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

Ron Texas

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As a side note, I suspect that the issues you heard when listening to the LS50s may have resulted more from the axial rise in response at around 2KHz than they did from anything going on off-axis.
Some people find the LS50 to be on the bright side. He didn't like it and went off on a crusade to prove they are Schiit. A normal, polite person would have just said they were too bright for him.
 

MattHooper

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The review is fascinating.... these speakers reproduce a square wave and impulse better than anything I have seen. The fact that is was done all passively is amazing.
This thread brings to mind a dilemma for folks like me who love listening to high end audio sound, but who don't have a technical education in electronics, speaker design, etc.

I'm left essentially to looking at the case made by people who do have such knowledge and experience and/or who do created speakers etc, be they professional or DIYers. And I just have to end up making the call for myself as to who seems most convincing. The arguments for the audibility of things like high end AC cables are just terrible from the get go, as they are for a number of audiophile tweaky stuff. So for me wading through some of this is easier than other parts.

But especially when it comes to speakers (and amplifiers...but sticking with speakers)....the hope WOULD be that once one extracates from the audiophile woo-world of clueless conjecture and subjective bias confirmation, that one will find settled answers and convergence to some degree.

Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the whole story. Over many years I've watched people with technical chops, EEs, various people who build speakers argue and debate over all sorts of technical and design issues. This is actually understandable on a few levels. First, sound reproduction/speakers haven't reached perfection so there are sets of compromises anyone has to make, and some will emphasize one set over another according to what he believes to be important. The other, it seems to me, is the very nature of reasoning....as applied to the experience of designing audio equipment. There's a sort of winnowing process that is inherent in the procedure, where if an engineer is designing new speakers there are plenty of choices to be made, both in terms of materials, construction, electronics, drivers,design goals, etc. And all along the way one is considering options and coming up with reasons to decide "that's the wrong route...THIS is the right choice..."

So in a sense the designer is sort of closing doors to alternatives behind him along the way down his own rabbit hole of figuring out how to produce the best speaker he can.

This often (but not always) leads, it seems to me from reading/seeing so many speaker-makers discuss their work, to a sort of tunnel-vision and single-mindedness on design goals. This is very useful for actually getting a product made. But it also IMO can have the result of people ending up fairly set in their ways in terms of the beliefs they've come to as to which choices are important. And, as most people/companies designing speakers aren't set up as science labs, to blind test every salient decision, most end up relying a lot on their own experience in forming their opinions.

So...you get competent people, or at least those with necessary technical knowledge to build speakers, but with all sorts of varying opinions as to what is the "right way" to build a speaker. "If you really want to build a good speaker, you wouldn't do X, Y or Z....!!!" (I think this same mindset goes for those more technically knowledgeable audiophiles who don't manufacture products, but who have followed a similar narrowing path simply in doing their own investigation of the technical issues....so there will still be disagreements).

It seems people like me are still left to sift through the arguments and disagreements and make our own call.

For instance, when the issue of passive first order crossovers and time/phase coherence comes up. there are always those who will defend it, and many who will bring up all the talking points against it. "In order to achieve the dubious goal of time/phase coherence, you'll necessarily be making all sorts of important bad decisions elsewhere which will end up with a significantly compromised speaker performance...etc."

And yet, if I listen to the arguments against first order/time phase coherent designs, I would never have predicted that, for instance, just such a design - in my case the Thiel 3.7 speakers - produced to my ears the overall best and most pleasing sound I ever had, with the least intrusive colorations. As I mentioned before, I've owned many speakers (and still do) and auditioned everything from Magico, to Monitor Audio, to the latest Paradigm Persona speakers, to Revel, to ATC, to many, many others. And none made me feel like I could replace the Thiels.
Certainly, not everyone would make the same choice, but it's amazing the distance I experience from reading the technical compromises purportedly inherent in the design, and the actual level of sound quality I hear from the speakers.

So what's the next move for someone in my position?

Well, I've simply been relaying my own subjective impressions.

I have long been annoyed by the audiophile refrain that this is an almost purely subjective hobby; that, while speaker measurements are important, "you can't quantify people's subjective experience of the sound."

Oh hell yes you can! Subjective impressions themselves can be studied and correlated with technical speaker performance, as we know from the work of Floyd Tool and others still working for Harman Kardon. I don't need to tell anyone here the findings from all that blind testing as to which speaker characteristics tend to predictably be related to listener preference.

So....this all sounds great!

But how does this work in practice for someone like me? A typical audiophile in the sense of being very picky about sound and his product purchases. In a sense, I could just go with the claims from the research and buy a Revel speaker...after all the odds are in a blind test I'd choose it as the best sound!

Here I meet with a further problem. I've listened to (and owned occasionally) various speakers designed via the parameters suggested by the research. And as often as not, I did not care for them. For instance, in looking for a replacement for my Thiels (a bit too big and deep visually for my room) I auditioned a number of Revel speakers at more than one store. The Performa series. (Which apparently in blind tests sound very similar to the Salon series). One store in particular had them set up very nicely in their room, so the sound was very neutral, balanced, rich and full from top to bottom. My impression was of a very, very competent sounding speaker. In fact, it probably sounded closer to my Thiels than any other speaker. Except....they just didn't move me at all. There was no 'it' factor that I have experienced with other speakers that make me want to just stay all day long putting every bit of music I have on them. I could just take it or leave it.

So....what now?

I can imagine the Revel folks saying "trust us, if we put you in a blind test the odds are you will choose the Revel over your current speakers, or others whose sound you THINK you like better." That may be the case. But it sure is weird to trust "you'll like our speaker better" when I've heard it...and I didn't like it better. Further, since 100 percent of listeners apparently do not choose the Revel speakers, maybe I'm in the smaller category of those who wouldn't prefer them even in a blind test. Without going to their facility, I can't really know.

So....how am I, an audiophile/consumer to work through this combination of personal experience and the arguments/data I can find on these subjects?

It still seems, in the end, a personal call, where ultimately I will rely on my sifting through the arguments, and having to rely on my personal experience in making the call for my own purchases.

(BTW, I know that some people can have a less 'audiophile-nervosa' prone approach to the hobby, and simply look at whatever has great measurements and say ' SOLD.' They can buy a product that way, and not think more about it. But that doesn't necessarily work for those of us who feel really damned picky. If for instance i'm not hearing a certain level of tonal beauty coming through a system, I have no urge to sit and listen at all. Subtle differences can set me off).

Anyway....that's something of a dilemma I find myself in, and I know I'm far from alone given most audiophiles aren't electrical engineers and it can be daunting to wade through even the technical arguments among those who DO have the knowledge.
 
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HammerSandwich

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All this obsessing with speakers' ability to reproduce square waves has me a bit concerned.
Consider what John Dunlavy said (about bass reflex, but it applies to time-domain accuracy in general):
...when you look at the impulse or step responses of speakers designed according to this approach, they look terrible. In fact, would you buy a CD player, would you buy an amplifier, would you buy any other component in your system that exhibited that kind of response?
 

stunta

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This thread brings to mind a dilemma for folks like me who love listening to high end audio sound, but who don't have a technical education in electronics, speaker design, etc.

I'm left essentially to looking at the case made by people who do have such knowledge and experience and/or who do created speakers etc, be they professional or DIYers. And I just have to end up making the call for myself as to who seems most convincing. The arguments for the audibility of things like high end AC cables are just terrible from the get go, as they are for a number of audiophile tweaky stuff. So for me wading through some of this is easier than other parts.

But especially when it comes to speakers (and amplifiers...but sticking with speakers)....the hope WOULD be that once one extracates from the audiophile woo-world of clueless conjecture and subjective bias confirmation, that one will find settled answers and convergence to some degree.

Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the whole story. Over many years I've watched people with technical chops, EEs, various people who build speakers argue and debate over all sorts of technical and design issues. This is actually understandable on a few levels. First, sound reproduction/speakers haven't reached perfection so there are sets of compromises anyone has to make, and some will emphasize one set over another according to what he believes to be important. The other, it seems to me, is the very nature of reasoning....as applied to the experience of designing audio equipment. There's a sort of winnowing process that is inherent in the procedure, where if an engineer is designing new speakers there are plenty of choices to be made, both in terms of materials, construction, electronics, drivers,design goals, etc. And all along the way one is considering options and coming up with reasons to decide "that's the wrong route...THIS is the right choice..."

So in a sense the designer is sort of closing doors to alternatives behind him along the way down his own rabbit hole of figuring out how to produce the best speaker he can.

This often (but not always) leads, it seems to me from reading/seeing so many speaker-makers discuss their work, to a sort of tunnel-vision and single-mindedness on design goals. This is very useful for actually getting a product made. But it also IMO can have the result of people ending up fairly set in their ways in terms of the beliefs they've come to as to which choices are important. And, as most people/companies designing speakers aren't set up as science labs, to blind test every salient decision, most end up relying a lot on their own experience in forming their opinions.

So...you get competent people, or at least those with necessary technical knowledge to build speakers, but with all sorts of varying opinions as to what is the "right way" to build a speaker. "If you really want to build a good speaker, you wouldn't do X, Y or Z....!!!" (I think this same mindset goes for those more technically knowledgeable audiophiles who don't manufacture products, but who have followed a similar narrowing path simply in doing their own investigation of the technical issues....so there will still be disagreements).

It seems people like me are still left to sift through the arguments and disagreements and make our own call.

For instance, when the issue of passive first order crossovers and time/phase coherence comes up. there are always those who will defend it, and many who will bring up all the talking points against it. "In order to achieve the dubious goal of time/phase coherence, you'll necessarily be making all sorts of important bad decisions elsewhere which will end up with a significantly compromised speaker performance...etc."

And yet, if I listen to the arguments against first order/time phase coherent designs, I would never have predicted that, for instance, just such a design - in my case the Thiel 3.7 speakers - produced to my ears the overall best and most pleasing sound I ever had, with the least intrusive colorations. As I mentioned before, I've owned many speakers (and still do) and auditioned everything from Magico, to Monitor Audio, to the latest Paradigm Persona speakers, to Revel, to ATC, to many, many others. And none made me feel like I could replace the Thiels.
Certainly, not everyone would make the same choice, but it's amazing the distance I experience from reading the technical compromises purportedly inherent in the design, and the actual level of sound quality I hear from the speakers.

So what's the next move for someone in my position?

Well, I've simply been relaying my own subjective impressions.

I have long been annoyed by the audiophile refrain that this is an almost purely subjective hobby; that, while speaker measurements are important, "you can't quantify people's subjective experience of the sound."

Oh hell yes you can! Subjective impressions themselves can be studied and correlated with technical speaker performance, as we know from the work of Floyd Tool and others still working for Harman Kardon. I don't need to tell anyone here the findings from all that blind testing as to which speaker characteristics tend to predictably be related to listener preference.

So....this all sounds great!

But how does this work in practice for someone like me? A typical audiophile in the sense of being very picky about sound and his product purchases. In a sense, I could just go with the claims from the research and buy a Revel speaker...after all the odds are in a blind test I'd choose it as the best sound!

Here I meet with a further problem. I've listened to (and owned occasionally) various speakers designed via the parameters suggested by the research. And as often as not, I did not care for them. For instance, in looking for a replacement for my Thiels (a bit too big and deep visually for my room) I auditioned a number of Revel speakers at more than one store. The Performa series. (Which apparently in blind tests sound very similar to the Salon series). One store in particular had them set up very nicely in their room, so the sound was very neutral, balanced, rich and full from top to bottom. My impression was of a very, very competent sounding speaker. In fact, it probably sounded closer to my Thiels than any other speaker. Except....they just didn't move me at all. There was no 'it' factor that I have experienced with other speakers that make me want to just stay all day long putting every bit of music I have on them. I could just take it or leave it.

So....what now?

I can imagine the Revel folks saying "trust us, if we put you in a blind test the odds are you will choose the Revel over your current speakers, or others whose sound you THINK you like better." That may be the case. But it sure is weird to trust "you'll like our speaker better" when I've heard it...and I didn't like it better. Further, since 100 percent of listeners apparently do not choose the Revel speakers, maybe I'm in the smaller category of those who wouldn't prefer them even in a blind test. Without going to their facility, I can't really know.

So....how am I, an audiophile/consumer to work through this combination of personal experience and the arguments/data I can find on these subjects?

It still seems, in the end, a personal call, where ultimately I will rely on my sifting through the arguments, and having to rely on my personal experience in making the call for my own purchases.

(BTW, I know that some people can have a less 'audiophile-nervosa' prone approach to the hobby, and simply look at whatever has great measurements and say ' SOLD.' They can buy a product that way, and not think more about it. But that doesn't necessarily work for those of us who feel really damned picky. If for instance i'm not hearing a certain level of tonal beauty coming through a system, I have no urge to sit and listen at all. Subtle differences can set me off).

Anyway....that's something of a dilemma I find myself in, and I know I'm far from alone given most audiophiles aren't electrical engineers and it can be daunting to wade through even the technical arguments among those who DO have the knowledge.
I can relate. There is far too much variance in speaker design philosophies. Choosing a DAC has become easy thanks to ASR. Choosing an amp, if needed, is also getting a lot easier (I went with Hypex nCore and I am done). I was hoping that loudspeakers would end up in a steady state where it's an easy decision based on measurements and all I am left to solve are room issues. There is far too much debate and disagreement on loudspeaker design that it's paralyzing. I don't want to spend the time to try out speakers - logistical nightmare with availability, size, weight etc. hindering home trials. I want to look at a comparison chart like the DAC SINAD chart and pick one based on price and features. I don't want to wonder if I could have done better and have buyer's remorse. In the end, I want music to be my pastime, not equipment swapping.
 

levimax

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All this obsessing with speakers' ability to reproduce square waves has me a bit concerned.

Would you be nearly as impressed if I showed you a speaker capable of reproducing a large number of sine waves simultaneously?
Square waves are a visualization tool that can tell you a lot about a device at a glance. It certainly is not everything but it is a good indication of phase, group delay, linearity, and ringing. It also seems to correlate well with subjective listening.
 

Kal Rubinson

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Except....they just didn't move me at all. There was no 'it' factor that I have experienced with other speakers that make me want to just stay all day long putting every bit of music I have on them. I could just take it or leave it.
Wow! I just tried them out at home and was really impressed and engaged.
 

Kal Rubinson

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Yeah, your recent F228Be and blind testing reviews.
Right but my comment was not a hit on @MattHooper because, as he notes, the statistical preference of a group is a compilation many data points over a range. I also live and have lived with other speakers that I really like and can appreciate that others might prefer them. Heck, if we had complete agreement, life would be dull and we would not need statistics.
 

MattHooper

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Wow! I just tried them out at home and was really impressed and engaged.
I hear you on that. As I said, they sounded like very well designed speakers (and we know they are). I'm certainly not making a case against them and I can understand why anyone else would love them. All I can report for myself is that, subjectively, they didn't do it for me.

Same btw for having listened to various Vivid speakers, which seem to measure quite well. They just don't grab me. Whereas for instance I loved the Devore "0" series speakers quite a lot more even though they don't measure great like the Revel or Vivid speakers (and some techie-types absolutely castigated their design and measurements in the comments section of the stereophile review).

But it's not like I have a love-affair with inaccurate speakers or something. I love the sound of for instance Waveform speakers, which had very similar science-based design goals "NRC-school" as it were, to the findings of the Harmon research. Peter Aczel, of the Audio Critic pretty much declared them the most successful speaker design he ever heard in terms of accuracy, and they "do it for me." I had the Solos, and still have the smaller Waveform Mach MC. I just hear something in their tone, a bit more of a pleasing and believable warmth to my ear - were "wood" based instruments just sounded that much more like the timbre of real wood, rather than an artificial version. The Revels to my ear were very good, but didn't produce quite that same organic, believable impression to my ears. I don't know what to attribute these differences to, design-wise. (Or...subjectivity-wise - sorry...not having testing facilities myself, all I can offer is subjective impressions).
 

Ron Texas

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Right but my comment was not a hit on @MattHooper because, as he notes, the statistical preference of a group is a compilation many data points over a range. I also live and have lived with other speakers that I really like and can appreciate that others might prefer them. Heck, if we had complete agreement, life would be dull and we would not need statistics.
I did not think it was a hit. You are a polite man.
 

MattHooper

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Kal has always been a class act! I always find his contributions in various forums thoughtful and informative. I loved reading the recent Harman blind testing article. (I habitually misspell "Harman" for some reason....)
 

stunta

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Heck, if we had complete agreement, life would be dull and we would not need statistics.
I actually wish we had complete agreement with loudspeakers (and all hifi gear) so we can call this settled. I will happily disagree on musical tastes, food choices and such though :) I used to like the upgrades and changes in flavors, but lately I have gotten tired of it (a sign of aging perhaps). It also gets quite expensive.

Do musicians keep chopping and changing their instruments or microphones? I don't know enough of them personally to answer this question for myself.
 

Blumlein 88

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snippage..............

Do musicians keep chopping and changing their instruments or microphones? I don't know enough of them personally to answer this question for myself.
Let me point out the largest forum for recording people is the most appropriately named Gearslutz. Do you think they swap out microphones (oh my gawd the microphones), and everything else? Oh YEAH!

Musicians aren't all this way, but some have say dozen's of guitars, or whatever their instrument is. Always looking for that one just a little bit better. Of course some have a well traveled battered worn modest instrument they've played for years and years. Just like there are some people who have purchased a pretty nifty stereo setup once and it hasn't changed in years.
 
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Blumlein 88

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Maybe out of place on a thread about box speakers. I way back when heard an Acoustat ESL. No box, lordy, lordy no boxy sound. I've always been bothered by the various ill manifestations of box speakers. And back then flimsy boxes with ports in them, go hide it please before I put it out of its misery. So a big panel with no box was it for me. Now there were all kinds of terrible issues with that speaker. But it didn't have no stinkin' box.

Then later a friend got a deal on some Quad ESL63's. He insisted I come hear them. No box and a much more balanced panel speaker. I knew within minutes I would have some of those. I loved them immediately. They would cost me second hand a bit more than double what I thought I would ever pay for a speaker, but suddenly that was fine. I lived with those for more than a decade and never regretted it. But they have their issues too. And in the mean time with better testing, and manufacturing and such box speakers don't sound boxy like they used to. Lordy even ported speakers can some times make the grade just fine.

So should it be controversial to say how much I love panels. Do I have to bow to the Harman creed or shut up? NO! I don't think anyone should try and bully me about it either. I've had in mind a thread showing the measurements of the ills of all kinds of panel speakers and asking why do some of us still like them so. I just don't know much would be accomplished. And it would be possible to make a big panel ESL with DSP, time delay and multiple panels which would fare very well by Harman's spinorama. Would such a speaker be the holy grail to best all before it?

Speakers are way far from being a solved problem that DACs, amps and everything not a transducer are. The progress that NRC, Toole, and others hopefully still working have made isn't to be dismissed. It is just at the very beginning however. My favorite phrase about all this is Toole's "circle of confusion". You have to break the circle of confusion or everyone designs speakers around one or two pet ideas. Like crossoverless boxless panels, or 1st order crossovers or horns or what have you. Now if Harman would just quit dicking around with boxes and make a good panel we'd get somewhere real. Even if they need a dual-membrane multi-panel with controlled DSP based directivity based upon a panel bipole rather than dipole.
 

stunta

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My favorite phrase about all this is Toole's "circle of confusion". You have to break the circle of confusion or everyone designs speakers around one or two pet ideas.
This is a very good point. Given the variation in recording/mastering and the gear used, I can't help but wonder if my HiFi is actually not the limiting factor.
 

MattHooper

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I actually wish we had complete agreement with loudspeakers (and all hifi gear) so we can call this settled. I will happily disagree on musical tastes, food choices and such though :) I used to like the upgrades and changes in flavors, but lately I have gotten tired of it (a sign of aging perhaps). It also gets quite expensive.
I completely understand that from the standpoint of gear fatigue. I've been there.

On the other hand, I honestly don't necessarily like the idea of total convergence in audio. I like some aspects of the wild west nature of high end audio. Certainly I like that companies, such as HK, are pursuing science-based designs and refining their product. On the other hand, even though high end speakers in the audiophile world can be designed along a spectrum of "interesting idea" to "completely cucko ideas," it leads to a fascinating (to me) variety of approaches with all sorts of fun surprises. Many times I've heard designs poo-pooed by the more by-the-book designers who would never do something that way....but it ended up being really pleasing.

One of my biggest surprises were the Shun Mook speakers! I was, and remain, as skeptical as anyone here would be about their mpingo speaker tuning pucks. And their speaker was designed for the cabinet to be somewhat thin and resonate - "the wood selected over hundreds of contenders for just the right sound." Most of the design theory sounded absolutely out there. And yet, those damned speakers were among the most beautiful I'd heard! I didn't for a moment think this verified the more dubious engineering claims. But my hunch is that the Shun Mook guys knew just enough about speaker design to pull off something quite good....and perhaps that they simply had quite keen ears for perfecting the sound of their speaker.

As long as we have the Harman Kardon's and other science-based companies of the world perfecting loudspeakers along those lines, I'm happy there are also imaginative individuals carving out their own path as well.

One of the things I get when I spend a while on audiophile-mocking forums, especially hydrogen audio, was a certain monotony and narrow focus of the type of equipment/speakers many seemed to talk about. And the speakers many used were usually old, fairly modest if not cheap...almost to a point of pride on the idea that more high end, or adventurous or expensive components are for those audiophile suckers.


Do musicians keep chopping and changing their instruments or microphones? I don't know enough of them personally to answer this question for myself.
Oh man, most of my friends have been and are musicians (and I played in bands). You have no idea how obsessive musicians can be about their gear. (Though some, of course, are not).




Maybe out of place on a thread about box speakers. I way back when heard an Acoustat ESL. No box, lordy, lordy no boxy sound. I've always been bothered by the various ill manifestations of box speakers. And back then flimsy boxes with ports in them, go hide it please before I put it out of its misery. So a big panel with no box was it for me. Now there were all kinds of terrible issues with that speaker. But it didn't have no stinkin' box.

Then later a friend got a deal on some Quad ESL63's. He insisted I come hear them. No box and a much more balanced panel speaker. I knew within minutes I would have some of those. I loved them immediately. They would cost me second hand a bit more than double what I thought I would ever pay for a speaker, but suddenly that was fine. I lived with those for more than a decade and never regretted it. But they have their issues too. And in the mean time with better testing, and manufacturing and such box speakers don't sound boxy like they used to. Lordy even ported speakers can some times make the grade just fine.
I'm with you there, Blumlein!

Hearing the Quad 63s at a friend's place (who'd recently turned audiophile) was a transformative moment and really got me in to high end fever. That lack of box is so wild once you first hear it, and the sense of "transparency" to the sound. Like you, I bought the 63s and lived with them for a while. I ended up adding the Gradient dipole subwoofer that had been specifically designed for the 63s and it is to this day probably the most cohesive mix of cone and panel I've heard.

Ultimately I found the Quads missing the dynamics and air-moving palpability of box speakers. I sold them, went to dynamic speakers and never looked back. Stats are a wonderful place to visit for me; it's not a place I can live. (Though if I could fit them anywhere in the house I'd have a pair of the older ESL-57s, which I actually prefer to the 63s).

It's amazing how free of the box sound many dynamic speakers are these days. (For me, the Thiels I owned did it as well or better than any box speakers I've ever heard. Top to bottom, it just sounded like the speakers weren't physically there).

Talk of the Quads in a thread full of discussion about Floyd Tool and Harman Kardon's research makes me wonder about the on-going popularity of many classic speakers like the Quad 63s and especially the 57s. They have been so beloved by so many. And tons of people have just found they can't be satisfied with other speakers after living with them.

I wonder how this fits in to the story told by researchers like Floyd Tool et al. Is there anything about their research that would predict, or explain, the sway such beloved speakers have had on so many? Or is it just some form of mass sighted delusion...??
 

RayDunzl

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21 years on my old Martin Logans this month.

I'm happy with them.

That could change this weekend, as I attend my first official Audio Show.

Ultimately I found the Quads missing the dynamics and air-moving palpability of box speakers.
Hmm... What powered them?
 
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MattHooper

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21 years on my old Martin Logans this month.
Awesome. I've heard many ML designs over the years and enjoyed them. My friend has a pair of ML hybrids and I always have to sit down and spin some tunes.

Hmm... What powered them?
At the time I generally had two different amps I would use: a Conrad Johnson 55W tube amp, and a Bryston 4B (then 4B ST) solid state amp.
The 63s actually sounded really wonderful on just the tube amps, and when I added the subwoofer it took some load off the panels. Sometimes I'd switch in the Bryston just to play around. I tend to gravitate back to tubes, though. (I use Conrad Johnson Premier 12 140W/side monoblocks at this point).
 
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