I was a big fan of your soundcard website back in the day. Used the info there for years. Great stuff. Nice to see you're still up and about here in the innerweb-o-sphere.
Originally Posted by arnyk
As far as $100 versus $1,500 BD players go, if you do the sane thing and use the player's digital output, most of the parts in the $1,500 player never see any signal that you listen to.
Agreed, as long as the DAC's and analog line outs are better in your receiver than they are in your BD or SACD player. Usually one doesn't know which is better. I can tell you that the line outs on my Sony BD player don't sound as smooth as the line outs on the Pioneer Elite PD-D6-J (compared by simply switching between them into same preamp-amp-speakers).
Also, the analog line inputs on the Panasonic SA-XR57 receiver sound awful
. Thin, hazy sounding. I'm sure they expect people to use the digital connections exclusively, so the analog inputs are there only for 'just in case.' Since my BD/SACD player can't send DSD to my receiver over HDMI, the only way I can hear DSD-to-analog is through the player's analog outs. I can tell you that with my tube amp's inputs (high quality analog inputs), the SACD playback from the BD player's analog line outs is just ho-hum. The SACD playback from my dedicated two-channel Pioneer PD-D6-J SACD player is noticeably better. But it should be! The Sony BD player cost less than $100 and is a video player too, while the Pioneer SACD player is audio only, no surround, and was meant to sell for $500 (I got it reconditioned for less than half that). I think it's not fair to judge analog playback through today's AV receivers, unless you know the receiver you're using has top-quality analog circuits. I don't think most of them do, because hey -- who would use them these days?
But I should add that the cheap BD player, playing an SACD through its HDMI out to the receiver HDMI in, converted to 24bit/176/4kHz, does sound surprisingly good for cheap stuff. Really, really good. The problem is that I can't get that high-res audio to play along with HD video from HDMI, due to some kind of compatibilty problem between the HDMI Out on the receiver (labeled as to be used for DVR) and the HDMI in on my TV. Ah, isn't digital fun?
Originally Posted by arnyk
I think that the fly in your argument's ointment is its apparent presumption that high end speakers do what high end everything else doesn't do, which is provide reasonable value for the money spent.
It's no secret that many high end speakers are horrible price/performance values, especially if the gorgeous woodwork some of them like Sonus Faber flaunt, has limited value to you.
Absolutely agreed, 100%. That's why I kept putting in caveats like "if really engineered correctly," "and sold honestly," and "all things being equal." Often times you *do not* get what you pay for. However, that does not mean that you *never* get what you pay for.
Having tried to build speakers in the past, I can tell you that there a few very important features of a good speaker system design. They don't require gobs of money spent in parts, but they do require excellent engineering. First, what's needed is excellent understanding of how crossover networks are affected by the foibles of physical speaker drivers, and how those two things work together in a system. Second, great measurement methodology, and oh, there's a third thing -- a great sense of 'voicing' the system (usually using crossover design) to shape the sound of the speaker *system* so that it will please a lot of people. There's a bit of art to that.
The crossover design is *key*. I find it to be fiendishly difficult, really.
Originally Posted by arnyk
The same thing is true of speaker drivers. Your mind might boggle if you knew what you can buy in the way of 6 1/2" and smaller drivers for under $15 per driver in production quantities.
One example of this is the Infinity Primus 363. All available independent test reports suggest that it is a performance rival of say Paradigm Studio 60s. One is street priced for as little as $200, the other more like $1,000. I'm sure that the construction quality and QC of the Studio 60 is better, and the cabinetry is finer, but that doesn't cost $800 more per unit to provide.
I'll take a look at the Infinity P363. It looks promising. They say it can be driven from low power (10 watts minimum) with a sensitivity of 93dB for 2.83V input measured at 1 meter (8 ohms nominal impedance). Infinity does not say whether that sensitivity spec is measured in an anechoic chamber, or if it's done in a 'typical home listening environment' a la Klipsch. If done a la Klipsch, that would make the P363 really only about 89dB/1W/1m anechoic, which is nothing special in terms of sensitivity. The drivers certainly do look cheap. That tweeter looks like a waveguide loaded fabric dome you can get from Peerless/Tymphany for $15 each *at retail*.
I've been down the road of the current sensation in inexpensive loudspeakers before.
I have some examples to draw from.
I have a friend who outfitted himself with a full set of those Andrew Jones designed Pioneer speakers that were all the rage a couple of years ago. I sold him my pair of Klipsch RF3's (I got them cheap, just to hear for myself what everybody was going on about). He completely flipped over the clarity and huge dynamics. I winced at the ear-bleeding upper mids, but was impressed by the well-damped bass and exciting dynamics. He plays video games and watches blockbuster movies. I listen to mostly acoustic music (classic jazz and classical stuff) and the last movie I watched was Winged Migration. Maybe preferences in content have a lot to do with the gear one likes? Anyway, I'm happier without the RF3's, he's really happy with them, and he sold off his Pioneer speakers.
Later, this same friend bought a pair of KRK Rokit 6 active monitors for his PC setup. (That's a pretty competent little speaker, imo.) He later asked me if he could do something to the Klipsch's to get them to sound smoother like the KRK's. But then he went back to the Klipsch's and asked me if there was a way to get the KRK's to sound more dynamic like the Klipsch's! I think he nailed the limitations of the design criteria of those two systems, right on the nose.
Look at the higher end KRK passive speakers from the 1990s. They used to use excellent Focal drivers, and you could buy a really nice two-way called the KRK-600 for about $450/pr. Then look at the Wilson WATT from the same period, see very similar Focal drivers in it, and marvel at the incredible price difference. However, by all accounts, the Wilson WATT was a pretty special speaker. I would guess that crossover design had a lot to do with that. Was the design worth the incredible markup? That judgment is best left up to the prospective buyer. I know I could never afford them. I also know I tried to make a similar system myself from Focal drivers (including the really fine T120tiO2 tweeter). I eventually gave up in frustration because I just could not get the drivers to blend properly. Later I figured out that I wasn't compensating the high end impedance rise of the midwoofer, and not rolling off its cone breakup sufficiently. The result was a bad upper midrange "honk" that I couldn't get rid of. I wasn't competent to design a speaker. I'm still not. I lack a sufficient understanding of physics and measurement tools to succeed with it. But I keep trying...
I used to have a pair of B&W DM100. (I still have the cabs, with a pair of Alpair 10 full-rangers in them.) Those were really cheap. I bought them new in 1984 for $175 (for the pair). I later opened them up to damp the cabs with plastilina modeling clay and replace the NP electrolytic crossover capacitors with polypropylene film types (following plans from Frank Van Alstine). The cabinet was cheap, cheap, cheap. The wires and mounting hardware were all cheap. The drivers were pretty good. The crossover parts were as cheap as could be. But the speaker sounded really quite good, especially with at least 100 watts of amp driving them. I think the quality of crossover design was really good. That was a hallmark of B&W's work at the time. Replacing the electrolytics with film caps did improve the mid and high freq detail a bit, but that was about all.
At the time (mid-1980s), Polk Audio speakers were really popular. As I recall, there were some that were OK, but most had crossover problems. There was always a sizzle, or a squawk to the sound, somewhere in the audio range. I remember hearing Klipsch Heresy speakers at about that time too. Now that's a speaker with very expensive drivers that has an awful, awful, awful crossover design. The squawker horn is allowed to play with no low pass filter on it at all, just using its natural roll-off. The tweeter comes in from above that, but there are impedance peaks that result in the squawker and tweeter adding to and cancelling out each other's output at various frequencies in their overlap region. The result is that super-aggressive upper midrange that's characteristic of those old Klipsch 3-ways.
I bought a pair of AR Sonic Holography speakers sometime later, probably about 1993. They were about the same in build quality as the DM100's, but nowhere near as detailed or smooth sounding. There's an example of a ho-hum design if ever I heard one. It got great press at the time, but has dropped off the map since then. I no longer have mine. I sold them off, years ago.
There are some drivers that are just crazily exceptional when used right. Has anyone heard the Jordan JX92 used in a line array? Maybe four drivers per side, in a vertical column? They don't go low, but since they are wide range drivers (effective from about 100Hz to beyond 20kHz), they work very well with no crossover in the crucial midrange (vocal range). It's a sound you have to hear for yourself. The problem is that each driver costs at least $150, so eight of them is well beyond a grand, just in drivers. You also need to add real woofers if you want full-range playback. Anyway, EJ Jordan is here: http://www.ejjordan.co.uk/
So, my point was that speakers -- especially those with built in passive crossovers -- are the most difficult things (short of LP playback stuff) to design properly. Great design costs money. First class parts cost money. Of course, great marketing also costs money. There are examples of great designs that are expensive, but are still reasonably priced -- because they are exceptional products and deliver exceptional performance. There are also examples of mediocre (or worse) designs that are expensive because of exceptional marketing, but I would not say those are reasonably priced products.
If ya know what I mean...
--Edited by rongon - 9/2/13 at 3:55pm