The Not So Ultimate Speaker Shootout

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by Tomorrow, Oct 25, 2007.

  1. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Have you ever had too much time on your hands and not enough money? Or too much equipment and not enough parameters to measure. How about too much silliness and not enough factuality?! ;)

    Yesterday, AverageJoe, AKA Mr. Strongbackspeakerlugger, and I ran a Super-Duper-Pooper-Scooper Loudspeaker Shootout that would make ol' Craigsub toss his cookies into his martini. We were so bad that even Craig's mortal enemies, those eebidoo Axxxxx fanboys from AVS, won't touch our methodology with a ten-foot tazer. I'll tell you right here, right now, that we met those conditions in paragraph 1 stone cold sober (which you'll wish you weren't) to boot (which is what you might wanna give us after finishing this post).

    Naw...this is all in good fun and better yet, in good taste. I strongly urge the reader to stick with us, because there's a way-cool bonus finding that I'll report on at the end of the review.

    THE GOAL
    We wanted to compare and contrast, shootout style, 8 pair of semi-classic loudspeakers of miminal value or concern to anyone. Thus, no one will take us to task for any speaker assassinations.

    THE EQUIPMENT
    The speakers were excess items we have lying around our respective domiciles. They included a pair each of ACI LX (1989) JBL J350 (1982), JBL Studio S38 (2001), JBL E30 (2005), KLH 17 (1968), Advent One (1974), Infinity Reference One (1992), and Infinity Reference RS (1992). We used nothing but the finest front-end equipment, a ~1992 Onkyo TX-8511 receiver (105 watts/channel), a highly modded JVC XL-Z1050 cdp, and an LXI Series cdp (~1994). All interconnects were Audioquest.

    THE AUDITION ROOM (?)
    I carefully selected a representative room, filled to distraction with 'treatments' and reflection-killers...sort of. This acoustically perfect men's room, as you can see from the attached pictures was my .... uh ... garage. We might have had a little problem with the lack of carpeting. (But oh, think of the great bass enhancement! :) )

    THE METHODOLOGY
    After some initial discussions, we decided to pay no attention to the efficiency of the speakers, since all but one pair (or maybe two) pair were roughly measured at 90db @ 1 meter and showed a nominal resistance of 8 ohms. So we just compared one speaker with the next, rough level matching was done using an SPL meter, starting with the largest (JBL J350) and A/B switched to a blind (well, closed-eyed) listener, until we worked our way down to the two smallest speakers, the Infinity Reference RS. We then re-compared our favorites, just for fun. Music was provided by Little Feat, Steely Dan, and principly Sevenmoore (Spring Street and Touch off their first album).

    THE OOPS-AH FACTOR
    Midway through testing, we took time to hook up a spectrum analyzer to determine whether we could quantify our perceptions a bit. Unfortunately, AverageJoe left his good, calibrated sound card at home. We used his old one and the entire thing was so slow I could have drawn the waveforms quicker using free-hand. :( While we were fooling with the S.A. some gremlin snuck into our shootout and fiddle-furted with the receiver. We completely lost the left side of both the A and the B outputs to the speakers. Now, Joe being the wise guy that he is, suggested that the Audioquests were perhaps engaged into the equipment BACKWARDS. (MDS, I know you'll love this.) Sure enough, there were the little arrows on one set of interconnects pointing the wrong way. (Oh my! Had the direction of the electron flow reversed?!) Well....as soon as we stopped laughing, we dug a little deeper into the mystery. Perhaps I shorted the amp section on that side when I made the last speaker switch? (OH NO!!) No way of knowing now. Just to prove the case, we reset the speaker cables 3 or 4 times....just to be sure. Nope. No help. Then it dawned on me. I knew the answer from an old, old (only I am old enough to remember this) joke. This guy's car engine fails in the middle of nowhere. He calls the nearest mechanic and hours later out comes this haggered fellow and asks the problem. The fitful traveller tells him the engine just quit. So the pseudo-mechanic goes back to his truck, picks up a hammer, walks back to the stalled car and hits it hard in the engine block. VOILA! The engine started right up. The traveller was much pleased and asked how much for the service. The mechanic said, "A hunnert bucks." "WHAT?!! All you did was hit my engine with a hammer. That's not worth a hundred dollars!" The mechanic then said, "Nope, that was just a dollar. It's 99 bucks to know where to hit it!" Long story short...I whacked the top of the receiver with my hand and the old gal just fired right up! HA! Do I know how to work with old crap or what?! (By the way, watching a 62 year old guy roll around a garage floor laughing his butt off is not a pretty sight, I think.)

    THE RESULTS
    The JBL J350's offered a s m o o t h FR and ultimately just slightly gained our preference over the Advents. The latter were beautifully articulate and preferred for acoustic types of music. The JBL's acquitted themselves better with rock/electric. It would be difficult to say which of these two we would select if given just one choice. Both were very clean and crisp and musical. Pretty much our preferences followed the size of the speakers...with one exception. The ACI's were almost on a par with the Advents. These ACI's were built from a kit two decades ago. In the meantime someone either built the binding posts backwards or swapped the nuts on the posts. They performed well below our expectations until Joe noticed the anomaly. We switched posts to get them in phase, and whoa...what a nice surprise. They posted the best score of the smaller 2-ways (just not quite up to the quality of the 33 year-old Advents and their much larger drivers).

    PRESENTATION SUMMARY (from largest to smallest)
    JBL J350's...An acoustic suspension design with a smooth and neutral sound, great FR, quality sound that would be fine for music and has the dynamics for HT, typical good quality performance from the world's largest manufacturer. As Joe said, "They must have learned how to make speakers with all that experience."
    Advent Ones...Clearly the most articulate and musical of the 8 pair. Dropped off just a hair in the mids and caused us to open up the spectrum analyzer trying to see what was missing. But a marvelous old speaker. The sound stage was huge and very 3-dimensional.
    KLH-17's...Not so good. Not bad either. Joe's comment..."I guess Henry Kloss learned something during his time with KLH (before designing the Advent).
    JBL S38's...These are basically the typical JBL sound again with a nice, smooth and extended FR. Sounded just a tad boomy to me and lacked a clean top end that would have made symbals and tophats more enjoyable.
    JBL E30's...Very similar to the S38's, but with less bottom (too much less) but a slightly nice top end. Again, a standard JBL neutral sound presence.
    ACI LX...These are amazing little speakers. They performed right up there with the Advents, lacking only the tiniest bit of top end airiness in comparison. Even though they sport an 8" mid driver, they'd benefit from a sub. (Only the Advents and J350's, and on the outside...the S38's could present a full audio picture sub-less.)
    Infinity Reference One...(Such a long name. Sigh.) Nice looking. Small speaker that couldn't keep up with the others. I use it for my rear surrounds in my 7.2 HT. Good enough for that use. They look good sitting on the oak kitchen cabinets.
    Infinity Reference RS...These are my garage speakers. Kind of nice embedded tv style sound, lol. These are mated with the BangOnMeToGetMeWorking Onkyo.

    SURPRISES OF THE SHOOTOUT
    The E30's were amongst the cheapest of the speakers tested. They were nearly the equal of the S38's (the other 3-ways, along with the J350's) in all areas except extension. Surprise number 2...The type of music you play drastically alters your perception of speaker performance! The J350's ability to handle all types of music generally better than the airier Advents put it on top of our preference list.

    THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
    Sometimes I wish I still enjoyed an occasional adult beverage, as that would have made the day even more fun! Joe and I had a great time, in spite of the lack of suds, however.

    OKAY...BONUS TIME FOR READING THIS FAR!
    (Mtry...are you paying attention?! ;) ) I made copies of two of our test cds (Sevenmoore and Little Feat). We cued up both cd players on our chosen selection. Now I'd like you all to clearly know what that LSI cdp is that I mentioned at the top of this post. It's a $5 yard sale cdp made by Who-Knows and sold by Sears! The JVC is a touted and prized transport/cdp that has been highly modded by a company that shall not be named and costs 100 times as much. We connected both to the receiver and began blind switching. Ha haaaaa. Which do you think won? Eh? Golden ears anyone? Mtry knows. THEY WERE INDISTINGUISHABLE!! One is a little nicer looking and is .. uh .. larger. It's tray is silky smooth and it lacks the clankity-clack of the Sears model. But when played...they were truly, absolutely, and with finality, indistinguishable.

    So there ya go. If anyone wants our speaker evaluation services, we don't charge much. LOL. From past comparisons, we believe that these old timers are every bit the equivalent of the latest ID brand, middle-of-the-road priced speakers and more than a few boutique numbers, too. Buy used speakers...save a tree.

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    Last edited: Oct 25, 2007
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  2. mike c Audioholic Warlord

    mike c
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    good one! looks like you guys had fun!
  3. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Indeed, we had a whopping good time. Just don't tell the wives what we did with the rugs and blankets. :D

    I made a late editorial change in the text of Post #1. It reflects what was immediately obvious about the room. It was VERY acoustically challenged. The water heater and furnace caused much audio annoyance. Yet the speakers performed admirably with decent separation and staging. The Advents in particular maintained a stunning 3-dimensional character that made you want to put on those old plastic/cardboard 3-D glasses and watch a movie at the same time. ;)

    By the way, you can see AverageJoe in the background of the wide angle photos. ;)
  4. Rickster71 Audioholic Spartan

    Rickster71
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    Great job!

    A few questions if I may?
    So which one had the most Chocolaty lows?
    All this, without beer?

    The bass trap on the left, looks a lot like a hot water heater.:D
  5. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Rickster! That's no ordinary water heater. That's a 40 gallon bass diffuser! (T'aint cheap...lemme tell ya.) Imagine those long sound waves wrapping themselves peacefully around the diffuser, only to be trapped by a heated corner! Bye bye 60 Hz hump. ;)

    Yeah...the no beer part was tough. But we had a belly-full of sausage and bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and toast and salsa fresca and Black Butte coffee.

    And chocolatey lows? Naw, we only have chocolatey mids...just above the belt line. :eek:
  6. mtrycrafts Audioholic Slumlord

    mtrycrafts
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    Boy, it was hard to get this far, almost passed it up:D
    Nostalgic speakers. Who has all these speakers, the neighbors?;)
    Great, thanks:D
  7. Wafflesomd Senior Audioholic

    Wafflesomd
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    Friend has a pair of those JBL's. I would agree that they sound good.
  8. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Aw, you had nuthin' better to do, anyway. You might as well read about the fun had by your AH brethren. And now you have a 'detailed' study to reference or footnote to the next poor soul who says he can 'hear the difference'. ;)

    "all these speakers"...? Very funny. Yeah, they're all mine except for the E30's and KLH's which were AJ's. Stands were also courtesy of AverageJoe. It's funny how one accumulates all this crap after many years. I'm running out of storage place for all my old toys. (But isn't this a universal manly problem? What say you, Majorloser?) Anyway, who can afford new, pretty ones? But I should say that I'm a piker when it comes to speaker hoarding. Joe was kind enough to only bring a smattering of his huge collection of old goodies :D (Meant in the kindest of ways, Joe. :))
  9. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Thanks, Wafflesomd.

    I don't think much has been gained in speaker improvement over the last couple of decades. Surely driver materials and crossover technologies have advanced. But transferring audio to the ears is still a subjective balancing act of preferences and subtle auditory differences. I have a much newer set of JBL's for my home theater, and they differ little from the old J350's.

    But then I believe one can get away with more design compromises for HT rather than studied 2-channel listening...especially if you have a decent dynamic loudspeaker setup such as JBL usually provides. For vintage 2-channel I'd want some old Quads or Infinity Kappas.
  10. gmichael Audioholic Spartan

    gmichael
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    I did my bedroom system with JBL E-20's. They're not a bad little speaker IMO.
  11. AverageJoe Full Audioholic

    AverageJoe
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    ...and it was such a good likeness, I changed my avatar.
  12. majorloser Moderator

    majorloser
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    Let me guess.....Wildflower Grill? This was the best part of the day. With a little marionberry preserves.....:rolleyes:

    Sorry I couldn't have been there for the fun (or at least breakfast). I would have thrown a few more speakers into the mix.

    Just give me a little more time :eek:
  13. Tomorrow Audioholic Ninja

    Tomorrow
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    Ah, you know me well!

    We're waitin'...........................................................................:cool:
  14. FguerraG Junior Audioholic

    FguerraG
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    This is just awesome!

    Bet you had a lot of fun! :cool:
  15. Davemcc Audioholic Spartan

    Davemcc
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    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. This is a hobby. It's supposed to be fun. It's nice to get out of the mold of shopping for that next greatest upgrade and take a look what's already out there.

    This makes me want to hit up the local pawn shops and yard sales for vintage bargains. It also makes me want to rebuild my vintage Sansui speakers, but I haven't quite figured out how or where to get the right drivers.

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