Loudspeakers

kemela receives requests to audition loudspeakers more than any other Hi-Fi component and many regard them as the most important contribution to the sound of the system. It is certainly true that to get a good overall balance of high, middle and low sound frequencies in a room, the design of the speaker should be appropriate for the room.

Why do speakers cost so much?

The construction of the cabinet and its finish is a large percentage of the cost of a loudspeaker. Craftsmanship is required for cabinets with bookended veneers and rich finishes. The cost of raw materials (especially exotic real wood veneers and magnetic materials), labor, shipping and warehousing has meant that the cost of loudspeakers has steadily risen more so than electronic compenents. However relatively low manufacturing costs in Asia have mitigated the factors that would otherwise have increased cost even further. This manufacturing cost advantage is gradually eroding as standards of living and wages increase. For speakers selling at lower price points, the designer has to decide between the cabinet size and finish, and the driver and cross-over quality.

Magnetic force is strongest in proximity. Closer magnetic gaps require greater manufacturing precision but there is always variance in fabrication of cone materials and magnetic strength from one batch of magnets to another. Stable stereo images require the right and left speaker to output the same volume at all frequencies so the sound doesn't drift from one side to another. Once grading of drivers and hand tweaking of cross-over networks is required, the time to build a speaker goes up a lot. Note most speaker measurements that you see are for an individual speaker. Reference speakers are more closely matched.

Why so many speakers from the UK?

The UK has always been a center of excellence for loudspeaker design. This is due to high broadcasting standards, exposure to musical education in schools from an early age, and a supply of dedicated acoustical engineers graduating from universities offering specialized education in loudspeaker design. Specialized manufacturing technology development has accelerated in Europe and the West particularly in technology parks where there may be overlap in fundamental material design and fabrication methods used in modern manufacturing across different industries.

Style and types of loudspeakers

The basic parameters of cabinet volume (size), bass extension, bass output capacity, distortion, efficiency and power handling, and loading is fairly well understood. New cone and diaphragm materials continue to appear and computer modelling has greatly accelerated cross-over design development. Compact "bookshelf" and stand-mounted speakers work well in small/medium-sized rooms provided the absence of low bass fundamentals is acceptable. Dynamic range is restricted by air compression in a smaller box. However smaller boxes are easier to make more rigid and cabinet vibrations, which can muddy the sound are reduced. It is easier to get more bass extension, power and efficiency with floorstanding speakers because there is less air compression in the box and because you can fit bigger drivers and more of them. These are far more suited to the needs of larger rooms but even though they are more efficient, a more powerful amplifier is needed to move the larger heavier diaphragms and the air loading on them. It is harder to make larger cabinets rigid since its easier to vibrate larger panels. Adding mass shifts resonances down to lower frequencies but some of the energy absorbed will be released later on. The delayed energy release can be seen in "waterfall" plots that have a time axis.

Electrostatic loudspeakers are panel speakers that sound forwards and backwards (dipole). Issues of cabinet resonance and cross-over (for full-range electrostatic speakers) are eliminated and they are more linear in response with a much faster reaction time since there is very little inertia. A high voltage electric field is needed to create an electrostatic field and to overcome the large air load on the membrane and they present a more challenging load for an amplifier to drive. But installed well in a suitable environment with the right electronics, many consider them to offer the best natural high fidelity sound

Spend another $1,000 on speakers or the amplifier?

The typical useful life of loudspeakers is about 15 years and so the cost of ownership should be amortorized over this period of time. Taking the time to audition speakers will pay off in that you will hopefully enjoy them for quite some time. However most people over-allocate the proportion of the budget for loudspeakers when putting togther a system. The source components, amplification and infrastructure make a big difference to how speakers perform and the overall sound of the system. Whether you plan for a "one-time" puchase of a complete sytem or build a system up over several years is an important consideration in how far to go with your speaker purchase.

Auditioning loudspeakers at kemela is done in a "controlled" manner whereby the customer can compare speakers with all other aspects kept the same. The type of amplification and source components will be discussed ahead of time as part of the level service and effort made by kemela for customers.


 
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