MartinLogan Quest Z loudspeaker The Sonic Quest

Sidebar 2: The Sonic Quest

Martin Colloms's discussion last year of some of the imponderable elements of loudspeaker reproduction (Stereophile, November 1992, Vol.15 No.11, p.76) reminded me of something written nearly a quarter-century ago (in Wireless World, November 1970) by metal-cone speaker pioneer Ted Jordan. Ted asked the rhetorical question: "What is the aim of a loudspeaker?" He then proceeded to examine a number of possible answers. The most objective answer possible, and one that would surely impress our engineering alter egos, was: to reproduce the electrical input signal as accurately as possible.

Jordan quickly rejected this definition on the following grounds: No loudspeaker is perfect, and all are subject to some degree of distortion, whether of frequency, transient, harmonic, intermodulation, phase, or waveform. However, it's often possible for the designer to trade an increase in one kind of distortion for a reduction in another. The true art of loudspeaker design resides in striking the proper balance. As we all know, that's not easy. The auditory system is much more sensitive to some kinds of distortion than to others, and sensitivity varies with the individual.

This paves the way for a subjective answer: that the aim of the loudspeaker is to reproduce the original sound as realistically as possible. In the final analysis, the illusion of "live" is what counts. Unfortunately, as Ted pointed out, many modern loudspeakers rarely allow the listener to escape from the fact that the sound is "canned." My first objective during the evaluation process is to determine whether the loudspeaker is able to cross that magical line to reconstruct a viable illusion of a live event.

The critical parameter here is emotional involvement with the power and drama of the music. Without a notepad in hand, and with my mind uncluttered (or at least in a semi-Zen-like state), does the loudspeaker elicit an emotional response? Am I tapping my foot in tune with the music? Am I forgetting tomorrow's chores? Or am I, instead, sufficiently underwhelmed that unrelated thoughts start creeping into my consciousness? After this initial phase comes the really hard part of having to analyze just why I was, or was not, swept away by the music.—Dick Olsher

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