People who don’t have billions tend to think lavishly about what they would do with that kind of bank. Houses the size of resorts or exotic supercars. Maybe a private jet ready at your beckon call.
There is a corner of the audio world that at first look, you’d think caters mostly to rich, err make that—loaded guys. But truth be known, the world of “uber-speakers” (defined as those retailing for more than $100,000 per pair), is currently served by more than 35 manufacturers worldwide. That’s a lot of competitors vying for more than just the super rich’s audio dollar. And while many of these companies’ clients are venture capitalists, oil tycoons and trust fund babies, many uber-speaker customers are just every day music lovers and aficionados who have a very high reference and wouldn’t trust their extensive music collections to just any run of the mill loudspeaker.
Unlike a supercar, these audio works of art don’t depreciate the day you take them home and are more politically correct than the vulgar ostentation of a yacht complete with a crew of 50.
What they do most simply is deliver a truly goose-bump raising, emotional experience every time your use them.
As long as we’re using a car analogy to try and describe the value of an uber-speaker, when speakers cost more than $100,000, they must be compared to Formula 1 cars where cost is no object. F1 cars are tuned according to the circuit they have to race on. Besides serving as a top-down reference model for the rest of the company’s offerings, designers of uber-speakers typically take one of three design paths. Achieving live level, perfect fidelity or refinement of some particularly vexing engineering issue like uniform dispersion or complete elimination of distortions normally associated with more pedestrian price points. In general, the more you spend when it comes to uber-speakers, the more these three paths converge.
Speakers this expensive occasionally achieve mythic status in the audio community and are the subject of endless debate and review by a handful of enthusiast publications and sites. The very finest of the uber-speakers in my opinion, always go beyond highly accurate musical reproduction. They are in fact, able to create emotion because none of the multiple subtleties in the interpretation is neither erased nor even blurred. On the contrary they are here, at their right level, in order to touch you right in your artistic sensibility. The very best uber-speakers possess fewer compromises and are versatile in their configuration by their ability to integrate well, regardless of room acoustics. Now with the use of upgradeable software and DSP processing, many of these mythic designs no longer have to be frozen in time. The speaker can be upgraded and further refined over time making it an even greater value.
Included in the price of some of these uber-speakers like my Cabasse La Sphere’s, is often an engineer who comes to your home and takes a lot measurements using test tones through the speakers that sound like short gun shots. He then calibrates a sophisticated digital crossover with a powerful digital signal processing (DSP) engine with his proprietary software that shapes the sound in nuances that a seasoned listener would immediately appreciate. The engineer is striving for optimal linearity and delays between direct and reflected sounds according to the acoustics of your room. What results in both listening and in measurements is incredible coherency. Light years beyond an over the counter, assembly line mass produced loudspeaker.
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Caldwell is a 28-year grizzled veteran of the A/V business and co-founder of St. John Group, Inc.