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Sunday, 15 July 2012


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That just sucks!

Have you tracked down any reviews of these speakers? They can't have sent them to reviewers in that condition surely?

"And what am I going to do?"

I sure hope the first thing is to return those for a full refund!

Oh, how wonderful to still be enjoying my Allison CD-9s. They might not last forever but, after more than 25 years, continue to look and sound like new. Which is to say wonderful.

My sincerest condolences to anyone perceptive enough to seek quality and who recognizes the lack of it in products today. Almost everything technological reached its zenith one or two decades back and has declined since.

Let me know if they were PMCs. It doesn't sound like they are, but I've been wanting to get a set of floor standing ones for about 4 years now...

"My "new" pair was purchased used through Audiogon..."

Is it Audiogon, or Audio-gone?

Audiogon.com is a stereo equipment resale site that puts buyers and sellers together, like eBay.


FWIW - if I were in a position to replace my current speakers, I'd go with electrostatics. There is just something 'right' about their top end. Further, with real volume levels and real instruments the so-called bass limitations aren't an issue. However, having room to set them up, may be an issue. ;)


Send back those speakers!

Your experience with buying speakers having no audition at all is yet another reason I lament the states of high-end audio and photography.

Wanna audition some components at your local audio dealer? Maybe choose from amongst preamps, amps, speakers, turntables, cartridges, digital sources, speaker cables and interconnects in the hopes of assembling a system that works for you?

Wanna buy a high-end NIKON, PENTAX or CANON system and handle the bodies, lenses and accessories at your local dealer?

Yeah, good luck with both of those. If you're willing to travel to an audio show like AXPONA or go to a superb photo retailer like B&H, you can see and touch and experience what it is you will need to see a loan officer for. If you can't travel, you are simply SOL.

I have purchased thousands of dollars worth of audio components based on Stereophile and TAS recommendations without any prior audition.

I have purchased thousands of dollars worth of photo equipment based on your opinions and the reviews of other online sites.

My audio systems' equipment is from ROTEL, PSB, NAD, Cambridge Audio DAC Magic, Music Hall MMF 7.1 turntable, and interconnects from AudioQuest, KimberKable and Tara Labs, as well as speaker cables from KimberKable and Tara Labs.

Dare to guess how many of these I auditioned before purchase?

It sounds like you were looking for an affordable (Leica) quality speakers but discovered (Kodak Brownie) components inside. The missing wave output is like a sticky slow shutter speed.

While I love music and have a few thousand CDs, working in a printing plant lead me to crave absolute silence at home. Sometimes the fan on the computer was too much noise. With silence surrounding you, one can learn to appreciate the tonal qualities of the ringing in your ears.

From your writing, it sounds to me like you know enough to build your own speakers. Why not crossover to the world of hobbyist building you mention? I've built several sets. My current is a 3-way active system (highly recommend active designs as compared to passive, e.g. the crossover mess in your Lemons(tm)).

DIY is never time effective, but I think it is cost effective. Even with some initial investment in tools. Whether you want to get into another hobby is another consideration altogether.

You just described the camera market. The best known brands make very expensive full-frame cameras that are probably worth the money. The same companies sell $300 digicams with rattly, misaligned lenses and miniscule, cockeyed sensors, and that's what the public buys.

If they are genuine production from this manufacturer, the easiest thing is to turn right around and sell them back on Audiogon. Cut your losses and try again. (Of course, with a different product...)

However, I would make the suggestion that buying a commercial speaker, sight-unheard, (ear-unheard?) is only going to be disappointing. To much variability in production, and speakers are quite personal in taste and flavor -- What I think is something that sounds incredible might seem completely awful to you.

Time to drive down to Chicago and go speaker shopping.

Dear Mr. Johnston I bow to your bravery in unleashing the audio hordes and their argumentative fervor onto your (digital) home...
In my humble view, in Audio, much more so than in Photography most print publications nowadays are totally dependent on advertising revenue and thus unable to maintain any decent level of independence from manufacturers or any level of decency at all.
There are only a few high quality Chassis-manufacturers in the world and just like with optics you just cannot make good sounding speakers if you do not use excellent components. At the pricepoint you mentioned those speakers retailed for new (~2500$), you could buy no holds barred passive speakers build in germany by a family owned german manufacturer from Swabia of very good (measuring!) speakers with chassis from one of the best chassis manufacturers in the world. And we would be talking about 25-26.000 Hz, RMS of 400 Watts per speaker (600 watts peak power), 121 Lbs monsters!
I believe that in audio much more so than in photography spending more from a certain point onwards just drives one into the arms of people that definitely come from the dark side...

I'm sticking with Vandersteen 2ce Signatures....after trial and error with assorted speakers in much higher price brackets. A real bargain in the audio world, of course if the sound is your cup of tea.


So sorry to hear not only about your buying disaster, Mike, but also about its sad comment on the state of Made in the USA.

But this is a topic dear to my heart! I got a lot of good experience listening to high end speakers when I lived with my cousin, an audio perfectionist. He settled on a gorgeous pair of Allison floor standing models that sound (and look) beautiful to this day. I ended up finding a pair of Canton display models for myself years ago that may not be technically perfect but suit my ears to a T.

But a pair of KEH bookshelf speakers that had served as my computer speakers for a long, long time gave up the ghost recently (both almost at the same time -- I'll call that a sign of quality control), and so I shopped around for a bargain set of casual speakers that can sit on either side of my monitors. I finally realized that I had bought a real bargain years ago when I put a set of Cambridge Soundworks Henry Kloss Model Six bookshelf speakers in our kitchen during a remodel (the perfect time to bury speaker wires inside the walls).

So I kept an eye on eBay until a pair of those Model Sixes showed up for a hundred bucks from an estate sale.

Once again, not technically perfect, but they suit my ears and make me happy.

Still using my JBL 4311 Control Monitors from 1980. 12" bass driver, 5.5" midrange and a 2"? Tweeter. They're still fantastic old-school.

Strange how all this reminds me of what I've read about the SLR Magic Hyperprime CINE 50 mm 1:0.95 LM (rangefinder-coupled) lens lately.

Mike, I'm still rockin' a pair of Cerwin-Vegas I bought used in 1977, and a Sansui blackface amp I acquired new around the same time. Back in the day the speakers we all lusted after were JBL L100s, but no one I knew could afford them, including myself; they were great rock 'n' roll speakers for rich kids. Think "bass".

What I know about audio equipment you could fit on the head of a pin, but I do enjoy reading about your audio adventures.

Thanks for the interesting read. I hope you enjoy your new/ used speakers.

@ Mike:

There is another possibility you didn't consider, which is that these speakers are used and presumably have an unknown provenance. It's possible that at some point along the way, somebody harvested the good parts for whatever reason and replaced them with junk parts, assuming the current (or future!) owners would be none the wiser.

Back in my audiophile days, I encountered this several times with a variety of products, so I know it does happen occasionally.


Maybe now is a good time to get a nice dual channel 31-band equalizer. dbx makes a nice one for ~ $200. It'll help make that woofer sound like a proper mid!
Or wait until a pair of these come up on the used market. I'm guessing the fit and finish are outstanding.


I find that among the affordable speaker brands, Polk provides very good quality for the money. Perhaps check out its RTi A5 for $800/pair. [http://www.polkaudio.com/products/rtia5] Here's what Stereophile had to say about Polk generally when reiewing the smallest model in that range, the A1:

"I always enjoy reviewing affordable loudspeakers from Polk Audio, who trumpet high value for the dollar with their philosophy of 'Incredible Sound/Affordable Price.'"

"I've always been intrigued by how much Polk has been able to deliver at the bottom of the price range."

"I applaud any company that takes seriously the design of inexpensive loudspeakers—and, as they continue to revisit and refine their lines of loudspeakers, the designers at Polk Audio continue to impress me."


I have the A3 model and they are very satisfying for the price--in design, build quality, and sound. Not high end, of course, but more than good enough and very reasonably priced.

Good luck.

Wouldn't it be more practical to keep the good cabinets and replace the cheap junk components by decent ones?

All that stuff doesn't really matter. The only important thing is "how do they sound?"

Thirty years ago I had a brief affair with "high-end audio" fetishism so your articles of this ilk scratch a familiar itch.

Thank heavens that life led me away from this path, otherwise I'd be feeling your pain! Today I'm perfectly content infrequently listening to music on my iPod. I frequently attend theater and operas to re-calibrate my memory of how music is supposed to sound.

Mike, I've had my Paradigms (made in Canada, btw) for sixteen years. The performance and quality have been so good I haven't even looked at another speaker system in all that time. Sorry about your experience. A message to all of us to remain ever vigilant.

That's a shocking tale of woe. Buying new speakers is supposed to ba a joyful occasion, full of re-listening to favourite tracks, and hearing them in a glory never before revealed! Not reverse-engineering some cheapskate's idea of a viable product.

My initial thought was that they were counterfeit, although if the cabinets are as well-made as you describe, then that's unlikely. Just a sorry tale of deliberate, obtuse cost-cutting.

By the way, I have a shelf-mount pair of those Tannoys (Mercury M2s) that I bought as a student, and they still sound very listenable, although they have been relegated to bedroom duties, a vintage pair of Monitor Audios being my main squeeze now. My pennies per hour on the Tannoys may be even less than yours :-)

I foresee you getting a partial refund, and rebuilding these speakers with new electronics and drive units, making the most of the admittedly beautiful cabinets. Will wait for the next instalment...

Sorry to see the trouble this has turned out to be. So hard to find quality without the break-the-bank price tag nowadays.
I got a nice pair of JBL 4311 studio monitors and brought them to a shop here in Nashville to be re-coned. They are by far the warmest, sweetest sounding speakers I've heard. Ebay has reasonable prices on these, if you don't mind some serious shipping logistics. and having them refurbished will add years of listening heaven! I still see these used in studios - for a good reason!

My take on audio is it is a bunch of hokum.
Sure it's fun to read about $50,000 speakers, but in reality, you can do quite well for hundreds and not thousands of dollars.

I have a couple of boxes with Fostex 206E drivers and they work just fine with my 1 Watt per channel amp.

These days I'm rocking out with a pair of 1984 Klipsh La Scalas I picked up for $1400.

I use a Mackie mixer for a pre-amp and have a 45 Watt Paradigm amp that is perfectly cromulent.


Sorry to hear about your bad experience. It is all too common these days. Sad.

I designed and built speakers for my own use over a couple decades and a rule of thumb was that crossover cost should be approximately equal to driver cost. Quality of parts is as important as the x-over design itself. The retail box fails here.

For reflex designs like pictured, port volume must be exactly matched to the drivers response. Any cabinet leaks add to port volume and change driver bass response. The retail box fails again.

Three way designs need x-overs having steep cut-offs to minimize the bad effects of two drivers covering the same range. The retail box fails miserably here.

Using a small woofer as a midrange need not be a poor design choice. You want linear response in this range. A small woofer is still giving good output at the lower end when employed as a mid-range. But it takes a good x-over to pull this off.

All things considered, a good mid-range is the most important part of a system because most fundamental notes are reproduced there. You want linear operation with plenty of acoustic output in this range.

Good luck with your replacement search. Audiogon is a great place to find good equipment at an affordable price. Great sound is worth the effort.

I feel for you, but really, Mike, buying speakers--of all things--without auditioning them? Because speakers are more important to the character of an audio system than any other component, I've always felt that any speaker that is not available to be auditioned isn't available (well, except for some $200 small powered speakers I bought once). Anyway, here's hoping you can unload them at not too much of a loss.

Well MIKE!

I ran a hifi store for 20 years and handled threshold, mac, tandberg, tannoy, b&w, Acoustat ( my personal favorites) and many other similar products. I auditioned all of the big names of the day. '74 -'94, I own an absolutely wonderful pair of speakers that were made in Lewiston Maine, N.E.A.R 50
All anodized aluminum woof and mid titanium inverted dome tweeter. Snappy like electrostatics but full range.
Long out of the 2500$ market but now owned by Bogen for all weather speakers,
Great stuff and don't have the phasing weirdness that the tannoys have.

I was always a "low shelf" but picky stereo system buyer, shopping for bargains in the usual catalogs. When my wife and I finally could afford an okay cassette player, cd player and receiver we were in music heaven for a while. Eventually we bought some decent bookshelf speakers. Over twenty years later and it feels impossible to buy anything decent unless it's hand crafted by elves in the mountains of Vermont, and from your experience it sounds like the elves are selling out too.

Very happy with my 1970-ish Wharfedale Airedale speakers - about $1,000 when new, bought a few years ago for about $200 on Ebay.

Not entirely sure that good speakers do die of old age.

Sell 'em, and buy some vintage Tannoys with 15" speakers. You know it makes sense.

I have not spent a lot on my speakers, nor do I pretend that they are high end. I did a blind testing of a pair of stereo speakers within my price point about 15 years ago, and ended up with a pair of Ruark Castle 2 speakers (probably only means anything to a hifi fan in the UK), and years later took my two children for them to conduct a blind test of a centre speaker, and all three of us chose a Focal JM Labs centre (again, probably only means something to a European, as that speaker is from France). We've got some no name rear speakers that do a job on the movies, and not yet a subwoofer. We probably won't get around to that for a few years either.

What sounds good is paramount, so long as you can afford it with everything else in life.

Doesn't sound like a good experience on those speakers! Any return policy on those or is it strickly buyer-beware? One of the things that popped into my mind reading about your experience is any chance those are knockoff's and not the real deal?

This is one of the good things about being partial to punk, lo-fi and indie rock, you definitely don't need anything high end to get the most from it. Any speaker somewhat punchy with an amp loud enough to drive it. Done.

Personal setup is a Sony amp and some nice Image 2 way speakers on sand filled stands which is total overkill for my musical taste. Source nowadays is either iPod or Sony MP3 player. CD's and vinyl, what are those?

What a shame! We are in a sort of golden age of relatively affordable high quality speakers. The value equation of manufacturers like PSB & Paradigm is astonishing. A pair of PSB Alpha B1s or Paradigm Atoms can be had for close to $200--and would certainly have pleased you. Their top of the line speakers are well under $5,000 & amazing. There are more than handful of speaker manufacturers committed to quality and value. I'm so sorry you had such an unpleasant experience.

As a musician I can tell you that nothing sounds as good as great music on a cheap radio. Stop chasing snipes and focus on the music. Louis Armstrong did his best work before hi-fi so all this other stuff is audio masterbation.

I suspect the way to go is to buy a great pair of well-constructd speakers when you're young. As the speakers deteriorate, so does your hearing. Zero-sum game! :P

Due to another commentor's post I googled the ______ loudspeaker, and got this from a review in Stereophile:

"At first blush, the sound of the Vandersteen Model 2Ce Signature transported me to a bucolic nature trail in the Berkshires on one of those high, dry August days when the amber stillness of late afternoon imparts a sense of otherness against the endless vistas of green and brown and blue. In my Wordsworthian reverie, as I made my way up the mountainside, remembrances of venerable loudspeakers past called out to me from the sturdy stands of New England foliage."

And then I tasted just a little bit of bile.

So "speakers don't tend to last forever": why not, other than hifi myth and lore to keep the punters spending money? my 70s tannoy reds are just fine: may be in due course the surrounds will need replacing, but not soon -- they'll see me out.

I sweated over choosing speakers. My taste leans towards accoustical music. I wanted speakers to compliment a Jolida tube integrated amp that I bought on eBay. I eventually ended up with 8" full range speakers and building the cabinets from plans provided by the speaker designer/manufacturer. The speaker magnets are alnico. For voice, uncluttered instrumental, and 1960s rock they are excellent. I ended up getting a Marantz entry level hi-fi CD player. I love this setup. It could certainly be improved upon, but it works better than anything that I ever had set up in my darkroom. My hi-fi resides in my office/lightroom.

I recall the illuminating tale in one of the UK hifi magazines, of someone who turned to a friend with "golden ears" for advice on improving his already good system. Changes went well and sounded wonderful, except that this friend was still bothered about harsh-sounding reproduction of the violin sound in particular. They switched this, tweaked that, still that unpleasant metallic "edge" for some reason in the violins. Eventually the owner of the system said: "come round tomorrow - I think I've found the problem. We'll just listen to some solo violin pieces and you'll hear an improvement for sure." So he duly arrives, closes his eyes and strokes his chin, listens for a while, shakes his head. "Sorry. Still that nagging harshness."

So the system owner asks the actual violinist to walk through from the next room, still playing. His knowledgeable friend... simply didn't like the true sound of a violin.

Speaker quality/value these days is exceptional. Try these:


Buying audio equipment is one of the few activities that gets easier as you get older. As the high frequencies gradually slide off your audible spectrum, and (in my case) incipient tinnitus confuses the issue, one accepts that anything better than a competent mid-range product is a waste of money.

But even earlier in my life I came to the conclusion that the law of diminishing returns applies even more to audio than it does to cameras. How many of us are listening in circumstances where the benefits of spending many hundreds of dollars (or pounds, in my case) on speaker cables are likely to be detectable, even if they exist?

That said, it's reasonable to expect a mid-range product to be solidly conceived and constructed. I think it would be perfectly fair to name the brand you refer to - your description is pretty objective, and the speculative bits are clearly identified as such.

I find these type of articles fascinating, as I would have no idea what I was looking at if I opened up some audio gear, yet I feel it is something I could really get into if only I understood it. I love the thought of dismantling speaker boxes and knowing what the various components do and being able to judge whether they were good quality or not. I look forward to your further writings on this, hopefully with photos (blur the brand name if you think necessary). Perhaps also a primer on how the various components work for those of us with no idea (divers? crossovers?)

I wonder if there are faked copies of famous-brand speakers?

I have a 'Billingham' camera bag that's obviously a knock-off, but it has a very nice midrange.

That's awful!! I just bought small Monitor Audios that might cost a tenth of that, and from your description mine look much better built. But I'll never take them apart!! Ignorance is bliss.

So sorry for your experience. I don't think this is normal for most hi-end speaker companies. For the list price quoted you certainly should have received a quality product.

Some things to consider, drivers should always fit well and your description just speaks of terrible workmanship as does the slapped together crossover. As someone else stated leaks in the cabinet will destroy the sound quality and I would be suspicious of replacements drivers having being installed at some point in the life of the speaker.

However to your other points; woofers are very commonly used as mid range drivers and simply reflect a design choice not a problem, many speaker designers prefer not to have a separate enclosure for crossovers and in my opinion most long lasting speaker companies produce a quality product or they tend not to stay in business.

I am in the manufacturing business, and have attended CES for the last decade, and have never seen anything from a reputable company as badly put together as what you received.

Since it was a private sale I am not sure what you can do but it sure doesn't sound like you received what you paid for.

I believe you were caught hook line and sinker.
Send them back or perhaps place them on the
front lawn with a "free" sign. As they're heavy some person wil figure they are a bargain.
Me? Have a pair of first year production Paradigm Series 2 two-way speakers. It is how the speakers reproduce, what you want to hear that counts. I hummed and hawed two way or three way for months. Finally decided my best pipe organ disc from Telarc would be the deciding factor at my local dealer.
The three way speakers simply gave up, the two way system performed very well.
That was the best $300 spent on audio gear. A
good friend who collects McIntosh gear has my Dynaco A25's. And as Paradign is Canadian,
so is my Bryston 2B-LP amp and pre-amp.
The system has never failed me in 20+ years.

Have thought of returning to my original love; Dynaco tube amp and pre-amp but so far the mood has not struck. Over the years my world has changed; so simply sitting and listening to music has diminished, somewhat similar to my photography desires and equipment. Find any audio in the background while performing tasks
is distracting and with age have problems distinuishing between notes and sounds. Must be a result of those theatre pipe organ records
being played on the turntable.

Daddy, daddy...what's a music CD???

Back when I was young everyone knew that good speakers had large, heavy magnets. So one quick test of quality was to lift the speaker box up to feel its weight. Only problem was, some manufacturers woke up to that and just added some weights to the inside of the enclosure.

Until last year, I owned a pair of Acoustic Research AR48b speakers, but for the past dozen years or more, I never really listened to music in my living room much, as there's never any free time to devote to it. My cat(s) had destroyed the front covers and it was when searching for replacements that I found out that the AR company didn't exist anymore. When I had taken the front covers off I discovered that the foam surrounded the woofers had deteriorated. I didn't know that speakers wore out. And something had put a dimple in one of the tweeter domes. Sold them, my old amp, my wife's old Celestion's to a guy who refurbs and sells at a flea market. I got $70.

Since my hearing isn't what it used to be I set a limit of $500 on my next purchase, figuring that anything more is a waste of money. I bought a set of those hand on the wall Bose thingees with (and sub-woofer) that audiophiles make fun of. They can laugh all they want, it's not they come over much. That's it for me, they're the last speakers I'm buying. I may have to go back to that flea market guy and buy a new (used) receiver though, because I really want one with a remote. I'm setting an upper limit of $100 on that.

Since then, I've found out that there are better deals out there, but I have decided not to care.

Pssst, Mike. Active studio monitors. Best kept secret in audioland.

Oh, I forgot to add. Get a nice little frequency generator for your computer (like this one), put on a pair of decent headphone and check out the frequency response of your ears.

I did, and in my mid-50s, my hearing cuts off at 11,500 hz. My 6 year old can hear 24,000 hz and my 11 year old can hear 19,000hz.

The takeaway is that us older folk really do not need to bother with ultra high end frequency response, never mind "super-tweeters" and all that doo-dah.

Michael W,
Probably the best way to get started if you're interested would be building a loudspeaker kit, available from places such as Parts Express and Madisound. If you're more ambitious you could build Linkwitz Labs' clever Pluto design, made out of industrial PVC pipe. There are all sorts of resources for speaker builders but some of them tend to come and go. I've never built a kit myself.


Oops, here's the link.


I don't know that much about high end audio, but is there really that much difference between speakers? Surely it can't be too hard to produce a box that reproduces sound in a pretty neutral way, right? (Right? Please tell me yes?)
What kind of difference are we looking at? The audio equivalent of a stop? Two stops? A third of a stop? Avoiding the equivalent of purple fringing, or coma?

I've been pretty happy with an inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers I got off of Amazon for less than 100 dollars.* But I know they don't sound like the classical concerts I attend. But nothing sounds like it does in real life, does it? How could I even tell for non-acoustic music anyway - it's all mixed to death** in the studio, so if it sounds artificial, that's part of what it is supposed to sound like, yes? Soundtracks, techno, classic rock, Enya, it's all mixed to sound good on low end systems or car speakers, right? Is it more sensible to buy studio monitors that match the time period the recording was mixed in?

I admit to loving live recordings of all sorts, particularly the small groups that play the local Renaissance festival, so I suppose any improvement there would be helpful, but it all...sounds so good to me, even if it isn't like being there, that I wonder if I should care?

*Jensen C20? I think they went out of business or something.
**I don't mind this, btw

Yeah, the speakers may not have any midrange, but the important thing is--

Can your amps go to 11?

Mani Sitaraman: "The takeaway is that us older folk really do not need to bother with ultra high end frequency response, never mind "super-tweeters" and all that doo-dah."

We probably don't need to blow so much money on cameras, either!

Stephen Best wrote:
"Speaker quality/value these days is exceptional. Try these:
http://www.monitoraudio.co.uk/products/silver-rx/rx6/ "

About a month ago I was confronted with getting new speakers; retiring some old Paradigms which were just fine, but bulky. Bulky, you say? So? Yep, one of the replacement criteria became the famous W.A.F. (wife approval factor), although to be fair in this case I think my wife didn't care half as much about any of this as I did.

Since high- or medium- or even low-fi is a minefield, having an arbitrary size constraint of bookshelfs seemed as fine a way as any to narrow the field. A foray into a high-end showroom, checkbook in hand, came to naught, so I decided to ride on the coattails of some work at a previous job site.

I work in architecture, and one recent client decided to hire an "audio consultant." I figure these guys can spec whatever they want, so I auditioned what they had spec'd: Monitor Audio. Of course, room dynamics probably matter more than most speaker choice, but the RX-1s I heard, and then got into my own house on stands are terrific, and not pricey. They're small, not punchy but smooth.

I'm sure floor standers like Stephen's RX-6s are even better.

"is there really that much difference between speakers? Surely it can't be too hard to produce a box that reproduces sound in a pretty neutral way, right?"

Actually I think the opposite. Speakers are really hard to get right and good ones are rare--and at restricted price points, rarer still. Room setup is also very important, and I've heard the same speakers sound very different indeed with different electronics--the speaker and amplification should really be considered a matching system.

You're right about one thing, though, which is that it's all approximate--there's no such thing as perfection, because most recordings aren't very good. Crap in, crap out.

The flip side of that is that you can "hear" the "concept" of music on pretty basic devices.

I've been listening to music systems for forty years and the really outstanding ones are very rare indeed. I remember many of the outstanding ones I've heard. We could talk.


"I am in the manufacturing business, and have attended CES for the last decade, and have never seen anything from a reputable company as badly put together as what you received."

Bear in mind that with the exception of the ill-fitted tweeters, the speakers looked very good. The overwhelming impression is of the cabinets, which are beautifully made. It's only on closer inspection that the flaws begin to be exposed.

I'm guessing that some of the stuff you've seen at CES looks good but actually isn't very well made. Many of the better companies excepted, of course. There's a wide range of quality even among similarly well-known brands.



That would be Canton speakers(?)

I have a mixed-matched Canton subwoofer-satellite system bought new in 1996 as my main (front) speakers. The subwoofer enclosure is 1 cubic foot finished in walnut veneer which houses the cross-overs and a 10 in. woofer (Plus C). The satellite pair (Plus X) each has a 4 in. mid-range and a titanium tweeter. They're tiny. About the size of a paperback (front grille) but weighs more than 3 kilos each. All three have metal perforated grills painted matte black. They blend unobtrusively into the bookshelves and base cabinet.

The passive "sub" delivers deep, smooth, undistorted bass ("naturally-aspirated"—i.e., not boosted). The mid-range and tweeters sound natural and oh-so-sweet. For a small package, it generates impressive sound pressure levels in our small living room. The Cantons are all the speakers I needed 16 years on. I only use the front speakers when listening to music. I turn off the rear and center speakers which are mass-market brands, adequate for "fill" when watching DVD movies.

The only acoustic upgrade I've done was "braiding" my own speaker cables. It involved scores of manhours of crimping/soldering, teflon wrapping [with plumbing-grade teflon film], and heat-shrinking a variety of gold-plated terminals. I would like to believe these made an audible difference! (I've had two receivers with the Cantons. The current one is a 6.1 channel Marantz almost a decade old. Lotsa headroom when only the L-R front channels are used.)

My aspirational Canton speakers was a pair of multiple-driver floor-standing "digital" self-powered speakers for which you didn't need amps. It had a list price (circa 2000) of USD15K each! Nowadays, this pair would be THE pod for Ipods. However, aggressively compressed MP3's downloaded from the Internet
won't hack it. You have to have large-file or losslessly compressed MP3's to do them—or any premium speaker for that matter—justice.

(I listen only to MP3's which I compressed myself from CDs I bought. I use Exact Audio Copy, a shareware authored by a German wunderkind. EAC can extract pristine audio files even from scratched CD's. If you plan to use EAC don't throw away your old CD/DVD optical [PC] drives. It may be one of those in the EAC database which have been calibrated for optimal WAV/MP3 extraction.)

I think speakers are to amps/receivers as lenses are to cameras. If you want high SQ you have to have good ones covering all angles (frequency range) ideally.

Sorry Mike and thanks for the caveat.

I know what you're going through. My 31-year old Marantz speakers are now in their third driver and xover incarnation. All up including the original Marantz hi-fi setup, they nudged 1 grand. The amp is still ticking, the turntable still works, and the speakers are now connected to a latest model receiver-amp from the same stable. Drivers are from a local Tandy equivalent and so are the xovers (proper ones), all up around one grand including proper baffling and sealing, home-made.
Wouldn't trade them for anything! Their sound is simply sublime for symphonic and rock music and can handle the odd bit of Pavarotti without any fuss.
Not sure anything from China can ever match them, at any price.


It seems as though you have purchased a project. I look forward to your posts about new drivers and crossovers! I have found these to be very satisfying and the build quality is top tier.

There is a similar sort of thing going on here (in Germany, but I don't think this is a local phenomenon), where speaker manufacturers produce a one-off run of cheap (200 €) speakers exclusively for one large retailer. They slap on a hugely inflated and entirely imaginary "list price" (let's say 1500 €), but sell to their partnering retailer at the intended target price level. The retailer then promotes these speakers as having a massive discount.

To be fair, they are not ripping customers off completely: You get what you pay for. You get speakers worth their 200 Euros. You just don't get what you had hoped to get on a discount.

To be honest, I don't know why manufacturers are doing this. Aren't they ruining their name? And it's not just small or new players, either.

Me, I've just bought a pair of large, ugly Quadral Montan speakers a year ago, and I love them. They're about twenty years old, the cabinet has a few dings, but their woofers have new foam surrounds, the ribbon tweeter sounds as sweet as ever to my ears, and I'd been pining for Quadral ribbon-tweetered speakers since I'd first heard them half a lifetime (~15 years) ago in a big store.

I've bought them over a classified ads site from a private seller, and made sure to listen to them before taking them home.

By the way, I think you should name the manufacturer of your new speakers. This kind of quality borders on fraud.

My best speakers cost me absolutely nothing. When my mother moved house a few years ago, the previous owner left a set of Acoustic Research AR-4Xa speakers behind.

And my next best set also cost the same bargain price of zero. A set of huge Kenwood/Trio speakers which my brother found left behind in a house he was refurbishing.

Ouch, that's a painful story. And I think it's rather gracious of you to not name them. To be honest, I've just bought my first pair of speakers on recommendation only (and no audition) -- a pair of Audioengine A2, but really they weren't big money (and I'm happy with them).

Are you going to follow this up with the manufacturer direct to see if they are to "spec"? Or, given your story with the cabinet and your knowledge of the X-over, are you going to use the cabinets as base to build your own?

That, I'd like to see!

Cheers, Pak

I also second the featured comment from robin: after auditioning various speaker + amp combos for months on end, I settled on a pair good studio monitors on decent stands. Besides, I play the piano + violin and wanted some speakers on my keyboard workstation.

I bought some EMES TV HR Black, which are 42-20k +/- 2db (in freefield), shipped in matched pairs (+/- 0.5 db between the pair). They have switches to configure the crossover at high and low frequencies to match the placement of the speaker in freefield or nearfield configurations.

The only big minus point of studio monitors I would say is that they are very neutral. Too neutral. That is to say, they aren't very musical! Which is of course quite a contradiction.


I'm not an audio buff, but like listening to music and have decent sound for movies (stereo, not surround). So last year I needed to improve the hifi in the living room (not large) with a modest budget and went looking. After reading all sorts of stuff, I concluded that room acoustics have such a huge influence over sound that it doesn't make sense to invest a lot in hifi components and speakers if the acoustics are not carefully taken into account.

End result? Bought 2-way basic but nice looking speakers for roughly $1000, made in Finland and been happy with them. I reserve my chasing of mirages purely for cameras...

I have sources for two pair of the original Advent speakers and plan to acquire them (probably for $0) have them rebuilt and refinished, and then "stack" them a la Harry Pearson/TAS. The only fly in the ointment is feline ... my current speakers are on stands, and this rig obviously would resemble fine scratching pads to three non-declawed felines.

I finally weaned myself off of high end audio....you're doing the equivalent of handing a pack of cigarettes to a reformed 3 pack a day smoker....

Anyhoo, back in my college days when me and my friends were dirt poor and much more daring and less aware of social conventions we frequented just about every high end audio shop within a 100 mile radius and did A LOT of listening to components of every price range. Thankfully most of the dealers had to the courtesy to know that we wouldn't be poor college students forever and treated us very well (I'm sure it helped that we did our homework and could speak intelligently about the gear and we stayed out of the way of the paying customers) and they were rewarded with many sales as we began earning money.

Like anything else the higher end you go the more nuanced the differences but they are there for sure. After all the auditioning we did we came to some conclusions about speakers.

-Unless you are going to spend $2500 or better it's very hard to beat Paradigm or B&W. Even at that price point their offerings are good.

-$3500-$10,000: Speakers that are better than the $2500 and under crowd but the differences are subtle and you really need to have high end components and interconnects plus room treatments to pull out the subtle factors, however if you have them properly set up with good gear connected to them you will be rewarded with a great listening experience and it will feel worth the time and money.

-$10,000 - A Pair of Wilson's: I think you really enter diminishing returns at this point and crossing into status symbol area. I spent a good amount of time auditioning a pair of Wilson's driven by Audio Research stuff in a room setup by sound engineers and it was a great experience. Was it $99,000 better than a pair of well driven B&W 602's? No. Not in the least IMHO.

I will add the caveat to the above recommendations that I absolutely detest brightness in speakers with my whole being. As others have pointed out there are some great deals in electrostatic speakers out there but I'd sooner slam my hand in a car door....

In 1994 when I was building our house we installed some B&W in wall speakers. They are driven by an antique Sansui AU555 that I brought back from Okinawa in 1970. Content is delivered by a Sony 400 disc changer and the occasional LP served up by an older Technics wheel of steel.
Sounds fine to me but I lost a lot of high frequency hearing in the service and tinnitus isn't helping much either.
I don't know if B&W qualifies as high end but in 18 years these have been entirely satisfactory.

Yeah, Mike, they're made like crap. But how do they SOUND? (now that the "mid" has been fixed).

Ouch. I feel for you having to listen to music through a system which now displeases you.

It's clear that a lot of the people writing in have never gone through the hi-end audio thing. While hi-end audio more closely approximates the sound of real instruments and voices, it's an impossible buying situation as speakers, amps, cabling, musical source and most of all the room where you listen all contribute to the overall sound. Even going to hear a component at a shop doesn't tell you how a particular system is going to sound at home and its rare to find a dealer who carries all the components you want and is near enough to you that you can give some serious listening with your own beloved music. Unless of course you buy a set up from one manufacturer where everything has been listened to extensively while being made (at least in theory, and we're talking hi-end here, not mass market stuff). It's strange how rarely one buys all the components from one manufacturer.

There are hi-end fora (head-fi.org is the one I go to but they specialise in headphones and headphone amps) but even there different people with the best of intentions and wide experience wind up having very different experiences/opinions (and with headphone and headphone amps you eliminate the room from the equation).

I can't think of another situation quite as fraught with gotchas as buying hi-end audio equipment. Hoping you find a pleasing outcome soon.

Yeah, speaker shopping — especially in person — is a grueling, brutal experience. Even the super top of the line stuff never really seems to sound worth the price. And, sometimes a 'cheap' pair, with a common marque sounds good, but you just don't want to have those ugly boxes sitting in such a prominent role — either in your living room, or matched to your 'elite' components.

In my last experience, i ended up buying a mid-level pair of Sonus Faber. They're quite beautiful. But, in the end, i ENJOY listening to music on the H/K Soundsticks connected to my Mac. Which brings me back to what i was originally looking for, before i bought the Sonus Fabers.... The best (most enjoyable) sound i can remember was from a system i set up in my old design studio. Two pairs of NHT Model Ones, mounted on the walls. With a big old subwoofer. Powered by a mainstream H/K receiver. Powerful, balanced, EXCITING audio. There's something about a set of minis and a sub that works for me. And, there's something about NOT looking for technical perfection in audio, but instead for LIFE in audio.

Either way, i cannot imagine buying speakers without auditioning them!

And remember to be careful of how you power your system. Avoid Nuclear or coal fired electricity. Stick with hydroelectric power becaues organic free range electrons provide smoother frequency response and last longer in your batteries too!

"As a musician I can tell you that nothing sounds as good as great music on a cheap radio. Stop chasing snipes and focus on the music."
I sorta agree. I'm a failed musician, and it's always been sorta funny — we connect our source gear (instruments, mixers, monitors, effects...) with the cheapest cabling. And, then the audiophiles need thousand dollar cables to reproduce the results.

As i got older, i have sorta begun to dismiss the high-end audio chase. My first real system was all separates. Acurus and McCormick power, and Martin-Logan speakers.... Good stuff. But, the sound just wasn't 'alive.' I would spend a few minutes in my friend's car, listening to music on the way somewhere or another, and come away with the impression that it's more important to be moved by the music — to have that energy in it — than it is to have clinically perfect sound. "Boom and Sizzle," as long as it's not fatiguing, can make the music more enjoyable. The key is balance, though. You don't want 'crap audio' either. But, there was a famous audio study that exposed that people prefer a certain measure of distortion in their sound....

Dear Mike,
Buying speakers unheard, really! Good blog copy; bad for your blood pressure. (Insert smileys ad lib.)

robin's featured comment isn't quite correct, and your's is: buying speakers is a cupcake, compared to getting the speakers right in the first place. The one thing that's even harder is getting the room acoustics right, which is why almost no one does it, outside recording studios.

Also, were it not for the cheap components and suitability for large-scale mass production, there is no reason why dynamic speakers should be preferred over electrostats in this day and age. And if dynamic speakers must be, there is little reason not to opt for active ones. TOP readers who recommend active pro monitors are generically right, although crap farmed out to China is encroaching upon that market segment, too. But quality-wise, there are still many more 'Blads and Leicas among studio monitors, minus the red-dot margin.

One final aspect: in today's computer-based, digital music flow, there is more room than ever before for judicious, subtle EQ tuning. Many good plug-ins exist, ranging from free to moderately expensive, but even then only at a fraction of what hardware would cost, and infinitely more flexible. (Just try Channel D's Pure Music with Izotope's Ozone.) The qualifications are essential: judicious, subtle.

"Buying speakers unheard, really! Good blog copy; bad for your blood pressure. (Insert smileys ad lib.)"

People are coming to the wrong conclusions about this. If you want to buy used, pretty much the only way to audition is to buy, try, and then resell if you don't like what you hear. It's a standard method for me. The speakers I bought are discontinued and even rare on the used market. I had my own reasons for wanting to hear them firsthand; auditioning them was what I was doing. It doesn't obligate me to anything. I certainly have no intention of being stuck with anything I don't like.

I can honestly say this did nothing to my blood pressure. It just comes under the heading of what my friend Oren calls "demsytification." If you want to find out about something for yourself, you try it for yourself. It's a standard M.O. for me and I've done it many times, in photography and audio both. I've even bought audio equipment I have no intention of keeping, just to find out about it. All part of the hobby.

"there is no reason why dynamic speakers should be preferred over electrostats in this day and age."

Dispersion, maybe. As I'm sure you know, electrostatics require careful placement in appropriately-sized rooms and a relatively fixed listening position. Not the best if you're in a poor or small room, or if you're moving around a lot as you listen.

"And if dynamic speakers must be, there is little reason not to opt for active ones."

Except that then you're stuck with the maker's idea of a good-sounding amp, you can't switch it out if you get bored, and you can't try different flavors. I have two amps: an EL34 push-pull tube amp, and a single-ended solid-state Nelson Pass design with two amplification stages. They're very different, both very good, and I wouldn't want to be stuck with one or the other permanently.


"And remember to be careful of how you power your system. Avoid Nuclear or coal fired electricity. Stick with hydroelectric power becaues organic free range electrons provide smoother frequency response and last longer in your batteries too!"

You laugh, but if you have dirty AC, you'd be amazed at the difference a power regenerator can make. Not subtle. I have two AC conditioners in my system. Check out my friend Paul's website.

Really, what is a stereo system doing but reconfiguring the waveform?


@Will: Just my 5-cents on audio-photography equivalence...

For high-fidelity reproduction of acoustic music, transparent ("neutral) speakers and adequately powered amps are essential. Minimal adjustments (i.e., damping, hermetic sealing) may be all that's needed for small speakers to compensate for their small enclosures. However, there are "highly-corrected" speakers with exotic "elements" such eloctrostatic/planar drivers and ribbon tweeters (tilt-shift, aspherical, apo lenses, anyone?)

Sonic aberrations ("clipping") becomes audible usually when under-powered amps are used to drive low impedance speakers at high volumes. The sonic equivalents of "blown highlights", "purple fringing", "red dots", "coma" are tell-tale signs of amplifier clipping.

"Vignetting" is likely to occur when there are gaps between bookshelf speakers and the books or shelf panel above or next to it; or when the speaker is recessed from the front edge of the shelves and book spines (or hidden behind screens or curtains!).

Moderately powered amps (say, 20 watts per channel RMS) are capable of driving efficient speakers (8 ohms) without clipping when played at middle volumes. I think efficient speakers are the equivalent of fast lenses; continuous amplifier power output (in watts RMS) is the equivalent of sensor resolution (in megapixels); while sound pressure level or volume (in decibels) is analogous to print size.

Deep, smooth bass ("shadow detail") requires large woofers and high-powered amps. Or better still, a separate subwoofer with its own amplifier (self-powered or dedicated), especially if you like listening to organ music. Accurate mid- and high-frequency reproduction requires a separate mid-range driver and tweeter, rather than a single full-range driver such as the ones found in desktop computer speakers.

For music with high dynamic range (i.e., classical symphonies) one needs separate drivers (fast primes) not full-range speakers (slow zooms). Floor-standing behemoths with multiple drivers are analogous to fixed aperture asph-macro-apo tri-vario =>20x (optical) zooms.

DR is probably the most equivalent concept in sound reproduction and photography: soft, loud vs. dark, bright. Tube amps are equivalent to film cameras while transistor/IC/ADAC amps are digital. That's obvious. Room acoustics/speaker placement is equivalent to IS (in-body/lens). This one I'm not sure of at all. What's the mirrorless equivalent in audio, if any? That I don't know.

IMO, acoustic (classical and jazz), a capella, rock-n-roll, and standards are equivalent to B&W. ("It's all about tonality"!-) OTOH, synthesized, techno, acid punk, heavy metal, new age, pop are equivalent to color photography; jpegs or Raw, with varying post-processing workflow intensity. {vbg}

I had better stop... step back... and duck!!!


It sounds like you have it well in hand. I personally love tube amps but Pass makes an excellent solid state product. Currently I am using a tube pre-amp and a solid state amp. It makes a great combination but I may change my options at any time.

Good luck with your search for the perfect speaker (for you). I am thinking about replacing mine as well and sometimes I think the search is more fun than the actual purchase. I spend some time at each CES listening to options I think might be 'the one" but always come home delighted with the variety but bemused with all the choices.


There are several U.S based speaker manufactures that sell speakers factory direct to you with a very reasonable in-home audition period as long as 120 days. If you are not satisfied within that period, you can have your money back!

They are all manufactured in the U.S with U.S labor as far as I know.

Ohm Speakers is the first that comes to mind. John Strohbeen is well know in the audio circle and provides outstanding service to his customers. I've switched to Ohms 3 years ago and have never looked back since.

Hi Mike,

All I can add is "ugh." Most of my system comprises decent gear bought used (due to taste/income misalignment) so I've been out there on that same limb--luckily without experiencing a similar disappointment.

Can't help but wonder whether they're not counterfeit or somehow altered, but I don't know how you'd verify without finding the same model owned by somebody who'd agree to dismantle one "for science." Yeah, not going to happen.

I'll add for the "why waste your time/money?" folks, you either have the audio bug or you don't. Some enjoy fiddling, tweaking, improving their systems, with the reward (for me anyway) of rediscovering familiar music--hearing it again for "the first time" if you will. I can't adequately describe how much fun that can be--or how frustrating if I experience it in a high-end shop on a $120k system.

Because all the good audio shops in my metroplex have gone out of business, I don't experience that temptation much these days.



I stand corrected


As to formats:

—IPods are iPhones (Of course).

—Boom boxes (are there still any?) are point-and-shoots or travel zooms (depending on "peak power").

—Shortwave radios are underwater cameras.

—Surround sound is panoramic/3D(?).

—Integrated amps/receivers are mirrorless (APS-C's have higher continuous power than m4/3's).

—Separate amps, pre-amps are dSLR's.

—Multiple mono amps, pre-amps are medium format.

As to large format or view cameras, I won't go there. Puny knowledge is hazardous. I'm already walking on thin ice, as it were...

When you eventually find speakers to your taste, I'll be happy to buy those old Tannoys from you !

I demoed several $1000 speakers at a local shop here in Minneapolis at a place called Audio Perfection (run by a blind fellow, which adds to the mystique, haha). I selected the MG12 magneplanars, which are made right here in Minnesota. http://www.magnepan.com/model_MG_12

I really like them. Feels like you are "there." C'mon mike, we are close to your home town.

I'm late to the show as usual, but 11 months ago I replaced an approximately 30 year old moderately high-end system in its entirety. It was the one I bought after graduating from college and working for a while, so I was finally able to afford what I wanted.

Speakers generally being agreed to be the critical component, I spent hours auditioning speakers during the middle of the week at the mid-end specialty stores that were available at the time before making my choice. I loved the speakers I settled on, and possibly I should have simply replaced the decayed rubber surrounds a second time ;-)

Instead, with my options for auditioning replacements essentially nil, I played Internet Roulette, reading the available "reviews", and making my choice.

11 months later, after continuing dissatisfaction with my choices, I rolled the dice again. (For discontinued and discounted but new elecrtostatics, since someone mentioned electrostatics earlier.)

I'm a lot happier with the results of my second attempt, but the inability to audition something as fundamental as a pair of speakers is really discouraging, and gnaws at my mind.

Fake speakers? Sure there are fake speakers! There's lots of fakes of vintage Rogers LS-3/5A speakers coming out of China. They get sold to suckers on eBay. The genuine ones are fetching crazy money prices.

I bought a pair in England in 1978, and they are worth a lot more than they were new, probably even corrected for inflation. They aren't my primary speakers anymore, not appropriate for a 15 x 25 foot living room. But they are very wonderful.


I hope you can send them back. Best of luck to you. There are decent speakers out there for a good price, but since everyone's ears are different, reviews tend to be at best a guide of what to go to listen to.

The description of the speaker in question sound very much like Von Schweikerts VR2s. If so, Im afraid you may have purchased a counterfeit pair.
Such warnings are posted on the manufactures website.

No, they aren't Von Schweikerts. It's possible they are counterfeit, however.


Vandersteen 2ce Signatures -- after having used them for 7 years, couldn't recommend them more.

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