In polite conversation with our editor Neil McCauley

Neil, As a listener, a civilian if you like and not an editor how important, in your view, is it for a speaker design to sound full bodied and detailed at low sound pressure levels?

Well I think it’s rather important that, because so many people live in our overcrowded island in restrictive circumstances where if they are at all socially conscious at the sort of time that they might want to listen, they can't really open it up. So to be able to achieve very good results at low intensity levels is actually very important.

Do you suspect that some speaker designs are optimised to sound particularly impressive in a comparative demonstrator at a specific volume and less impressive either side of that optimum volume.

I don't know whether people design speakers with that in mind or not, so I can't answer that question meaningfully.

4 thoughts on “In polite conversation with our editor Neil McCauley

  1. Might I suggest that a speaker *can* only be correct-ish at a single volume level for each piece of music? The Fletcher Munson effect shows us that unless we listen to the music at the ‘correct’ level, we must accept a perceived frequency response that renders the bass and treble anaemic at low levels or exaggerated at high levels. There is no way for a speaker to improve on this on its own. The old loudness button on amplifiers is a crude solution, but obviously anathema to audiophiles. The speaker must therefore be ‘voiced’ for the prospective owner’s listening habits and the speaker’s capabilities. Big speakers can be given a flat response, but smaller ones, only expected to be played at lower levels must be give a bit of a boost at the bottom and top ends if they are going to sound good while sparing the owner the indignity of using tone controls.

    I suspect that any other ‘tricks’ built into the speaker that might be employed to fool the ear into perceiving a satisfying sound at both high and low levels would be very wearing on the ears after a time. How would they work?

    1. Hello Ray. Yes, our opinions correspond with yours. When I do demonstrations of an entire system or when comparing speakers I ‘insist’ that the customer make preferences based on experiences at 3 different SPLs – or intensities as I prefer to describe it. I never creased to be amazed just how many decisions made at intensity ‘a’ are changed when listening at ‘b’ and/or ‘c’.

      Now then … given the varying efficiencies of different speakers, it is illogical when demonstrating pair #1 and pair #2 and setting the volume control at the same point for both parts of the comparison. It’s crazy – unless the efficiency is identical. The sensible way is for the demonstrator to apply a sound pressure level meter and adjust the volume control so that the intensity at where the listener is sitting is as near identical as circumstances allow. I have a lot more to say on this but regretfully can’t find the time right now. Thanks Ray.

      1. Hi Howard. You’ll know much more about it than me, but I guess speaker placement is another means of changing the frequency response without tone controls..? i.e. the bass can be boosted by placing close to walls, treble increased by toe-ing in etc. But it must be a many-dimensioned problem, very room-dependent, and by fixing one aspect of the sound it may break another. All part of the fun I suppose!

        1. Speaker placement as a form of tone control without tone controls? I couldn’t agree more. I once had a very disturbing (sonically, that is) experience with the ever-charming designer of the Bosendorfer (now Brodman) VC7 full range speakers. In plan view, the rotation of the speakers by perhaps only 3 degrees created a rather dramatic change in the tonal balance. Hans Deutsch had anticipated this, but the amount of improvement took him by surprise. Truly serendipity was at work on that day, in that room, with that music at that SPL.

          Re trying to fix one aspect without affecting others is rather tricky. I guess it’s down to experience and this is precisely where a specialist retailer becomes invaluable. More on this when I can get around to it. Meanwhile, than you for your contribution. Howard

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