A U D I O... P A P E R


by Steve Deckert
Oct. 1997

A gentleman came to me the other day, a pleasant young man who was very intelligent, he needed to install a new computer here in the shop. (We won't get into what happened to the old one!)

He brought in a pair of speakers, one pictured at the left, in hopes that I could repair them for him. I could see he thought they were really good speakers... and I didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise. I hope he doesn't bump into this page, or if he does, I hope he appreciates the education.

After he left it dawned on me that so many people are like him, victims of ignorance, and by no fault of their own... really. So I thought I would just snap a picture of his speaker and use it as a visual aid to help educate the average person of the mass stereo crazed public!


The speaker above looks pretty impressive doesn't it! Gee, with six drivers, the largest one being a 12", it's almost amazing it doesn't cost that much. If you were standing at your favorite stereo superstore looking at this speaker you might think the same thing. Your eyes caress the thick aluminum high tech looking components... and basic logic dictates that with six speakers it has to be better than some of the other cabinets in the room that have less! Then you notice situated just below the triple tweeter array a label that says DIGITAL READY. Well you're sure that must be good because everything today is going digital right? And some of the other speakers don't say that. Your mind begins to race and you pace around the room pretending to look at other speakers while the fantasy of showing these to your friends finishes playing out in your head. The salesman finally shows up and you ask him to play them for you. He turns them on and a'la your preconceived expectations, it sounds great, and loud too. Okay, okay, enough of that... Let's just get into the individual components and see what's really taking place here:

  • The cabinet has the vinyl wood grain look finish, vs. real wood. The salesman explains that's why they cost less. Boy was he right.
  • The completely un-braced back of the cabinet is only 1/2 inch thick. Any time you knock on the sides or back of a speaker and it sounds like a hollow closet, you can be assured it is not a high quality cabinet.
  • The 12 inch woofer at the bottom of the cabinet.... is a passive radiator. A passive radiator is a speaker cone that has no magnet or voice coil. It simply has a weighted center that resonates at a certain frequency. It is an alternate way of "porting" a speaker box. A passive radiator like this costs around $2.00 ea. in mass quantity and here you thought it was a woofer!
  • Above the 12 inch passive and to the left is an 8 inch woofer, which you thought was a big midrange/midbass unit (one of the more technical aspects of the speaker.) In the photo I have it removed and sitting just in front of the cabinet. I wish it had come out in the photo, but this 8" woofer has a smooth poly cone, black in color, with a photographic silk-screened or printed pattern of kevlar so that it looks like an expensive kevlar cone.
  • Continuing to the large midrange above the 8 inch woofer we see an impressive looking device, all screened-in with a complex phase shield in front of the cone. You've seen in magazines that more expensive speakers have these. It's unfortunate that this almost huge midrange that looks machined out of aluminum, is nothing more than a 10 watt 5" paper cone sealed back midrange hidden behind an elaborate plastic housing.
  • And finally moving to the right we have not one but three tweeters! The top tweeter is one of those horizontal ribbon or leaf tweeters that are suppose to be of the best there is. The two rather impressive looking machined tweeters below that, like the "leaf" tweeter above them, can be found to be nothing more than a couple of $1.00 paper 2" tweeters and a round piezo tweeter stuck behind a plastic housing that looks like a "leaf" tweeter.

You see, if this speaker actually had what it appeared to have, that is to say high tech machined aluminum drivers, the components alone would run almost $700.00 for each speaker. Add the cabinets/grills/crossovers etc. and you'd be at around $1,100.00 ea. The irony is that if you found and old Yamaha, or JBL speaker with the real components this speaker tried to look like, they would never have this many drivers, because, generally, it doesn't sound good.

Warning signs are easy to remember:

Tap on the cabinet, sound hollow... walk away.

Lift the cabinet, could you do it with ease?... walk away.

Inspect the speakers... see any plastic?.... walk away.

And finally realize that there is no such thing as really great speakers that somehow cost a fraction of what they should. Use common sense. In the hierarchy of quality, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, today's example rates a 2.5

All I have to say to Kenwood and everyone else who does this is, "Shame on you!" There should be a warning label like cigarettes have that say "Imitation High Quality Speakers."



Decware is a trademark of High Fidelity Engineering Co.
Copyright 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004  2005 2006 2007 2008 by Steve Deckert