In some ways, building an inexpensive yet musical two-way loudspeaker is a greater design challenge than creating a cost-no-object reference product. Although the latter is a much more complex endeavor, the venerable two-way box seems to bring out the creativity and resources of the designer. Rather than throw money at the product in the form of more expensive drivers, enclosures, or components, the designer of a low-cost two-way is forced to go back to the basics, rethink closely-held tenets, and rely on ingenuity and sheer talent to squeeze the most music from a given cost. Consequently, the inexpensive two-way is the perfect vehicle for designers to develop their skills. If one has mastered this art form, one is much more likely to achieve success when more ambitious designs are attempted.
During the late 1970s and early '80s, I worked my way through college by selling hi-fi, or more precisely, mid-fi. During those years, I heard and sold several hundred different loudspeakers costing under $1000/pair. Despite the fact that I experienced them under less than ideal conditions, I was nevertheless able to get a feel for their relative performance. When switching between speakers, the differences between them were drastically juxtaposed. No two loudspeakers sounded even remotely similar tonally, indicating that they all had severe colorations.
Triad Speakers has been designing and manufacturing three-piece (woofer and two satellites) loudspeaker systems since 1982. The company was formed that year by designer Larry Pexton and has enjoyed steady growth in their market niche. Their original three-piece loudspeaker was a collaboration with Edward M. Long, of "Time-Align" fame, and Ron Wickersham. It was felt that the ideal loudspeaker would have the least cabinet interference, thus the design decision to keep the woofer separate and the midrange/tweeter enclosure small. Triad speakers were selected for inclusion in the Consumer Electronics Show's Innovations 1990 Design and Engineering Showcase, the sixth time the company's products have been selected for this award.
Cyrus is the name given to the higher-priced line of loudspeakers made by England's Mission Electronics. The entire Mission loudspeaker line includes six products under the Mission label and three under Cyrus. Mission also manufactures a wide range of electronics and CD players. The company has a long history of audio innovations, both in loudspeaker and electronic design. Among Mission's claimed "firsts" are the first polypropylene-cone drive-unit used in a product (1978), first widespread use of MDF loudspeaker enclosures (1981), and first CD player from a specialist manufacturer. Interestingly, Mission also makes IBM-compatible personal computers.
The $900/pair Cyrus 782 is a two-way design employing dual 7" (175mm) polypropylene-cone woofers and a single ¾" (19mm) fabric-dome tweeter. The drivers are arranged in a D'Appolito configuration to simulate point-source radiation characteristics. Both woofer and tweeter were designed from scratch by Mission. The polypropylene woofer cones include a "mineral loading" that reportedly increases cone rigidity, thus decreasing cone breakup. Additional woofer design features include a shaped pole piece to increase linearity during high cone excursions, rigid steel chassis to reduce driver resonances, and a tight tolerance between the voice-coil and magnet to increase sensitivity.
According to the conventional wisdom, companies selling consumer products fall into two categories: those whose sales are "marketing-led" and those whose sales are "product-led." Marketing-led companies tend to sell mature products into a mature market where there are no real differences between competing products—soap powder, mass-market beer, or cigarettes, for example—whereas product-led companies tend to sell new technologies, such as personal computers and high-end hi-fi components. In the audio separates market, conventional wisdom would have a hard time categorizing any individual company: no matter which you choose, it would be simplistic to say that it is either product- or marketing-led. No matter how good the product, without good marketing the manufacturer stands little chance of success; a poor product superbly marketed may make a company successful overnight, but that success will have hit the end stops by the following night.
In recent years, Adcom has carved an enviable niche for themselves in the entry-level category of high-end audio. Their excellent GTP-400 tuner/preamplifier, which I reviewed in September 1989 (Vol.12 No.9), has further enhanced their reputation for musically satisfying sound at affordable prices. The GFP-565 is Adcom's newest preamplifier and their most expensive to date. The GFP-565 was designed to offer more than simply excellent performance for the price asked. This new arrival is Adcom's attempt at manufacturing a preamplifier which can compare favorably to the most expensive state-of-the-art products offered by other high-end manufacturers. As such, its $798 price tag is still reasonable, especially when the 565 is compared with other preamps in the under-$1000 price range.
I like reviewing loudspeakers. The more you become familiar with the art, the greater the sense of anticipation as you open up a pair of cartons. A visual inspection of the speaker always reveals a challenging mixture of the familiar and the new. The size of the cabinet is always the first cluehas sensitivity been a design priority or was low-frequency extension uppermost in the designer's thoughts? You espy a known drive-unithas this tweeter's propensity for upper-presence sizzle been tamed? You find a reflex port on the rear panelhas the temptation to go for a "commercial," under-damped bass alignment been successfully resisted? You spot factors which intuitively seem wrong for precise stereoa wide baffle lacking any kind of absorbent covering for diffraction control; a grille frame which puts acoustic obstacles in the way of the wavefront emerging from the tweeter.
The loudspeaker coming under the microscope this month emanates from north of the border. The Canadian loudspeaker industry has benefited enormously in the last few years from having the measurement, testing, and listening facilities of Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa made available to it on a commercial basis. Unlike the US or even the UK, where a new speaker designer has pretty much to rely on his own resources, having to invent his own test procedure as well as design the product, the Canadian equivalent can have his loudspeaker tested under standard conditions, quickly indicating whether he is on the right track or not. (He still, of course, has to rely on his own talent to get on the right track in the first place or to get back on it if it appears that something is amiss.)
Sometimes products are too cheap for their own good, and people don't take them seriously: the Superphon Revelation Basic Dual Mono preamp, Rega RB300 arm, AR ES-1 turntable, Shure V15-V MR cartridge, and the B&K ST-140 power amp. They can't be any good because they cost so little, right?
Some time ago in these pages, Anthony H. Cordesman observed rather ungraciously that the whole line of Hafler electronics "could do with reworking." This was interpreted by many readersincluding the good people at the David Hafler Companyas meaning that AHC felt the entire Hafler line to be mediocre. In fact, he does not. (He had given a Hafler product a positive review a few issues previously.) Tony's comment, however, did express a sentiment that most of us at Stereophile have shared for some time: a feeling that Hafler products had slipped from the position of sonic preeminence which they enjoyed during the 1960s and '70s to one of mere excellence in a field where only preeminence is acclaimed.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
While it is not quite accurate to say that $500/pair loudspeakers are a dime a dozen, they are by no means unusual. And since this is a price area where major design compromises are mandatory (footnote 1), the sound of such loudspeakers tends to vary all over the map, from pretty good to godawfuldepending on what performance areas the designer chose to compromise and by how much.
I approached this latest half-grander with little enthusiasm, despite Siefert's persuasive literature, I have, after all, been reading such self-congratulatory hype abiout new products for longer than most Stereophile readers have been counting birthdays. This, I must admit, was ho-humsville.