The Secrets of High Performance Speakers
Is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Manufacturer Cutting Costs to Maximize Profits?
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August 31, 2011 by Grant Clauser

Sometimes it’s very difficult to sift through the marketing jargon and PR-speak when it comes to electronics gear, especially speakers. Speaker marketing is loaded with hyperbole, but that doesn’t mean that companies are out to scam you (note: if a guy comes to you in a parking lot and says he’s got a great deal on some speakers, run away). The people at Audioholics did some digging to help consumers understand the business, truth and reality of speaker manufacture and sales practices so you walk in to a dealer a little better armed to make a decision. What do you think?

From Identifying Legitimately High Fidelity Loudspeakers - Part 1:

Serious Sound vs Serious Profit

This article explores the economics behind the speaker business and some of the cost cutting approaches loudspeaker companies make to maximize profits while still keeping the products affordable to the consumer.  It is our goal to help the reader decide if loudspeakers from their favorite manufacturer are built for serious sound or serious profit.  Speaker building, especially during the design phase is, if nothing else, an effort in compromise for all but those most expensive systems.  A good designer must weigh every choice in light of its cost, as well as its relative contribution to the overall performance of the system.  It does so with a historical perspective, considering what has come before, and taking into account the changes which have occurred in the marketplace over the last three decades.  We will briefly delve into the shortcomings that arise resulting from these cost cutting techniques, especially when they are poorly applied.

Is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Manufacturer Cutting Costs to Maximize Their Profits?

The short answer to that is a resounding YES.  For an engineer to create a loudspeaker without compromises, he or she would need an immense budget, and the resulting enclosure would likely require a great deal of real estate.  These requirements result in an extremely reduced potential customer base because of both how much the customer can pay, and how much space they can assign to the loudspeaker to do its job. Even high end manufacturers offer different models for different budgets in acknowledgment to this reality of the marketplace.  It is, after all, common sense. The small condo across from the strip mall costs less than the 5 bedroom home on the beach in Malibu, CA.  The Bugati Veyron with 1000 horsepower is going to cost more than the small Kia with a 150 horsepower engine.  The controversy comes when manufacturers either make foolish compromises, or take reasoned intelligent decisions that are required by their budget, and follow them up with ridiculous marketing campaigns. Such campaigns often suggest their budget systems sound just as good as the very expensive high end, well-engineered systems employing little-to-no compromise which sell for more than $10,000 per pair. There are at least three good ways to describe such claims:

  * Lying
  * Marketing
  * Hyperbole

Differentiating between these three is sometimes like trying to find the difference between six, and 1/2 dozen.  If you read or hear such claims, and do not view them with the cynicism they deserve, you may find yourself in the group of people WC Fields spoke about when he famously said, “It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.”  Of course, the man was also known to say. “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” (as well as the more famous “Never give a sucker an even break.”)  Seems like WC Fields was the creator of the modern day snake oil school of selling.

The relationship between cost and price breaks down completely in the uber-high-end market where the biggest expense is in marketing as well as creating and maintaining a story which contains both features and benefits.  Most folks with a great deal of cash are not audio experts.  (Sorry all you wanna-be audio engineers, if you want to make a million dollars in audio, the best way is to start with $2 million and cut your losses).  So, how do you get the consumers’ money?  A trip to Vegas to the CES high end displays in the Venetian is a great lesson in this art.  Here is a world-wide collection of people who have made marketing BS into a full time art-form (not everyone there, mind you).  For every serious person here with a reasoned rational sales pitch, there are perhaps 99 counterparts who are basically snake oil salesmen.  This is not the same as claiming 99% of the efforts are poor engineering efforts.  That is another issue.  It is to say often the stories used in selling have little or anything to do with the physics or actual performance of the speakers themselves.

Read the complete article here on Audioholics and comment in the forum here.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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