Expensive doesn't always mean better sound

ddude003

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Oscar Wilde may have had a more cynical view if he knew anything about the audiophile industry.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/dan-dagostino-momentum-monoblock-power-amplifier-measurements
I was troubled by a number of technical problems with these products. The reliability issues was just one more reason to not be impressed.

The signal to noise ratio is relatively poor and plenty of the problems are in the audible bandwidth. Namely, the amps pick up hum from the power supply. I haven’t had one on one time with these amps to hear how audible this is, but having owned plenty and destined some amplifiers myself, I find this objectionable and fixable. When the amplifier picks up hum at 60hz it’s from the power transformer. It’s almost always a mixture of proximity and wiring and it’s almost always fixable. When expensive products hum, I don’t see a good excuse for that. 120hz hum is caused by the power supply itself not being quite clean enough. This is often what we hear as hum, and this too is fixable in expensive amps. This was one of the main points of contention in my own designs and I could minimize it with a more stiff power supply using a CRC or CLC design.

The distortion is relatively benign in these amps but it’s also not state of the art distortion performance. It’s average at best.

It has switching distortion! That is odd for a D’Agostino design and suggests these are utilitarian Class B amps. Why? Zero switching distortion is very objectionable and is audible at tiny levels. Compared to harmonic or IM distortion, this kind of distortion is a major sound quality concern but is fixed with simple bias voltage.

I can list off a dozen audiophile amps of similar price with tricky superior measured performance. For my money, I’d rather those. And quite honestly there are quite a few megawatt amps in the pro industry that would perform better.
Pardon me, and you are quoting an article from 2013 about the Momentum... My comments above are about the current Relentless mono blocks...
 

Matthew J Poes

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Pardon me, and you are quoting an article from 2013 about the Momentum... My comments above are about the current Relentless mono blocks...
I understand. No measurements on those. But all of the D’Agostino amps that JA measured had the exact same characteristics. Is the Momentum a clean sheet design? If not, i would expect it to measure similarly.

You’re calling it a state of the art amp, but other than their own marketing claims, how so? What makes it revolutionary or special?
 

Matthew J Poes

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Matthew, your candid remarks are always appreciated here and I agree with you that there are so many amps out there that will preform as good as those uber $$ boutique brands. I guess it really comes down to prestige and the "look at how much they cost so they must be better" syndrome
Thanks Tony!

The best advice I ever got was to never be afraid to speak your mind about this industry or products. It’s a real balancing act. We don’t exist without these manufacturers, and sites like ours can’t easily survive without sponsors and supporters. At the same time, what good is a reviewer if they can’t be honest.

I’m not against boutique brands or expensive amplifiers. A lot of audio is luxury and that can be about the beautiful jewel like craftsmanship, something you want to show off. I’m ok with that. I get exclusivity too, totally reasonable.

Where I tend to want to speak up is when something doesn’t seem to live up to my expectations. Equipment today is so much better than it used to be. The active semiconductors along with all the passive resistors, caps, and inductors are many times better. More precise, more stable, etc. This allows even cheap amplifiers to be pretty good. Amongst the cost no object designs, there are some really killer amps out there that impress me. Boulder, Moon, Constallation, etc all make some pretty wicked high end amps. I’m also quite curious about Cherry amps, which the designer has shared specs from measurements that seem unbelievable. I’d really love to see third party tests on these, if they are as clean as he says, I couldn’t measure them.

For reasonable money, Benchmark and NAD make amps with really impressive measured performance. I’d love to see the tech in each of those made even more affordable.
 

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The fun story behind these amps is that D'Agostino of Krell designed the amps. Some saw them as cheap Krell amps.
It would appear that Dan was involved in only the first very first Aragon amplifiers, the 4004 (which came out in 1987). Since that time he has had no involvement.
 

Grayson Dere

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I actually have a buddy who operates a high end shop here that has considered dropping Dans new line because of reliability problems. If you do some web searching it seems maybe some of his new products has some quality issues. Which I find shocking given how much they cost and how they are built.

I’ve seen bench tests on his newest designs and saw no evidence they were state of the art products from that stand point. I believe I heard his amp and preamp in a system with Wilson’s audio speakers at AXPONA. It was a terrible demo setup so I won’t comment on sound. I’m sure they are fine but that asking price is nuts.
I'm surprised about the reliability issues that have been noticed. Has your friend mentioned much about Dan's older lines being much better? I'm curious if there's some cost cutting going on in the electronic components section.
 

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I am surprised as well.
I am sure we all would tend to agree that these types of products are designed and priced for a certain segment of the buying market. This falls in line with anything else that has more inherent value for those of the population that has more disposable income than me.
Is a Cadillac worth so much more than an equivalent Chevy Impala ? Not to me as they are almost identical cars, with some extra bling thrown into the Caddy. I do thinks that a Bentley Continental GT has more value for me at least than a set of relentless mono blocks.

It seems all relevant.
 

Matthew J Poes

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I'm surprised about the reliability issues that have been noticed. Has your friend mentioned much about Dan's older lines being much better? I'm curious if there's some cost cutting going on in the electronic components section.
Actually I get the impression there is no cost cutting going on. I don’t think that was the issue. I think it was related to some teething problems in the complexity of the volume control. He had some amps arrive dead, probably shipping damage (I think it may have been blown fuses so minor). It’s not the end of the world, it happens, but he said it was not common with other brands he sells. Stereophile has a damaged amp as well. One melted down during preconditioning and one was damaged in shipping. The only reason this bothered me was the cost no object nature of these products.

The technical performance was really unimpressive and that bothered me. Especially since his description of the designs was supposed to address specific problems found in the measured performance. His newest crazy amp does have better specs and may be better. I don’t know. I will be skeptical at this point. For that kind of money I think it needs to be the best.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, lots of companies have amps with problems. I worked for a while in a high end shop that was one of the largest McIntosh dealers. They had a bunch ofmodels over the years that seemed prone to needing repair. One of their powerful monoblocks had a parts failure that took out an equally expensive line array from them. One of the techs that repaired the amp said he had seen that failure before.
 

Matthew J Poes

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I am surprised as well.
I am sure we all would tend to agree that these types of products are designed and priced for a certain segment of the buying market. This falls in line with anything else that has more inherent value for those of the population that has more disposable income than me.
Is a Cadillac worth so much more than an equivalent Chevy Impala ? Not to me as they are almost identical cars, with some extra bling thrown into the Caddy. I do thinks that a Bentley Continental GT has more value for me at least than a set of relentless mono blocks.

It seems all relevant.
Well and Cadillac has pretty bad reliability. Bentley and Rolls Royce doesn’t sell enough cars to be assessed for reliability, but I’ve read some articles that suggest reliability is pretty poor.
 

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I guess in a way that proves the point of this thread only on a larger scale. More expensive does not mean better.
 

Matthew J Poes

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I don’t build cars for a living but I do quality improvement in social services as a part of my work. It is my opinion that to build cars or create systems that are highly reliable isn’t about the quality of the materials that go in, the tolerances that are held. It’s about an overall system that focuses on minimizing mistakes and improving these processes in a constant basis using data feedback in a constant iterative manner. This is how Toyota/Lexus makes the most reliable cars. They have a culture that is focused on that.

I have toured a number of car factories and the main differences I noticed between GM and BMW or Lexus was about how quality was addressed. All focus on quality. All focus on meeting standards. But BMW and Lexus has no problem pulling 100 cars off the line and tearing them down to address quality problems. They seem to focus on ensuring they put out the best quality product even if it slows down prosecution. GM seemed focused on numbers.

So I would guess that quality and reliability is probably better in cheaper Japanese brands than the high end boutique brands and the reason is that even though the cheaper brands produce many times more product, they spent many times more on the resources to assure quality and reliability.

I’ve actually owned quite a mix over the years. From the cheapest of the cheap right on up to a Mark Levinson surround professor that I picked up used when it was a bit past it’s prime. I’ve also used quite a range. My experience is that boutique brands have real issues with software development. The more complex they make the device the worse the problems often are. The ML had serious functionality issues. The video board was useless and i has to bypass it. It had eq but the eq was really hard to setup right and seemed to have some little issues with its implementation.
 

Jack

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I also work in the industry and really do have a slightly different view of things. I am a Quality Control/Large Claims guy for over 30 years now and as you I have been in the factories of both American and foreign automobiles and I will tell you I have no qualm in pulling 100 cars aside for issues that we may find. I also have been known to reject 20,000 tons of metal destined for auto plants as it was sub par. I tend to agree that quality is based on the familial basis of the groups working together to make a quality product as opposed to just saying Quality rules.
In the good old days I remember watching workers use their air guns to power in capscrews, oft times crooked as the engine blocks were not drilled properly. They had to because they were being timed and they could not make money by shutting down the line. As such when sub par products arrived they would throw the machinery together on the assembly line knowing full well that they would be set aside and repaired at a later date. This mind set has changed now that Japanese, Korean and Germany have entered our market in a big way. US Manufacturers HAVE to make products that work. It too them awhile to change their mind set but they sure enough did under pressure from the population.

In this line, I know that there is a huge difference in the amount of cheaper products bought vs the outside of reality products. I also know that the cheaper products will have a amount of failures per product sold that may be in line with the more expensive. But to me lets just say a failure rate of 500 units per 10,000 sold is more palatable than 5 units per 100 sold in way of the very high end.

Lastly, I have a Chevy Impala, new model, with 104,000 miles on it with zero problems from day one. I drive alot. Consumer reports lists the Impala at the top of the quality list just below the Avalon.

I also have a Lexus with similar miles on it with zero problems as well. So it one better than the other, yes, one but only in the way it runs on the road, and that is the Chevy. Hmmmm.
 

Grayson Dere

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Actually I get the impression there is no cost cutting going on. I don’t think that was the issue. I think it was related to some teething problems in the complexity of the volume control. He had some amps arrive dead, probably shipping damage (I think it may have been blown fuses so minor). It’s not the end of the world, it happens, but he said it was not common with other brands he sells. Stereophile has a damaged amp as well. One melted down during preconditioning and one was damaged in shipping. The only reason this bothered me was the cost no object nature of these products.

The technical performance was really unimpressive and that bothered me. Especially since his description of the designs was supposed to address specific problems found in the measured performance. His newest crazy amp does have better specs and may be better. I don’t know. I will be skeptical at this point. For that kind of money I think it needs to be the best.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, lots of companies have amps with problems. I worked for a while in a high end shop that was one of the largest McIntosh dealers. They had a bunch ofmodels over the years that seemed prone to needing repair. One of their powerful monoblocks had a parts failure that took out an equally expensive line array from them. One of the techs that repaired the amp said he had seen that failure before.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, lots of companies have amps with problems. I worked for a while in a high end shop that was one of the largest McIntosh dealers. They had a bunch ofmodels over the years that seemed prone to needing repair. One of their powerful monoblocks had a parts failure that took out an equally expensive line array from them. One of the techs that repaired the amp said he had seen that failure before.[/QUOTE]
I don’t build cars for a living but I do quality improvement in social services as a part of my work. It is my opinion that to build cars or create systems that are highly reliable isn’t about the quality of the materials that go in, the tolerances that are held. It’s about an overall system that focuses on minimizing mistakes and improving these processes in a constant basis using data feedback in a constant iterative manner. This is how Toyota/Lexus makes the most reliable cars. They have a culture that is focused on that.

I have toured a number of car factories and the main differences I noticed between GM and BMW or Lexus was about how quality was addressed. All focus on quality. All focus on meeting standards. But BMW and Lexus has no problem pulling 100 cars off the line and tearing them down to address quality problems. They seem to focus on ensuring they put out the best quality product even if it slows down prosecution. GM seemed focused on numbers.

So I would guess that quality and reliability is probably better in cheaper Japanese brands than the high end boutique brands and the reason is that even though the cheaper brands produce many times more product, they spent many times more on the resources to assure quality and reliability.

I’ve actually owned quite a mix over the years. From the cheapest of the cheap right on up to a Mark Levinson surround professor that I picked up used when it was a bit past it’s prime. I’ve also used quite a range. My experience is that boutique brands have real issues with software development. The more complex they make the device the worse the problems often are. The ML had serious functionality issues. The video board was useless and i has to bypass it. It had eq but the eq was really hard to setup right and seemed to have some little issues with its implementation.

'...even though the cheaper brands produce many times more product, they spent many times more on the resources to assure quality and reliability.'

I like this!
 

Matthew J Poes

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I also work in the industry and really do have a slightly different view of things. I am a Quality Control/Large Claims guy for over 30 years now and as you I have been in the factories of both American and foreign automobiles and I will tell you I have no qualm in pulling 100 cars aside for issues that we may find. I also have been known to reject 20,000 tons of metal destined for auto plants as it was sub par. I tend to agree that quality is based on the familial basis of the groups working together to make a quality product as opposed to just saying Quality rules.
In the good old days I remember watching workers use their air guns to power in capscrews, oft times crooked as the engine blocks were not drilled properly. They had to because they were being timed and they could not make money by shutting down the line. As such when sub par products arrived they would throw the machinery together on the assembly line knowing full well that they would be set aside and repaired at a later date. This mind set has changed now that Japanese, Korean and Germany have entered our market in a big way. US Manufacturers HAVE to make products that work. It too them awhile to change their mind set but they sure enough did under pressure from the population.

In this line, I know that there is a huge difference in the amount of cheaper products bought vs the outside of reality products. I also know that the cheaper products will have a amount of failures per product sold that may be in line with the more expensive. But to me lets just say a failure rate of 500 units per 10,000 sold is more palatable than 5 units per 100 sold in way of the very high end.

Lastly, I have a Chevy Impala, new model, with 104,000 miles on it with zero problems from day one. I drive alot. Consumer reports lists the Impala at the top of the quality list just below the Avalon.

I also have a Lexus with similar miles on it with zero problems as well. So it one better than the other, yes, one but only in the way it runs on the road, and that is the Chevy. Hmmmm.
I’ve read nothing but good things about the impala but I also think that car is practically a unicorn amongst American cars right now. One of the only cars GM is making that’s competitive with the import brands. If the Lexus you have is one of their front wheel drive models like the ES series then i wouldn’t be shocked you liked the impala better. If it’s a IS, GS, or LS that would be surprising.
 

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Hi Mathew,
It is an RX. My wife wanted an SUV and she loved the vehicle. I am sad tho that we ordered every option but the Levinson audio system as I heard it was not worth the money. I may have been wrong.
 
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Jack

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I’ve read nothing but good things about the impala but I also think that car is practically a unicorn amongst American cars right now. One of the only cars GM is making that’s competitive with the import brands. If the Lexus you have is one of their front wheel drive models like the ES series then i wouldn’t be shocked you liked the impala better. If it’s a IS, GS, or LS that would be surprising.
You know this is a good point in that the Buick and Cadillac are the same car with some additional bling as I said before. It makes no sense to me unless it is the bling that is part of the issue..
Our daughter bought the Cadillac version of the Impala for much more money and already has had to do intense repairs.
I don’t get it, heck my Impala LTZ cost new about what the bottom line Caddy costs. Could it be that GM makes all profit off the more expensive models while the less expensive are write offs ?
 

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Hi Mathew,
It is an RX. My wife wanted an SUV ang she loved the vehicle. I am sad tho that we ordered every option but the Levinson audio system as I heard it was not worth the money. I may have been wrong.
Yeah who told you that nonsense! The ML stereo is awesome. I haven’t heard the RX version but the one in the GS and LS is awesome. I helped do a review of different car stereo systems a number of years ago and it was one of the better ones. In the LS it had the largest subwoofer and basically was the only car that didn’t have nasty noises when turned up loud with bass heavy music.
 

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I was worried about that Matthew, now I might go pout !
 

Matthew J Poes

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I was worried about that Matthew, now I might go pout !
Well if it’s the wife’s car maybe she doesn’t care? My wife could care less.

I was looking at some cars with the new B&W system, which is basically the upper echelon of Harman automotive system, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would spend $3000 or more for that option. I was like, did you hear it!

Here is certainly where spending more CAN get you more. The car industry isn’t really being fair with their accessory pricing. The stereo upgrades are worth it in that you can’t get that good of a sound for less any other way without a lot of compromises, but geez they are not worth what they charge.
 

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True Matthew, she could careless, other than the issue of how loud it will play. (She is almost deaf). I have to immediately turn it down any time I drive it. LOL
 

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Deming taught the Japanese about quality... They took it to heart and the rest as they say is history...
 

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I work with a lot of Japanese companies and one of the presidents told me, Japan has almost no natural recourses and as such, everything they do has to be as good as possible and they try to do it right the first time. This belief comes from the top and is spread to the employees.
 

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Surround Speakers
Elan Theaterpointsthp650sl
Surround Back Speakers
Elan Theaterpointsthp650sl
Front Height Speakers
RSL C34E's
Rear Height Speakers
RSL C34E's
Subwoofers
DUAL SVS PB 4000's
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Projector
Screen
120 inch fixed frame custom built screen
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.
You know when I got out of college I bought from a work buddy his MX 400 and MX 250's from Cerwin Vega. I think I got the name right it's been awhile. They were special made for the military not Cerwin Vegas normal range of speaker. Those things were awesome still to this day one of my favorite speakers of all time. And I bought them for pennies on the dollar.

Sometimes I still miss those speakers ahhhhh nostalgia lol
 

Jack

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Emotiva XPA5
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Darid I30
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Hafler 220
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Oppo
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Klipsch KLF10
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Klipsch C7
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I am sorry to say but I have never heard Cerwin Vega speakers. I know that they were once quite popular though.
 

danzilla31

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Joined
Dec 9, 2017
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77
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
Denon X4400H
Main Amp
2 Crown XLS Drive Core 1002
Additional Amp
Emotiva UPA-7
Front Speakers
SVS Prime Towers
Center Channel Speaker
SVS Prime Towers
Surround Speakers
Elan Theaterpointsthp650sl
Surround Back Speakers
Elan Theaterpointsthp650sl
Front Height Speakers
RSL C34E's
Rear Height Speakers
RSL C34E's
Subwoofers
DUAL SVS PB 4000's
Video Display Device
Projector
Screen
120 inch fixed frame custom built screen
I am sorry to say but I have never heard Cerwin Vega speakers. I know that they were once quite popular though.
Hah normally your not missing that much but those MX speakers were something special
 

Grayson Dere

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Dec 19, 2018
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294
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Bay Area, CA
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Integra DTR 7.8
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Class D Audio: SDS-470CS
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Shellbrook Audio Hybrid Head headphone amp
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Sony UBP-X700
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Vandersteen Model 2
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SVS PB-2000
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Grado SR 325is headphones
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JVC DLA-X75
Screen
Elite Screen 120"
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Origin Live Aurora MKIII turntable
You know when I got out of college I bought from a work buddy his MX 400 and MX 250's from Cerwin Vega. I think I got the name right it's been awhile. They were special made for the military not Cerwin Vegas normal range of speaker. Those things were awesome still to this day one of my favorite speakers of all time. And I bought them for pennies on the dollar.

Sometimes I still miss those speakers ahhhhh nostalgia lol
Wow! That's really cool you came across quality sounding Cerwin Vegas. I've only seen the brand sold as DJ speakers so it's fascinating why the military would choose them over other brands.
 
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