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Diminishing returns in the higher end

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#1
Hi all, first post here.

I've noticed many of the speakers reviewed on this site are under 5k. I am wondering how many of you believe there are some higher priced speakers (say 10-40k but not more) that offer a noticeable difference, even if barley, in sound quality. Of course some higher priced speakers will underperform but which are those that deliver at least that little bit of extra for the hefty price tag? Many people rave about Wilson, Rockport, Magico, Marten, the list goes on. I know we have a healthy population of skeptics here, which is great as there's plenty of snake oil around but which of the many higher end brands offer a product worth it or can I not go better than revels. Anyone with objective data, subjective opinions, or whatever feel free to contribute. I ask since I will be comparing speakers recommended here with some pricier ones and would like some guidance on which I should add to my list to listen to in that higher priced category. Thank you
 

BDWoody

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#3
I've noticed many of the speakers reviewed on this site are under 5k.
What gets reviewed is what gets sent in by members (for the most part), and so far no one has volunteered any $40k speakers to be measured.

Manufacturers of that kind of speaker are unlikely to send them in for independent review, at least so far they haven't, but there is some data out there for many of them.
 

LTig

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#4
I've noticed many of the speakers reviewed on this site are under 5k. I am wondering how many of you believe there are some higher priced speakers (say 10-40k but not more) that offer a noticeable difference, even if barley, in sound quality. Of course some higher priced speakers will underperform but which are those that deliver at least that little bit of extra for the hefty price tag? Many people rave about Wilson, Rockport, Magico, Marten, the list goes on. I know we have a healthy population of skeptics here, which is great as there's plenty of snake oil around but which of the many higher end brands offer a product worth it or can I not go better than revels. Anyone with objective data, subjective opinions, or whatever feel free to contribute.
There are some nice speakers in this price range:
  • Neumann KH420 with sub
  • one of the Genelec One series with sub
  • Kii Three w/wo BXT
  • Grimm Audio LS1 w/wo Sub
  • JBL M2
  • passive: @amirm's Revel Salon 2
A few Neumann and Genelec speakers have been tested here and the results more or less matched what the companies published so it's safe to assume that speakers not measured here still adhere to their specs.

You may read about my subjective impressions to highend speakers here.
 

HooStat

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#5
The most challenging issues involve frequencies under 200-400 Hz. Budget increases exponentially with better bass extension. So, for the most part, you are paying for what happens in the bass as you pay more (generally, there are always exceptions). There are also differences in how the bass is handled with some newer designs using DSP to improve bass response, extension, or room interaction. My description here is not doing the entire topic justice. But my point is that it isn't just "better" as speakers get more expensive. It is often how lower frequencies are handled that changes. That translates to better because those are critical frequencies and affect preferences greatly. But it isn't simply "better overall" as price goes up.
 

Blumlein 88

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#6
I would expect whichever are well designed at those prices also likely can fill larger spaces with sound. HooStat beat me to it.
 

jonfitch

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#7
Some brands I think like TAD and Magoco are well engineered but due to local production costs you can get similar performance (or even better in some cases) for a third of the cost for speakers built in China or SE Asia.
 

Kvalsvoll

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#8
There is no diminishing-return-limit for speakers, at least not yet. And price alone is not a technical parameter that relates directly to sound quality.

You can use measurements to sort out creations that resembles a more unique kind of interpretation of how sound should be reproduced, but eventually you will need to listen.
 

thewas

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#9
Like in almost anything a curve similar to the Pareto principle applies, meaning you get the most value for money for great mass produced items like some decent $1k monitors and any increase in sound quality above that means quite an increase in price.

Also there is almost no correlation of acoustic qualities to price in the high end loudspeaker segment as from objective point of view (measurements) most top of the line monitors around $10-20k are better then them.
 

FeddyLost

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#10
I am wondering how many of you believe there are some higher priced speakers (say 10-40k but not more) that offer a noticeable difference, even if barley, in sound quality
I am sure that some of those speakers (as any other equipment) will offer noticeable difference.
But personally I think now that (unless you are top-tier mastering engineer, musician or conductor and can clearly find out "real improvements") difference itself is not what one should pursue.
It's all about your preferences and use case, and you need to balance all your environment (current and expected) with planned changes and budget.
I mean, for example:
you can invest into deeper bass, but your apartment neighbours will not allow you to hear it as loud as you want
you can invest into higher undistorted SPL but ... you already know
you can invest into better distortion numbers though all reproduction chain, but suddenly you'll find that such a system is too boring and uninvolving
etc

So, I would clarify my preferences and restrictions before serious investigations into "higher end" and only then would evaluate exact ways of spending money into better listening experience. Economically optimal solution might be very counter-intuitive.
 

Sgt. Ear Ache

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#11
I think it mostly comes down to use case (sort of in line with what FreddyLost said). I suspect you could take a set of $1000 tower speakers that measure really nicely, and compare them in the same room to a similar-sized set of $10,000 towers that measure nicely and really have a very hard time noting any particular difference. If you wore a blindfold you'd probably choose one set as sounding better with some tracks and the other sounding better with other tracks.

If you took the time to EQ both sets for the room the differences would get even narrower...
 

FeddyLost

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#12
I have to add that in case of passive speakers one can't "disconnect" speakers from amplifier. They have some character by themselves (like FR measured by signal generator), but in real comparison it's a set - speakers+amplifier.
And, of course one can't "disconnect" speakers from the room. The room is also component of the speaker system.
Regarding "border price" I don't know for sure, but I'd say 1000 usd in retail is too cheap for good floorstanders. Heavy damped and braced case, decent drivers (i.e. SB BNACs), no garbage in crossover must cost more. I think 1000 usd vs 10K usd might have audible difference even without measures and pairing.
 

Sgt. Ear Ache

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#13
Well, it seems to me the measurements would reveal garbage in crossovers or resonances from the box and what not.

Ftmp, I grown to have a healthy suspicion about a lot of what many of us like to think our ears are able to hear. lol.
 

Frank Dernie

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#14
Hi all, first post here.

I've noticed many of the speakers reviewed on this site are under 5k. I am wondering how many of you believe there are some higher priced speakers (say 10-40k but not more) that offer a noticeable difference, even if barley, in sound quality. Of course some higher priced speakers will underperform but which are those that deliver at least that little bit of extra for the hefty price tag? Many people rave about Wilson, Rockport, Magico, Marten, the list goes on. I know we have a healthy population of skeptics here, which is great as there's plenty of snake oil around but which of the many higher end brands offer a product worth it or can I not go better than revels. Anyone with objective data, subjective opinions, or whatever feel free to contribute. I ask since I will be comparing speakers recommended here with some pricier ones and would like some guidance on which I should add to my list to listen to in that higher priced category. Thank you
There are few people independantly testing speakers thoroughly.
Based on the fact (I think it is a fact anyway) that the first requirement will be a flat frequency response one can eliminate quite a lot of speakers without being too concerned by their directivity, for example, by looking at Stereophile and HiFi News which have been measuring at least this one parameter to varying levels of accuracy for decades.
Last time I looked using an even FR as a criterion for a short list surprisingly few speakers were in the running at any price.
 

FeddyLost

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#15
Well, it seems to me the measurements would reveal garbage in crossovers or resonances from the box and what not.
Proper measurements for sure. But good set of measurements is a rare option.
I've never checked if I can hear crossover components as I have bad musical hearing and it makes my life easier sometimes.

first requirement will be a flat frequency response
Flat FR on-axis is a rare thing in hi-fi and I'm really not sure WHERE it have to be measured. In case of big floorstanders (mid/far-field) one first have to find out where is the presupposed LP and what is optimal use case imagined by designers.
 

Frank Dernie

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#16
Flat FR on-axis is a rare thing in hi-fi and I'm really not sure WHERE it have to be measured. In case of big floorstanders (mid/far-field) one first have to find out where is the presupposed LP and what is optimal use case imagined by designers.
I agree it is rare but it is the dispersion data which gives the clue as to how it reacts with the room to get to the listening position but a speaker which starts off with an uneven frequency response hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell of giving an even response in a listening area.

Edit:
The only speakers which are hard to measure for flatness of FR IMO are horns and panels where the path length to the measuring microphone only gets adequate when it is impossible to remove the room effect.
 
Last edited:

FeddyLost

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#17
speaker which starts off with an uneven frequency response
If speaker have significantly non-point source, it's always the question where exactly this even FR must be measured.
For example, something bent like big Focal or Wilson Audio will have proper FR only "in focus". Geometrically time aligned speakers (with stepped baffle) also may have weird vertical dispersion. Top Dynaudio series even use DDC technology to minimise vertical reflections.
I'd say that anything bigger, than obviously nearfield, still needs to be evaluated with room and placement considerations.
Usually assumption "on tweeter axis" works well, unless manual states something contrary (like a lot of monitors, where some users still read the manual).
 
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#18
One very important aspect what's often missing in debates about audio fidelity is the room. People tend to forget that the air in the room is actually the medium in which sound waves transmit. The speakers are piston that are coupled to this air and provide the motion that instigate these waves. Then, those waves interact with every surface in that room. The result of all these waves and interactions is what you eventually hear.

What I'm trying to say is that when you plomp 40k speakers in a tiled empty room, it's gonna sound terrible. So at any (price) point, the speaker is only half of the equation. To increase fidelity, you're better off treating your room instead of buying more expensive gear.
 

abdo123

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#19
I really don't think any Speaker out there can perform better than the Dutch & Dutch 8C, and they're 12k$ a pair.

However, with that said, the Dutch & Dutch 8C distortion is not pretty, and I wonder how big a Speaker must be to have a similar radiation pattern with lower distortion. Nevertheless, reviewers rarely bring this up, which makes me question how much distortion can humans hear when everything else is 'just right'.
 

PierreV

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#20
I really don't think any Speaker out there can perform better than the Dutch & Dutch 8C, and they're 12k$ a pair.

However, with that said, the Dutch & Dutch 8C distortion is not pretty, and I wonder how big a Speaker must be to have a similar radiation pattern with lower distortion. Nevertheless, reviewers rarely bring this up, which makes me question how much distortion can humans hear when everything else is 'just right'.
Did you hear them? I went out and heard them after the constant @Purité Audio marketing posts on this board.

They are, without any doubt, outstanding speakers and probably what can pass as a good value in high-end audio. However, they did not completely satisfy me. I couldn't shake the impression that they were straining a bit at high volume. It could be the distortion level although I couldn't put my finger on anything specific. The larger speakers I use sound less strained to my ears.

But to be honest, it could very well be reverse bias in the sense that my mind may have trouble reconciling their relatively small size with the sound they produce.
 
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