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Steve Guttenberg on active speakers

invaderzim

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#1

He mentions not being able to pick your own amp as a negative but to me I see with quality active speakers it being a good thing that the manufacture gets to pair the speakers with the best amp setup for them. That way they don't end up with someone driving their speakers with an amp that really isn't a good match and complaining about the end result.

But all these arguments are likely purposeless because he refers to active speakers not being for audiophiles and I think his definition of an audiophile is different from just being someone that enjoys good audio. From what I've seen the 'true' audiophile seems threatened by anything that makes audio more easily accessible to the masses. For them you can't just go into a store, buy one thing and listen to music on it and enjoy it. You have to earn the right to call yourself an audiophile and have a list of everything that went into making your system high quality.

I also see active speakers as a threat to the review business. If you buy one thing and are done then there is no reason to read or watch reviews of all the individual components and to keep buying the latest piece that the reviewers are raving about.

The one issue that he mentions that I can see is the electronics inside becoming dated or breaking and not being repairable over a shorter time. Speakers can be used for decades (typically with a simple electrolytic capacitor replacement somewhere in there) while sources like DACs do not age as well. Heck, we have sources for audio that weren't even dreamed of back when I bought my speakers that I'm still using. So who knows what there will be in another 30 years.
Whereas if you buy a really good quality $1000-$3000 amp and really good $1000-$3000 speakers now you could likely keep those until you die and just replace the streaming/dac hardware when needed due to changes/improvements.
 
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GrimSurfer

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#2
The allure of active speakers is understandable in this era of simplicity. But simple, to the consumer, isn't the same as optimal from an engineering standpoint.

The reality is that self powered speakers are going to employ Class D amps, for whatever that is worth to people. These amps will be constrained by their packaging, both in terms of volume and heat. DSP will almost certainly be employed, which has positive and negative connotations.

Steve raises a very good point wrt systems integration... getting the amp manufacturer and the loudspeaker manufacturer to closely collaborate on the overall design. Large manufacturers will likely do this reasonably well for no other reason than having both divisions under their control. High end or audiophile approaches can vary by a huge margin... some may do this out of engineering pride and others may not because they are image (not performance) oriented companies.

At the end of the day, the industry is simply presenting listeners with another option. How this option compares with components is debatable.
 
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Ron Texas

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#3
I had several sets of speakers go bad due to foam surrounds rotting out. Lots of tweeters have blown. Nothing lasts forever. I suppose the problem with active speakers is the investment requires repair when the economic thing to do with separate components is just replace what broke.
 

GrimSurfer

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#4
I suppose the problem with active speakers is the investment requires repair when the economic thing to do with separate components is just replace what broke.
And, increasingly, the environmental consequences of repair by replacement.

Component matching is one thing but finding an aftermarket driver for a product as tightly integrated as an amplified and DSP controlled speaker is another. Done correctly, the DSP would be tuned for a very specific driver. If that driver becomes NLA, you don't have a matched pair (best case) or one speaker that sounds like utter shite (worst case).
 

Sal1950

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#7
I believe the anti-active spin has only just began. Actives have started catching on a bit but they're anti-audiophool in the whole approach. How are the big media guys going to wax lyrically over the sound of a amp, dac, dsp, even the speaker wire when it's all locked up in a box? It would cut out a huge percentage of their review options and in the end the income from advertisers. If they're not scared now they should be, but I don't think they're so dumb as to not recognize the threat. Interesting times ahead.
 

sergeauckland

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#10
I believe the anti-active spin has only just began. Actives have started catching on a bit but they're anti-audiophool in the whole approach. How are the big media guys going to wax lyrically over the sound of a amp, dac, dsp, even the speaker wire when it's all locked up in a box? It would cut out a huge percentage of their review options and in the end the income from advertisers. If they're not scared now they should be, but I don't think they're so dumb as to not recognize the threat. Interesting times ahead.
There are parallels with what happened when CD was introduced. HiFi magazines and shops fell over themselves in rubbishing CDs compared with vinyl. In part possibly because CD had none of the colorations of vinyl and so did sound different and different in this case was wrong, but mostly because everyone could see that CD allowed everyone to have 'pure, perfect sound forever' without all the messing about that high end vinyl replay needed, and what's worse, without needing a specialist dealer to set it all up.

Technical improvements like active 'speakers that affect sales opportunities for upselling and accessories aren't generally welcome by the trade.

S
 
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#12
The reality is that self powered speakers are going to employ Class D amps, for whatever that is worth to people. These amps will be constrained by their packaging, both in terms of volume and heat. DSP will almost certainly be employed, which has positive and negative connotations.
The evidence pretty strongly bears out that a competent speaker manufacturer can take literally any passive speaker, make it active, and it will perform better. Digital crossovers, DSP, and Class D amps are positives, not negatives, when used properly.
 
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#13
I agree with the thread opener.

I once listenned to a video by Steve Guttenberg where he said actives are tools and passives are for pleasure. No more videos from him.

Actives are obviously superior designs to actives. You have now a living proof with the Kii and D&D.

The issue for music lovers like us (I'm disliking more and more the term audiophile) is the investment we have already in separates. If I were starting in the hobby I would go purchase some actives without hesitation.

As for reability. Quality models from professinal brands, at least the Genelecs 8020 that I own, will outlive their owners. I that sense, I'm not convinced by the newcomers, but Neumann, Genelec, etc. c'mon they are more reliable than the sofa of the house.
 

solderdude

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#14
The ONLY concern I share with the 'clown' is the service bit.
Chances are in 10 years time some manufacturers won't be able to supply some parts any more.
When one is lucky the manufacturer can probably upgrade the electronics instead of repair it.

The rest of it is utter bullocks.
 

amirm

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#15
He speaks to the position of the high-end audiophiles. Active speakers have not made a dent there.

I have had active speakers going back to 1990s, both pro and consumer. The latter (Paradigm) did have some of the problems he mentions. Vibrations made the amplifier break early (connectors came loose), and what was included was underpowered (class AB). I gave a subwoofer to my son years ago and the switching amp in it is broken, rendering the whole thing useless.

Active speakers can also hit a wall as far as available maximum power. I know my Paradigms did.

Of course he gets many things wrong. DSP in an active speaker is doing what the analog crossover is doing. To the extent the analog crossover doesn't go obsolete, why should the digital version?

He says a speaker should be for decades. High-end audiophiles go through countless speaker upgrades during that period.

He says active speakers are for low end. As noted, in both Pro/studio work and many home theater applications, they are king.

He seems to think external amps for active speakers is rare. It is not. Genelec, JBL, etc. all have it.

Ultimately it boils down to one issue: audiophiles think amps make a big difference in sound. Until that myth is dispelled, that automatically rules out active speakers. Hence the reason that even speaker designers who believe in active speakers, still design passive ones.
 

Daverz

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#16
Er, I haven't seen the video. I hate to be lookist, but I don't enjoy watching Guttenberg talk. So my comments are general.

Even conservative audiophile manufacturers like Vandersteen have had subwoofer amps in their speakers for a long time.

That said, running out and laying down $13k for a Dutch & Dutch seems to me somewhat an act of faith.

I'd like to see a more open, modular approach with outboard DSPs and standard filter formats (e.g. Emerald Physics and the Linkwitz kits).
 

garbulky

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#18
On a cost standpoint active speakers can really sound quite excellent. Case in point, every Emotiva airmotiv active speaker I've heard has been quite excellent. Even though the amps exist within the speakers they have power and dynamics and sound quality.
The truth is that if I had heard those actives before I had heard my current setup, I wouldn't have gone forward to explore high quality passive solutions and I would have come out quite a bit on top on price.

However even when I have a choice to "downsize" my setup to a great sounding active, I can't see myself doing it. They are not as convenient as it sounds on paper.

Other than providing a power outlet near the speaker....one also has to have long interconnects. That's just weird for me. When I used active speakers the first thing I ran in to was that I did not have anywhere near the legnth of cables needed. Even when I got it all hooked up, I never wound up thinking that it was a more "all in one solution" just because it was so cumbersome.

The other reason was that YES if you are like me, who considers audio very important, I do want to have choice. I want to select my amp. I spent a lot of money on my amps because I knew they were exactly what I wanted. Remember a DSP means that your DAC "quality" is made moot in a large way due to additional A/D D/A conversions.
Right now I can fit the perfect amp for my needs with the perfect dac and perfect preamp. I can mate it with a huge variety of speakers that I can choose and select. If I want to do that for an active suddenly things become way more restrictive. If I want to use my class A amps to drive my active and want to go external, then suddenly my choice instantly becomes even more restricted.

I don't think manufacturers select the perfect amp. They select the amp that costs less, weighs less, and is smaller so that it can fit in their active speaker.
But...all that goes out the window if I find a set I like right?
P.S.: The old airmotiv speakers all had torroidal amps but as costs increase, they are switching to switching power supplies.
 

GrimSurfer

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#19
The evidence pretty strongly bears out that a competent speaker manufacturer can take literally any passive speaker, make it active, and it will perform better.
That's a pretty bold statement. What is the evidence? "Any passive speaker", even a crappy one?

It's bold statements like this that form the beginning of audio myths (like the idiotic one that two amps, with the same basic specs and volume matched will sound identical). Engineering often involves trade offs. Understanding why and when trade offs occur is an important part of understanding audio.

Digital crossovers, DSP, and Class D amps are positives, not negatives, when used properly.
"When used properly". That's quite a qualifier in the audio business, as @amirm tests show that performance is quite often a relative term, even when the device being measured was designed or constructed by people who should know better.

I'm not knocking active speakers, just saying that one needs to know what they're getting before making any bold claims...

Before KEF LS50s and Devialet, the chattering masses in the audio world we're not taking active full range speakers seriously (they've been used in near-field use in studios for years but that didn't seem to register with consumers... mostly because they were fairly expensive and being used in an environment where a high degree of accuracy and modest SPL fit the requirement). Now, such designs are somehow universally better and they're being produced out by all sorts of companies.

The bandwagoning effect is strong in the audio world. All you need is a product at or below a certain price point and one or two positive reviews of products that fit within the same category...
 
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garbulky

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#20
Having heard the LS50, I have no idea where the hype for it comes from. Rolled off in the highs, muddy bass, wide imaging but poor soundstage. I think it's a below average speaker especially when you consider its high pricing. I don't know why stereophile raves about it. Imo it's a $200 bookshelf, push it to $400 purely due to its great looks. The Emotiva airmotiv 5 and the Adam Audio monitors stomp all over it (imo).
 
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