Approaches to speaker sound... natural vs. engineered. Give me your thoughts. - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:24 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm trying to put together my first quality system (music only), and have noticed two approaches that have been taken towards putting together good sounding speakers. One seems to be, more or less... let the speakers naturally recreate what's there, and if the source is good, it'll sound good through an accurate representation. The other philosophy seems to be to engineer a speaker that takes the music and tweaks it in all the necessary ways so that it sounds the way people like music to sound. The two speakers I've heard that best exemplify these attributes are the Vandersteen 1C for the former, and the JMLab Chorus 826 V for the latter. It's hard to describe this all, but I'd say that in general, the vandy's seemed more laid back. A good and noticeable soundstage, but not over the top. Good clarity, and realistic portrayal of the instruments. The guitar sounded like there was a guitar amp somewhere in the same room as me. The 826's were much more in your face. Vocals smack in the middle... kickass bass, every instrument nice, crisp, and punchy. It's like they took all those parameters and tweaked them to perfection.

Is it accurate to say that speaker companies do have these 2 philosophies in their designs? Have I picked good examples? What do you feel are the pros and cons of each approach? What about price? How much do you think one has to spend to get a great pair of speakers employing the first philosophy, vs. the second?

I'm having the damnedest time with deciding between the two. On the one hand, I tend to be more impressed with the in your face approach. I listen to some pretty in your face music most of the time and I feel like it makes it easy to enjoy that. On the other hand, sometimes I can tell it's unnatural. I worry that if it makes a so-so recording sound great, it might make an excellent recording sound less good, by devastating the source material. I also wonder if it's something they incorporate so the speakers sound good at the store, but after time one tires of how over the top it is. I get the impression that the more laid back speakers aren't going to be as impressive most of the time, but that they will shine on good live recordings... stuff with more natural production. I'm pretty undecided and wish I could afford to have both. Yeah, I get a kick out of the tweaking they've done, but I want to be able to appreciate music's subtleties... I don't want anything masked. However, tameness bothers me. Am I making a fair assessment of the situation? WHat else should I be weighing in order to make my choice?

I'm sure over time you've faced the same kind of choice. What have you chosen? Why?
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post #2 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:31 PM
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You're experiencing what Joe Roberts called "you are there" vs. "they are here". A matter of preference.

Keep in mind that both speakers you're talking about could be doing it wrong. That is if any speaker is really wrong, or right, which opens another can of worms.
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post #3 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:36 PM
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Get the speaker that YOU like. If purists chastise you that it's not +/- 1dB from 1Hz to 234893498643890576Hz, don't listen to them. Period. You're not buying speakers to satisfy them, you're buying speakers to satisfy you.

Edit to add: Just make sure the speaker sounds good on all sorts of things. Some speakers might make one song sound way better, but sound like crap on everything else.

"Vintage" is good for wine, not for A/V equipment.

-Dan D.
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post #4 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:36 PM
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Worms are only good for fishing. And fishing frustrates me just as much as our hobby but I enjoy them both to no end. Enter..........GOLF! :-(

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post #5 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:40 PM
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Interesting observations. I suspect that in fact both speakers were designed to sound natural to the people who designed them. Only you can decide what is more "natural" sounding to you. One useful tool is to listen to speakers you cannot afford. Then choose the ones that sound closest to them to your ears. I listen to a wide variety of music, but mostly reggae, rock, bluegrass. When I was choosing speakers I picked the ones that reproduced acoustic instruments (including voice) that sounded the most realistic to me. I regret I could not demo the two you are considering, so have no specific recommendation.
OK, I do have a recommendation. Pick a set of music that represents what you like to listen to.
Try to pick a wide variety of stuff you like. Choose the speaker that does the best on the most pieces of music (or the ones that are most important to you). Speakers are a comprimise . . .

Everything I say here is my opinion. It is not my employers opinion, it is not my wife's opinion, it is not my neighbors opinion, it is My Opinion.
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post #6 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 02:42 PM - Thread Starter
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If I had a choice, it'd be simple... to have both things, by buying two sets of speakers.

I'm definitely not expecting anyone to hold my hand or make a decision for me, because we all know it's subjective. I am more interested in finding out if I'm spending time worrying about a real problem, and trying to hear from people who have experience that I don't. That might help me factor in issues (after hearing them for myself) that I might not have been aware of otherwise. I also know it's not black and white, and there may be a sweet spot where I won't have to choose between the two attributes.
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post #7 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 03:01 PM
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I played in bands when I was young and still mess around jamming with people and such. I have a music room in my house with a piano, drumkit and Fender bass and Ampeg amp. And I've spent a great deal of time in rock and roll, blues and jazz clubs.

So I look for clarity and dynamics above all in a speaker because I know what a piano, electric guitar, drums, saxophone and Fender bass sound like in my room. So I go for the "they are here" presentation; that sounds like reality as I've experienced it. When I play "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MGs I want it to sound like that B-3 and Ampeg Portoflex are right there in the room with me. And sometimes they do.

On the other hand I've spent very little time in concert halls and haven't the faintest idea of how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra should be presented. If somebody is after whatever the proper presentation of that should be I can't help.
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post #8 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 03:07 PM - Thread Starter
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Ohhh so THAT'S what you meant by "they are here" vs. "you are there"! Great example.
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post #9 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 03:13 PM
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That is if any speaker is really wrong, or right, which opens another can of worms.

So true, and while we can see problems in certain measurements we can't know which (seemingly) smaller problem in one measurement might make something more or less "natural" than another (seemingly) larger problem in another measurement.
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Speakers are a comprimise . . .

So true and which comprimises are more acceptable will differ from one person to another. I know some people who REALLY swear by "time allignment" while others aren't as bothered by the absense of it.

It is interesting because while most will argue as to which sound more natural, as that is what they claim to be listening for, and then they draw out specs to show accuracy (usually only an FR graph , as if that's all that mattters)....you, however, clearly have decided , subjectively, that one is more accurate but that you may prefer the other , which while perfectly acceptable in my book, may make others wince at the notion of getting something that is obviously "colored".

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Maybe someday in the future we will be able to quantify perceived Sound Quality .
(But not today....)

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post #10 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 04:37 PM
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I don't think that the line between the two approaches that you present, natural or engineered, is so well-defined. I think there is actually more of a spectrum between those two types upon which any particular speaker will reside.

"All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it."
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post #11 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 05:37 PM - Thread Starter
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You all have convinced me to look harder for a middle ground, and maybe take a more balanced approach as well (like actually LISTENING TO the Van. 2Ce). Personal preference... probably for the more "augmented" sound. I like a lot of busy, slickly produced music. I think I'll grow into the more "refined" side of music, like jazz, good live shows, etc., eventually, but by then I should be able to get a second set of speakers (and maybe even system) if I absolutely crave an accurate reproduction. I just don't get as giddy listening to most of my music on a relatively laid back sounding system. Still, the middle ground can't be all that bad.

FYI, in my limited experience, finding an adequate natural sound seems to be much cheaper than finding an adequate polished sound.
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post #12 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 05:46 PM
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FYI, in my limited experience, finding an adequate natural sound seems to be much cheaper than finding an adequate polished sound.

Funny, I've heard many differant sets of speakers that are regarded as "neutral", some of which I found fun to listen to and engaging and some I've found dull and lifeless, and this has been at many differant price points. Again I must point out that I've also heard many differant speakers whose FR graphs were remarkably flat , and hence similar, but that sounded VERY differant, some "colored" sounding and others "natural" sounding. Producing a speaker with a fairly flat frequency response isn't neccesarily expensive.

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Maybe someday in the future we will be able to quantify perceived Sound Quality .
(But not today....)

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post #13 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 06:06 PM - Thread Starter
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Interesting to hear that flat FR response and a natural sound are not very correlated. Then again, maybe it isn't that strange... when DOES one encounter a flat FR response?
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post #14 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Overtone View Post

Interesting to hear that flat FR response and a natural sound are not very correlated. Then again, maybe it isn't that strange... when DOES one encounter a flat FR response?

In real life.

Kal Rubinson

"Music in the Round"
Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile
http://www.stereophile.com/category/music-round

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post #15 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 07:18 PM
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Interesting to hear that flat FR response and a natural sound are not very correlated. Then again, maybe it isn't that strange... when DOES one encounter a flat FR response?

I THINK I'D SAY IT'S MORE LIKE A SPEAKER COULD HAVE A FLAT FR and still sound unnatural because of other characteristics(/problems), and I think that another speaker may sound quite natural even thought it doesn't have a flat FR because of other characteristics(/qualities). Just my opinion. So which is more natural/less colored, is in the ear of the particular listener.

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Maybe someday in the future we will be able to quantify perceived Sound Quality .
(But not today....)

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post #16 of 27 Old 07-24-2007, 09:57 PM - Thread Starter
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I feel like the protagonist in Kung Fu in this thread, impatience being humbled by his teacher!

I'll be spending yet another weekend letting my ears decide what they like more... but I'd love to hear more stories like Tom and dknightd's about personal experiences. Did anyone ever find out that they don't like some characteristic of the sound the hard way?

By the way, dknightd, Dono, that was a good suggestion. Fortunately the local guys are very very cool and I generally end up getting an hour of listening in with every visit! I've got a book of my "test" cd's in the car (some acoustic, some electric guitar, some electronic music, something with some nice vocals in it, something heavy, something busy, something live, and something classic!). I have yet to find the system that blows me away on every category, but I definitely have found a few that failed miserably at one or two.
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post #17 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 02:35 AM
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Overtone,

Personal experiences it is then.

I have actually split my system (stereo in a different room to HT) largely due to the fact that I was getting very frustrated with trying to achieve all things with one system. I am now extremely happy the highly detailed but neutral and natural (to me) sound that my big Vandersteens, the room and my electronics give me in stereo. The soundstage is very deep as well as wide. It seems more intimate as the performers are real and very 3D in front of me. Not absolutely perfect for all types of music such as metal but superb for most including orchestral, acoustic, vocals. Simply never any listener fatigue even if I go on for hours.

In surround music though, I prefer the slightly more up front, snappier sound that my old Missions and slightly brighter room give me. To me, concerts sound more like the less than perfect FR from amplified instruments and singers that I feel I find at many actual concert venues with the general exception of a live (un-amplified) symphony orchestra. Just seems to match to my experience better. Not as much depth to the soundstage and I prefer the surround involvement of being seemingly in the audience for concerts such as Roger Waters In the Flesh. Actually, for pure HT, the speakers I've liked most that I've heard but not owned were M&K.
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post #18 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 09:57 AM
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[quote=Tom Brennan]I played in bands when I was young and still mess around jamming with people and such. I have a music room in my house with a piano, drumkit and Fender bass and Ampeg amp. And I've spent a great deal of time in rock and roll, blues and jazz clubs.

So I look for clarity and dynamics above all in a speaker because I know what a piano, electric guitar, drums, saxophone and Fender bass sound like in my room. So I go for the "they are here" presentation; that sounds like reality as I've experienced it. When I play "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MGs I want it to sound like that B-3 and Ampeg Portoflex are right there in the room with me. And sometimes they do.

Boy does this bring back memories. The last group I played bass in used to open with that tune. And I know what you mean by that sound.
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post #19 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 10:25 AM
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Thanks for reminding me of that classic guys. I just downloaded it from iTunes.
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post #20 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 10:48 AM
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Overtone,

I have had an experience that you may find helpful. I just replaced my Axiom M22's with some Revel M22's and even though I may no describe the characteristics exactly as you have, the Axioms were much more 'in your face' than the Revels. They would really wow on some material but get a bit fatiguing on most other material.

The Revels upon first listen were quite unremarkable but there was something there that was a bit hard to describe. Very detailed yet subtle and very refined. And they CRANK. I have heard stuff I have never heard before in ways I have never heard it. The more I listen the more I like them. I was listening to Jack Johnson the other day and my buddy was playing a guitar and in one song I looked up startled, thinking JJ playing was coming from the couch.

Steely Dan's Gaucho, Babylon Sister was SOOO different and so wonderful on the Revels - merely very good on the Axioms. On the other hand Basia went to sleep on the Revels - upon first listen. But after a time I started to like the Revels that much more again. I like their character so much I would not hesitate to complete a system with their higher end stuff.

Without pretending to be an expert I would say these two speakers define a VERY different approach to sound reproduction. The Axioms are pretty much dead flat and I beleive the Revels are to. The Revels retail for almost 4 times the Axioms and that could be the only difference I am really hearing but the more I listen the more I like the Revels and the more their laid back approach fits my listening style much more than in your face speakers.

There were a couple of songs that the Axioms would just WOW WOW WOW on but not enough of my everyday listening to stick with them.

The question for you is, of course would you tire of a speaker that's 'in your face'? Or would it fit your style? Or, as has been suggested something in between which I'm afraid I'd have no idea what to suggest.

Good luck and would love to find out what you end up with.
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post #21 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 11:14 AM
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I've never heard green onions mixed so you seem to in the band. In the same room as the band - sure, but not up there playing with them. I kind of like it like that. Close to the band, but not in the band, and not in the room next door.

Everything I say here is my opinion. It is not my employers opinion, it is not my wife's opinion, it is not my neighbors opinion, it is My Opinion.
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post #22 of 27 Old 07-25-2007, 08:56 PM
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Quote:


Close to the band, but not in the band, and not in the room next door.

Cool, but I also don't mind the "a few rows back" sound either.

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Maybe someday in the future we will be able to quantify perceived Sound Quality .
(But not today....)

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post #23 of 27 Old 07-26-2007, 05:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Sounds like those Revels are killer. Having the instruments sound like they're in the room, but still having great tone on everything has to be pretty ace! It sounds like you went through a very similar realization as mine and ended up settling in where you're happiest.

Apparently there is a place around here that has Revel, but they're pushing the budget, and I'm trying to make a purchase by the end of the month so I can get 10% off on my amp from a place that gives very limited promotions/discounts, so I'm not sure I have the time to check them out.

A friend reinforced something one of you said, which is that maybe the more natural speakers aren't all that natural if they suck the balls out of ballsy music. Really, that's the dealbreaker. I like that approach for some of my music, and feel like it's a great sound to mature with as a listener, but I just don't know if I'm willing to give up some of the punch for the music that really gets me going. I'm gonna spend some time with the "engineered" sounding speakers this weekend, and try to see if I think they sound up to par on more chill recordings, if the tweaking they've done is transparent (in some speakers you can really tell exactly where they made the tweak in the FR), and if I think I'll somehow start to see past what they've done and get fed up. If they pass that test, I am pretty confident that I'll be happy with them.
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post #24 of 27 Old 07-26-2007, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Overtone View Post

Having the instruments sound like they're in the room, but still having great tone on everything has to be pretty ace! It sounds like you went through a very similar realization as mine and ended up settling in where you're happiest.

FWIW, I went from a popular "colored" speaker to a much more neutral speaker. I always thought stuff sounded just fine on the old speakers, especially the more in-your-face type music, but as soon as I went to the more neutral ones, I can tell you wholeheartedly that I would never go back. A good neutral speaker won't emasculate edgy music. If anything, it'll make it easier to listen to louder and longer (if that's what you're looking for). The biggest "problem" with a neutral speaker is that it shows the music warts and all, so a bad recording will sound REALLY bad. But a good clean recording can sound absolutely fantastic.

I still listen to all the same music now that I did with the old speakers and if anything enjoy it a whole lot more (except for the really bad recordings...they just make me sad now). Plus, I seem to find myself getting into all sorts of new music just because it's so much more enjoyable to just...well...listen to music.

Just as a parting thought...it's a whole lot easier to EQ/color an uncolored speaker as the mood strikes than it is to uncolor a colored speaker. Just my 2c.


Scott
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post #25 of 27 Old 07-26-2007, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by MLKstudios View Post

Thanks for reminding me of that classic guys. I just downloaded it from iTunes.

I have a copy of a performance on DVD that I have to que up every now and then. It's also got "Hold On, I'm Comin" and another one of their songs. The video protion is horrible but the audio is OK for it being a live performance from the 60's

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post #26 of 27 Old 07-26-2007, 07:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProblemHouston View Post

I have a copy of a performance on DVD that I have to que up every now and then. It's also got "Hold On, I'm Comin" and another one of their songs. The video protion is horrible but the audio is OK for it being a live performance from the 60's

Stax European tour DVD? Has the MGs, Memphis Horns, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding.

The MGs were the house band at Stax and along with the Memphis Horns played on most of the classic Stax hits.
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post #27 of 27 Old 07-26-2007, 08:31 AM
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While I wont comment on natural vs. engineered because I think most, if not all speakers undergo quite a bit of engineering irrespective of the customer's preferences.

When I went through this, what ended up helping to solve this "problem" was to audition completely different set of speakers. The more you audition (which may require hours of driving!) the more you are able to "rank" speakers in your mind for where you feel they fall in terms of sound reproduction. There might be a speaker out there that does everything you desire very well for, hopefully, the same money! Unfortunately, it might be the 90th speaker that you audition -- this would take quite a bit of time, patience, driving, and good note taking skills!

Good luck!
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