Can We Speak About a Speaker Upgrade?

July 19, 2019

 

Overview

Speakers – we all have many of them in our lives.  They’re in our cars, our homes, our phones – even our voice assistants have them!  But one speaker is pretty much the same as another, right?  Or is it?

 

 

Background

Speakers have been a passion of mine ever since my father introduced me to high-quality sound when I was around 13.  I’ll never forget the day we first went to the local audio salon and auditioned several different pairs of speakers.  (Yes, in those days there were audio salons, where you sat and listened to music!)  The sound that came out of the best speakers was phenomenal!  I never realized how good music could sound – nor how much difference there was between different speaker brands/models!  In those days, everyone had a good pair of speakers, though.  It was a status symbol.  The bigger the better and the more you could brag about them.  It was a status symbol like owning a luxury car.  But then a couple things happened that changed the audio world, and not for the better, in my humble opinion…

 

 

Satellite/Sub and In-wall Speaker Systems

Around 40 or 50 years ago, a company came up with a novel concept that would later be called a “satellite/subwoofer system”.  The idea was to minimize the size of the speakers by splitting the sound into mids/highs (which would be handled by smaller, “satellite” speakers) and lows (which would be handled by the subwoofer).  In the original case, the subwoofer was the size of a small coffee table, so you literally had to use it as such, because it wasn’t very easy to hide.  Later, however, other companies decided to take the satellite/subwoofer concept a step further.  They made subwoofers the size of satellites and satellites so small that you could hardly see them. 

A few years after the rise of the satellite/subwoofer system, another company came up with an even more designer-friendly idea – the in-wall speaker.  Here the concept was to completely eliminate the speaker box by embedding your speakers into your walls.  The grilles could be painted to match your wall color, so they would hardly be seen.  …Later on, even this idea was taken a step further with in-ceiling speakers that put everything above your head, where you really wouldn’t notice them!

 

 

Physics Still Apply

The point of all this history and background information is to point out that the laws of physics still apply.  Science has yet to come up with an advanced method of reproducing sound, so the physics of doing so is still pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago, during the age of the big-box speakers.  Simply put, for quality, full sound, you ideally need big speakers in heavy, rigid boxes.  Anything that strays from that is an attempt to cheat physics, not a new solution.  If you go to a concert or even your local theater, you’ll notice that big box speakers are still the norm.  They don’t try to fill the hall with tiny phone speakers! 

 

This is not to say that sat/sub, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers cannot sound good – they often do.  I just want to point out that lately I see many people putting physics aside in favor of aesthetics or convenience.  I cringe, for example, every time I see my daughter listening directly to her phone speaker!  It hurts MY ears!  So, the next time you listen to your favorite song, please don’t do it through your phone speakers, or even your voice assistant speakers.  Please at least do it through your home system that at least has a nice pair of high-end in-wall speakers, if not external box speakers.  You owe it to the artist who created the music in the first place!  …If not, maybe it’s time for a speaker upgrade?

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