One Man's Two Speakers
I have an audiophile friend with good ears who owns two
very different pairs of speakers. The brands and models aren't important, but the
juxtaposition of the speakers in his life is. One is a medium-sized three-way floorstander
that uses dynamic drivers and is ported in the rear. The other is a true two-way studio
monitor that's powered internally. It uses a 1" tweeter and 8 3/4" woofer, both
of which are driven by separate fully balanced amplifiers. What would interest some about
this small speaker is its on-axis anechoic measurements -- pro companies include these as
a matter of course for the speakers they sell. They give buyers, who are musicians and
recording engineers, a visual representation of the speaker's output and the peace of mind
that comes with it.
I've included a scan of the chart that came with my
friend's speakers, which shows that they measure incredibly flat from around 40Hz to
20kHz. The chart is small and the vertical scale is 10dB between major increments, so
obviously there's some variation over the speaker's bandwidth, but it's notably low --
lower than just about every speaker we've measured at the NRC, and that's a lot of
The floorstanding speaker my friend owns measures well too,
but it's not nearly as flat as his pro monitors. Interestingly, he uses the floorstanding
speakers in his ground-level listening room with an array of very good electronics (at
least one of which he purchased because of a review I wrote), while the monitors are
relegated to his upstairs office, where they provide background music. He can drive them
with a preamp, while the floorstanders require a full complement of electronics.
I was thinking about these speakers a few days ago when I
talked to him. "Have you used the monitors in your listening room?" I asked.
"Yes, but they can't fill a large space."
"I see. What if they could fill your room like your
larger speakers do? Would you sell the floorstanders and use them?"
"No. They have limitations."
"There is always grain in their sound. Always an
overlay of grain."
"So the speaker is grainy. There's isn't anything in
the chart that would indicate that, although we'd probably need some kind of distortion
measurements to see something."
"I don't think the speaker is the problem. It's the
electronics. You'd have to measure the amps to see where that grain comes from."
I continued my line of questioning. "So if the
monitors could fill your room and weren't grainy, would you use them downstairs?"
"No. Top to bottom, the other speakers are simply
"Why did you buy the monitors then?"
"For the midrange. They are honest to the source in
"That's not enough for you to use them in your
"No. I don't think this translates to realistic
instrumental timbre or a three-dimensional soundstage. In fact, it simply doesn't."
Then there was a pause.
"There's no contest for enjoyment," my friend
said. "The floorstanders are just more enjoyable."
"Following your bliss, I see." I quipped.
There are many possible interpretations for the discussion
I had with my audiophile pal, but the one that I focus on, and the one that I want to make
the point of this editorial, revolves around one word he used: "enjoyment." All
of us are enjoyment seekers, and each of us is an expert on how we can achieve enjoyment.
For my friend, it comes from his larger speakers, even though he owns others that measure
much better, at least in terms of flat on-axis frequency response. He's not interested in
analog playback, for instance, even after hearing me harp on for a year that he should
pull the turntable and records he has stored in his garage and use them. He's happily all
digital -- all CD. Yet, paradoxically, he doesn't own an iPod, and he has no interest in
buying a computer or media server. "My computer system is upstairs, my audio system
is downstairs, and never the two shall meet," he says.
He's stubborn and inconsistent, an audio curmudgeon, but
none of that matters to him. What does is enjoyment -- his enjoyment -- and with
one of his speakers the line for that is off the chart.