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Insights: Indulgences

Shoebox Speakers You don't need the behemoths from your college days to enjoy great sound
Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 2)

Yet the sound from these Danish-made speakers (the company's literature declares "Danes Don't Lie") was astonishing. Sure, they lacked the bass of some of the other larger speakers, but for sheer delineation of sound -- what audiophiles call "soundstaging," in which you hear the placement of instruments -- the Dynaudio 42 was a marvel.

I asked Robert J. Reina, a reviewer for Stereophile magazine who specializes in small speakers, just how these speakers could be so convincing. He ticked off the reasons in quick succession:

"First, you've got new materials that have appeared in the last decade or so," he says. "Things like Teflon capacitors, magnesium woofers, titanium tweeters and aluminum/nickel/cobalt magnets.

"Then, there's been a big improvement in the cabinets. Designers have learned how to brace the cabinets and line them with damping material. If you knock on the cabinets, you'll get a 'thunk.' They'll sound dead. That's good. This gives greater clarity and deeper bass response, as well as naturalness throughout the frequency range.

"Not least," he adds, "is design talent. This is really important. Previously, the best designers specialized only in the most expensive equipment. But in the past decade, there's been a trickle-down. Top designers have turned their attention to smaller, less expensive speakers. And they've gotten very good at designing small speakers."

Speaker designer Paul Paddock agrees. "Even though I am one, I really have to say that the designer is critical. And there's something else that's happened recently that's truly revolutionary that adds to that: computer software.

"A designer can now buy computer software for about $1,000 that replicates perfectly the effects of a large anechoic chamber. You can test your designs in a way that was previously available only to researchers at very big companies or large universities. Today, talented amateur designers can really compete at the very highest levels and create amazing speakers, if they're good enough."

Today's best speakers are not the big honkers we all drooled over in our college days. Sure, they're still being made, and some of them are swell. (And if you have a really big room, you do need a good-sized speaker.) But the "genius speakers," the ones that can rock your world (and your rock music), are now the high-end minimonitors. Give them a listen and you'll agree for yourself.

 

Matt Kramer is a columnist for Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.


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