Loudspeaker development is at something of an impass. The products, measuring systems, and design programs have become so good that there is a lot of commonality between the bigger brands. A good loudspeaker often sounds like other good loudspeakers. This can be viewed in two ways: either there is convergence because we are getting closer to a notional ideal, or speakers are getting a wee bit bland in their old age!
Personally, I think both sides of the argument hold a lot of water. The technology used in the latest loudspeakers is in constant development, but many manufacturers are relying on the same handful of drive unit suppliers for their latest cabinet. If you use the same tests with the same drive units in a similar sized cabinet, you'll get similar results. Not identical, and there are significant variations to be had in terms of cabinet rigidity, chambering, porting, damping, and crossover tweaking, but the breed stock is relatively fixed.
There is also a drive to make products ‘safe sounding' because that will maximise the number of units sold. While such loudspeakers are often extremely good, no-one at the Smithsonian Institute is going to put one next to the AR-3 loudspeaker.
We've consciously tried to avoid this levelling out of loudspeaker design in an issue packed with the things! There are loudspeakers of all shapes and sizes, active, passive, big, small, net connected or traditional, and we have gone for the best of breed, rather than the different for the sake of being different. It's a broad church, however; possibly the broadest in all of audio.
There is a change coming in audio that we are just beginning to see permeate the upper regions. Increasingly Linn's ‘the source is in the speaker' soundbyte is becoming more commonplace as manufacturers seek new ways of integrating digital source electronics within transducers. Of course, none of this will affect the majority of loudspeakers sold on the domestic market, which will distinct from associated source and amplification components, but it will be interesting to see just how significant the changes to the face of audio will be maybe five years from now.
Our congratulations go out to Alec Fray, who wins our outstanding Synergistic Research competition. He will receive a Atmosphere Level 2 power cord worth $1995!