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12.2 What should I listen for when evaluating speakers?




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This article is from the rec.audio.* FAQ, by with numerous contributions by Bob Neidorff others.

12.2 What should I listen for when evaluating speakers?

When comparing two speakers side-by-side, doing an AB
comparison, be extremely careful to match the levels before
evaluating. A slight level difference can make one speaker
sound better, even though the difference may not be perceived
as a level difference. Some claim that you will be influenced
by a difference of less than 1/2 dB!

First and foremost, the sound should be natural. If you listen
to vocals, close your eyes and try to picture someone singing in
the same room with you. Does it sound realistic? Likewise with
instruments. You selected recordings of instruments that you
like and have heard live. Do they sound like what you remember
them sounding like live?

Your very first impression should be something like "what nice
sound". If your initial gut reaction is "gosh, what a lot of
detail", the system is likely to be heavy in the treble (often
interpreted by beginners as "more detailed") and you'll probably
find that annoying after a while. If your first reaction is
"hey, what powerful bass", then the system is probably
bass-heavy, rather than ideal. The most common mistake for
beginners is to buy a system with REALLY powerful bass, because
it sounds "impressive" at first. After a while, though, you'll
get tired of being thumped on the head by your music.

Not to say that good bass and treble aren't important. But your
first realization should be that the music is all there, and
that it comes together as good music, without one particular
part trying to dominate it. Sit back and listen to it for a
bit. You should be able to pick out the individual instruments
if you want. They shouldn't force themselves on you, and you
should also be able to hear the music as a single piece, the sum
of its parts, without feeling like each of the instruments is
trying to grab your attention away from the others.

You should check how things sound with the amp turned up, and
also with it turned down to a fairly low volume level. Some
speakers which sound very nice at low levels begin to sound
confused, like they can't cope, when turned up. On the other
hand, some sound nice loud, but sound thin and bodiless when you
turn them down a bit. With the spoken word or female vocalist,
listen for "sibilance", a pronounced 'hiss' at the end of 's'
and 'z' sounds. It shouldn't be there. Most planar speakers
just can't play very loud. Whatever you hear, do some
auditioning at the maximum volume you anticipate ever wanting.

It is acceptable and sometimes desirable to switch the stereo to
mono to evaluate naturalness. Mono is a good test of both the
room and the speakers. The image should be rock-solid dead
center, and not move with signal or level. If it isn't perfect
mono, it will be nearly impossible to create a good stereo.

A speaker in a large box is capable of producing low frequencies
at higher volumes with more efficiency than a small box, but
that doesn't mean that a small box can't have great bass, it
just won't be as efficient and can't play as loud.

Good speakers can "recreate a natural stereo sound stage",
placing some instruments to the left of the left speaker, some
sounds in the middle, and some to the right of the right
speaker. Poorer speakers make it harder to localize voices.

 

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