Asus Xonar U7 and Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

Asus Xonar U7

[google-translator]

Asus Xonar U7 – adding a touch of class to your notebook audio

Although we do not as a rule do comparison tests it was interesting to get a contributor write in whom had purchased both the Asus Xonar U7 and the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 external audio interfaces. Here are his comments:

Needing a high quality audio mixer with USB interface I dabbled with the numerous options advertised, sadly the Behringer FCA1616 was out of stock which left me with the Steinberg UR824 and Focusrite 18i20. Both receive equal attention on the forums but the Steinberg was possibly just a bit too heavy in price for my intentions although admittedly the landed price for the Focusrite as advertised at 500U$D came closer to 800$ which could have made the Steinberg a lot more attractive (or buying two FCA1616s). After testing the Focusrite, rip off price or not, my buyer’s remorse quickly dissipated.

For wanting to catch 7.1 surround movies the 18i20 was sometimes a bit of a bind. I use Reaper as my main DAW and as an interface for aspiring musicians it’s really a beautiful piece of equipment but it is a bit heavy to switch back and forth from projects to surround – and no, it’s a simple setup process but I needed something which with only one click of a button would give me music and surround sound with the very necessary option of having USB connectivity or direct hooking to a Bluray player through SPDIF. I looked at the Vantec USB card but this was now obsolete, the supplier recommended the Asus Xonar U7 which I did a little bit of research on and gauging by the glowing reports was a no brainer to purchase.

Looking at the two interfaces side by side one needs to realise that they are completely different, catering for the mid budget professional audio market to the gamer and notebook user looking for better audio quality.

Asus Xonar U7
Asus Xonar U7

Comparison with Realtek HD

Doing a blind listening test on two colleagues the U7 was the winner, not hands down of course – for high quality HD audio (or HRA – high resolution audio) the U7 is good, pretty darned good. By no means is the Realtek a slouch and admittedly a big advantage of the U7 is the software but hey, this is why we have blind listening tests. More about this later.

[GARD]

Scarlett 18i20

The Focusrite Scarlett should cost 5 times that of the U7. It has ADAT out which means an extra 8 input channels which makes the Octo-pre a very useful (and expensive) companion) to add 8 extra input channels. The 18i20 utilises a software mixer called  Mix Control which is also used to configure your inputs/outputs. For a home studio the 18i20 is really a great product. It also has two headphone amplifiers.

What makes the Focusrite more expensive than the U7 is not just build quality but the low noise microphone preamplifiers, all 8 of them. Better known for their ISA 110 mic preamplifiers, Red Range and Rednet used in pro recording studios, the Saffire range became very popular amongst musicians and mid-budget home studio owners. The Saffire range was Firewire powered which unfortunately is in the process of becoming defunct, opening the road to USB class compliant devices, the Scarlett being one of them. Another cost attached to more expensive gear is the DAC. High end DACs cost upwards of 1000$ and this is where many audiophiles believe is the fall down of cheaper, even mid-budget digital devices. More expensive is better. At 500$ therefore the layman would assume that the 18i20 is cheap junk. But it’s not. If you live in the USA, 499$ is possibly pocket change.

The tests: Asus Xonar U7 and Scarlett 18i20

These were done with a Sennheiser 457 and a loaned HD8. Same program material input and different codecs – mp3, wav, wma, ogg and cda. The lossy formats were not all that good, the wma files I thought were a lot better and the cda – well, that’s why we buy cda. But cda is also a bit of a problem because it is not rated as very good audio, indeed only mediocre. You Tube audio brings out the weaknesses on home recordings and where we had professional recordings the sound difference was incredible. All of this is obvious of course. Not so the listening tests. Listening tests are always subjective so if we had to do a test with ten different opinions this may have swayed things a bit but you be the judge, this is not an audiophile portal.

The U7: strong low bass, mids and weaker highs. All high quality program material. Brilliant for gamers of course. Mid budget audio card for your notebook? Very good buy.

The 18i20: strong bass, mids very good, highs great, frequency response on par with the best of them, possibly even the more expensive RMEs but at three times the price point this starts becoming more of a high end showdown and farce. The 18i20 costs 5 times more than the U7 but definitely is not five times the quality from a sound aspect. Is this comparison fair?

[GARD]

Fair Comparison

First of all, for people like ourselves, the non-audiophile community, we need to look at what makes a fair deal and herein lies the problem – not all formats are the same. Our home CD has been recorded at a sample rate of 44.1kbps 16 bit which gives a transfer rate of 1411kbps. MP3 has highest bitrate set to only 320kbps and when recording at 192kHz 24bit the transfer rate is 9216kbps. As your microphone is an analogue device, this signal is first transferred to digital and saved into memory. When you decide to listen to it, it must be downconverted through a DAC to analogue again. Sounds pretty stupid to me but then again digital has a huge advantage, size and SNR (signal to noise ratio). By size, we look at storage medium and recorder and by SNR we need to look no further than having an 8-track magnetic tape recorder which can record 8 tracks simultaneously and playing back with virtually no (realistically speaking, none whatsoever) audible noise. Yes it can be done but not on a standard RTR (reel to reel) and neither will the storage medium cost anywhere near that of a DVD. For all intents and purposes digital is a clear winner unless you opt in to pay over a 100 000$ for a studio 24-track.

Our best quality album we had was a 24-bit/192kHz FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) – we also downloaded a file from eClassical, the track being Soprano and baroque ensemble – H. Purcell: “Sweeter than roses” from this album (1536-1) – Carolyn Sampson, Laurence Cummings, Elizabeth Kenny, Anne-Marie Lasla. Maybe not my kind of music but why listen to good quality rock when you can have classical?

Note: The track above was converted to .wav 192kHz/24bit.

Back to the Test

Both the U7 and 18i20 are designed for a different target market, taking the Focusrite to a gamers party may look snazzy but it sure isn’t practical. The U7 is also likely not to get much appeal in your homestudio rack. Therefore we are not looking at the cons here – they are both completely different products with really great output quality. BTW Asus do make higher end products but so do Focusrite. Emphasis here is on listening pleasure and they both come out looking and sounding pretty damned good.

In my own listening tests I must admit the Focusrite detail at the high end was much crisper than the U7 but using quality headphones and only stereo imaging they are both excellent. We need to stress here that the Focusrite is been used in an area for which it is known, music reproduction, the Asus not. I’ll also stress here that for it’s price I cannot fault the U7. Just as mentioned, you would not drag the 18i20 to a gamers party – the U7 is just so much easier and better for this purpose. Although it’s not something one would like to harp on about, cheap headphones for your listening pleasure just does not cut it. I like the 457s because it’s exceptional value. If I had the money I would buy the HD8’s and more money, the HD-800s.

Depending what you want it for and what you are prepared to pay. There are of course other products on the market which can suit every budget. I own both these products and would buy them again although I would shop around for the 18i20 so as not to feel so blatantly ripped off. As it was our intention to act as a guide not as a bringer of bad news, both these products live up to their hype and are just perfect for music reproduction as well as 7.1 surround sound. The hype is all around silent mic preamps for the 18i20 and for the U7, 114dB SNR. Both of them are extremely quiet.

[GARD]

A word on headphones and audio tracks

The Sennheiser 457 is known to be a bit heavy on bass, the HD8s a better all round performer technically wise. Also poles apart price wise, from 30$ for the 457 to nearly 400 for the HD8. Again not nearly ten times the quality for ten times the price. The AKG K-267 is supposedly better but my personal favourite is the Sennheiser Momentum, unfortunately not available for testing. The HD8 and AKG K-267 are professional DJ headphones, the Momentum more for studio purposes. Listen first, check the seating position on your head – remember you may have to use these for at least 60 minutes at a time. I like the 457s for that exact purpose, bass and all. If you have wads of cash the Sennheiser HD-800 is rated as one of the world’s best.

Now that you have decent set of headphones, great audio interface coupled through USB to your PC we have a really, really huge range of music to listen to. Unfortunately free downloads and pirated music comes with a huge con and besides being locked up or having to face a hefty fine almost all home recorded videos or audio (ripped from DVDs or CDs) really ever sounds the same as the one purchased from the store. Also look at where the material comes from. I won’t rip off the many companies that have their own recording studios and labels suffice to say that the USA and British material was nearly always better than elsewhere. Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water is a case in point. On a good sound system things just came to life with the American label. So distribution under licence can mean many things, as ‘hot off the press’.

Compression is used more and more in the studio and sadly on a good system it shows. If you are planning to pay out some of your hard earned money on a good audio interface remember that a lot of music these days has been ‘modified’ somewhat from the artist to the disk and the dynamic range gets compromised. The general rule of listening to a great artist, with a great dynamic range live – Freddie Mercury would have been one, can sound spectacular on a high end system but it simply sucks when the life is pulled out of the music for broadcasting purposes (high compression on FM) and now sadly, CDs. When purchasing a sound system take your favourite program material with – it’s your ears and your money. Money does not always buy you the best, in many ways our audio industry is lead by marketing, not the other way round. Blind listening tests prove this time and time again.

The Sennheiser HD-800 is not a budget set of headphones, in fact it is regard as one of the best in the industry. We would not use this for gaming just as we would not use a Steinberg 824 or any RME. Know what you want to do and then take it from there. Many music purists have oodles of cash, buy what you can afford but use common sense as well.  Bose 901s are really terrific speakers but for what you pay, most purists are in agreement that they are merely mediocre. I don’t think so.

I liked the Asus Xonar U7 because of it’s simplicity and elegance. Likewise the software. The Scarlett drives my NU4-6000, a powered mixer with equaliser and a Crown XLS-202D. Superb from a recording point of view, making jingles, recording artists and fooling around.

It’s all between the ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mains Transformers – Finding an economical source

Toroidal Mains Transformer

[google-translator]

Where to Buy Mains Transformers

So now you have built your circuit and need a cheap mains transformer to power it. The bad news is that even ‘cheap’ transformers are no longer found on the supplier shelves. By cheap, I mean more economical alternatives. For smaller circuits the tendency is for the user to buy an off the shelf SMPS – the entire supply which for instance can be a 12V 5A, is cheaper than a 12V 1A EI laminated transformer. The pricing has become that ludicrous. There, all along you thought that transformer manufacture was an automated process. Reduction in costs right?

Mains Transformers - Toroidal Mains Transformer
Small Toroidal Transformer (source BillC – Wiki)

Mains Transformers – still better than SMPS

As it stands and I don’t think I am alone in this thought process, laminated and toroidal transformers are more reliable than SMPS, they handle overloads better and are less noisy. Years back we all used English built Douglas transformers. A 200VA device was a large unit. Nowadays the 500VA transformer, a ‘cheap’ Asian import is the same physical size. So if the metal used is the same, the copper comes from South America and the process is nearly all automated why aren’t there more home built transformer companies. Doing a web search will bring up myriads of the ‘big guys’ – all manufacturing transformers in the kW to MW range. Now I can understand the logic here – there is more profits to be made. But what about the home user, the guy looking for a cheap transformer.

I opened a multi-purpose NiCad charger which cost 10$. The transformer was a laminated device with a 12V 1A secondary (assumption by weight, core size and diameter of wire). The same transformer at a popular outlet costs 19$. What to do, what to do?

Winding vs Buying

[GARD]

Although I have the expertise to wind my own transformer, which I have done in repairs years back, it’s time consuming and seldom looks as good as the original. A 300VA toroidal with 30-0-30 secondary costs 100$. A local manufacturer will build you a 1KVA laminated unit for the same price. Audio people like toroidals for some reason or other. There are also audio people that reckon they sound no better than the laminated variety. Toroidals are now also wound through an automated process but their prices have not dropped. In fact they have increased. The excuse is always around copper prices. Just how much did that 2lbs of copper cost then? Buy a 5m length of wire from an outlet specialising in electronics and make a comparison when purchasing 100m from a specialist supplier. In my case, the specialist supplier of 1mm enameled wire was 1/10 the price. And they are still making a profit but on volume. I’m not knocking the electronics shop on the corner – they just don’t move volume.

Shipping Weight of Mains Transformers

Recently I was interested in purchasing a vintage EL34 amplifier off eBay. Amplifier 300U$, shipping over 300U$. Weight is the factor. It’s the factor when importing transformers as well. Transformer design is not a new invention – we cannot build a mains transformer of 1kVA anywhere near the same quality as a specialist. Locally (Cape Town, South Africa) I was quoted 200U$ for 2kVA. This is a very reasonable cost compared to a supplier of 300VA transformers at 100U$ each. 1$ per VA compared to 3. The one specialises in transformers whilst the other does not. Admittedly it’s laminated vs toroidal. Local vs import. So where to from here?

It would be really neat if transformer manufacturer’s could add their company names to our database. In South Africa we have the following reputed companies supplying mains transformer for the DIYer and professional electronics companies:

  • Eloff Transformers – Cape Town (very good alternative to buying ready made, off the shelf)
  • Communica – Cape Town, Pretoria
  • Mantech – Cape Town, Johannesburg
  • Yebo – Cape Town (Plumstead & Bellville)

This listing does not cover all suppliers but the ones which are more common in Cape Town. What about the other regions? Nationally and Internationally? Parts-Ring is not a local or regional directory listing as such, here we have discovered an area of considerable weakness (that of lower VA rated transformers)  – the most expensive component in most projects is going to be the mains transformer, whether 50/60Hz, high frequency, laminated, ferrite or toroidal.

[GARD]

List your business here:  http://www.parts-ring.com/view-business-listing/businesscompany-listing/ (note: if you have not registered as a user yet first you will not have access. If this is the case, go here)

Practical website, strong search and pricing is Farnell:  http://uk.farnell.com/toroidal-power

To finish off, I do believe that as time has moved on mains transformers have become just too darned pricy to believe that margins have remained the same. Local manufacture is key, importing is costing just too much.  Sometimes to finish off a product one needs to dismantle a most usable item for that most important of components – the mains transformer.

 

 

 

What is a Gainclone Amplifier

Gainclone Amplifier

[google-translator]

What is a Gainclone Amplifier?

Although this is an old topic it shows no signs of disappearing off the map.  Wikipedia describes it as such: “Gainclone or chipamp is a type of audio amplifier made by do-it-yourselfers, or individuals interested in DIY audio. It is a design based on high-power integrated circuits, particularly the National Semiconductor Overture series.”

Gainclone Amplifier
Sourced ADX Electronics / Wiki Commons

From our experience most DIYers tend to build their designs around the LM3886 manufactured by Texas Instruments/National Semiconductor, or the LM1876 and LM3875. These amplifiers make for simple building, can be reasonably inexpensive and with good quality power supplies have remarkable output quality. Much of the work done by the DIYer has been around optimising circuit board design for low noise and the almost always bridging of amplifiers. As in all designs keep feedback and input traces as short as possible. With a home brewed switched power supply they are easily adapted for car use, some users even replacing their discrete component devices with 3886s running at +35/-35V rails. Neat little circuit and PCB layout here (we have not tested it). Recommended 8 Ohm load at 70V rails.

[GARD]

The LM3886 is not an expensive chip, usually in the range of a few dollars, mine about 8$ a piece which is considered over-priced.

Gainclone chip LM3886
LM3886

Gainclone Power Amps Vs Voltage Amplifiers and Darlingtons

Although the chip itself has been designed to be used in high end television audio and compact stereos it is often used in home theater systems because of the space factor. Here I am in awe of the uPC2581 and LM4702, two voltage amplifier chips commonly used as drivers in home theater and high powered stereo systems. I believe the uPC2581 is still available, this used to be commonly used in Sony home theater systems e.g. DG500 and DG600 series. Circuits around the more commonly available LM4702 have lent themselves to DIYers whom can experiment with output powers – they are designed to drive single or multiple Darlingtons in the output stage as well as Mosfets. Ideal for experimentation, whereas the 3886 is not as flexible. There is an abundance of schematics on the web covering the 4702 and 2581. The con can be the pricing of power Darlingtons which depending on country of purchase can be exorbitant. This makes the 3886 a very attractive proposition indeed.

Gainclone Chip Counterfeits

Caution: It is believed that the LM3886 and 1876 have been counterfeited. You do get what you pay for, it is best to purchase locally and not from an overseas supplier.

[GARD]

 

Mars Amps

[GARD]

admin 2014-06-03 17:21:12
admin

Company/Business Mars Amps
Website http://www.marsamps.co.za
Business Type Manufacturer
Category/Genre Electronics – Thermionic Tubes – Valves
Posted By
admin

Core Business Manufacturer of Tube amplifiers and Kits
Address 1 Laan Rust
Address 2 1 Pastorie Ave
Suburb Paarl
Town/City Paarl
Region Western Cape
Country South Africa
Zip/Postal Code 7620
Telephone 27724465072
Details/Additional

Mars Stereo kits

If you prefer to build your own audio gear, rather than buy ready built units, you are at the right place.

We cater for the first time solderer as well as the seasoned DIY’er.

Our kits come with schematics and layouts to guide you through the assembly of your self built tube amplifier.

If you would rather build these kits under knowledgeable supervision, contact us to find out where and when our next DIY workshop will be held.


[google-map-v3 width=”600″ height=”350″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”true” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”Laan Rust,1 Pastorie Ave,Paarl,Paarl,Western Cape,South Africa{}1-default.png{}” bubbleautopan=”true” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]

Car Speakers in Home Systems

Car Speakers - Pioneer TS-D720

Car Speakers and Home Systems – a match made in hell?

A very common topic on the forums is whether a car speaker can be used in a home system. My own experience is a simple “why not!”.  It all depends what you have and how you intend to use it. A young African guy walked into my shop one day with a loudspeaker setup, which he called his ‘disco’. Consisting of 2 enclosures with 9 Pioneer 4″ car speakers per enclosure. He had a Kenwood 100 x 100 amplifier where one channel had blown. Those old Kenwoods were virtually bombproof, I don’t know about now. The speaker system actually sounded amazing. All the speakers were front firing so I don’t think he got the idea from Bose. Bose also gets a bad rap – at the time they came out it would have put most youngsters back a few months salary and time hasn’t changed this. They still sound good, I don’t own a set and don’t intend to, but if you know how to set them up and have a decent amplifier they are really good. But I digress, here in essence was a good sounding system with my client using 4″ car speakers.

Car Speakers - Pioneer TS-D720
Pioneer TS-D720

Do we still use disco equipment?

Now I don’t know about you but like most youngsters we all go through a phase of building our own speaker enclosures and put in whatever we can afford. ‘Disco’ in my days always consisted of Fane 12″ 100W speakers. In my case I had this horrid cracking sound which used to come out of the one speaker when driven fairly hard but within spec. Lo and behold a mobile system came to town and the system made the same sound. One needn’t be a rocket scientist to know which speaker make he was using. In time I found a wire (the flexible one 😉 ) running from the cone to terminal broke clean off at the cone – but obviously then it was too late. One does not read about this in the forums but I can tell you that the speaker was used in the early 80s in nearly 90% of the systems I came across. Any event, I made speaker box which had some surplus 6 by 8s from Kenwood. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly they outperformed the Fanes. Perhaps I was a bit put off by the pricing of Fane speakers which in South Africa had miraculously tripled in price over 6 months apparently due to import duty. The agents were quite happy about this of course because I had no doubt that this was a crap line they were playing to all their customers. A Brazilian speaker had made it’s way onto the market at that stage and ate up the Fane fan base. The brand was Novik, different distributor, different “import tax”. Practical Wireless still advertised Fanes at the same price which coincidentally was a third of South African prices even before this special ‘import duty’ was imposed. No, Fane make excellent speakers and I feel their name took a dive because of the unscrupulous way in which the distributor worked. Or was it the reseller, I don’t know – don’t care either. What is relevant to this article though is that people without money had to find alternatives and Novik was one of them.  Car speakers was another. When cranking up the power these audio transducers may just be what you are looking for, affordable and designed to take abuse.

All power and nothing else

Almost all cheap ‘disco’ speakers comprised of 1 or 2 12″ drivers in a box and a piezo horn. These horn speakers usually had horrendous quality but after a few drinks who cares, we don’t hear those high notes anyway. Even at 160W per channel which was big power in the 70s and 80s these sound systems were loud. Quality was never a factor. Times have not changed, we have become mere lemmings in marketing based on kW, no longer watts. Top end sound systems are often less than 100W per channel but every watt is made to count. Just a few dB loss due to inefficiencies in the weakest link, the loudspeaker, makes doing the entire project irrational. Here I will again give my own opinion: powerful amplifiers are cheap and easy to manufacture these days. Powerful amplifiers made to run the whole night with all channels driven simultaneously are not. Amplifier ratings are usually given with only one channel running, the power supply has been cut to the bare minimum and in fact it may not even be designed to run even one channel for more than one hour without giving up the ghost. I have seen this with many home theater systems, they are just not designed for parties. If we look at the actual duty cycle of a home theater system we will quickly determine that we only rely on peak power in bursts for movies. For music, the shortcomings of the supply system becomes evident. Turning up the volume the ensuing distortion is not through a poor power amplifier design but a power supply which is suffering so severely from droop that the amplifier can really no longer reproduce any note or range of frequencies effectively. It becomes a garbled mess.

Car speakers used in HT

So can car speakers be used in home systems? Depends which speaker and how it will be used. The nicest sounding systems I have heard was normally through paper cone loudspeakers. There was no listener fatigue. You could play Mozart and Pink Floyd and not say which genre or music the speaker system was actually designed for. The amplifier was always stereo. The amplifier had no effects or FX. In my experience as well, when making substitutions of speakers in an enclosure designed for this purpose, car speakers needed more power input and there was listener fatigue. What I could afford were Alpines, Kenwoods and Pioneer loose speakers. This was thirty years back – I don’t think we have come that far where speaker systems have become so advanced that the design criteria has changed. They have become definitely superior in what abuse they can take and of course, directly linked, power handling capability. Many installers rely on pot luck, the car is not designed to be an enclosure – if your subs resonated the enclosure walls like that of the metal skin of a car you would quickly discard them. I have used cheap arsed speaker enclosures which weigh next to nothing and the resulting quality is highly suspect, no matter which driver you fit. Strengthen the enclosure, follow tried and trusted techniques to improve the overall imaging which more often than not relies on the internal mechanics of the enclosure and you may be on to a winner. Listening tests on an active studio monitor system which cost 1000$ and then on a home brewed 200$ system using car speakers brought out some rather unsurprising results in 2013. The amplifier was a NAD 7100, the monitors, the active Mackie 624s and home brewed speaker system, 50L enclosure of 18mm MDF with Kenwood 6 x 8s. (KFC-C6894PS).  This was a throwback from the 80s when I built the first car speaker enclosure. At low drive levels the studio monitors outclassed the home brewed speaker system in every aspect. Once we started pushing the Kenwoods I was really pleasantly surprised at the quality. I used these speakers because I have found that Kenwood have a tendency to rather underrate and as most car speakers go they are also not very efficient. The Mackie system was driven from a PC to Focusrite 18i20 via USB. The Kenwood was through PC, 18i20 to NAD. The home brewed system was distinctive in that the bass was more solid than the Mackie but it needed to be driven hard to get there. To say the Mackie system was vastly superior in every aspect would not be accurate – as a studio monitor system they are excellent. The home brewed system wasn’t designed to be a studio monitor, they were actually designed to fit on the rear seats of a friend’s double cab pick-up. Music in the bushveld. Speakers that could be put around the campfire. The Mackies are not designed for this purpose unless you have a very thick wallet and a 220V supply.

Comparisons

The object of the exercise was to do a comparison between a known good system and a home brewed system. It also proved to me that yes, car speakers can be used in a home theater or stereo system – most entry level systems do not have good speaker drivers. Don’t blame Sony, I often hear people griping about their Sony, JVC, Denon and Yamaha systems – they have entry level and high end systems. The speaker system is the most expensive to reproduce on a large scale so short cuts are inevitable. I would not put a cheap set of speakers on a high end amplifier just as one would not use expensive speakers on an entry level amplifier. Matching and power handling is critical and of course, room acoustics. Most young people like their systems loud – by an large, known brand car speakers can be purchased for next to nothing, easily dissipating 100W or more from an amplifier, albeit an efficient system. By examining what you want it for is critical – loads of power, loud and fair to pretty good quality can be had at better bang for your buck than buying a known brand on snob value alone. I leave the technical jargon to the philes and salesmen, good quality car loudspeakers are by no means inferior.

Testing, testing, one two three….

For tests on the two speaker systems I used a Behringer ECM8000, Instek Function generator 8255 and a Hantek 60MHz scope. Readers interested in building their own speaker systems for general listening are advised to stick to known speaker brands, my own experience has proved conclusively time and time again that for the little more money spent extra is well worth it. Although I mentioned that I had bad luck with Fane, this is a well established loudspeaker manufacturer. Their Fane 8-225 mid/bass driver is exceptional value for money and if you do intend to drive your boxes with anything above 100W these are the 8″ drivers to use. Most, if not all enclosure manufacturers do not only rely on theory but listening tests, wood type, bracing, resonance, reflection and where it’s going to be used all play a role. The Mackie studio monitors were on loan from a colleague, he is a respected audio engineer and felt these were a good way to check the final result of the ‘home brewed’ passive speaker system using the Kenwood KFC-C6894PS. The Mackie 624 is designed for the studio, the Kenwoods not. The NAD can push 50W comfortably and to my ears, the quality was surprisingly good. They are not Wilsons and not intended to be. For general all round entertainment on a low budget you will be pleasantly surprised. The boxes I used were 3″ ported, 50L. I tried a sealed enclosure first – I believe the ported system allowed better bass and dynamics. Again one cannot determine what is good or bad for any particular listener, I am inclined to be more critical of expensive systems because we need to get what we pay for. Sometimes it’s only the person that paid the money that can hear things that are non-existent to justify the high cost. When reading reviews from acclaimed critics whom are fortunate enough to have high end systems in for tests it comes as no surprise that often the layman buys on snob value. If your system sounds like crap then check your connections – a lot more functionality is given to some of these entry level systems for the same price you would have paid twenty years back. Sony is an example of this. Get your hands on the technical and service manual on any one of their DG range and ask yourself how a company could manufacture something this sophisticated for a few hundred dollars. The power supply is always the first place companies go to when cutting back. It’s not designed to be a professional audio amplifier and the manufacturer never tells you that it is. For the price you are getting amazing value. If you are a DIYer, this is the first place you should go to in order to improve your system. I mention Sony here because they get some really bad publicity, mostly unwarranted. Just like Behringer.

Entry level speaker systems – and in comes the sub…

Most entry level speaker systems used as the main speakers for home theater sound pretty ‘thin’. The designers rely on a bass bin. Don’t complain about this. For bass response you need large cone diameters, they do not need to be high quality. They will absorb power, loads of power. All the energy needs to go into this. This will be your most expensive purchase. The second will be F, L and center. I purchased expensive surround speakers (the rear variety). It was a waste of money. Any cheap arsed speakers would have been just fine. Know the ranges of musical instruments, frequency responses, crossovers and bi or tri amping. Budget speaker systems can sound expensive if driven correctly. Strip the drivers out of the boxes and look inside. Most of them do not have crossovers these days because a good crossover costs a wad. Active crossovers do not and neither do amplifiers.

In conclusion, my dad built a high end speaker enclosure in the 50s or early 60s. He could not afford the driver recommended so used one which he could afford. Much work went into this tuned port system. The walls were cement. The speaker weighed a ton. He really did an exceptional job on the enclosure but the sad thing is he never used it because it sounded horrific.  Looking back, we are doing something right these days. For the price we pay we do get exceptional value. So stop complaining, you could do far worse than using a car speaker. If power is everything then why not stick to car speakers. As we get older the speaker system should get cheaper because we don’t hear the high notes anyway. High energy content will sort that out quickly for you in any event.