PS Audio: Powered speakers

Paul McGowan writes: .... we visualized how cool it would for the high-end loudspeaker guys to solve one of the biggest issues people have with a high-end system in their homes: taking up too much floor space.  To solve this problem, I challenged them to design speakers to be placed 1 foot away from the rear wall – a big challenge.

I started thinking about how I would accomplish this task and the very first thing that came to mind was building everything we need into the loudspeaker so we could manage timing, phase, amplitude and all the problems likely to emerge.  To do this, you’d need the speakers to be powered.  But this brought up an age old question: why do powered speakers not sell?

Some companies continue to require their loudspeakers to be plugged into the wall’s AC outlet: those with built in subwoofers in particular.  But there really aren’t many speakers that have built in full range amplification and that’s a shame.

From a benefit’s side it’s the right thing for designers to do.  No one knows better exactly what the amplification needs of a particular loudspeaker is than the speaker manufacturer.  Further, amplified speakers allow the designers to make better crossovers, tri-amplification and all the good cool things one might want to do.  But they don’t sell.

I think there are a few reasons for this.  First would be our penchant, as Audiophiles, to want to tailor the sound the way we want through equipment choices.  Tube amplifiers give a warmer sound, big solid state amps deliver authoritative performances and so on.  Mixing and matching equipment to achieve our personalized sound preferences is a big part of the high-end and a powered speaker precludes the ability to do this.

Second would be that asking the preamplifier to drive a long interconnect, sometimes over 20 to 30 feet, is a task every preamp isn’t suited for (in fact, most aren’t).  I am sure there are more but those probably cover the majority.

So here’s another challenge to the industry.

With the advent of streaming network audio system solutions like our PerfectWave DAC and Linn’s DS system growing and proliferating into high-end consciousness, wouldn’t the ultimate solution be a pair of loudspeakers, up against the wall – with nothing more than an AC cord attaching them to the power line – be the ultimate product to own?  And if that product surpassed the performance of anything we have today, wouldn’t you want it in your home?

Maybe I am getting too far into the future and forget that people want the multiple pieces of equipment, the mix and match routine (I admit, it is fun), the constant upgrade.  There will always be a place for this activity because it really empowers us to create sound systems that are unique to our personas.   But could we imagine a space where we could have it all?

That might be the challenge.  It sure is cool dreaming about it.


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