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Passive speakers, separate boxes...help me understand the appeal

svart-hvitt

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#1
We have another thread on «Turntables - help me understand the appeal»:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...urntables-help-me-understand-the-appeal.6430/

Unsurprisingly ASR members have little good to say about the technical aspect of vinyl playback.

Then it strikes me: Why not ask the same question on passive speakers and external DACs, preamps and amps?

The Audio Critic and the Aczels foresaw what was coming in the mid 1990s when they posted the cartoon below. And @amirm ’s royal measurements have shown us that size and cost are not the best factors explaining audio transparency.

A rational audiophile would have digested Aczel’s cartoon ages ago. Still, many people on ASR sport passive speakers and external separates.

Aren’t turntables and passive speakers plus external separates really the same thing? A habit that is hard to turn despite scientific input?

;)

 

Blumlein 88

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#2
Availability is the appeal. Chicken and egg problem.

For several years I ran a Tact unit. That was a power amp that did DA conversion in the power output stage. Took in digital input, controlled volume, did Room Correction and was a decent power amp all in one box. It still left me with passive speakers, but my system was this one box, speakers and a digital source (eventually a computer). 3 pieces doing very sophisticated things at a high level of quality. I used this for a decade happily. Today the same thing could be done with the box also including streaming or network capability so even a computer isn't needed. Throw all this into a pair of active speakers and your there.

On the other hand, move to a new house, have different speaker needs, and you'd have to throw it out and get something else all at once. That is where some separation of components helps. If you aren't a mature audiophile that knows your needs well enough, separates let you learn, and grow and improve for a few years in a way a complete all in one speaker system might not. If the price/performance ratio is good enough (and with widespread acceptance of the idea it might be) then such all in one systems still may be the smart move all things considered.

Thought not widely enough accepted as so, we are at the point where speakers should be active and have digital only input. We aren't there yet in the market however. And may never be.

Oh and we are all human. I think some audiophiles get addicted to the happiness that comes from improving something. You have more chances to improve this or that and get that little psychic kick in the pants for a few weeks with separates. You can do it several places several times over months and years. There is a psychological benefit that an all in one cannot provide. It is simple Pavlovian or Skinnerian conditioning. You'll be hard pressed to fight that. I think this partly explains trends even in illusory components. Like a long complex chain of USB connection pieces. Even if all expectation bias you experience the psychic benefit as if real and you can do it over and over.
 

sergeauckland

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#3
I have two 19" racks full of equipment in my listening room, and it's all there for a reason. Firstly, I've owned some,of it since the 1980s, and as it's still working fine, I'm not getting rid of it. Secondly, I pretty much only buy used and vintage at that, and thirdly, I build a fair bit of equipment myself, and that doesn't lend itself to the 'all in one' way, so that's why I have two racks full, plus two large B&W 801 (now) active 'speakers.

Yes, if it all disappeared overnight, I probably would replace it with something a lot smaller, but as I know the insides of every item intimately, it'll stay for the moment.

S
 
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#4
That's true in my case. What's known and familiar. Another factor is cost. I can't afford the Orion speaker that Aczel liked so much. Technically superior to the passive speaker route I've taken, but I think good, passive speakers are more practical from a cost perspective. Also, I like to tinker and swap out gear which is not as much of an option with a more integrated system despite the potential of superior specs. Not unlike the ritual of playing vinyl that still has apppeal for some.
 

svart-hvitt

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#5
It’s said science progresses one funeral at the time. So are audiophile habits, it seems.

Aczel’s cartoon is from 1995. The correctness of his foresight has only been beaten by the stubborness of those who were the target of his advice.
 

svart-hvitt

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#6
I have two 19" racks full of equipment in my listening room, and it's all there for a reason. Firstly, I've owned some,of it since the 1980s, and as it's still working fine, I'm not getting rid of it. Secondly, I pretty much only buy used and vintage at that, and thirdly, I build a fair bit of equipment myself, and that doesn't lend itself to the 'all in one' way, so that's why I have two racks full, plus two large B&W 801 (now) active 'speakers.

Yes, if it all disappeared overnight, I probably would replace it with something a lot smaller, but as I know the insides of every item intimately, it'll stay for the moment.

S
Keeping what one has is a very intelligent decision. That can also be said about turntables, though.

It’s the decisions by those who build a new system I don’t understand. And from a pure science point of view it is a contradiction to ridicule vinyl while one chose passive speakers for playback.
 
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#7
I am afan of active speakers but

- in a normal room (my living room) the difference between passive + room correction and active speakers is not obvious. I have +/- 4db oscillation after room correction, plenty of reflexions and an asymmetric room.
- most active pro speakers are even more ugly than cheap passive.
- some active are nice looking but expensive ( Linn, Kii, ...)
- setting up an active system can be more complicated (and with more visible cables) than a passive one (HDMI to AES?)
- passive speakers are known to be working for years (I have my doubt about Kii and D%D which is why I didn't baught a pair)

My 2 cents

P.s.: following the posts of Dallajustice and mitchco I have time aligned (with audiolense) my 5.2.5.1 aero3 or 5.2.4 Atmos setup. Difference is very small. In stereo 2.2 it is slightly more obvious.
 
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#8
It’s said science progresses one funeral at the time. So are audiophile habits, it seems.

Aczel’s cartoon is from 1995. The correctness of his foresight has only been beaten by the stubborness of those who were the target of his advice.
That may be true for us audiophiles, but not the general population. I'm the only person I know with an array of headphones, amps, passive speakers, etc. The mainstream has gone the route of the cell phone/bose wave radio as their music carrier. Nothing wrong with that. We represent a blip in the market. Perhaps Aczel's sense of despair with subjective audio review is countered by the reality that most people don't care about the concerns expressed in forums like this.
 

Blumlein 88

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#9
Keeping what one has is a very intelligent decision. That can also be said about turntables, though.

It’s the decisions by those who build a new system I don’t understand. And from a pure science point of view it is a contradiction to ridicule vinyl while one chose passive speakers for playback.
It’s said science progresses one funeral at the time. So are audiophile habits, it seems.
Maybe too much emphasis on purity. Philosophy of ones approach is one thing, and if it changes most have a hard time doing an abrupt all at once change of direction for many reasons. I'll give a personal example that hopefully won't bore everyone to tears.

Quite some time back I had 800 LPs and a nice LP rig. I'd decided digital was a good thing. I had purchased an MSB Audio Director as an experiment. This was an inexpensive AD converter MSB made. I connected all of my analog gear to it (tuner, phono pre, tape) and sent the digitized signal to a nice DAC that had quality digital volume control. That was very nice getting rid of the analog pre from the middle of things. Some sound quality improvements and convenience. That convinced me basic digital even in AD/DA form was far superior to even quality analog pre-amps. So I decided to go digital all the way as much as possible.

I was even tempted not to shortly thereafter. In the process of picking a good DAC for this transition I had an extra one I decided not to keep. A Theta unit of Mike Moffat (of Schiit fame it would so happen). Someone offered me a screaming good trade on a SOTA Star Sapphire table. My dream TT. That nearly derailed me going digital and deciding analog was passe and obsolete. But I stuck with it in the end. Sold the SOTA to a friend who also always wanted one and spent the proceeds on an even better bit of digital gear. In the end I was happy with that, but that isn't an easy thing to do. I've endeavored to keep everything digital until the last minute ever since that time around 25 years ago.

I don't think active vs passive speakers is as big a boon as going digital as much as possible. Nor is there yet an abundant number of quality choices available yet. I'll likely do that in time, but the time isn't yet. One can make such changes too soon. Plus in fact other than digital crossovers you aren't fully changing anything just rearranging where the same things happen.
 

jsrtheta

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#10
I have little experience with active speakers. And I know the thought of using them goes against the "audiophile" obsession with separates.

I guess is my concern is that many speakers I like are not available in active versions, like Monitor Audio. And, unlike components, the difference in sound between speakers is an actual thing, and can be vast. Construction materials vary greatly, and design philosophies obviously differ.

I have an old pair of Snell K.5s which still sound excellent, but they will never be confused with the Monitor Audios, or with Paradigms, etc. Transducers are probably the last audio domain where there are major audible differences between makes and models. Or, as an Aczel subheading once put it, "If all these speakers measure the same, why do they sound so different?"
 
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#11
If I looked at my "music problem" objectively, a couple of LS50 Wireless pairs would fulfill close to 95% of my listening needs. In the current state of things it is hard to argue against the streaming+phone+active (eventually corrected) speakers. Speakers like Kii Three and D&D 8c are probably a preview of the future trend, designs and techniques will be copied and average prices will certainly do down.

IMHO, there's no reason to ridicule vinyl just as there is no reason to claim vinyl is superior: it is just a different experience, objectively inferior in terms of standard SQ measures. But so what? There isn't one ideal meal, one ideal movie, one ideal book or even one ideal vacation spot that would settle things. BTW, I am not a vinyl fan - I have heard good systems but the most charitable way I could describe them is tremendously cost ineffective. But one gets a different experience.

As far as loudspeakers are concerned, I am not sure active speakers are that much better than passive ones, at least generally. The delta between good passive speakers and the recent breed of active speakers isn't as large as the digital-vinyl gap by far. While I feel the potential for a "perfect" speaker, perfectly matched to a room is probably around the corner, I don't think that totally utilitarian view of music reproduction would satisfy me - yes it would probably fulfill 98% of my needs but it would rob me of a big part of the experience.

Reliability is a big concern too - how many amps (that some experienced engineers here seem to consider as no that reliable) in those Kii Three "bass assist" modules? Was it 16? (don't remember)

Say that, 10 years from now, I order a pair of those perfect speakers on Amazon, get them delivered autonomously and - why not - a robotic assistant unpacks, installs and configures them for me? Where's the experience? Where's the interaction with other humans? Internet forums and magazines could all shut down, there would be no need to argue about anything since the matter has been totally settled and only lunatics or irrational golden ears would disagree. Where would be the fun in that?

Objectivists argue that subjective comparison tests are worthless because listening to music is one of the most subjective experience one can have.
But that is precisely why the objectively best solution will not provide the subjective array of experiences I expect or others expect for themselves.

Here's my main listening setup today - it's Sunday, I tinkered :)

IMG_20190127_194848.jpg

- room isn't optimal, I don't care, it is an agreeable place to me.
- placement isn't optimal.
- the speakers sound very different.
- it could be that one pair matches some kind of theoretical ideal, it could be that they are both very far from it (most likely).
- there's a lot of tinkering and tweaking involved, plugging and unplugging.
- I like one of the pairs best for a certain type of music/recordings, I like the other pair best for other types.
- some of my friends have different preferences.
- I enjoy the process

and I am guessing that, if I also owned a pair of Kii Threes, they would join the team and create another experience.

What matters above everything is the experience, the variety of experiences, not some kind of platonic ideal decided by others for me.
Go to the opera and your experience will be vastly different depending on your seating.

(that being said, if one can avoid losing data during transport/ADC, I am all for it)
 
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#12
All in one is great if you want to just set up something to listen to some music and move on with your life. Separates allow you to change out parts to make the sound more to your liking without having to get rid of everything. For most people not of forums like this all in one speakers are the way to go. The whole point of these forums is to cater to those of us who like to get a little deeper into the hobby.
 

jsrtheta

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#13
PierreV: Nothing to argue with here. I have never owned an "optimal" room, nor solved the "correct placement" problem. But if I enjoy the sound, and stop obsessing over perfection, then I can be quite happy indeed. (We all know that a lot of our money would be best spent on room treatments and design. In real life, almost all stereo buffs will salivate over new equipment and ignore the need for room treatment.)

I also have no argument with anyone who, understanding the limitations of LP versus digital, decide to go analog. It's none of my business if their taste differs from mine, nor does it keep me awake nights. I just don't want to hear one more person tell me how much "better", "truer", or "accurate" vinyl is, because I'll laugh in their face. Heck, if audio cassettes float your boat, have at it. Just have you eyes open about that choice.

As for active speakers, I have no interest in switching out amplifiers, unless one is broken or has the need for more wattage, etc. But there are some very fine-sounding speakers out there. If I want to try them I don't want the expense of paying more for new speakers because they have built-in amplifiers. Give me the passive speakers, I've already got an amp!

Of course, if I fall in love with some active speakers that have a quality I can't live without, then, well,...
 

sergeauckland

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#14
I have little experience with active speakers. And I know the thought of using them goes against the "audiophile" obsession with separates.

I guess is my concern is that many speakers I like are not available in active versions, like Monitor Audio. And, unlike components, the difference in sound between speakers is an actual thing, and can be vast. Construction materials vary greatly, and design philosophies obviously differ.

I have an old pair of Snell K.5s which still sound excellent, but they will never be confused with the Monitor Audios, or with Paradigms, etc. Transducers are probably the last audio domain where there are major audible differences between makes and models. Or, as an Aczel subheading once put it, "If all these speakers measure the same, why do they sound so different?"
If you convert passive 'speakers to active, you can have your audiophile cake and eat it, in that you'll end up with lots more boxes, three stereo power amps, a crossover and an equaliser in my case. And 6 lengths of 'speaker cable to obsess over, never mind all the interconnects.......pure audiophile heaven!

As to loudspeakers measuring the same, they don't. There are different frequency responses, polar patterns, distortion and bass loading/energy storage, cabinet resonances, impedance dips etc etc such that no two loudspeakers, even of the same type, measure the same to audible limits. Two identical loudspeakers will often have a mismatch in their frequency response exceeding 1dB, occasionally more, so what chance two different products measuring the same? What one can say, however, is that with active, DSP-based loudspeakers, pair matching can be close to arbitrary limits, so audibly 'perfect' pair matching is possible, and each pair can have a frequency response flat to 1dB, so two loudspeakers of that type with similar dispersion characteristics and in a benign room, will sound very close, but I doubt still they would be identical in a properly conducted blind test. Even without DSP, BBC loudspeakers had to be sufficiently close such that any two loudspeakers of the same type, from any batch, could be used as a stereo pair with no further pair matching being necessary. Usable certainly, identical definitely not.

S
 

jsrtheta

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#15
If you convert passive 'speakers to active, you can have your audiophile cake and eat it, in that you'll end up with lots more boxes, three stereo power amps, a crossover and an equaliser in my case. And 6 lengths of 'speaker cable to obsess over, never mind all the interconnects.......pure audiophile heaven!

As to loudspeakers measuring the same, they don't. There are different frequency responses, polar patterns, distortion and bass loading/energy storage, cabinet resonances, impedance dips etc etc such that no two loudspeakers, even of the same type, measure the same to audible limits. Two identical loudspeakers will often have a mismatch in their frequency response exceeding 1dB, occasionally more, so what chance two different products measuring the same? What one can say, however, is that with active, DSP-based loudspeakers, pair matching can be close to arbitrary limits, so audibly 'perfect' pair matching is possible, and each pair can have a frequency response flat to 1dB, so two loudspeakers of that type with similar dispersion characteristics and in a benign room, will sound very close, but I doubt still they would be identical in a properly conducted blind test. Even without DSP, BBC loudspeakers had to be sufficiently close such that any two loudspeakers of the same type, from any batch, could be used as a stereo pair with no further pair matching being necessary. Usable certainly, identical definitely not.

S
Well, if you want to argue with the late Peter Aczel, good luck. Me, I trust what he said in that instance.
 

jsrtheta

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#18
I had always wanted to but got only one brief chance.
I would not argue that particular point.
I would imagine arguing with him would be exhausting. I never met him. But he was passionate, and often right. You are likely far more familiar with him, as well as his history. But he was very important to me in understanding this hobby (to the meager extent I do). For that I'm grateful.
 
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#19
My interest in this site is less in DACs or headphone amps, even though I read every review. Headphones aren't where my interest lies and I doubt I can really hear the failings of my DAC. The power amp reviews are interesting, but I hope I never need them.

The reason I lurk here is the paradigm shift this site represents. To analogize to the last paradigm shift I witnessed firsthand (and participated in a tad), objective measurement of audio gear is the sabermetrics (baseball analytics) of audiophile pursuits. Maybe Aczel is a Bill Jamesian figure? amirm might be the Billy Beane, the inflection point figure. (You think Brad Pitt will play him in the movie version of AudioScienceReview: The Curse of the Pink Panther?)

It took 20 years of internet mainstreaming for analytic principles in baseball to 'lift the veils' of the scouting world. And that was 40 or so years after Bill James started publishing his Baseball Abstracts. Though it's been around for a long time, relatively speaking, rational audiophile-dom is still in its infancy. As a non-incrementalist and, non-fiddler, I'm not convinced the SOTA is quite there yet for me to take the leap. I'm hopeful it will soon hit critical mass and my next set of speakers (reasonably priced of course!) will be my last. Until then, I'm content with being most of the way there. Namely, lossless CD rips (and vinyl!) through an old HK stereo receiver into a pair of fixed up thrift store Dynaco speakers. (I've only recently gotten financially comfortable enough even to consider upgrading.) It's like a $50 Schwinn. The difference between the cheapest bike and walking is WAY bigger than the difference between a super bike and a Schwinn.
 

Sal1950

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#20
I don't think active vs passive speakers is as big a boon as going digital as much as possible. Nor is there yet an abundant number of quality choices available yet. I'll likely do that in time, but the time isn't yet. One can make such changes too soon. Plus in fact other than digital crossovers you aren't fully changing anything just rearranging where the same things happen.
Well said Dennis, right on the nose. Nor is there "an abundant number of quality choices available" in the used market for those of use that don't have unlimited funds and try to purchase everything as reasonably as possible. My current system uses DRC for all 9 channels so all that's left is everything in one box with digital crossovers. Right now I think it might be quite difficult for me to hang 4 D&D's from my ceiling, not to mention a spare $20K ;)
 

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