Don’t stop the Music, or turn it down…

I have the opportunity to listen to a wide range of speakers, and one thing which often stands out for me is the ability for higher end speakers to cope with complex passages of music.

Often songs start quiet, with maybe a great vocal and cut back instruments, then when the chorus kicks in everything steps up a notch – it’s at this point that often people reach for the volume control to turn the system down. In my experience, with good speakers you do not experience this, they just carry on playing with the treble, midrange, and bass all just playing nicely together.

This year I have loved Gareth Thomas Band‘s album Lady Alien, and track 2 Don’t Stop, really highlights what I’m talking about here. On some speakers the track starts off, the vocal images nicely, the bass from the kick drum is solid and everything’s great, then the electric guitar comes in and we are still doing ok on most speakers, but then just after the minute mark the drums kick in properly. It’s at this point that on some systems you grab the remote and down goes the volume.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to Physics (Unlike Tiens who actually is…) or speaker design for that matter. But I suspect this is because small amounts of distortion is creeping in due to cone break up, and these small blemishes start to muddy the sound, so you lose focus, frequency response and therefore the sound can become flat and harsh.

Jamo C607 Floorstander

I don’t really care so much for technology in speakers for technology’s sake, but I know most speaker companies spend a lot of time talking about technology to minimise cone frequency break up.

I used to think that the more drivers you have the more this phenomenon was reduced, and that certainly can be true when you compare models within a range – For example, this is where the Castle Knight 4 out classes the smaller Knight 3.

But now through my own experience I think it comes down to the driver in respect to cone break up and cabinet design, i.e. the less resonance the better. I use to run Jamo Concert 607’s as my front speakers before I upgraded to my current Paradigm Signature S2’s. Now these are both very different speakers – Rather than describing the differences here’s two photos which I think demonstrate the differences rather well!

Paradigm S2 (Version 2)

Now I should point out that the S2’s sell for more than twice the price of the 607’s, and while that hurt at the time I have never looked back, the S2’s are such an amazing speaker.

When I was comparing the two speakers, one of things I found was on complex tracks the 607s sounded muddy and flat, whereas the S2’s just kept pumping out clear sound – which is incredible when you think what that bass/midrange driver on the Paradigm is being asked to do. Back when Coldplay was good 😉 they released the outstanding Rush of Blood to the Head. The opening track Politik I had always skipped, it just sounded flat, harsh and hard to listen to. One of the wow moments I had with the S2’s was when I put this album on and went, wow, I’ve never heard this song like this before. SOLD.

One of Tiens’ all time favourite speakers are the Jamo Concert 8’s, a very solid 2 way standmount. It’s these same aspects of clarity that shine when listening to complex music, the Concert 8’s just play effortlessly. Tiens has always told me that you get a better image from a standmount over a floorstander in the same range, I think its fair to say that the smaller rigid cabinets help in minimising resonance, but perhaps less is more when it comes to complex music?

So the moral of the story, when auditioning speakers, don’t just listen to the nice easy listening jazz that the Hifi stores and shows will play you, take your own music along that you are familiar with, some quiet, some loud, and make sure you’re in charge of the volume control. 🙂