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Why don't all speaker manufacturers design for flat on-axis and smooth off-axis?

MattHooper

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My time at the recent Toronto Audio Fest (Audio show) recently brought this thread to mind. Just wandering around listening to all the different designs, from stats, to horns, to ribbons, omnis, standard dynamic designs and everything in between.

I heard the Kii Audio Three speakers for the second time. The first was a little audition at a high-end vendor, just the stand mounted portion. At the show I was there early so got a nice listen to the stand-mount plus the subwoofer set up. Both set ups had run the DSP to dial in. In both cases I had a similar impression: Very smooth and even sounding. I know some people are now using these as studio monitors and if my experience was representative, they are one of the easier-on-the-ears monitors I've ever heard.

Aside from that I wasn't particularly blown away. Did they "disappear" as sound sources more than other speakers? Well, they did that pretty well, but I'm used to speakers that have that quality in their sleep, so it wasn't near the best I've heard in that regard. Just very good. Deep bass for a stand mounted speaker? (First audition). Yes, I heard a very good minimalist recording of drums/bass/guitar/vocals and the sound was vivid, kick drum big and deep. But I didn't find anything particularly compelling about what I heard. They seemed if anything a bit on the darker-than-life side tonally, and I found the timbral quality of instruments (classical pieces etc) to be, as through many systems, a bit mono-tone where it felt like my brain had to do some conscious work to untangle one instrument from the other. (Those are the type of experiences that ultimately led me to my most recent speaker purchase, some Joseph Audio speakers, whose most salient feature to my ears is the amazing timbral exactness. It doesn't matter how many instruments enter the track, I find them all effortless to identify).

At one point I heard a particularly "live" sound coming from a room, sort of bluesy music with drums, vocals, guitar, horns. I followed it to find a room pretty well populated, lots of nodding heads to the music. I found myself liking what I heard due to the vividness of the sound. Drum cymbals popped out of the mix and rang with a sense of life, the drummer was doing rim shots that also popped in to the room in a very "live" way, vocals were very clear, horns vivid, yet not "bright" in a whitened sense, but with decent "tonal color" to the proceedings. I asked what speakers were playing and was told Zu Audio speakers.

Zu Audio Speakers??? Really?

It's a brand I know of, but have never encountered personally. I know that the brand has some fervent fans. And I know that they measure AWFUL in the stereophile reviews. And I know they are highly disparaged among the more objectivist (and to some extent DIY) crowd as essentially an idiotic, highly colored speaker design.

And yet...they drew me in with one of the more enjoyable and life-like sounds of the show!

I'm not about to run out and buy a pair, but having heard them I can certainly now understand how they appeal to some people.

And, for me, they offer a rebuke to the idea that every speaker manufacturer ought to be towing the same line, aiming at precicely the same target curves or whatever. A speaker like the Zu is serving some people's criteria in a way that other speakers tend not to. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say.

Finally: I had some great experiences listening to the Harbeth 30.1 speakers in a couple of rooms. They were an oasis of easy-going, yet rich, organic and timbrally convincing sound. They weren't as vivid and "look at me" as many of the other speakers, but they had some special qualities that really appeal to me. I very often do a little "live vs reproduced" comparison when listening to speakers - at stores, at home, and at shows. At shows when there is a well-recorded vocal track playing through a system I close my eyes and listen both to the reproduced sound, and to the sound of real people talking (inevitably someone is talking in the room, or nearby in the hall). This always puts the reproduced vocal sound in stark relief, typically showing it to sound hardened, mechanical, artificial, edgy, and with a timbral 'color' that sounds "off" from the real voices (e.g. too dark, too light, just...not right). Many of the speakers doing vivid vocals I heard, from Monitor Audio, to Muraudio, to ATC, Tidal, and many others, immediately "failed" those comparisons. But I'll be damned, the Harbeths playing some vocal tracks passed this test better than anything at the show. Voices were reproduced with a sense of "human" organic quality, with body, clear at the right parts, soft and rich at the right parts, that was very much like the real voices in the room!

And some put down the Harbeths as being "colored" or disparage them for the wider baffle, thin-walled cabinet approach. But for me it's how it all comes out in the sound. Some of the speakers I've heard that have the wide baffles/resonating cabinet approach may be introducing canny colorations, but to my ear the end result re-introduces some of the richness and body that I hear in real life sounds, that disappears in many of the super-damped, super linear speaker designs.

I mentioned in another thread that I finally heard the Klipsch La Scala speakers at this show and I very much enjoyed their lively, dynamic, dense-through-the-midrange sound, where voices, drum snares, percussion, hand claps, synthesizers etc had a real sense of physical presence.
(And I think those speaers measure pretty dodgy).

I also got an audition of one of the crazier speakers at the show: the AER speakers. These use what look to be some Lowther-type driver, augmented by huge (plastic?) "lenses" surrounding them, focusing the sound towards the listener. Very crazy looking. No bass to speak of. But holy cow, when I got in to a close seat in the center for an acoustic guitar piece, it was perhaps the most vividly "real" sounding presentation I've ever heard of an acoustic guitar. It wasn't just the clarity, but the sense of the guitar right in front of me moving air, like a real guitar, with every pluck. Fascinating!

Anyway, again, for me this all speaks to the fact I like the fact there is such a variety of designs out there, and that not everyone is following lock-step with one type of speaker design or one set of measurement goals.
 

Ilkless

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My time at the recent Toronto Audio Fest (Audio show) recently brought this thread to mind. Just wandering around listening to all the different designs, from stats, to horns, to ribbons, omnis, standard dynamic designs and everything in between
There are several explanations:

- Show conditions - I bet the vast majority of exhibitors aren't even conversant with REW for optimisation. Also quick listening plus age-related roll off is always going to favour excessively bright speakers tonally, but does not justify massively underwhelming directivity performance nor roughness as a legitimate alternative, especially given the presence of confounding non-auditory variables in such assessments, like:

- Confirmation bias - yes this sounds a bit confrontational but you have consistently come onto threads disparaging the evidence-based approach even when compelling psychoacoustic evidence pertaining to human hearing has been presented that disfavours all those antiquated and under(or un?)engineered speakers you list. The fact is Zu is a profoundly anti-intellectual speaker company that caters to a specific demographic. I previously wrote this elsewhere and I stand by it:

Zu, and their like, run on a blatantly anti-intellectual platform. It doesn't so much sell a speaker as a social narrative that its users buy into to show themselves off as connoisseurs and patrons of art (ironic given mediocre build quality), as people with great taste clued into something arcane that even researchers and scientists cannot penetrate.
Quite simply the product of wilfully anti-intellectual, denialist hubris both by the designers and their buyers.

See also this recent thread on ASR and this post in a similar vein I wrote elsewhere:

https://www.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/96n53e
Also, you seem to have constructed the strawman that the "measurement goals" are monolithic. As this thread indicates, it is quite the contrary. There is a set of general principles consistent for human hearing but implementation varies massively based on size, SPL, frequency range, dispersion pattern requirements. If anything the Zu/Harbeths are much less adventurous or radical compared to genuine alternative designs like CBTs or Synergy horns.
 

MattHooper

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There are several explanations:

- Show conditions - I bet the vast majority of exhibitors aren't even conversant with REW for optimisation. Also quick listening plus age-related roll off is always going to favour excessively bright speakers tonally, but does not justify massively underwhelming directivity performance nor roughness as a legitimate alternative, especially given the presence of confounding non-auditory variables in such assessments, like:
Sure, show conditions are always a factor.

BTW, what is "justified" depends on your goals.

- Confirmation bias -
Sure, all of us will suffer from confirmation bias to one degree or another. Or...just plain bias. You too.

yes this sounds a bit confrontational but you have consistently come onto threads disparaging the evidence-based approach
Then you have grossly misunderstood anything I've written.

Not once have I "disparaged" an evidence based approach. Either for speakers or anything else.

I have continually voiced my approval, and admiration for it. I bet I've done more time arguing for a scientific approach in the "subjectivist" forums than you have.

Rather, I am happy there is BOTH the approach taken by the Toole/Harman et all school AND speaker designers continuing to make designs that may not fall within the parameters of that approach.

I like fine dining.

But I'm glad I can still get a Big Mac ;-)

And everything in between.


The fact is Zu is a profoundly anti-intellectual speaker company that caters to a specific demographic.
Right. A speaker company creates a product that some portion of consumers really like. The Horror.
Spare me the elitism, though, thanks.


Quite simply the product of wilfully anti-intellectual, denialist hubris both by the designers and their buyers.
Darn, I guess my having actually enjoyed the sound of the Zu speaker (at least under those circumstances) now marks me out as hubristic and anti-intellectual.

I see you have some passionate viewpoints, but this "my way or the highway" is the type of rhetoric and snobbery that gives audio-geeks a bad reputation.


Also, you seem to have constructed the strawman that the "measurement goals" are monolithic.
I don't mean to say that there is no room for variance in speaker designs at all given the general goals elucidated by the blind-test-oriented science. Rather, it's that I see that audiophiles have gotten great pleasure out of a great variety of speaker designs, many of which run afowl of what would likely be designed, given the dictates of, say, the HK approach. And I myself have often enjoyed listening to a variety of designs as well. I have enjoyed all sorts of speakers from neutral, to less neutral, from those with generally flat frequency response/well controlled dispersion, to some more wonky designs.

You clearly have, like many in the audiophile community, a passionate viewpoint on how loudspeaker design "should" be done. Great.

But I'm glad that you aren't the arbitor of what speakers actually get made. If it were up to you, clearly speakers like Zu (and no doubt many others) would never see the light of day, abominations to your views that they are. But not everyone shares your likes and goals, and fortunately Zu makes speakers for people who like that type of sound, many of whom are incredibly happy with that product.

If anything the Zu/Harbeths are much less adventurous or radical compared to genuine alternative designs like CBTs or Synergy horns.
I agree! Those Synergy Horns look fun!
 

Blumlein 88

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My time at the recent Toronto Audio Fest (Audio show) recently brought this thread to mind. Just wandering around listening to all the different designs, from stats, to horns, to ribbons, omnis, standard dynamic designs and everything in between.

I heard the Kii Audio Three speakers for the second time. The first was a little audition at a high-end vendor, just the stand mounted portion. At the show I was there early so got a nice listen to the stand-mount plus the subwoofer set up. Both set ups had run the DSP to dial in. In both cases I had a similar impression: Very smooth and even sounding. I know some people are now using these as studio monitors and if my experience was representative, they are one of the easier-on-the-ears monitors I've ever heard.

Aside from that I wasn't particularly blown away. Did they "disappear" as sound sources more than other speakers? Well, they did that pretty well, but I'm used to speakers that have that quality in their sleep, so it wasn't near the best I've heard in that regard. Just very good. Deep bass for a stand mounted speaker? (First audition). Yes, I heard a very good minimalist recording of drums/bass/guitar/vocals and the sound was vivid, kick drum big and deep. But I didn't find anything particularly compelling about what I heard. They seemed if anything a bit on the darker-than-life side tonally, and I found the timbral quality of instruments (classical pieces etc) to be, as through many systems, a bit mono-tone where it felt like my brain had to do some conscious work to untangle one instrument from the other. (Those are the type of experiences that ultimately led me to my most recent speaker purchase, some Joseph Audio speakers, whose most salient feature to my ears is the amazing timbral exactness. It doesn't matter how many instruments enter the track, I find them all effortless to identify).

At one point I heard a particularly "live" sound coming from a room, sort of bluesy music with drums, vocals, guitar, horns. I followed it to find a room pretty well populated, lots of nodding heads to the music. I found myself liking what I heard due to the vividness of the sound. Drum cymbals popped out of the mix and rang with a sense of life, the drummer was doing rim shots that also popped in to the room in a very "live" way, vocals were very clear, horns vivid, yet not "bright" in a whitened sense, but with decent "tonal color" to the proceedings. I asked what speakers were playing and was told Zu Audio speakers.

Zu Audio Speakers??? Really?

It's a brand I know of, but have never encountered personally. I know that the brand has some fervent fans. And I know that they measure AWFUL in the stereophile reviews. And I know they are highly disparaged among the more objectivist (and to some extent DIY) crowd as essentially an idiotic, highly colored speaker design.

And yet...they drew me in with one of the more enjoyable and life-like sounds of the show!

I'm not about to run out and buy a pair, but having heard them I can certainly now understand how they appeal to some people.

And, for me, they offer a rebuke to the idea that every speaker manufacturer ought to be towing the same line, aiming at precicely the same target curves or whatever. A speaker like the Zu is serving some people's criteria in a way that other speakers tend not to. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say.

Finally: I had some great experiences listening to the Harbeth 30.1 speakers in a couple of rooms. They were an oasis of easy-going, yet rich, organic and timbrally convincing sound. They weren't as vivid and "look at me" as many of the other speakers, but they had some special qualities that really appeal to me. I very often do a little "live vs reproduced" comparison when listening to speakers - at stores, at home, and at shows. At shows when there is a well-recorded vocal track playing through a system I close my eyes and listen both to the reproduced sound, and to the sound of real people talking (inevitably someone is talking in the room, or nearby in the hall). This always puts the reproduced vocal sound in stark relief, typically showing it to sound hardened, mechanical, artificial, edgy, and with a timbral 'color' that sounds "off" from the real voices (e.g. too dark, too light, just...not right). Many of the speakers doing vivid vocals I heard, from Monitor Audio, to Muraudio, to ATC, Tidal, and many others, immediately "failed" those comparisons. But I'll be damned, the Harbeths playing some vocal tracks passed this test better than anything at the show. Voices were reproduced with a sense of "human" organic quality, with body, clear at the right parts, soft and rich at the right parts, that was very much like the real voices in the room!

And some put down the Harbeths as being "colored" or disparage them for the wider baffle, thin-walled cabinet approach. But for me it's how it all comes out in the sound. Some of the speakers I've heard that have the wide baffles/resonating cabinet approach may be introducing canny colorations, but to my ear the end result re-introduces some of the richness and body that I hear in real life sounds, that disappears in many of the super-damped, super linear speaker designs.

I mentioned in another thread that I finally heard the Klipsch La Scala speakers at this show and I very much enjoyed their lively, dynamic, dense-through-the-midrange sound, where voices, drum snares, percussion, hand claps, synthesizers etc had a real sense of physical presence.
(And I think those speaers measure pretty dodgy).

I also got an audition of one of the crazier speakers at the show: the AER speakers. These use what look to be some Lowther-type driver, augmented by huge (plastic?) "lenses" surrounding them, focusing the sound towards the listener. Very crazy looking. No bass to speak of. But holy cow, when I got in to a close seat in the center for an acoustic guitar piece, it was perhaps the most vividly "real" sounding presentation I've ever heard of an acoustic guitar. It wasn't just the clarity, but the sense of the guitar right in front of me moving air, like a real guitar, with every pluck. Fascinating!

Anyway, again, for me this all speaks to the fact I like the fact there is such a variety of designs out there, and that not everyone is following lock-step with one type of speaker design or one set of measurement goals.
Having hear LaScalas I've always thought they were too unbalanced, too lacking in bass. I prefer the K-horns (in a proper corner) or the Heresy.
Were the AER's you heard the axjet?
https://aer-loudspeakers.com/aer-axjet

1571807133294.png


On the other hand, ZU????? I mean really, ZU??????
 

MattHooper

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Having hear LaScalas I've always thought they were too unbalanced, too lacking in bass. I prefer the K-horns (in a proper corner) or the Heresy.
Were the AER's you heard the axjet?
https://aer-loudspeakers.com/aer-axjet

View attachment 36721
No, it was the "Excenter" model, I believe.

And I definitely see what you mean about the La Scalas.

I'd be inclined to say I couldn't live with the lack of bass. But then again, maybe that's more of a conceptual/visual problem with those speakers ("so big, so little bass!') given I seem to be quite happy listening for long periods of time to some monitors that are even more bass limited. Still, they struck me as a nice place to visit, not necessarily a destination. (For me).

On the other hand, ZU????? I mean really, ZU??????
Ha! Yeah. I was as surprised as you are now.

I'd seen the measurements of Zu speakers before and figured I'd likely run screaming from the room if I ever encountered one. So it was quite a shock when I was told what I was hearing.

But then, it was only a song or two I heard. And...at an audio show. I only thought, given the little I heard from them, I could understand how they found an audience.
 

ernestcarl

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At one point I heard a particularly "live" sound coming from a room, sort of bluesy music with drums, vocals, guitar, horns. I followed it to find a room pretty well populated, lots of nodding heads to the music. I found myself liking what I heard due to the vividness of the sound. Drum cymbals popped out of the mix and rang with a sense of life, the drummer was doing rim shots that also popped in to the room in a very "live" way, vocals were very clear, horns vivid, yet not "bright" in a whitened sense, but with decent "tonal color" to the proceedings. I asked what speakers were playing and was told Zu Audio speakers.

Zu Audio Speakers??? Really?

... And, for me, they offer a rebuke to the idea that every speaker manufacturer ought to be towing the same line, aiming at precicely the same target curves or whatever. A speaker like the Zu is serving some people's criteria in a way that other speakers tend not to. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say.
That's okay -- as speaker choice varies greatly with end users. But it would be entirely a disservice to society if mastering and mixing engineers started using Zu speakers as their reference.

I would have been more moved if you had listened to a set of your own 'known/extremely familiar' reference tracks for comparison.
 

MRC01

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... Also quick listening plus age-related roll off is always going to favour excessively bright speakers tonally, but does not justify massively underwhelming directivity performance nor roughness as a legitimate alternative, especially given the presence of confounding non-auditory variables in such assessments ...
I don't buy that age related roll off would cause people to favor excessive brightness. With any long-term change to one's hearing, everything you hear in the natural world is affected. As long as you master the recording to sound natural or realistic, you won't be boosting the highs. Different people with completely different hearing would master it the same way, with neutral response, because that's what creates the sound that each of them hears individually (and differently).

However, it's possible that age related roll off would prevent a mastering engineer from noticing whether the top octave was too high or too low in level. But that would only be in the top octave, which is a different problem. This doesn't explain the excessive brightness engineered into most recordings, which is a lift in frequencies an octave or two below that. Eg: that excessively bright sound is in the 2-6 kHz range, nowhere near the top octave, and this frequency range is low enough to be unaffected by normal age related hearing loss.

I conclude this excessive brightness can only be intentional. It's a way to make the music reach out and grab your attention, like over-saturating a photograph. Walk around any store selling big screens and you'll see that video screen producers do the same thing: way excessive contrast and color settings that would make actual movie watching virtually impossible.
 

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I don't buy that age related roll off would cause people to favor excessive brightness. With any long-term change to one's hearing, everything you hear in the natural world is affected. As long as you master the recording to sound natural or realistic, you won't be boosting the highs. Different people with completely different hearing would master it the same way, with neutral response, because that's what creates the sound that each of them hears individually (and differently).

However, it's possible that age related roll off would prevent a mastering engineer from noticing whether the top octave was too high or too low in level. But that would only be in the top octave, which is a different problem. This doesn't explain the excessive brightness engineered into most recordings, which is a lift in frequencies an octave or two below that. Eg: that excessively bright sound is in the 2-6 kHz range, nowhere near the top octave, and this frequency range is low enough to be unaffected by normal age related hearing loss.

I conclude this excessive brightness can only be intentional. It's a way to make the music reach out and grab your attention, like over-saturating a photograph. Walk around any store selling big screens and you'll see that video screen producers do the same thing: way excessive contrast and color settings that would make actual movie watching virtually impossible.
All speakers are more directive at high frequencies than low. As a result, when a speaker if voiced flat on a single axis, there will inevitably be less HF energy in the room than LF, not even taking into account that rooms absorb HF and can't absorb LF.

Speakers are for the most part intrinsically dark sounding. Elevating treble response is the easiest way to deal with it. Adding a rear tweeter is another. Making a dipole speaker is another.
 

MattHooper

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Much more constructive would be able to hear ZU and Kii set up next to each other in the same room, sadly that rarely occurs.
Keith
Agreed that would be ideal. (And even more ideal: under blind conditions).

That said, I don't completely dismiss sonic impressions of speakers even when they are not compared directly in the same room. For one thing, as Floyd Toole has told us, above a certain frequency response of the speaker we are good at "hearing through" the room to the character/voice of that speaker" in the same way, and for the same reasons, we recognize the same person's voice in different rooms.

That seems to mesh well with my own experience. I rarely, if ever, find myself totally surprised by some change in character upon hearing the same speaker in different rooms. There is a "gist" of the familiar sonic character that tends to remain from room to room.

(Well, within reason, it's possible no doubt to have a room be so bad, and to position yourself in a room, that it utterly muddies anything good the speaker could be doing. But when I encounter speakers I tend to make sure I test listening positions that get me more direct sound vs room sound, which I think helps in hearing more consistency from room to room). The speakers I just bought, for instance, I auditioned in various different set ups, not in my home. But once home, they have the sonic characteristics I identified in the store.

And, I have little doubt that a few members here would have no problem having declared "Man those Zus sound awful!" without requiring direct comparison to the Kii speakers in the same room ;-)
 

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One quickly adapts to the speaker, I remember walking towards the Tannoy room at one Munich show and the speakers within sounded extremely ‘quacky’ ten minutes in the room and they sounded fine, walk past later that day and they sounded...
Keith
 

MattHooper

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One quickly adapts to the speaker, I remember walking towards the Tannoy room at one Munich show and the speakers within sounded extremely ‘quacky’ ten minutes in the room and they sounded fine, walk past later that day and they sounded...
Keith
Agreed. And this I think accounts for much of the audiophile myth of speakers "breaking in."

I've had friends who received new speakers, which I heard at their place right after they received them.

A week or two or three later they tell me "These speakers have really changed with break-in. They sound smoother now."

I come over and to me they sound exactly like they did when I first heard them. I can detect no change at all. I impute the "break in" to the owner getting used to the new speakers.
 

Purité Audio

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Yes absolutely, one needs a ‘reference’ really show conditions only tell you whether the exhibitors have gone to the trouble of fixing any major room modes, surprisingly often they haven’t.
Keith
 

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I'm curious to know which Zu model exactly it is that was heard. I would hazard to guess that whatever speaker model it was, it probably is improved/better than the one tested and recorded by noaudiophile. Maybe... or not (?)

Near-field recordings of the speaker in his room (Bad To The Bone by George Thorogood):

Zu Audio Essence run on Kinergetics KBA-75 Class A solid state amps

Zu Audio Essence run on Conrad Johnson MV-75 tube amp

Selah Audio Galena's run on Kinergetics KBA-75 Class A solid state amps (objectively better measuring speakers for the sake of comparison)

LISTEN & COMPARE TO THE ORIGINAL TRACK:

Amazon Music

Spotify

Apple Music

*I'm not particularly concerned with which one sounds better, but rather which one actually sounds closer/stays faithful to the reference track.
 
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Sergei

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I heard the Kii Audio Three speakers for the second time ... I wasn't particularly blown away. Just very good.
Consistent with typical reaction of mainstream buyers upon hearing a contemporary studio monitor?
my most recent speaker purchase, some Joseph Audio speakers, whose most salient feature to my ears is the amazing timbral exactness. It doesn't matter how many instruments enter the track, I find them all effortless to identify).
A traditional hi-fi speaker. Polk sells electrically and geometrically similar yet cheaper-made speakers for 1/10th of the Joseph's price, which, as far as I can tell, have been selling pretty well.

I have respect for Joseph, Magico, and other companies who still produce well-designed and well-made classic passives: this class of designs has been evolving for over 100 years, and with good materials and attention to details the speakers do indeed sound very good.
Zu Audio Speakers??? Really?
Zu main woofer's range tends to serve up to 12 KHz. Essentially, Zu designs are based on full range transducers, with their well-known benefits and shortcomings. They sound very good on certain genres of music and to some listeners. They sound lo-fi on most genres of music to most listeners.
Finally: I had some great experiences listening to the Harbeth 30.1 speakers in a couple of rooms. They were an oasis of easy-going, yet rich, organic and timbrally convincing sound.
The Harbeth is a representative of classic, highly evolved previous generation of professional broadcast studio monitors, specifically optimized to accurately reproduce speech and vocals.
I mentioned in another thread that I finally heard the Klipsch La Scala speakers at this show and I very much enjoyed their lively, dynamic, dense-through-the-midrange sound, where voices, drum snares, percussion, hand claps, synthesizers etc had a real sense of physical presence.
(And I think those speaers measure pretty dodgy).
Klipsch specializes in speakers that are "musically distorting". Loved by some listeners, disregarded by others.
I also got an audition of one of the crazier speakers at the show: the AER speakers. These use what look to be some Lowther-type driver, augmented by huge (plastic?) "lenses" surrounding them, focusing the sound towards the listener. Very crazy looking. No bass to speak of. But holy cow, when I got in to a close seat in the center for an acoustic guitar piece, it was perhaps the most vividly "real" sounding presentation I've ever heard of an acoustic guitar. It wasn't just the clarity, but the sense of the guitar right in front of me moving air, like a real guitar, with every pluck. Fascinating!
Well, I don't recall ever hearing one, yet they are visually very interesting indeed. I guess they appeal to a certain category of "furniture-art-oriented" buyers.
Anyway, again, for me this all speaks to the fact I like the fact there is such a variety of designs out there, and that not everyone is following lock-step with one type of speaker design or one set of measurement goals.
I don't mind the availability of the variety of designs. I do mind the sales tactics typically encountered at the shows like the one you attended. In one way or another, the salesmen tout presumed sonic superiority of their offerings, whereas in fact most of the speakers are not objectively better than average but simply different.
Some of the speakers I've heard that have the wide baffles/resonating cabinet approach may be introducing canny colorations, but to my ear the end result re-introduces some of the richness and body that I hear in real life sounds, that disappears in many of the super-damped, super linear speaker designs.
Real-life sounds recorded and reproduced with professional studio gear sound absolutely lifelike if not processed: in fact, this is one of the major criteria of the studio gear subjective evaluation. However, as already mentioned by several contributors to this site, we rarely encounter unprocessed commercial records these days.

Important thing to understand is that mixing engineers often use subtractive techniques to improve the perceptual separability: for instance, eq-ing out frequency ranges on individual vocal and instrumental tracks that would otherwise overlap in an unwelcome way on the master.

As a result, the mix keeps conveying the artistic intent even on most distorting consumer systems, yet the individual instruments and voices may no longer sound natural on highly linear speakers.

Accomplished mixing engineers treat captures of vocals and physical instruments as inputs for their favorite virtual instruments, which in turn generate the tracks that the mix intermediate stems and later the master are composed of.

One of the early personal revelations to me was running a karaoke setup made out of a high-quality digital studio mixer and half a dozen studio-quality vocal microphones (don't ask, I had stranger projects :) ). The resulting sound was heavenly lifelike, smooth, and pleasant, in stark contrast to a typical consumer karaoke system.
 

MattHooper

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Sergei!

Consistent with typical reaction of mainstream buyers upon hearing a contemporary studio monitor?
Not sure.

I was always quite impressed by the sound in mixing studios (both music and film), even before I got in to the business.
(I do sound design/sound editing for film/tv). I've heard a lot of studio monitors so it's not like the sound is alien to me. In fact, as I mentioned, I found the Kiis particularly smooth sounding and could imagine using them as monitors, like some people do already.


I don't mind the availability of the variety of designs. I do mind the sales tactics typically encountered at the shows like the one you attended. In one way or another, the salesmen tout presumed sonic superiority of their offerings, whereas in fact most of the speakers are not objectively better than average but simply different.
I don't care for B.S. either. Though I have to say the majority of those running the rooms at this show were quite "chill" and weren't hard selling me on the superiority of their stuff at all. Usually it was "what would you like to listen to?" It was nice.

Real-life sounds recorded and reproduced with professional studio gear sound absolutely lifelike if not processed: in fact, this is one of the major criteria of the studio gear subjective evaluation. However, as already mentioned by several contributors to this site, we rarely encounter unprocessed commercial records these days.
It can be impressive, yes. I've been recording sound for my job for decades, hence listening to a constant diet of uncompressed sound.
I've mentioned before here that I have made recordings of instruments I play, instruments my sons play, voices of family members etc, to compare with "the real thing" when played through speakers. It's often illuminating. And the simplicity of recording one sound - e.g. an acoustic guitar - that also has not gone through any mixing or compression, really helps sell the "aliveness" of the reproduced version.

On a similar note, I'm partially in the camp of trying to get *some* aspects I hear in live sound sources to come through my music system. With the recognition of the various compromises and problems involved, and so of course not expecting perfect sonic reproduction through a stereo system. Anyway, to this end I constantly take note of the quality of live "real" sounds, but also of synthetic sounds. Most people say "if you are attempting some sonic fidelity to the sound of real instruments, you have to be talking about acoustic sound sources, not electronic like synths etc." Of course that makes lots of sense for obvious reasons. BUT...as someone who has played keyboards in bands (and recorded) for decades, there IS even in electronic instruments a timbral richness that often "dies" quite a bit once it gets to the consumer's speakers. I'd think anyone here who has played keyboards, on headphones, through an amp, knows what I mean. There is a very "direct" and pure clarity to the sound of many keyboard patches, and a richer more complex sound played directly in to headphones or whatever. Once it's made it's way through all the shenanigans it's lost a lot of that (and to my ears, takes on a less pure, grittier tone).

Sometimes I hear a sound system, though, that actually seems to reproduce some of that sonic "purity," in which the sound actually reminds me of when I hear keyboards unadorned when playing myself. That's a bit of an "aha" moment when I hear it, as much as when I hear a voice or sax or acoustic guitar sound particularly "like the real thing."
 

ernestcarl

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Sorry, not sure. It had a tweeter below the woofer, but I think many (most?) of the Zu speakers use that design.
Looking quickly at their website, it seems like they've discontinued those (used to be $4-5k). Though I do wonder how much "better" their current top of the line model is in comparison... one can only hope that they're at least 50% better fidelity-wise to the source -- although I've read that fidelity isn't exactly their goal, but to 'move' people emotionally.
 
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