Make no mistake, speaker manufacture is a fine art
Speakers occupy an interesting space in the audio and hi-fi market. Unlike receivers, amps or playback devices of any ilk the view of technology is different from a speakers perspective because theyre not dictated purely by electronics.
The manufacture of speakers is a craft, an art rather than a science. Sure there are electronics involved in speakers; there are crossovers and in the case of self powered speakers you have amps. But these are blended with so many other sciences all contributing to the development of new speakers.
The technology behind the cones that make up the divers in your speakers often becomes a pursuit of chemistry that seems to have limitless variation.
The speaker boxes themselves, balance of the drivers, crossover, timing and the avoidance of cancellations from the speaker itself is a painstaking process when speaker manufacture is taken seriously.
Its been said before to the point of being a clich: Your speakers are the voice of your sound system. You will hear a lot of good objective advice about buying other forms of gear, about how you can cut costs and what is or is not going to play a dramatic role in the quality of your sound reproduction. But there is no way around the quality of your speakers.
You can have the nicest most powerful system imaginable but use that to power up crummy speakers and youll get crummy sound. Conversely, you can use really nice speakers on any quality amp that is up to the task of providing enough power to the speakers to roll peaks in the soundtrack without clipping, and youve got yourself some incredible sound even if your amplifier is just a budget model.
If there is one place to put your money, its in your speakers. A general rule: people building audio systems should consider the speakers alone some 50% of the total cost of their sound system relative to all other components. If 50% seems wrong, its only because it isnt high enough -- you wont go wrong buying the best quality speakers and everything else on the cheap. After all, you can upgrade your DVD player later when the next generation optical storage media hits the market.
Speaker manufacturers tend to make speakers and nothing else. Often in the case of middle- to high-end speakers like Boston Acoustics and NHT theyll make the amps that power their speakers but nothing outside that.
Its true that Boston Acoustics has ventured into more markets, building amps and more components for your sound system. This is normally a suspect move for any speaker manufacturer and would seem to indicate trying to branch out at a cost to their original goal of manufacturing great speakers. In Boston Acoustics case, theyre also a car audio manufacturer and the car audio world does things a little differently.
Sony is the one manufacturer who tries to be all things to all markets. This makes them masters of none (except maybe TVs), least of all mass produced speakers. Most speaker manufacturers like Klipsch, Polk and B&W have a long history at their craft. They take pride in everything they do down to the woodwork of the boxes.
Speaker manufacturers with a tradition of making speakers tend to have the best product for the price range. The venerable companies like JBL and Klipsch are a great place to start but dont be afraid of some of the newer companies that have established reputations. Paradigm, NHT, Energy and even Hsu Research have gained good reputations with great consumer reviews even for lower budget offerings.
Hsu Research uses an internet sales model similar to Magnepan. Possibly the best sounding speaker youll get for the money is a Maggie. Arm a set of magnepans with a good sub and youve got an award winning speaker system for much less.
Avoid speaker manufacturers that make a lot of other products. If speakers are just a side business to go along with their other lines, chances are youre getting forgettable sound quality. Kenwood makes a nice receiver and they may even be inclined to make a set of speakers to go along, but youre better off with a dedicated speaker engineer. There is no advantage to buying speakers that are the same brand as the amp or receiver. If there is an advantage, its only because theyve got connectors that arent compatible with others you might find in a cheesy setup or Home Theater In A Box, something you should avoid.
Fame and fortune in the speaker industry doesnt mean theyre the best. They may just be good at marketing themselves as being the best. If youre not a real hi-fi fan and havent read many objective reviews online and you happen to have some cash to spend on a quality hi-fi system, dont go with the first brand youve always heard is good. Chances are youd be going with the company that is simply good at marketing themselves rather than research and development. Bose is a prime example of a speaker manufacturer that is simply masterful at marketing and makes wild claims about proprietary technologies that no other speaker manufacturer will make.