Expensive doesn't always mean better sound

Grayson Dere

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Recently, I had a rather interesting experience with a friend trying to find his next speaker upgrade.

I've always assumed more expensive speakers from the same manufacturer should sound better than their lower priced offerings. This is not the case as I would soon find out.

I also found out that when thinking of purchasing speakers it's best to first demo the speakers in your own home along side the ones you are trying to replace or at least in a showroom with similar speakers you are trying to replace before committing to a purchase. The point here is to have your original speakers as a point of reference so you can be sure the new speakers you're thinking of getting are really an upgrade and not actually a downgrade.

Let me explain.

I have a friend that recently invited me over to his home to help him decide if he should keep or replace his aging Von Schweikert tower speakers. He likes the brand so after speaking with a dealer about the latest offerings he decided to try a pair out on loan in his own home. The new ones are about 3x the cost of the older ones and he was enthusiastically told they would literally blow away his original speakers...extended highs, deeper bottom end, more musical timing, etc...

So the day came when I would visit his home and he had set up the speakers ready for our listening session. Both of the speakers, old and new, were set up in a side by side fashion so we could A/B compare the sound qualities. We were absolutely surprised to find that the new speakers for some reason had a very veiled and chesty sound compared to the older Von Schweikerts. Yes, the bass was definitely deeper, but it seemed that that bass somehow bled into the midrange sound in a bad way. Female vocals sounded very heavy and not natural at all. He double checked all the wiring in the system to make sure everything was wired right and found nothing was amiss. My friend's older speakers definitely sounded like it should be the more expensive speaker.

We played about a dozen tracks over and over with the A/B comparisons. It was so apparent that the new speakers sounded bloated compared to his original speakers so we stopped listening and my friend was happy to know he would be saving a lot of cash. The speakers would go back to the dealer a day later.

I always thought more expensive speakers would definitely mean better sound quality but I think until you actually listen to them with a familiar reference it's kind of a shot in the dark as to what you'll be ending up with.
 

Tony V.

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Often high end speakers need time to break in and correct placement becomes more and more crucial. Also driving them with the correct amplification is important (not meaning nessisaraly exspencive amps but an amp that has enough headroom to drive them correctly)
I will also add that the return on investment with high end speakers gets less and less as the cost goes up.
 

Grayson Dere

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Often high end speakers need time to break in and correct placement becomes more and more crucial. Also driving them with the correct amplification is important (not meaning nessisaraly exspencive amps but an amp that has enough headroom to drive them correctly)
I will also add that the return on investment with high end speakers gets less and less as the cost goes up.
Yes, you are absolutely correct, Tony. It is very possible the amplifier in play wasn't matched well to the new speakers we demo'd. Does break-in have a very dramatic effect usually on speaker performance? In my own experience I'll notice subtle changes in openness (less congested sounding)...but perhaps this also depends on speaker models? I'd like to know more of your own encounters with equipment break-in periods/improvements.

Thanks.
 

Tony V.

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In my exsperience break in is usually most noticeable in the minds and tightness of the bass. But the biggest change is how the speakers are placed and the room it's self as to how the acoustics effect the sound.
I don't really believe in break in of equipment particularly processors and amps. If it's a tube bassed system then yes those will change even as they warm up or cool down
 

Kerry Armes

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In my exsperience break in is usually most noticeable in the minds and tightness of the bass. But the biggest change is how the speakers are placed and the room it's self as to how the acoustics effect the sound.
I don't really believe in break in of equipment particularly processors and amps. If it's a tube bassed system then yes those will change even as they warm up or cool down
Woofers can sometimes need a bit of time to loosen up the suspension parts. When new, it can change the T/S parameters enough that the box model isn't completely accurate anymore. Running some 20 Hz sine waves to really get the driver moving to xmax for a few minutes can be one way to speed up this process. When I build speakers, I manually stretch the suspension by hand in both directions as far as they will go a few times, which will typically do the same thing even faster with less likelihood of damage.
 

Tony V.

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I caution using sign waves for a sustained amount of time as it really heats up the coil on a driver, but yes thats one way to break in a speaker.
 

Kerry Armes

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I caution using sign waves for a sustained amount of time as it really heats up the coil on a driver, but yes thats one way to break in a speaker.
That's part of the reason I don't do it and would only recommend a few minutes of it max. I know some people who claim they leave their woofers on with sine waves to driver the woofer to it's full Xmax overnight and haven't reported any problems but I wouldn't recommend that :O
 

Todd Anderson

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I was talking about this in another thread. But, @Grayson Dere, you're absolutely right. From my perspective, it's very easy to fall into a trap of thinking that less expensive systems are only capable of delivering a middling experience. Nope. I'm a huge proponent of budget and highly affordable systems. @Tony V. touches on it above: setup, setup, setup.

Positioning gear to perform the best within the constraints of your surrounds is MASSIVELY important. And once you get a taste of stereo sound... or surround sound... just sit back and enjoy the cool factor!

My first home theater system - ever - was a simple Polk Audio 5.1 surround sound in a box deal paired with an inexpensive Pioneer receiver. A fairly undersized sub mated to 5 mini-sat speakers. I loved it. I remember having some friends come over and we had a blast watching favorite action flicks. I'd bet the entire package was worth $700. It was great because I set it up to succeed. Just goes to show: if budget is an issue (and I always strongly recommend that buyers stay within their budget means... don't start chasing something that will bury you financially!!), you can still have a really good experience.
 
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Grayson Dere

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I was talking about this in another thread. But, @Grayson Dere, you're absolutely right. From my perspective, it's very easy to fall into a trap of thinking that less expensive systems are only capable of delivering a middling experience. Nope. I'm a huge proponent of budget and highly affordable systems. @Tony V. touches on it above: setup, setup, setup.

Positioning gear to perform the best within the constraints of your surrounds is MASSIVELY important. And once you get a taste of stereo sound... or surround sound... just sit back and enjoy the cool factor!

My first home theater system - ever - was a simple Polk Audio 5.1 surround sound in a box deal paired with an inexpensive Pioneer receiver. A fairly undersized sub mated to 5 mini-sat speakers. I loved it. I remember having some friends come over and we had a blast watching favorite action flicks. I'd be the entire package was worth $700. It was great because I set it up to succeed. Just goes to show: if budget is an issue (and I always strongly recommend that buyers stay within their budget means... don't start chasing something that will bury you financially!!), you can still have a really good experience.
I'm not sure if people would buy it but I always thought it would be great to have an audio publication dedicated to more budget friendly equipment. Imagine Stereophile Magazine where every product reviewed in it was accessible to the majority of readers : )
 

Todd Anderson

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I’m not sure either... but a lot of budget gear is sold, so someone must be researching it somewhere.

I’d definitely like to see budget oriented folks come hang out here at AV NIRVANA.

The further you go in this hobby, the easier it is to justify spending more. But I think any hobby is like that.

But, I’ve completely derailed the original intent of the thread. I think you make a really great point about getting speakers in your home for demo. And the idea of using old gear as reference is smart too. It’s really hard to pull off an A/B comparison without a fancy testing rig. BUT, having the ability to do any sort of comparison is a good one.

I’m (safely) assuming the speakers in question (both pairs) are hardly touching into the realm of budget. But comparatively speaking, I totally get the gist of what you’re saying.

I’m curious, because your friend must have some reason for want to move his current speakers. What’s the driving force?
 

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I am a budget oriented member myself and have worked hard to make the regular guy/gal system work in my home.

I am going to agree with the above recommendations however with what I feel to be the most important and that is break in of new speakers. I recently bought a new set of speakers on the cheap and they have required a great deal of play time and they either are starting to sound great, but it has taken several weeks of part time playing. I think bringing a set of speakers into a home and making a judgement on sound early on may not give the new speakers a chance.
 

Grayson Dere

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I’m not sure either... but a lot of budget gear is sold, so someone must be researching it somewhere.

I’d definitely like to see budget oriented folks come hang out here at AV NIRVANA.

The further you go in this hobby, the easier it is to justify spending more. But I think any hobby is like that.

But, I’ve completely derailed the original intent of the thread. I think you make a really great point about getting speakers in your home for demo. And the idea of using old gear as reference is smart too. It’s really hard to pull off an A/B comparison without a fancy testing rig. BUT, having the ability to do any sort of comparison is a good one.

I’m (safely) assuming the speakers in question (both pairs) are hardly touching into the realm of budget. But comparatively speaking, I totally get the gist of what you’re saying.

I’m curious, because your friend must have some reason for want to move his current speakers. What’s the driving force?

My friend is looking for new speakers that keep the same sound characteristics as his old ones but with more bass authority and extension. I told him to possibly go the subwoofer route but he hasn't had any luck with integrating a sub seamlessly with his setup. He told me if he could find a sub that maintained a cohesive sound quality to match his speakers he would do it...but no luck yet.

Continuing with the subwoofer idea I came across a website owned by Mapleshade Records/ Pierre Sprey. There is a subwoofer setup guide in the website that recommends this connection procedure for 2-channel stereo applications and surround set ups:


'For achieving seamless integration of the subwoofer sound in both two channel and surround systems, always use the speaker cable input on the sub, never the RCA line level input. That means adding a pair of speaker cables, one end connected to the same amp (or receiver) output posts that are driving the left and right mains and the other end connected to the left and right speaker-level inputs on the sub. The quality of the cables to the sub affects the sound of the main speaker cables, so don’t use bad-sounding zipcord or high end “garden hoses.” Make sure you leave the two main speakers connected directly to the main amp outputs, not to the subwoofer’s output binding posts. If you’re using a processor, set it to “Large Speaker” for the mains (or for all speakers) and turn off the LFE channel.'


Does his method seem reasonable? I never in my life thought to bypass the LFE channel but his thinking is interesting.

Source: http://www.mapleshadestore.com/freeupgrades.php
 

Grayson Dere

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I am a budget oriented member myself and have worked hard to make the regular guy/gal system work in my home.

I am going to agree with the above recommendations however with what I feel to be the most important and that is break in of new speakers. I recently bought a new set of speakers on the cheap and they have required a great deal of play time and they either are starting to sound great, but it has taken several weeks of part time playing. I think bringing a set of speakers into a home and making a judgement on sound early on may not give the new speakers a chance.
Hi Jack,

Yes, I also agree with speaker break-in periods. Do you think only certain types of speakers benefit from break-in? or would it apply to any and all speakers regardless of materials and design?

Thanks for your input!
 

Mark C Flick

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I've got a mix of higher end, budget and used gear that works well for me. I spent my money where "I" thought it would matter most. My speakers were spendy. Blu-ray, receiver, TV and turntable were on the budget side and my amps were used.
 

Grayson Dere

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I've got a mix of higher end, budget and used, works well for me. I spent my money where "I" thought it would matter most. My speakers were spendy. Blu-ray, receiver, TV and turntable were on the budget side and my amps were used.
This is good, Mark. It makes perfect sense to spend more on the components you want the highest quality out of and over time upgrade the rest as budget allows.
 

Mark C Flick

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I agree. But I don't think I'll upgrade the used amps. These things are pretty old but built like tanks. One of the reasons it did not bother me one bit to buy them used
 

Grayson Dere

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I agree. But I don't think I'll upgrade the used amps. These things are pretty old but built like tanks. One of the reasons it did not bother me one bit to buy them used
Now I'm curious, which amps are you using?
 

Mark C Flick

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Or, sorry. An Acurus A250 and an Acurus 200x3
 

Grayson Dere

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Or, sorry. An Acurus A250 and an Acurus 200x3
Nice! It's funny that just recently I've been looking into the Acurus A2000 series for home theater : ) How do you like the sound of yours?
 

Tony V.

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Continuing with the subwoofer idea I came across a website owned by Mapleshade Records/ Pierre Sprey. There is a subwoofer setup guide in the website that recommends this connection procedure for 2-channel stereo applications and surround set ups:
There is nothing wrong with his idea and does achieve the same result but gets much more difficult to set the subwoofer crossover and other settings correctly this way as you must do them manually. 15 years ago this was the best way no question but with todays receivers having built in auto calibration you really gett better results just setting it up with the receiver subwoofer pre out
 

Mark C Flick

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I think they are great but I'm also not a big believer of different sound signatures from SS amps. I will say they do a much better job of controlling the bass in my speakers than the old Denon did, especially at higher volumes and that does make them sound better. I would highly recommend them especially if you can pick up an A250, A200 or 200x3 for less than $400. Not sure about the new Acurus stuff but the old stuff is pretty good.
 

Tony V.

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Im also going to add that purests who state that the only way to listen to music is pure direct mode (without any eq) are fooling themselves because unless you room is built like an anechoic chamber those speakers you spend thousands of $$ on wont sound flat in your room. An EQ applied properly will correct for much of those imperfections along with addressing room acoustics.
 
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Grayson Dere

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JVC DLA-X75
Screen
Elite Screen 120"
Other Equipment
Origin Live Aurora MKIII turntable
I think they are great but I'm also not a big believer of different sound signatures from SS amps. I will say they do a much better job of controlling the bass in my speakers than the old Denon did, especially at higher volumes and that does make them sound better. I would highly recommend them especially if you can pick up an A250, A200 or 200x3 for less than $400. Not sure about the new Acurus stuff but the old stuff is pretty good.
Thanks for your thoughts on the Acurus A200 series...I'll look into them. Some companies go through restructuring and new ownership. Do you know if Acurus of the past is the same company run today?
 

Mark C Flick

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 17, 2017
Messages
359
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
Denon 3805
Main Amp
Acurus A250
Additional Amp
Acurus 200X3
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
Sony BDP-S5100
Front Speakers
RBH Signature Classic 1266-SE
Center Channel Speaker
RBH Signature Classic 661-SE
Surround Speakers
RBH Signature Classic 66-SE
Subwoofers
RBH Signature Classic 1212-SE
Other Speakers or Equipment
Kenwood CT-406
Video Display Device
Sony KDL-40S5100
Other Equipment
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (DC)
No, not at all. From what I recall Acurus and Aragon were both produced by Modial Designs. Seems like Klipsch aquired them at some point (not sure on this) and they were later acquired by Indy Audio Labs. I have heard that new Acurus amps are pretty good but I also hear they are very expensive. Have no idea if the quality is as good as the old Mondial amps.
 

Matthew J Poes

Staff Writer
Staff member
Joined
Oct 18, 2017
Messages
1,830
I have an Acurus A200. Great amp. It puts out almost twice its rated power when measured the way everyone else measures. It's power into 8ohm RMS at .1% distortion is like 350 watts. It's insanely powerful.

But fair warning, my amp just started motorboating. Needs new power supply caps. These old amps are old enough that this is becoming a real issue.
 
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