Occasionally, newsworthy articles appear devoted to exposing insider secrets of industries such as retail banking, online stores, insurance companies or car dealerships. A common revelation is that the public is overpaying for underperformance. Some of the practices are not consumer-friendly, so typically a call is made for reform. Consider this an “insider’s secrets” article for the high-end speaker manufacturing industry.
I do not intend to suggest collusion among speaker manufacturers, nor intent to rip off people. I assert that there is a practice among audiophile speaker manufacturers, not all, of course, which arises from practicality but is not audiophile-friendly in terms of performance, the practice of using “good enough” wiring internally. The problem is that far too many speaker manufacturers are not just hinting, but outright boasting of optimum performance when they have clearly not optimized their products. Internal wiring is perhaps the most direct element in taking a speaker to its pinnacle of performance, yet far too many speaker makers fail to do so, and so fail to produce a product which is truly optimized.
Despite fancy finishes, hefty spikes and gnarly binding posts the odds are quite good that the speaker now residing in your listening room has some fairly basic, perhaps “professional audio” grade wiring inside. It may be good enough to get the job done in the same way that some amp manufacturers use good enough transformers, ones which spec out adequately, but that’s about it. I have seen enough insides of audiophile speakers to know that something akin to upper-end Radio Shack or Monster Cable might be used to string together the crossover and drivers. Unless your speaker manufacturer specifically identifies the cabling inside, the odds are that you also have a good enough wire inside your speakers.
That may not be the worst news you have received personally as an audiophile, but it should be concerning enough that audiophiles as a group of consumers demand better. Here is the harsh reality: With standard wiring inside your speakers they don’t sound anywhere near as good as they could; unless the wiring is changed they never will, regardless of claims to the contrary. The industry secret is that a number of high-end speaker makers think that the wiring inside the speakers doesn’t matter all that much! Imagine the expertise, care and build quality heaped upon a speaker system only to have it connected with good enough wires! I consider it a travesty of the audiophile industry. Anyone who has moved to aftermarket power cables and found significant improvement will likely chafe at the idea that the equivalent of a Radio Shack cable has been used permanently inside their speakers!
Excellent, but not ultimate
My grievance is that when speakers are so lovingly, so extremely designed and executed it seems a rather straightforward thing in the overall manufacturing process to obtain higher quality internal wiring. Yet, either due to a designer’s perspective on the efficacy of internal wiring or the extra time in the design process to select a complementary brand of internal cable, often it doesn’t get done.
Upon learning this you may feel shafted because your speakers which cost a bundle were perhaps made with serviceable wiring, not haute cables. What if the product is supposed to be “the best,” yet has obvious signs of cutting corners? Is it purely a case of greed and misrepresentation by the manufacturer? I’m not sure it is always possible to nail down the manufacturer’s intent. But it is a case of the customer not getting what was promised, the ultimate, when they should.
I ran into similar conundrum when I reviewed the Kingsound King III ESL speaker, an outstanding design in terms of performance, yet a cobbling-together of truly economical materials in construction. This speaker with plywood baffles and plastic driver housings, easily bests, sonically, more popular models with metal framing, aluminum trim and big budget advertising. I struggle that the King III is made so economically, but I continue to use it following the review because it’s the best panel under $20K which I have heard, and I have heard a lot of them. I am tantalized to think what could be done in terms of absolute sound quality if the speaker were made with premium parts! Yet, doing so would likely raise the price another 50% over its current $16K.
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