High End Speakers Tips

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What's the best way to improve the sound of my system?

The Weakest Link

In most cases, upgrading your speakers will have the biggest effect on the overall quality of your sound system. Speakers are the final link in the chain of your audio system. Good high end speakers have a way of exposing the shortcomings of the components connected upstream from them.

How do you find the weakest link, and improve your audio experience?

• Swap out different components with friend that own better systems to see if a change is heard
• Experiment with heavier speaker wires and RCA cables with gold plated connectors
• Remedy low-level hiss and audible ground loops with some well built cable
• Instead of using the amplifier which is built into your receiver, try a separate amplifier/preamp combination. A high-quality standalone amplifier will put many integrated receivers to shame.

Are full range speakers worth looking into?

Full Range Drivers

There is a group of audiophiles out there that believe simplicity is king. Instead of two- or three-way tower speakers, or high end subwoofer/satellite speakers, they believe the most accurate musical reproduction comes from a single speaker.

It takes a very special speaker to reproduce the entire audio spectrum. Most well regarded full range speakers cover from about 80 Hz to 14,000 Hz (this is a detriment, since you lose the bottom octaves but gain in other areas). The advantage of using one speaker to cover the all program material is the production of unparallel imaging and soundstage and true 'point source' sound. Some full range fanatics go the vintage route, while others choose to go with new speakers. Either way, you will be rewarded, and will likely never go back to the complexity of multi-driver speaker systems.

Why would I want to buy vintage speakers?

Vintage, Baby

Sometimes new is not better. In the same way some people prefer a '62 Corvette to a new Porsche, certain audiophiles search out and collect vintage audio equipment, including speakers. Speakers made from the 20's, through the 70's by manufacturers such as Altec, Western Electric, JBL, Klangfilm, Ohm, and Quad are highly desirable not just for their collector value, but for their unique sound and craftsmanship.

Should I worry about manufacturer support for my speaker purchase?

Stand By Your Speaker

High end speaker builders have thousands of hours invested in research and development, and have a reputation to uphold. They are constantly tweaking their designs and improving their products to please consumers. A true test for any manufacturer, however, is an analysis their return policy. Some important questions to ask about a return policy are:

• Will they stand by their product?
• Will they let you audition the speakers in your own home?
• How long after you buy your speakers can you go to them for help? (30 days, 90 day, a year, etc.)

Make sure you buy your speakers from a company that will bend over backwards to make you, the consumer, happy.

Why shouldn't I buy speakers at a department store?

Department Store Speakers vs. High End Speakers

Some people are content to walk into a local chain store, audition a few different speakers, and throw down a few hundred dollars on some bread and butter speakers. As with any hobby, however, home audio/theater has its aficionados. These individuals will exhaustively research dozens of speaker brands and models and read all the speaker reviews they can get their hands in an effort to find the best sound possible.

As you climb further into the stratosphere of high end speakers, you'll find not only better sound, but exotic cabinet material, proprietary speaker driver technology, and incredible craftsmanship. Speaker connoisseurs are rewarded with audio nirvana: three-dimensional, reach-out-and-touch-it realism. Once you experience a system like this, it's hard to go back.

What is Psychoacoustics?

Speakers and Psychoacoustics

If you want, you can spend over $100,000 for a pair of high end stereo speakers. The question is: Do these speakers sound better than a pair that cost $5000 or $500 ?

A large part of sound is psychoacoustic (the psychology of acoustical perception). Psychoacoustics is the subjective perception of sound versus the objective measurement of that sound by specialized test equipment. By its very nature, sound and audio reproduction is subjective. In other words, don't take someone else's word that a certain high end audio speaker is the best. Listen for yourself - in your own listening room, and compare it to live, acoustic music with voice.

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Ray Lokar