Home Speaker Asylum

General speaker questions for audio and home theater.

RE: Those darn measurements !

I began in this hobby as a professional equipment fan salivating over Bryston (which yes I had in my home) and Panels (Quads, Martin Logan, Apogee and speakers like the big PMC, Genelec, B&W (all used in recording studios widely). The panels never ultimately did it for me because I play a wide range of music that includes hard rock, pop, trance and other hard hitting music. In my demo of Apogee in the mid 90s the dealer blew the speakers using 1000 watt Krells and said that was the third pair blown - a few months later they no longer carried the line. Magnepans had poor treble and a sound that always sounds exactly the same regardless of recording - a wahsed out thin character - though it could play loud it wasn't dynamic. And the Quad which sounded the nicest of all in the midrange had no bass or ability to rock - and given the $10k price range - it should play everything.

SO B&W was my then favorite and measured pretty well. Although for $2k you only got a small standmount with a 6 inch woofer. It was difficult to justify that against my Wharfedale Vanguard speakers (Horn 3 way with a 10 inch woofer based on but an improvement on the now classic E-70. The Vanguard is 95dB sensitive and sits at around 10 ohms with a Japanese Ring Horn tweeter and has huge impact on all sorts of rock, dance and pop music
and was more than decent with classical and quite excellent with jazz.

Listening to the good measuring speakers they came out sounding rather flat and lifeless - Play say AC/DC thunderstruck on ALL of the well reviewed small standmounts in the 1990s (and today for that matter) turn the volume up to where you would normally want to listen to "Shook Me All Night Long" and the best you could hope for with speakers like the Paradigm Studio 20/40 or B&W 705/805 or the KEF LS-50 that I own and measures great is to be "Cuddled All Night Long."

From a measurements perspective there is little to fault the likes of Bryston, Mark Levinson, Krell. I targeted Bryston as my amplifier largely because they were the least expensive and had a 20 year warranty (measure no worse) and I am Canadian so I was looking to support Canadian brands).

That all changed 5 or so years later when I was ready to buy Bryston and B&W at a dealer called Soundhounds in Victoria BC. They also carried Reference 3a's MM De Capo and Classe and all Linn stereos and Sim Audio (another Canadian company) and Paradigm (Canadian). Awesome - as it is a 1.5 hour drive from my home I called ahead to set up the speakers. And I said - "and add a speaker you guys like"

Interestingly the worst measuring speakers out of the four had more dynamics and better bass and treble response. The De Capo and the Audio Note K/Spe which was the speaker they added. Paradigm was the worst of the four and probably measures the best.

B&W was too constipated and disjointed - you could hear the tweeter operating on its own. (and this is a dedicated room - they bring in one speaker and position the B&W and when you finish they take the speaker out of the room completely (only one speaker in the room at a time - the room is professionally treated - they do pro home theater installs for the rich people who build homes around their stereo. So you are hearing the Paradigm and B&W arguably better than you will hear it at home or most any audio show. And the building is also made out of brick so none of those crappy sing along plaster board walls you get at shows and most dealers.

It took about 1 track of piano to know which speaker I would buy and to my dismay it was from the ugliest speaker with zero name brand appeal (like I had never heard of them). They managed to sound as close to a single driver as it could get without being one but with more bass - tight and controlled pin drop start stop motion through the midbass.

Then I auditioned a set-up with a massive silver box driving an equally uglier set of AN E speakers directly against the 801 which the store also carried - and I asked about the big amp must be 1000 watts. The dealer looks over no 8. I took to mean 800. No just 8. Then why does this speaker with an 8 inch woofer Shake Me All Night Long. SETS suck - 10% THD right (heck 80%THD). Shouldn't the singer's voice warble? SHouldn't the bass sound woompy and flabby? Shouldn't it compress more and sound hollowed out. Why is the flagship Classe and flagship B&W the one where the music lacks any sense of life or interest. And why isn't it putting out the bass depth one would expect from a bigger speaker using 15 inch drivers and 500+ watts?

As an avid stereo magazine reader I was bothered by the fact that the stuff that actually sounded best in the rooms was not the stuff that I was ready to buy and was salivating over. A big disconnect between the measurements and the sound. So I also waited and waited and tried and tried before I bought. Because I wanted to make sure I wasn't being duped by pleasing colourations that would wear off over time. I played classical music more and more to be sure. I listen to powerful violin in the treble range and noted the AN E/J/K and De Capo versus the metals of the B&Ws and Paradigm and noticed that the soft domes went just as high but actually had less noise surrounding the note. A black backdrop without the ringing/noise.

The interesting thing was comparing the SET and SEP tube amps to Bryston Separates. At a normal level the AN amp didn't make me want to go for the volume control. You could hear everything clean crisp no noise or distortion. The Bryston units oddly didn't sound clear or dynamic. It had a thin body-less quality and I immediately wanted to turn the volume UP to make things out properly - same room same speakers same seat. So all the stuff I read and worshipped for maybe 12 years was being dismantled from an 8 watt SET and two ways with an 8 inch woofer.

Mind you SS is cheap so I have a high power SS amp with high damping Factor. And I have the KEF LS-50 - the measuring greatness that JA himself chose as not only speaker of the year but Product of the Year. So I have the great measuring system to always check back on.

My experience is that most of the people I know personally who have gone to SET and High Efficiency have had measurement proof Solid State amplifiers and "measurement proof" loudspeakers. Fortunately, most of the people in this hobby have some money behind them. SO owning both a SET system AND a Solid State system isn't really difficult these days.

You can have it all.

Second hand solid state "measuring excellence" on the second hand market is easy. SS depreciates well. Meanwhile I can sell my OTO SEP amp of 10 watts for more than I paid back in 2003.

Just get a nice like ANKits kit 300b or 2a3 and a good HE speaker and then go buy a Stereophile class A rated SS and LE speakers like the KEF LS-50. See what happens.

Edits: 06/23/17 06/23/17 06/23/17

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