Does Higher Cost Mean Better Sound? Exploring the Expensive Speaker Debate
Speakers, when considering the breadth of humanity’s history of technological innovation, are a relatively recent phenomenon. The first electric speaker was invented by Johann Philipp Reis in 1861 for use on early telephones, but sound quality was poor and muffled. By 1924, Chester Rice and Edward W. Kellogg would patent the “moving coil”, the basis of modern speaker technology. Since this era, speakers haven’t actually changed all that much, despite the advent of new efficiencies and features. Is it worth, then, buying expensive speakers? Today, we explore the never-ending debate of whether speakers with a higher price tag actually have better sound.
What Goes Into A Speaker?
For most speakers, if you take them apart, you’d find the same ten components. This is because modern speakers pretty much all work the same way: translating electrical signals using a magnet to create audible sound so as to fill your room with anything from Bieber to Bach. First up of these pieces is the Yoke, a large chunk of metal that sits at the back of your speaker to provide stability to the entire assembly, like an anchor would to a ship in rough seas. In front of the Yoke is a magnet, which attracts or repels the voice coil, that itself creates an electromagnet field when electricity is pumped through it. The voice coil is connected to the cone or diaphragm, the large drum shaped piece at the front of your speaker. When your speaker is plugged in, electricity forces the voice coil and the magnet to attract or repel each other, pulling on the drum – it’s that vibration which will ultimately make your music audible.
Beyond these key components, speakers have a number of pieces that collectively are needed in both expensive and affordable models. The front plate is used with the yoke and the magnet to create a full magnetic circuit while the pole piece is a guide inside your speaker for the voice coil’s movements. To prevent the speaker from tearing itself apart as all its internal mechanisms begin to shake and shimmy, there’s the cotton spider, which stops side-to-side motion. Also helping keep the voice coil where it should be is the suspension. Your speaker has a dust cap to keep external particles from getting into the voice coil, the housing or chassis holds everything together in a neat container, and the surround or the front material that connects the cone to the chassis.
Weighing in on Speaker Pricing
While materials, manufacturing techniques, and brands have changed, evolved and adjusted over time, the above components have largely stayed consistent. So what might cause a speaker to cost thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars?
Well, the primary objective, or the prime directive of speaker manufacturers everywhere is to have their product pump out sound that’s as close to reality as possible. So, the sliding scale of pricing should follow that logic: the further away your speaker’s sound output is to reality, the less it should cost. Rather than get lost in numbers, physics, and ohms, you should focus on five speaker characteristics that audiophiles see as most important for reaching the closest to “real” as possible: dynamic range; bass; timbre; size; and build quality.
The first, dynamic range, is best understood as the ability for your speaker to reach higher and higher volume without losing sound quality. The same goes for bass – better speakers, often with a higher price tag, will be able to increase bass without sacrificing tone or acoustics. But the challenge, of course, is that sound quality is ultimately a subjective interpretation, because what might sound good for you will likely not be the same for anyone else. Both in terms of your own biological make up, and your audio preferences, these first three characteristics of expensive speakers will be different for everyone.
What you can control, and spend more money on, however, is both size of speaker and its build quality. On the former, the general audiophile rule of thumb is more surface area means better, or more capability to achieve natural sound. Larger speakers can also incorporate additional “drivers” that convert electricity to sound and can focus on specific audio frequency ranges, making for an improved listening experience. Build quality is also important. You want to find speakers with housing that doesn’t create noise itself, distorting audio coming from your drivers. High end speakers will have more robust construction materials, meaning you can pump more electricity into them without fear of wires melting, materials breaking, or the whole thing degrading.
So, Do I Need to Spend Thousands on Speakers?
The short answer is no. Less expensive speakers come with a vast array of exciting features, including portability, long battery life, Bluetooth and wireless connections, and even water resistance, that complement an outstanding sound experience. Why drop thousands of dollars when you can get largely the same audio quality from a speaker system that costs much, much less. This is the benefit of maturing technology – better materials allow for exceptional output without compromise.
Take for example our Voom 21 speaker set. Inside our incredibly portable device, we’ve included not one but two 5W drivers, a 10W subwoofer, and two passive radiators that together offer best in class sound quality. Coupled with three EQ modes for music enhancement, a 6700mAh battery for 10 hour playtime, and the ability to pair multiple units together, the Voom 21 is an outstanding example of what affordable speakers can be in 2017. And, while no speaker system on the market will get you to perfect realism in terms of audio, the Voom 21 gets pretty close without breaking the bank!
Ultimately, speakers are personal. While bigger models with higher build quality might produce more realistic sound, the average person might never even notice a difference. Affordable speakers can and do project excellent vocals, tremble, bass and midrange sound without compromising on unit longevity. How you enjoy your audio is entirely up to you!
Tell us in the comments below whether you have expensive or more affordable speakers and why you decided to buy them!