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  1. #1
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    Sep 2003

    Question about various makes/models of speakers?

    I am relatively new to the audiophile scene but I was wondering what makes certain speakers so much better than others? For instance, you rarely hear people mention such makes as JBL, Infinity etc (speakers are that usually sold by Best Buy, Circuit City ) as opposed to hearing alot about Paradigm, B&W, Mirage etc. Are these speakers that much better than the others? I can't imagine a company like JBL wouldn't have the technology and finances to build speakers as good as those by Paradigm and B&W, just to name a couple of the popular ones on here. My parents have the Infinity Kappa 200 bookshelves with their center and I think that's a fantastic speaker. I am just wondering if I am missing something by not listening to the others. I have a set of Ohm Walsh 5's that my father gave me which I love but I need a smaller bookshelf setup for a NYC apt and was thinking of auditioning the Paradigm Studio 20's and mating that to their center and using an Infinity Intermezzo sub for an HT/Music system. Can anyone share their thoughts on this? Thanks

  2. #2
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    Dec 2003
    I dunno. GM, Ford, and Chrysler have all the assets to be able to make cars like Mercedes and BMW, yet they don't. Zenith and RCA have the resources to be able to make TVs like Philips, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, SONY, Sharp ... and they don't.

    There's nothing wrong with Infinity or JBL. But they are just not as good as the others you mention.

  3. #3
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Dec 2001
    SF Bay Area
    First off, the Infinity Kappa, Intermezzo, and Prelude MTS series are not sold through Circuit City or other mass merchants. Infinity has a separate specialized dealer network for those models.

    The thing about audio is that the product lines are often delineated by territorial exclusivity. JBL used to be sold through a network of independent specialty retailers. But, in the early-80s, they went after the mass market by selling products through big box retailers and discount stores, and this incensed their dealers to the point that long-time dealers dropped the line in droves. In the meantime, several smaller manufacturers filled the void and basically formed the market tiers that you see now. It's no coincidence that brands like Paradigm and Energy emerged around the time that JBL disappeared from higher end specialty audio stores. When you're selling through Circuit City, Best Buy, or WalMart, the market is very price sensitive and not especially quality sensitive.

    JBL is capable of making excellent speakers, and they do ... it's just that their best models are no longer sold in North America. They have practically zero presence with U.S. audio stores that stock high end gear, and there's no way anyone's going to buy a $2,000 speaker at Best Buy. So, the perception of JBL is that they are mass market junk, and a lot of what they sell in North America fits that tag.

    What you get with Paradigm and B&W is more emphasis on the higher end of the market, and they have plenty of support from independent dealers because they do not distribute through mail order or mass merchandising channels. Independent stores like to support companies that don't cut sweetheart deals with their larger competitors. But, there is also more of an emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity. Keep in mind that with Paradigm, B&W, Dynaudio, Energy, PSB, etc., even though they are sold through specialty dealer networks, they are not tiny companies and have plenty of R&D capacity of their own. But, because they're not serving the millions of customers that flood through Best Buy or Circuit City's doors, they don't have to concentrate on producing millions of speakers like some other companies do. Brands that focus on the mass market have to devote a lot of their R&D to high volume low margin manufacturing.

  4. #4
    RGA is offline
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    Nov 2003
    It's a matter of degrees and NICHE markets companies seek out versus the business end and goals of these companies. Companies often that are in the high end sell a LOT less speakers than a company selling at Best Buy. Polk supposedly left the high end market because they were in financial difficulties. So to increase sales they have flooded our Canadian market big box chains like Future Shop(now owned by Best-Buy and basically identical in set-up now). The speaker was never quite good enough though still good, and they were kinda pushed into Future Shop to stay in business. The quality drops because Future Shop and companies like Wal-mart demand a certain price point...they are not going to carry 2k speakers because those don't move as well as $199.00 speakers...floorspace and turnover is key. SO the once $350.00 Polk has to be sold to FS or BB for around $100.00...the company then has to skimp. The name goes into the toilet as it has for JBL as Woochifer notes.

    The British Market supposedly has some very good JBL models and still has some upper level 2k zone Polk Audios. For whatever reason these companies don't get nailed over there. Perhaps there is no big box chain like BB or FS or walmart that suck the life out of quality. I buy from these companies don't get me wrong.

    Then you move up to the mid range companies like Mission and Energy and Paradigm etc. In Canada you'll find these in stores like Audio Video Unlimited and A&B sound and various equivelants in Eastern Canada. These typically are the next step up. The companies carry a better line of receivers such as Denon, Onkyo and Yamaha. They are what would I would call call mediium box chains. The price roughly doubles or triples and you're getting a fairly good improvement. You'll find that some of their models will "crossover" to some high end outlets. Usually the high end stores might carry these companies' BEST products as that stores entry level gear.

    For instance Audio Vide Unlimed the medium box chain carries Paradigm Studio as that stores BEST offerring. A&B Sound carries Mission and Energy and that store's best line is probably the Energy Veritas(Energy's upmarket speakers from 2-4k CDN).

    The high end outlet here will carries Paradigm and the Studios and some good values from Wharfedale as entry level products or home theater based products. These kinds of stores wil then carry names most average people have never ever heard of and will likely nevver hear those products. Not unlike most people never driving a Rolls Royce or top flight Ferarri etc.

    The best thing most people can do in some ways is to not know what they're missing. I mean it seriously and not condecendingly. If you love cars and drive a Rolls and you leave the experience thinking and feeling that it's just so superior to other cars(only an example your taste could be top of the line sports car at 1/2 mill) then youmay perceive your Honda Civic in a different light. It does not make the Honda or Polk any worse thatn it was before...but now you have perhaps a different view of the product. The Polk which was once the Best speaker i have ever heard sentence shifts perhaps to the Polk is a good value for money but totally outclassed by the Martin Logan Statement, Dynaudio Evidence line, B&W Model Nautilus, AN E/SEC(gotta put it in), and several several others- in every conceivable soncic way.

    A lot of sub 1k speakers use very similar designs and sound pretty similar as well. You will see most of these speakers are designed with cost compromises, with an eye on shipping(this can determine the shape of the speaker), wood construction...good wood and lots of cheap foam inside to make up for the lousy wood? Others will jack up the treble response in order to have a shoppers ear focus on the highs and ignore problems in the midrange. You go into most Big box stores and what do MOST of them do?

    First of all they will hjave a sub cranked full on but not to too much distortion levels. Chances are they will have the surround mode you are listening to 5 or more speakers not just the front left/right. They will have the treble way up. The room won't be great. They will have Jurassic Park on DVD and they will show the scene where the T-REX flips over the car and screams at the humans. You hear the intense bone crushing bass, you hear the glass shatter with extreme highs, you will hear the big LOUD very loud ROAR of the dyno and you're like:

    "Holy Crap that was awesome." Unfortunately, they do this in medium box chains as well, and it tells you absolutely zilch about whether the TWO front speakers can do justice to a cello. The last thing they want you to hear is actual music They want you to hear the fireworks the long term shallow but initially impressive frequency extremes...impressive but unnatural.

    Indeed the medium box chains have good equipment hooked up good rooms etc. But listening to the Studio 100 V2 in a good store like Soundhounds with good equipment well set-up without DSP modes told me that the speaker is actually quite good. Listening to the Studio 100V3(the newer supposedly BETTER model) at The medium box chain with even more expensive(quadruple the money) separates from Anthem and I was sorely dissapointed by the sound. Has nothing to do with the speaker but the sub was cranked full on and can damage your hearing, the center channel was on as was the surround...and you're left going well that may walk away thinking Paradigm or Anthem sucked...If you have heard good set-ups anyway.

    But these stores prey on those walk buys who will get duped into the popmps and pipes. Admittedly with the Paradigms they'll end up with a very good set-up most likely anyway...but this sort of thing could just as easily been produced by Bose...and then you're stuck with total dreck.

    GO to a high end dealer, hear high end world class speakers in world class set-ups with world class equipment. Then you have a reference point to judge. These stores contrary to some myths actually do sell very very affordable equipment.

    In fact I can put together systems for people that far outclass what Future Shop sells for the same and in some cases a lot less money. provided 2 channel music is the goal.

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