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What separates good home playback speakers... from bad ones..?

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  • What separates good home playback speakers... from bad ones..?

    Dumb n00B qestions here;  humor me,  won't you?   (As I've mentioned before,  I've had aeons of musical training,   but did not get a lot of technical learning along the way...)  Doubtless these questions will seem like a child's why-is-the-sky-blue queries...

    I appreciate that the ostensible goal of all home stereo playback speakers...     is to represent the human range of hearing---   20Hz---20kHz------     in a pleasing,  complete,   or at least satisfactory way.

    1). What sort of features improve... the more expensive and sophisticated the speakers get?   

    2).  How do the manufacturers of home speakers decide upon a frequency response for their product?

    3).   Does the famous Fletcher-Munson curve go into the design of speakers?

    4).   What aural qualities immediately tell you you're listening to an exceptional (and probably expensive)   pair of speakers? 

    5).  Lastly,  how do modern record masterers anticipate the speakers which will be playing back their musical recording?


    Thanks,   ras

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  • #2

    rasputin1963 wrote:


    1). What sort of features improve... the more expensive and sophisticated the speakers get?   

    2).  How do the manufacturers of home speakers decide upon a frequency response for their product?

    3).   Does the famous Fletcher-Munson curve go into the design of speakers?

    4).   What aural qualities immediately tell you you're listening to an exceptional (and probably expensive)   pair of speakers? 

    5).  Lastly,  how do modern record masterers anticipate the speakers which will be playing back their musical recording?


    1. A lot of the improvement is in time/phase related things. A crossover network that keeps the drivers in time alignment over the frequency range where there's more than one driver active. Controlling the free air resonance of the drivers so there aren't impedance spikes (which make both frequncy and phase response go haywire. Just using good stuff and good designs.

    Active speaker systems can make better crossovers using modern DSP techniques. Also, DSP can correct small errors in frequency response of the drivers. That won't fix the room, but it will assure that what goes into the room will be predictable and will work properly in a good room.

    Radiation pattern is also important. The frequency response should drop off smoothly and evenly when you go off axis, and just as important, there should be no lobes that stick out at specific frequencies. Everything that comes out of the speaker, in every direction, contributes to what you hear through some path, either direct or reflected. Placement of the speaker in the room is important and directly relates to this, but you don't want so much radiating toward a side wall that you get a reflection back to your listening point that's only a few dB less than the direct path. This will cause frequency response irregularities that don't come off the drivers themselves, but which are a result of comb filtering from combining direct and reflected sound.

    2. I don't think that product designers start the design with a frequency response specification. I think they tweak things so that it sounds like somebody there wants it to sound and then they measure what they've done. If the frequency response doesn't look so hot, they send the graphs to the marketing department to make them look pretty.

    3. If you tried to design a speaker using the Fletcher-Munson curves, you'd design one with a frequency response that changes with level. But our ears and brains don't process that sort of thing very well. I think that's why they stopped putting "Loudness" controls or switches on home stereo amplifiers.

    4. It sounds like it isn't there, and there's an orchestra or band playing in your living room.

    5. Mastering engineers don't try to anticipate how their work will sound in bad speakers or bad rooms. Other than making special mixes (or masters) that are tailored for a specific market, like for instance thumping bass for a dance club that you (or your neighbors) wouldn't want in your living room, they usually just make the mix sound good on the speakers that they've learned to trust. You have to accept that your mix won't sound they same through any randomly selected sets of speakers, but you want it to sound reasonably through any reasonable speaker from an audiophile system to a clock radio.

    --
    "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
    Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

    Comment


    • #3
      I'm pretty much in agreement with Mike R on all his points so without typing until my fingers fall off, just let me add...

      Speakers haven't changed much since WW1 when they were invented. Pretty much the limiting factors are mechanical and material limitations ... Until now. DSP offers a huge number of improvement possibilities and different manufacturers are implementing "fixes" for whatever problems they see their customers are asking for. I think in the next few years our assessment of what makes a good speaker will be radically different than today but bottom line is it has to make you happy for the amount of money you spent for it.
      Don Boomer

      Comment


      • learjeff
        learjeff commented
        Editing a comment
        I disagree that engineers don't consider how a mix sounds in sub-par situations. This is what "comparison monitors" are for.

        There are a number of reasons to mix so that your mix sounds good in mono, but one of them is that in many living rooms, the stereo field is so compromised that only a mix that sounds good in mono will sound reasonable.

        Barry Gordy mixed and mastered so that the result would sound good on a typical 1960's car AM radio. I guess that didn't work out so well for him!

        But Mike is right that this is less of a primary goal and more of a final tweak. You check the mix using comparison monitors, and find anything that jumps out as a problem, and fix that without compromising the sound in ideal speakers.

        Another thing to consider is the difference between the best studio monitors and the best home speakers. The best studio monitors will allow you to hear the problems in a mix. Many "good" or popular home speakers are like soft auto shocks: they aren't great for handling, but they smooth out the bumps, so "everything sounds good" (this is one of the benefits and criticisms of certain Bose speakers, for example).

        Admittedly, those mushy-shock speakers aren't the kind that audiophiles and audio engineers tend to prefer, but then, Cadillacs aren't the kind of cars that auto geeks tend to prefer.

    • #4

      In my experience, the weak link in speakers intended for home use is usually  in the bass.  In the old days, the bass was under-reproduced.  So people would crank the bass knob and, yes, get more bass - bass that sounded like it was recorded in an empty oil tanker hull.

       

      Nowadays, the speakers come typically ready to produce more bass without the consumer having to resort to drastic EQ measures.  But so many systems come with the really dinky stereo or 5-1 satellite speakers and then a subwoofer - and a good sounding subwoofer just costs a lot more than most people want to pay.  So there are a zillion really crappy subwoofers out there that are an improvement upon the oil tanker, but only just - at least in my experience which is by no means comprehensive.

       

      Personally, I'm so used to studio monitors that I'd probably opt for a decent inexpensive set of studio monitors for home listening and be done with it.  KRKs or Events or something like.  And they could do double duty in the studio for translation, too.

       

      nat whilk ii

       

       

       

      Comment


      • philbo
        philbo commented
        Editing a comment
        I have to agree with Nat - - with good (small) studio monitors running for such low cost, I'd definitely get those for my hifi system if I were on the market.

        Maybe also a subwoofer, but probably not. <rant> I've gotten so sick of misused / overdriven sub-bass at concerts; along with the overuse of bass in movies, commercials; etc.<end_rant>, and my sig. other is a total bass junkie, so I'd never get away with turning it down to a balanced level and having it stay there...

    • #5
      No coloration with studio speakers....but I don't have any yet...one day maybe.

      Dan
      http://musicinit.com/fastfingers.php An Experiment in 80's Technology
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      Comment


      • UstadKhanAli
        UstadKhanAli commented
        Editing a comment

        techristian wrote:
        No coloration with studio speakers....
        Dan

        Ain't no such thing.

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