Advice on selecting a price no object speaker

default -- Mon, 08/10/2009 - 13:31

Hello All,
I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions on selecting very expensive speakers.  Since most dealers rarely carry the highest lines, what is the best way to go about selecting one?  Ideally I would like to do a home audition, but if only 1 dealer across the country has the speaker, it may be difficult.  How does one account for different rooms and combinations of electronics that could sound great? 
One approach I was thinking of was to attend the RMAF and listen to what I like.  Then fly to dealers that may have the speaker, hopefully in a good room and under better conditions.  
Please advise!
Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 08/10/2009 - 19:31

 I think your idea of going to RMAF (or CES) and "sampling the wares" is an excellent one--keeping in mind that (a) all of the contenders may not be displaying at any given show, and (b) "show conditions" aren't generally ideal for critical listening.OTOH, you will be able to get a fair taste of what many of the top brands have to offer. Do you have a large room? Do you typically  listen to music at loud levels or moderate ones? What kind of music do you listen to for the most part? 

Anonymous234 (not verified) -- Mon, 08/10/2009 - 22:31

Mr. Valin, thanks for your prompt reply.  The room is 20 x 35 with a 15 foot ceiling.  It doubles as our living room. 
I listen to moderate levels for the most part - 70-80 db.  Every 4-6 weeks,when I am in the mood,  I rock out to the Who or Led Zeppelin at higher volumes.  I really enjoy the piano, violin, guitar, and the human voice regardless of the type of music.   I do listen to just about everything - classical, jazz, blues, classic rock, latin, klezmer, blue grass, etc.
Not having much experience with equipment at that level, the question I have is: can one really go wrong with any of the big ticket speakers?
Thank You.

davido (not verified) -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 00:36

I'm wondering why you're committed (or so it seems) to buying very expensive speakers as opposed to very good ones.

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 01:56

First, davido has an excellent point. Buying a very expensive speaker is not necessarily the same thing as buying a very good speaker. Sonically, what more money usually buys you in transducers is more power-handling, more bass, and more dynamic range (i.e., the speaker will play louder without giving out, play deeper into the bottom octaves, and play stronger on big tuttis--and, yes, it will "fill" bigger spaces with its sound). But to accomplish these things (or some of them), expensive speakers must also, generally speaking, be physically larger. Bigger boxes often have a harder time "disappearing" than smaller ones, and more drivers and crossovers often have a harder time sounding like "one thing" rather than many different things, each with a sound of its own. If being less aware that the music is coming from physical objects parked in your living/listening room is important to you, then you have to be judicious about which big speaker you buy. So, the answer to your question is: Yes, you can go wrong with large big-ticket speakers, but whether you do or don't rather depends on how important things like playing loud, playing deep bass, playing with unfettered dynamic range are to you vis-a-vis other things like not being aware (or being less aware) of the sounds being added by the speakers themselves (what we call "transparency" and "neutrality"), lifelike timbres, the preservation of low-level details about the music and the performance, playing with realistic dynamic scale and resolution at soft-to-moderate levels,  etc. In my experience, you can come close to getting it all in relatively equal measures with a large, expensive speaker. But you can't with every large, expensive speaker. All of which means that you really need to listen to some of the contenders with your own music. And you really need to decide how important playing very loud, very low, and very strong are to you. If, as it turns out, you can live with lesser amounts of some of these things, then the world of speaker possibilities opens much wider (and costs go down). 

Anonymous234 (not verified) -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 07:32

Good points.  I am aware of 2 schools of thought. The first one is finely made by davido.  It claims that a pair of large Maggies or Soundlabs will get you 90% there.  The other school of thought claims that the law of diminishing returns does not kick in as fast as most people imagine.  As one spends more money, one does get a more real performance in one's home.  Since I don't have much experience with these more expensive speakers, I am thankful for your comments.

Tom F (not verified) -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 08:07

Is your room properly, or at least adequately acoustically treated to justify and bring out the best from these speakers that you intend to invest in ?
What is the rest of the system composed of (component wise) ? (brands, models, etc. of all parts of it including speaker cables and interconnects)
Why is there so much of an emphasis on highly expensive instead of the one that really does it for you regardless of it having a high price ? (or not)
Is any of this future purchase for ego purposes or to impress neighbors or friends or is it strictly for your love of great sounding music ?
Wht aspects of reproduced sound do you highly value ? (extreme bass extension, tight bass, gloriously transparent midrange, shimmering treble that makes a cymbal sound like what it is instead of a burst of white noise, staging depth that makes the rear wall disappear, etc.) ?
As respectfully as I may say this, if you do not perhaps write down what all your priorities are (in that realm as the question of mine above) then you may very likely give your hard earned money to the hands of someone very willing to take it from you without giving yourself a chance to even be in the city of the ballpark that you should be playing in. Get to know your tastes; in detail, in full, and then make that list known (include it in your next post entry perhaps) and see what ideas or suggestions you receive from QUALIFIED people, and let your budget be known at that time too since it can make a major limiting factor, or not. After all, expensive is a relative term ... to some people $1,000 per pair is expensive whereas to others $25,000 is expensive and to yet others, $100,000 is expensive. Without your budget , or limit at least, being disclosed along with your "needs," you will not be able to get a properly directing guide to help you from anyone.
I hope this helps you.

sheepherder -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 09:57

I can afford a full 7.1 set up for my HT room with the most expensive speakers out there. Most expensive may not be the best and even if they are chances they will be the best in your room are slim.
If you are going to by the best then you need a dedicated room not a living room which is probably is opne to other rooms unless you are just trying to show off to your friends. You need a separate electric service for the speakers etc. 
I have separate music and HT rooms and dropped over $750K US on the design and construction of each room.  But I spent over $300k on my kitchen and wood burning oven. 
Price no object speakers in your living room is a waste of money and the speakers.
For  a price no object speaker the dealer or manufacturer better come to your location and spend some time setting up for a demo.  Many have for me and I am sorry my Maggie 20 still beat them.  If I am spending high five figures or six figures you better come to me. My John Deere dealer comes out to me with demos.  Benelli sent their rep out with their new shotgun Vinci and  the AM, Land Rover  and Ferrari dealers visit me.  I go to my clients with cheese and lamb for demos.   My local Chevy dealer will leave a Chevy pick up at my gate for a demo.
Problem today is folks don't know how to make and close a sale.

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 14:45

 Maggie 20.1s (or 20s) are great loudspeakers! Arguably the best buy in a truly high-end transducer.

Tom F (not verified) -- Tue, 08/11/2009 - 14:41

Hello Sheepherder,
What do you do for a living if it is not sheep herding ?
I have family in Buena Vista, Lexington, and Natural Bridge Station, and lived in Richmond for a long time. Where about are you (or near perhaps) in Shen. Valley, VA ?
Yes, I know it is none of my business, but I am just asking out of general curiosity as your reply above was quite confident sounding.

bherlihy -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 09:11

I wouldn't agree that expensive speakers in a living room is a total throw away of one's money.  especially in the room described, it is a very large room and depending on how it is decorated, it can probably achieve good sonics (i am not trying to state it can achieve something on level with a treated $750k room) but good sonics can be achieved, nonetheless.  as a personal example of decoration, in my listening room, i had sound cones in the corner, i never liked them and one day buy chance i threw a rolled up persian rug in the corner and leaned a big African hardwood mask in front of it (was more moving things around and got too lazy to move this one back).  ultimately i liked the sonic impact and the looks so i left it.  you probably wouldn't want certain treatments in your living room, but there is a chance you can achieve similar treatments with use of substitutes such as rugs, heavy curtains, etc.
i also don't know if i agree with the original poster that "that the law of diminishing returns does not kick in as fast as most people imagine".  I actually think it kicks in very fast.  I think, for the most part, that dollars spent from $10k to $20k, for example, gets you a lot more than the dollars from say $50k to $100k (just look at JV's article on the Odessy amps).  At that point it really comes down to what you can afford.  there certainly will be quality increases but at that point it is an issue of what you can afford, not a directly correlated increase of quality for $ spent - hence why i think there are strong diminishing returns.  But if you can afford it and you like the difference in music you are hearing than it really isn't anyone elses business that you decide to spend that money.  certainly in the size room you have a big speaker box could do wonders. 

curious1 (not verified) -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 09:16

 If the poster is not serious enough to list the rest of his system, he's just posting it to fish for votes. So without further ado, my vote goes to.....
Magico Ultimate... 

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 09:20

 Pretty good pick, there, curious! I haven't heard Alon's giant horn system (yet), but several listeners whose opinions I respect (two of whom write for this magazine) thought the Ultimates were, uh, the ultimate. 
However, since the Ultimates are waaaaay too big for my digs, I'd go with what might be the next best thing--the Magico M5s. The best big multiway dynamics I've heard (and, overall, the best speakers I've heard in my home when driven by Soulution or ARC electronics). 

bherlihy -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 10:01

if were all voting...i vote with JV - M5 plus Soulution Monoblocks (haven't heard them on the ARC's yet)

Elliot Goldman -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 10:28

The choice of speaker is only a part of the issue.
If you do not have the environment to get great sound the rest is rather foolish. Audio is systematic. If you are going to attemt to put together and reference caliber system you will need an excellent room, a well done electrical system, great gear from front to back and the expertise to install and set up and tune the system. This also requires a significant amout of time.
I know many people want to hear things at their home however without the room and the expertise to make it work what does that really accomplish. My advise to the gentleman who asked the question is to make the commitment to accomplish the task, find someone who can help him and then go foward. Their are many excellent speaker choices and no single choice will please everyone but none can do the job in a lousy room with a bad set up. Audio is not like a new car, at least it shouldn't be, no dealer would bring out pieces of the car and ask you to make a decision, they bring a working, clean, tuned vehicle for you to see and try. In audio you have one single part of a puzzle and without the other pieces you can not see the whole picture.

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 10:47

 Very well put, Elliot.

Elliot Goldman -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 10:53

Thanks Jon,
 I think the subject is neglected and I think you know how important the room, electrical, and installation and set up is. I wonder from reading much of this if many of the readers really do.You need the foundation on which to build and get a great result.

sheepherder -- Wed, 08/12/2009 - 12:10

I do consulting work for the govt and private corporations regarding security issues. It is amazing what three twenty something women in outfits from Bebe and Jimmy Choos can learn about a company at a happy hour and what you can find in the trash after doing your best Bluto imitation and going dumpster diving. We also design personal protection programs for company execs and their families.
And we do use twenty something guys these days too.
Damn best sound I hear this month starts late this afternoon in Monterey.  AM is giving a chance to drive their new car.  Yeah that one.
Test of any 2 channel or HT system is how well they reporuduce the sounds of a well recorded TR250V12 and the start of a F1 race. Nothing I have heard cna move the volume of air to duplicate the pressure of a F1 start

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Tom F (not verified) -- Fri, 08/14/2009 - 20:57

I agree with Mr. Goldman in regard to the room and electrical system, etc. being the required foundation upon which to build the rest as he said. Having the best speakers in a poor sounding room without the proper electrical system, etc. (et al) is like having a donut made out of crap but is covered with powdered sugar so that it looks great but can never be more than that which is covered up within.
Personally, I would go for a set up like Mr. Goldman describes (the room, electrical system, etc.) with a moderate system over the highest quality or costing speakers without the foundation as he cited. Very good applied wisdom Mr. Goldman.

Elliot Goldman -- Sat, 08/15/2009 - 08:51

Dear Tom,
He can purchase whatever level of gear he wants however as I said without the foundation and the expertise to pull it all together it is of little value. I think many audiophiles and certainly beginners think that getting a "reference caliber" system is only as hard as writing a check. They are in for disappointment and surprise. I have heard many expensive systems but I have heard very few that play music.

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 08/15/2009 - 12:21

 A good part of Robert Harley's books on high-end audio is devoted to the critical importance of finding a reliable high-end-audio dealer. Indeed, he considers it the number one priority--ahead of any equipment shopping or purchase.

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