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Objectively speaking, what's the best speaker?, or, how to comparing designs and products>
2tec
post Mar 25 2009, 14:50
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If the only audible difference left between different digital systems is with the speakers, personally, I'd like to know what's objectively the best speaker. So, objectively speaking, what's the most accurate, or honest, speaker made? Which type of speaker design is the best overall? Is it even possible to build a 'transparent' speaker? How can you properly compare two sets of speakers?

By the way, personally, I'd vote for electrostatic speakers.



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krabapple
post Mar 25 2009, 15:48
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QUOTE (2tec @ Mar 25 2009, 09:50) *
If the only audible difference left between different digital systems is with the speakers, personally, I'd like to know what's objectively the best speaker.


There is no 'one' best, and the question is even more unanswerable since you havent' specified ANY performance criteria -- how loud they'll have to play, what frequency range they must cover, any constraints on price, appearance, location, etc.

There are, however, loudspeakers that 'measure well' according to the parameters that Floyd Toole and Sean Olive of the NRC and Harman, and others, have found to correlate well with trained listener preference for 'good sound'. Finding these depends on the availbility of comprehensive published measurements and your ability to interpret them. About the best 'clearinghouse' I know of right now that begins to approach this is

http://www.soundstageav.com/speakermeasurements.html

which lists only reviews that are accompanied by NRC measurements



QUOTE
So, objectively speaking, what's the most accurate, or honest, speaker made? Which type of speaker design is the best overall?

see above.



QUOTE
Is it even possible to build a 'transparent' speaker?


Not likely. That whole pesky 'electromechanical transduction' thing is inherently a 'major' source of distortion, compared to other parts of the signal chain.


QUOTE
How can you properly compare two sets of speakers?



Double blind, as usual. But it's not something the average consumer is set up to do. Some loudspeaker manufacturers (like the Harman group) do perform them on, though.

Typically consumers listen in stores and buy what sounds best. A minority auditions several pairs at home, usually serially. Others look up reviews and bench tests. I've argued elsewhere that sighted comparison of loudspeakers is so fraught with bias that one would do at least as well, if not better, by just buying based on reported good measurements -- assuming one is buying based ONLY on 'accuracy' of sound, with NO other considerations, a condition that is rarely if ever met.

Needless to say, this idea is often met with derision from those who insist that only their ears can tell them what is 'the best'. (I agree with them, but point out that they aren't really using 'only' their ears, so they still don't what what their ears alone say are 'best')



QUOTE
By the way, personally, I'd vote for electrostatic speakers.



If you really want to get into these questions in-depth, buy Floyd Toole's book "Sound Reproduction".

This post has been edited by krabapple: Mar 25 2009, 15:54
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.halverhahn
post Mar 25 2009, 16:00
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Klein+Hummel builds some nice Pro speakers like the O 300 Series.


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HotshotGG
post Mar 25 2009, 16:33
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QUOTE
If the only audible difference left between different digital systems is with the speakers, personally, I'd like to know what's objectively the best speaker. So, objectively speaking, what's the most accurate, or honest, speaker made? Which type of speaker design is the best overall? Is it even possible to build a 'transparent' speaker? How can you properly compare two sets of speakers?

By the way, personally, I'd vote for electrostatic speakers


Run a search on the web for Sean Olive and his AES publications. He has done a number of DBT experiments in regard to certain speaker setups and discusses them frequently in his personal blog. It's pretty interesting research. He has an account here on HA and has spoke about this in previous posts as well.

http://seanolive.blogspot.com/


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shenzi
post Mar 25 2009, 19:38
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It's difficult to know which speaker would objectively qualify as best as each one has to suit its purpose (small rooms, large halls, deep bass, etc). One of the most technically elegant, IMO, is the Quad ESL63 electrostatic. A neat example of thinking outside the box in every sense. I also thought it sounded superb but I doubt it would be best in all circumstances.
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2tec
post Mar 25 2009, 20:20
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QUOTE (krabapple @ Mar 25 2009, 07:48) *
There is no 'one' best, and the question is even more unanswerable since you havent' specified ANY performance criteria -- how loud they'll have to play, what frequency range they must cover, any constraints on price, appearance, location, etc.

Is a typical listening / living room environment, and realistic volume levels, specific enough in this case? Please forgo any consideration of appearance, price, etc.

QUOTE (krabapple @ Mar 25 2009, 07:48) *
If you really want to get into these questions in-depth, buy Floyd Toole's book "Sound Reproduction".

Is perhaps there some particularly useful conclusions that you think this book comes to?

This post has been edited by 2tec: Mar 25 2009, 20:21


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2tec
post Mar 25 2009, 20:28
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QUOTE (tefleming @ Mar 25 2009, 12:06) *
It's hard to believe that someone on this forum would even ask this question.

However, objectively speaking, there is a fastest car, most popular sport, most expensive food and even the most often chosen favorite color. I wasn't asking for a subjective favorite or opinions, I was simply wondering how to objectively evaluate speakers and speaker designs for accuracy, is that really so hard to believe? dry.gif


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DVDdoug
post Mar 25 2009, 20:37
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This is probably the BEST subwoofer!
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It requires no equalization to achieve flat response to below 1Hz.


I think it costs $13,000 USD plus "architectural installation", and you have to provide your own amp.
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2tec
post Mar 25 2009, 20:40
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QUOTE (krabapple @ Mar 25 2009, 07:48) *
Double blind, as usual. But it's not something the average consumer is set up to do.

So how can an average consumer correctly compare two sets of speakers, or let me put it to you this way, how would you go about selecting between two pairs of speakers if your criteria was simply accuracy?


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odigg
post Mar 25 2009, 20:47
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QUOTE (HotshotGG @ Mar 25 2009, 11:33) *
Run a search on the web for Sean Olive and his AES publications. He has done a number of DBT experiments in regard to certain speaker setups and discusses them frequently in his personal blog. It's pretty interesting research. He has an account here on HA and has spoke about this in previous posts as well.

http://seanolive.blogspot.com/


This thread Blind tests on speakers may help answer the question(s) asked by the OP. krapple pointed me to Sean Olive. Sean Olive has been part of research projects where they have blind tested speakers. He has a paper on his website that presents, among others, this conclusion.

4) There were clear correlations between listeners’
loudspeaker preferences and a set of acoustic anechoic
measurements. The most preferred loudspeakers had the
smoothest, flattest, and most extended frequency
responses maintained uniformly off axis.

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DVDdoug
post Mar 25 2009, 20:48
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QUOTE
However, objectively speaking, there is a fastest car, most popular sport, most expensive food and even the most often chosen favorite color. I wasn't asking for a subjective favorite or opinions, I was simply wondering how to objectively evaluate speakers and speaker designs for accuracy, is that really so hard to believe?


I assume those in the "audiophile community" have opinions about which speakers are the best, and I assume that there are a few considered to be "reference standards". (Personally, I don't keep-up on that stuff.) Speaker evaluation does require listening and human perception (and perhaps opinion).

And, the "fastest car" may not be the "best car". wink.gif

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hybris
post Mar 25 2009, 21:23
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I'm sure it's possible to figure out what is objectively the most neutral speaker - but lots of people wouldn't pick a neutral speaker as the best sounding speaker. What is the best sound will always remain subjective. So I would agree with the poster that argued that it's not possible to say what is the best speaker for you in the same way that you and I probably will disagree which car is the best - because we have different criteria both in what we need in a car, and what sound we like the best.




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2tec
post Mar 25 2009, 22:07
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QUOTE (hybris @ Mar 25 2009, 13:23) *
I'm sure it's possible to figure out what is objectively the most neutral speaker - but lots of people wouldn't pick a neutral speaker as the best sounding speaker. What is the best sound will always remain subjective. So I would agree with the poster that argued that it's not possible to say what is the best speaker for you in the same way that you and I probably will disagree which car is the best - because we have different criteria both in what we need in a car, and what sound we like the best.

Yah, ok, but I really wasn't asking about the 'best' speaker for me, and yes, of course I completely agree that personal sound preference is a subjective thing. However, what I wanted to know was if there was something like the most accurate speaker or speaker design. I'd guess you could substitute the word accurate for say, transparent or neutral, but I wouldn't be sure as I'm guessing that none of these terms is objectively meaningful in a scientific test. So, really, my question remains, is there such a thing as a scientific, or objective reference, or test, for speaker performance? Just exactly how can an average consumer select the most accurate from among several speakers that all sound good to that person?

It seems to me that speaker accuracy should be important around here, no? smile.gif


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honestguv
post Mar 25 2009, 22:12
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> If the only audible difference left between different digital systems is with the speakers,

It is the loudspeaker and room that have the biggest influence.

> personally, I'd like to know what's objectively the best speaker.

Equipment like CD players and amplifiers have unambiguous transfer functions which enables accuracy to be both defined and assessed in a straightforward manner. This is not the case for a loudspeaker. The accuracy of the direct sound of a loudspeaker can be assessed in a similar manner to an amplifier but the indirect sound cannot. There is no correct directivity for a loudspeaker although there are good and bad choices.
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odigg
post Mar 25 2009, 22:33
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QUOTE (2tec @ Mar 25 2009, 15:40) *
QUOTE (krabapple @ Mar 25 2009, 07:48) *
Double blind, as usual. But it's not something the average consumer is set up to do.

So how can an average consumer correctly compare two sets of speakers, or let me put it to you this way, how would you go about selecting between two pairs of speakers if your criteria was simply accuracy?


The average consumer can't ever objectively compare two speakers by walking into a store and trying them. It's even more frustrating when you bring speakers home and they sound nothing like they did in the shop.

However, if you assume the following.

1. You are buying a speaker based purely on measurements.
2. You support Sean Olive's conclusion that "4) There were clear correlations between listeners’ loudspeaker preferences and a set of acoustic anechoic
measurements. The most preferred loudspeakers had the smoothest, flattest, and most extended frequency responses maintained uniformly off axis."

Then just go onto any website with speaker measurements (measured in a anechoic room) and pick the one that fits the criteria Sean Olive has stated in the assumption above. If that speaker happens to be made out of potting clay mixed with smelly cow dung, is the size of a small truck, and makes people vomit from garishness, we'll that's not your concern because you've picked the best speakers given the above criteria.

My point is, blind tests have demonstrated that we do have some criteria when deciding what measurements we want our speakers to have. As for everything else, you can't blind test that stuff.

Personally, I think the paradigm Studios seem to fit the bill nicely. The seem to have a reasonably flat FR Paradigm Studio 100, they have no offensive smell, they have a decent size (your spouse may not agree), and they not visually offensive in an obvious way (your spouse may not agree).

The lower model Paradigm Studios (60 and 20) are also less offensive to the wallet than the Studio 100.

This post has been edited by odigg: Mar 25 2009, 22:34
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Dracaena
post Mar 26 2009, 04:49
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There's a nice explanation of frequency response numbers here. This is the most commonly used objective measurement for speakers.
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krabapple
post Mar 26 2009, 18:46
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QUOTE (hybris @ Mar 25 2009, 16:23) *
I'm sure it's possible to figure out what is objectively the most neutral speaker - but lots of people wouldn't pick a neutral speaker as the best sounding speaker.



Lots more probably would, if the Olive/ Toole data are to be believed.

That's the crucial point of their research...measured accuracy DOES correlate to listener preference -- people generally do tend to prefer accurate ('neutral') loudspeakers....IF they are allowed to choose speakers based on SOUND ALONE (without other biases intruding). This explains why the msot accurate speakers aren't necessarily the market leaders. People's judgement of sound quality can be highly colored by non-audible biasing factors, like price, brand reputation, finish, or reviews they've read.

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krabapple
post Mar 26 2009, 18:48
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QUOTE (Dracaena @ Mar 25 2009, 23:49) *
There's a nice explanation of frequency response numbers here. This is the most commonly used objective measurement for speakers.



and here's explanations for the NRC suite of measurements

http://www.soundstagemagazine.com/measurem...oudspeakers.htm

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rpp3po
post Mar 26 2009, 20:52
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10 years ago I did a DIY speaker installation in my car. Visaton, the supplier of my front speakers offered two tweeters rated for exactly the same frequency response +/- 0.15db, but one had a cone out of metal and the other out of some textile fabric. The salesman recommended the aluminium version for listeners preferring metal and electronic music and the other one for classical and jazz. He had a switchboard for presentation purposes and the difference was instantly noticeable, even when I closed my eyes and turned my back.

What kind of objective measure would describe such differences? It would be probably part of the distortion metrics, but those usually only cover the overall amount and not their "color".
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hybris
post Mar 26 2009, 22:12
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QUOTE (2tec @ Mar 25 2009, 22:07) *
QUOTE (hybris @ Mar 25 2009, 13:23) *
I'm sure it's possible to figure out what is objectively the most neutral speaker - but lots of people wouldn't pick a neutral speaker as the best sounding speaker. What is the best sound will always remain subjective. So I would agree with the poster that argued that it's not possible to say what is the best speaker for you in the same way that you and I probably will disagree which car is the best - because we have different criteria both in what we need in a car, and what sound we like the best.

Yah, ok, but I really wasn't asking about the 'best' speaker for me, and yes, of course I completely agree that personal sound preference is a subjective thing. However, what I wanted to know was if there was something like the most accurate speaker or speaker design. I'd guess you could substitute the word accurate for say, transparent or neutral, but I wouldn't be sure as I'm guessing that none of these terms is objectively meaningful in a scientific test. So, really, my question remains, is there such a thing as a scientific, or objective reference, or test, for speaker performance? Just exactly how can an average consumer select the most accurate from among several speakers that all sound good to that person?

It seems to me that speaker accuracy should be important around here, no? smile.gif


Sure, a loudspeaker with a flat frequency response and thus able to play back sound that is closest to the original signal would be what you would call most neutral. That speaker would probably be a very good starting point in your quest towards good loudspeakers smile.gif Finding that speaker shouldn't be very difficult to do by measuring - if you have a decently dead room lying around smile.gif


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Soap
post Mar 26 2009, 23:21
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QUOTE (rpp3po @ Mar 26 2009, 15:52) *
10 years ago I did a DIY speaker installation in my car. Visaton, the supplier of my front speakers offered two tweeters rated for exactly the same frequency response +/- 0.15db,
<snip>
What kind of objective measure would describe such differences?

How many frequencies were used to determine the "frequency response"? Two? Twenty? A thousand?


EDIT: Removed claim I have yet to find the citation I'm looking for.

This post has been edited by Soap: Mar 31 2009, 10:53


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rpp3po
post Mar 26 2009, 23:42
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Isn't a sweep used for such purpose? This could be plotted as a continuous function without a limited number of intermediate steps.

EDIT:

Because a some people here seem to be such fans of Sean Olive I googled him. In his last article about speaker quality metrics he's confirming what I conjectured in my upper post about distortion and a lack of usable metrics, regarding their relationship to a speaker's sound. So the observed phenomenon seems perfectly plausible without the need of a frequency response fraud conspiracy theory about a manufacturer you probably don't even know.

QUOTE
3. The relationship between perception and measurement of nonlinear distortions is less well understood and needs further research. Popular specifications like Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) and Intermodulation Distortion (IM) do not accurately reflect the distortion’s audibility and effect on the perceived sound quality of the loudspeaker.


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brownianm
post Mar 26 2009, 23:58
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QUOTE (rpp3po @ Mar 26 2009, 22:42) *
Isn't a sweep used for such purpose? This could be plotted as a continuous function without a limited number of intermediate steps.


Exactly. I have some speaker testing software for a mac -fuzzmeasure. You hook a mic up and run an audio output to the preamp and when you trigger it, you get what sounds like a swept wave of increasing frequency. The software records the speakers output via the mic and gives you a nice graph of your speakers frequency response.

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Soap
post Mar 27 2009, 00:41
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QUOTE (rpp3po @ Mar 26 2009, 18:42) *
Isn't a sweep used for such purpose? This could be plotted as a continuous function without a limited number of intermediate steps.
<snip>So the observed phenomenon is perfectly plausible without the need of a frequency response fraud conspiracy theory about a manufacturer you probably don't even know.

The day a majority of major manufactures publish response curves with 1/10th the resolution as those published at www.soundstageav.com is the day I stop believing they are sampling every half or even octave.





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rpp3po
post Mar 27 2009, 00:51
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Oh, maybe there was a misunderstanding. I did not want to say that the frequency response was as flat as +/- 0.15db. That would be quite a value for car audio. I did want to say that the two plots did not deviate from each other by more than that amount.

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