Best HiFi Speakers

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

What happend to the hifi 10 thousand dollars speakrs of the 1990s?

ido on speakers 2021-02-05
Discord, ido on speakers 2021-02-05

hifi expert Ido answers.

Few things to add about hifi audio, these are generalities but without going into the pedantic details, can be considered truths. 90% of what matters is the speaker. If you have a $500 budget, you should spend $300-400 on the speakers. The rest of the electronics is inconsequential compared to the speakers. Xah was curious about what has changed in the last 20 years in hi-fi audio to now. Prices have come way down to give 90% of the experience at consumer prices. A knowledgeable $300 speaker choice can sound amazing.

Concentric driver design

As far as specific technologies, some examples are concentric driver design. This is where the tweeter is designed in the center of the midrange, instead of the tweeter appearing above. In classic design, with tweeter on top, midrange driver in the middle, and bass on the bottom.

KEF Q150 Bookshelf Speakers
KEF Q150 Bookshelf Speakers Buy at amazon
Concentric driver design, where the tweeter is in the middle of the midrange driver.

The purpose of a concentric driver design is to improve imaging (the illusion that the sound is coming from a stage in front of you, instead of from two speakers). Two companies that have adopted the concentric design in most of their speaker lineup is KEF and ELAC, for example. Other companies don't believe in the concentric design, and continue in the traditional way.

Powered Speakers

Another modern trend are powered speakers that have the amplifier built inside, and digital sound processing to shape the sound to more neutral, or bump up some qualities that people may like, like the low end. So instead of having to buy speakers, then an amp and dac, you just buy speakers where those electronics are inside, and they work surprisingly great in a convenient package. Examples of these powered speakers are my favorite brand, Vanatoo, which makes the best desktop speaker for $350-500:

Vanatoo Transparent Powered Speakers
Vanatoo Transparent Powered Speakers Buy at amazon

Wide Connectivity

Another modern feature these days is wide connectivity. The Vanatoo speakers for example have USB, Bluetooth, analog, coax, toslink. They automatically detect an incoming audio signal and switch to it, which provides a lot of convenience -- my Vanatoo speakers are permanently connected to a desktop computer via USB, but anytime i tap on my phone and connect to them with Bluetooth and start playing a song, i hear the music instantly. So the convenience factor these days is high.

Room Correction

Another modern product is room correction for consumer prices. A company called MiniDSP makes little gadgets with a microphone that listen to your room, and then corrects your audio signal so that it makes up for the interference that your room geometry causes. It has great reviews in improving the overall sound.

miniDSP2x4HD YMSXf
Buy at amazon

MiniDSP 2x4 HD, a USB DAC+DSP in a low cost package powered by a powerful Sharc 400MHz floating point DSP. The upgraded on-board 400 MHz Analog Devices SHARC processor also enables substantial processing upgrades previously available only on more expensive platforms, such as 96 kHz internal processing for true high-resolution audio capability.

bottom line

So what is the bottom line? Modern 2021 speaker industry has brought 90% of the best sound for $300-500. The high end market still remains, and there are speakers sold for $10k, $100k, $500k that fill up an entire room. But definitely a market of diminishing returns, and some overlap with a luxury market industry. The upper end prices like that are a niche market with small sales numbers, which reflects in the price. For example, compare the amount of engineering you get in a $100,000 speaker compared to a Porsche car that costs the same amount. The Porsche is a bazillion times more advanced and comes with so much more for your money. But volume and cost and luxury market, etc etc.

For a couple years i got heavily into them and drove all over to showrooms, etc. I listened to the $100k speakers and $100k amps. It's nice but a $500 speakers with room correction is pretty amazing.

Music Media

Oh, i will mention music media. People that like vinyl, like it because of the physical feeling of it, the collectibility, and because it feels like a more dedicated experience -- you are someone who wants to hear the artist's intention and listen to an album from A to Z. I understand that appeal, but i am not into vinyl at all, lol. The convenience of streaming music ≻ *. I learned this the hard way when i went through an annoying process to get accepted onto Redacted, the torrent successor to what.cd. Redacted (and previously what.cd) has an insane Library of Alexandria collection of music downloads. So i went through this stupidly long and annoying process to get onto the private Redacted site. And after doing all of that, do you know how much music i ended up downloading? Nothing. Cause i realized that music streaming is a billion times more convenient, and just works. I know people like Emily have giant collections of music they maintain and organize, that's fine and i get the appeal of that too. Especially if you are into some eclectic music that does not appear on streaming sites. But streaming works great for me.

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