What exactly is an “audiophile speaker?”
At Induction Dynamics, we can proudly say that we make audiophile speakers. But the the term “audiophile” gets thrown around rather loosely these days, so what makes a speaker system “audiophile-grade?” Is it a flat frequency response? Low distortion? High-fidelity drivers? High power handling? It seems that every manufacturer claims these specifications as true. So let’s start with the Merriam-Webster definition.
An audiophile, then, is someone who is enthusiastic about faithful audio reproduction. In other words, audiophiles want to hear sound the way that the producer meant for it to be heard. So an audiophile speaker is one that accurately reproduces source material, without added processing, coloration, or distortion.
It’s quite easy to label a speaker as an “audiophile speaker” and list seemingly impressive specifications. Just about every company in the industry does it, so it’s easy see why “audiophile” has just become another buzz word. The problem is, these tests are usually done with sine wave sweeps and white noise. But how often do you listen to white noise? That’s why a true audiophile speaker goes beyond it’s specifications in ways that can’t necessarily be quantized. Here are 4 things to look for:
Although all speakers strive for equal response at all frequencies, a flat response chart does not necessarily merit audiophile speaker status! Frequency response charts are measured by playing a series of one-note tones, with 1 watt of power, from 1 meter away… a situation you are unlikely to ever come across! The material we listen to is made up of hundreds or even thousands of tones of varying amplitude all at once. Although response charts can be a great place to start, driver selection becomes crucial when placing the speaker under any kind of stress – whether it’s caused by a complex soundtrack, deep bass, or just turning up the volume knob!
That’s why Induction Dynamics sources some of the world’s best subwoofers, woofers, midranges, and tweeters from elite manufacturers like Dynaudio. These components utilize responsive diaphragms made from exotic materials, high-excursion cones, and overbuilt motors (for example, our midranges use a 3″ voice coil!) to provide impeccable handling of even the most complex material at any volume.
Although great components are important, a great crossover is too. No one loudspeaker can reproduce the entire threshold of human hearing, so a combination of 2 or more is necessary. The purpose of a crossover is to split the audio signal between these various drivers.
However, crossovers don’t just stop a speaker from playing above or below a certain frequency; they slowly attenuate it. At the crossover points illustrated above, two drivers briefly interact and compete for the same frequencies. These interactions have the potential to cause sharp frequency response spikes and muddy intelligibility. So generally, the “steeper” a crossover, the better it is.
But the more drivers and the steeper the crossover point, the more complex and costly the crossover becomes. Most market audiophile speakers use 3rd or 4th order crossovers at 18-24db per octave, which is very steep. But Induction Dynamics’ patented SX4 crossover takes it to another level by producing crossover points in excess of 30db/octave! This means sound moves smoothly from one speaker to the next, and even helps widen the sound stage.
3) Quality Control
Did you know that typical industry standards allow for 5-10% variance during quality control testing? Yes, this means that you can potentially buy two identical speakers that sound different! Not at Induction Dynamics – each and every crossover we install is manufactured, tested, and hand-adjusted to allow no more than 0.3% variance. Induction Dynamics drivers are also hand-picked and tested to allow no more than 0.5 db variance, which is inaudible to the human ear.
Like an acoustic piano or guitar, the body of the speaker resonates, which means speakers tend to have their own unique sound know as the “timbre.” One of the main goals of cabinet design is to minimize this cabinet resonance. Thin plastics and plywoods are common in the industry – But while those materials save weight, they resonate easily and remain undesirable in a high-fidelity audiophile speaker. Like our drivers and crossovers, Induction Dynamics enclosures are overbuilt with 3/4″ – 1″ medium density fiberboard, reinforced with 0.5″ double baffles (where the speakers are mounted), and heavily braced and deadened internally.
Overwhelmed yet? This blog post only scrapes the tip of the iceberg when it comes to really understanding what goes into a true audiophile speaker. We haven’t even talked about room nodes, dispersion patterns, phase alignment, amplification, or even source material! But that’s for another day. Want more information about audiophile speakers, or audio engineering in general? Leave your questions or comments on our Facebook page or visit one of many online home theater resources, such as AVS Forum, Home Theater Forum, or Audioholics.