rise to expectation and confirmation bias)
- Different volume levels (whichever speaker is louder will invariably sound "better" to most people)
- Different speaker positioning even if speakers are evaluated in the same room (whichever speaker is closer to a room boundary will either benefit or be degraded by the bass boost that comes with being placed closer to a wall or walls)
In addition to Harman having the most advanced and elaborate acoustics and speaker testing facility in the world, they also have the only double blind listening facility that eliminates all of the above factors when comparing speakers. The listening tests undertaken in this facility are strictly scientifically controlled, not subjective, in that the tests are truly double blind with neither the listener nor the tester knowing which speaker is playing at any given time. The speakers are also precisely level matched so that volume / efficiency differences won't affect the outcome, plus the speakers are hidden behind an acoustically transparent curtain. Each speaker is also moved into the identical position so that room boundary interactions are compensated for (thanks to the pneumatic speaker mover designed by Dr. Sean Olive). The listeners then rate each speaker on an iPad on a sliding scale. Only after the testing is done is it revealed which speakers are which.
Brad and I were present for one of these double blind evaluations when we attended Harman Academy back in August. In the session Brad and I attended, the brand new Revel Concerta2 M16 bookshelf speaker was being tested against competing models from KEF, Monitor Audio, and Polk.There were 8 people in the room, and out of this particular group seven preferred the Revels to all the other speakers in the test.
During other sessions, various Revel models have been tested against other speakers from B&W, Paradigm, Klipsch, Martin Logan, Golden Ear, Wilson, and Definitive Technology (there have been many others; those are just some that we have either witnessed or have discussed with the testers). It's a genuine Revel policy that they won't put a speaker into production until it can beat the competition during the double blinds. It is our understanding that no speaker has ever beat the top of the line Salon2 in any of the double blind tests (as I mentioned before, it was commented by one of the testers at Harman that the Salon2 "mopped the floor" with a much more expensive model from Wilson Audio during a recent double blind listening session).
On top of that, all of the scientific research undertaken at Harman is shared with the world in the true spirit of science, with the results of their research peer reviewed and published in scientific journals. Harman will often bring in people from different cultures, nationalities and age groups for the listening sessions, and the results of the tests are often published on Dr. Olive's blog:
So, based on all of the above, I finally have landed on a brand of speakers (actually, two brands, Revel and JBL Synthesis) that I feel I can objectively
say are better than the competition. While the above may not ultimately prove that they are the best speaker for everyone, I know of no other method that will give as reliable results for comparing speaker sound quality. And it is no surprise to me that the results of all this testing shows that the most accurate speakers with the flattest and even response - both on axis and off axis - win the double blind tests. This is exactly why Revel speakers are engineered to offer those specific qualities
The icing on the cake for me is the fact that Revel and JBL speakers are often used in the most critical mixing and mastering environments for film and video. Literally 90% of all Blu-rays are mixed and mastered on JBL Synthesis systems, using the Revel C763L as the ATMOS surrounds. Dolby's Critical Listening Lab utilizes nine Revel Salon2s as the main speakers. Bob Katz (of Steely Dan fame) checks his mixes and final masters on Revel Salon2s, as do two major film composers I know of.
The "pro" part of the pedigree was the last piece of the puzzle for me, as I am a film composer and sound designer when I'm not doing home theaters (or should I state that the other way around
). When you combine that pro pedigree with the hard scientific principles Revel / JBL adhere to, you come as close as you can get to an "objectively best" speaker brand.