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Kvalsvoll

Audio in 2015 - a summary of trends

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So, what do you think of this, then.

 

Recently had an old friend visiting, after the demo he says "this makes me want to get in to audio again and build my own system".

Then I thought about all that has happened during the later years, with all the information available on the internet, all the massive builds popping up around everywhere, and how knowledge and new technology like measurement capability at a very reasonable cost has changed the audio world. 

 

I created an article on this, here are the main points listed:

 

1.Dynamics and realism with high efficiency speakers

2.Acoustics

3.Measurement capability

4.Bass systems

5.Scams busted

6.Audibly transparent

 

Link to article:

http://kvalsvoll.blogspot.no/2015/07/audio-in-2015-summary-of-trends.html

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Great article.

 

The ability to create a capable system system is greater now than ever before, with places like DIYSG offering affordable, high-sensitivity speakers that you assemble yourself.

 

The data on room acoustics continues to grow as well, and making your own absorbers and diffusers is very inexpensive if you have basic tools.  There are commercially available units as well.

 

The software available is tremendous.  I just wish that REW could use HDMI out and somehow have a proper loopback/timing reference for more precise delay setting adjustments.

 

 

JSS 

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The software available is tremendous. I just wish that REW could use HDMI out and somehow have a proper loopback/timing reference for more precise delay setting adjustments.

 

You can use a delayed second channel to give a relative offset between two speakers, you need a DSP tool like equaliser apo or jriver in the chain to provide the delay (and possibly to copy the signal to the other channel). You can't do absolute time and phase but relative should be sufficient.

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Never thought about using the hdmi for REW, an obvious solution when you already have the hdmi on the AVR/pro.

So I never knew it does not work, why not?

 

Wonder if it will work on the wondermachine on linux, I have not installed REW on it, but remember thinking about it some time ago.

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Never thought about using the hdmi for REW, an obvious solution when you already have the hdmi on the AVR/pro.

So I never knew it does not work, why not?

 

Wonder if it will work on the wondermachine on linux, I have not installed REW on it, but remember thinking about it some time ago.

It does work on both windows and Linux if you can get the hardware to play nicely. Some hardware and/or drivers can be a bit flaky and Asio4all on windows, required to allow you to expose individual channels, also seems a bit flaky. It is arguably more straightforward on Linux as long as you know your way round alsa devices (or pulse or whatever).

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Great article! I agree that these things are definitely more common though (with speakers and subs) there are always trends that swing one way or another. High sensitivity speakers have been consistently popular this past decade though mostly for us that crave high SPL and dynamics. The conventional dome tweeter and small midbass speaker will always exist and out-sell the cinema type many of us like.

 

The computer software is probably one of the biggest things of the recent decade. Not many people would do it with software. I remember doing my first graphs with a tone generator and drawing dots and connecting them on a piece of paper way back. :P Now it's all automatic and displayed right in front of your eyes in real time. REW is powerful and free! Omnimic is not free but very approachable and turn-key. Fantastic measurement tools nobody should go without.

 

Bass systems have got ridiculous, even more as of recently. I like this trend. Change is good. :D

 

Acoustics have always been a thing and I can see some small gain in use these days but still many people do not use it. Use of this really depends on the environment the user has the system located. Not many people can get away with thick absorbers or crazy diffusers in their living room. I get that.

 

Audibly transparent... I'd like more people to acknowledge this kind of things these days. A lot of 'audiophiles' love to boast on about DAC's and blah blah blah headphones. That' great, bud but in an HT room the DAC's in even the cheapest AVR can sound as good as a $3,000 processor. A room can do a lot more damage to the sound than some microscopic difference in noise floor or a .000001% in THD.

 

 

Anyway... I agree with this whole article. Great write.

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Thanks, @Infrasonic, great comment, if I may say so.

 

Another added value of high efficiency and capacity, along with proper setup using measurements, is that the overall sound quality is greatly improved, and that sound is better even at lower volumes can be surprising.

 

When you have a perfectly smooth bass response, the bass sounds right and good even at low volume, you can play very quiet, and still have a sense of impact and punch, and you can still hear the different bass tones.

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I will add that the switch to a balanced system was significant, especially with high-sensitivity speakers.  

 

REW is terrific.  If you have paypal, donate some $$ to the project to keep it going and keep making it better.

 

JSS

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More dynamic headroom reveals problems that never occurs with the standard "high-end" speakers.

 

Noise is a major problem on AV-receivers/processors, I would take a noise-free pre-out any day over all the new marketing-tech they promote.

A balanced sub out would be a significant improvement.

 

For the next main speakers project it is likely I will need 10dB attenuators on the pre outs to keep noise at acceptable levels.

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I will add that the switch to a balanced system was significant, especially with high-sensitivity speakers. 

Do you use a separate amp?  I have an Emotiva XPA-5 gen2 that I'm pretty happy with, but when I go 2-way active for my mains, I'll need a second 5 channel amp.  I'd rather not have to buy another XPA-5 just to drive horn-loaded compression drivers that don't need a lot of power.  OTOH, I'm not aware of a less expensive multichannel amp that's balanced, other than maybe going pro.  I don't want to go pro because of fan noise and of course the fact that pros usually come in 1, 2, and 4 channel models rather than 5 channels.  I also have limited space and would love it if I could get something a bit smaller and lighter than another XPA-5.

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More dynamic headroom reveals problems that never occurs with the standard "high-end" speakers.

 

Noise is a major problem on AV-receivers/processors, I would take a noise-free pre-out any day over all the new marketing-tech they promote.

A balanced sub out would be a significant improvement.

 

For the next main speakers project it is likely I will need 10dB attenuators on the pre outs to keep noise at acceptable levels.

Add this to the long list of major gripes I have about major AVRs and pre-pros and the whole industry in general.  Looking at the Denon/Marantz line for example, one can get a very competent 5.1 channel AVR for $250 or less, albeit with no pre-outs and with a bunch of extra features that most of us don't need.  How much more would it cost to add some pre-outs?  What if the built-in amps were jettisoned at the same time?  I bet that product would cost even LESS.  But I had to pay $800 for my 3313CI, which at the time was the least expensive Denon model available with unbalanced pre-outs.  What else did I get for > 3X the price?  4k video scaling?  Nevermind that they had to re-write their OSD menus for this to work, and the new system is frustratingly unresponsive at times compared to the older text-like menu on the 2112CI it replaced.  Oh, and I am wasting a lot of power to idle amps that I never use.  If I actually want to turn off said amps, I have to "step up" to the flagship Denon at twice the price.  And even then, I'm still unbalanced.  For balanced output, I need the flagship Marantz at > $3k.  And what do I get from the $3k Marantz, costing 15X as much as the $200 cheapo model, other than balanced pre-outs?  32-bit DACs?  I bet even with balanced connections, the difference between the 24-bit and 32-bit DACs is literally lost in the noise.  This is plain disgusting.

 

So let's put on the "audio innovations wishlist for 2016": availability of AVR/processor models that aren't a massive rip-off.  It appears that almost all the functionality required can be provided by an HTPC.  I say almost, because the one thing the HTPC can't do is accept connections from and switch between multiple HDMI devices.  I guess there may be issues decoding some audio formats as well, but with the right software platform and enough consumer interest, I could definitely see Dolby and DTS tech getting ported over.  It's the HDMI that will be the last holdout here and that will likely ensure we'll continue to purchase AVR/pre-pros at rip-off prices for many years to come.

 

Ehh, sorry for the rant, but I can't be the only one feeling this frustration.

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I feel ya, man. It can be frustrating when trying to get some specific features for a great value.

 

However, these companies exist not because they bring you as a consumer a great value... they exist to make money.

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It appears that almost all the functionality required can be provided by an HTPC.  I say almost, because the one thing the HTPC can't do is accept connections from and switch between multiple HDMI devices.  I guess there may be issues decoding some audio formats as well, but with the right software platform and enough consumer interest, I could definitely see Dolby and DTS tech getting ported over.  It's the HDMI that will be the last holdout here and that will likely ensure we'll continue to purchase AVR/pre-pros at rip-off prices for many years to come.

I've only ever used an HTPC and love having essentially an unlimited number of balanced outputs with 32 bit ESS Sabre DACs, no signal chain rolloff, no noise, tons of EQ options including different bass management based on content and even individual EQ on on file basis if I wanted it. 

 

Being able to actually decode Atmos or DTS:X may not ever happen, but I'm not really interested in them either. I'm fine with True-HD and DTS-HD.

 

Multiple HDMI inputs and switching aren't a problem, but getting the HDMI capture cards to work with all audio types like Dolby Digital Plus is still an issue. Here is one HTPC I built with dual HDMI capture cards and a 4 port HDMI switcher. I think I counted that it could handle output to 26 digital displays. I'm still testing various things. It is HDMI 2.0 complaint for input/output and can handle 4K. 

 

post-42-0-67796000-1437681132_thumb.png

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Atmos and DTS:X will happen here when the software in the wondermachine supports it, and, as you say @mojave, that may never happen, and like you, I have no problem with that.

 

I agree with the above /\ on the AVRs, but still, I think an AVR offers quite a lot for the money. 

If you use it right, it can provide great functionality and great sound.

 

Another friend visited today, and it is always a delight to demo.

I did not hear any complaints about missing atmos or that something was missing at all with the surround sound.

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Do you use a separate amp?  I have an Emotiva XPA-5 gen2 that I'm pretty happy with, but when I go 2-way active for my mains, I'll need a second 5 channel amp.  I'd rather not have to buy another XPA-5 just to drive horn-loaded compression drivers that don't need a lot of power.  OTOH, I'm not aware of a less expensive multichannel amp that's balanced, other than maybe going pro.  I don't want to go pro because of fan noise and of course the fact that pros usually come in 1, 2, and 4 channel models rather than 5 channels.  I also have limited space and would love it if I could get something a bit smaller and lighter than another XPA-5.

 

I use 6 separate amps to drive 7 speakers and eight subs, I have one extra channel avialable that I use for odd testing of stuff.  4 of them do not use fans, and I replaced the fans in the 2 that do to quieter ones.

 

I also use the Denon Pro DN-500AV with all XLR outs.  The noise floor is much quieter than my old AVR, and no hum issues.  I only miss the DynEQ from the AVR.

 

No ceiling channels for me until the formats have proven themselves and we can have multichannel PCM out capability available from the players/HTPCs with proper channel IDs.  You need a high ceiling or a small, fixed LP to really have the ceiling channels make a difference IMO (But I have yet to experience it, so my opinion is essentially invalid), as panned effects between the side surrounds in my HT with surrounds mounted near the ceiling can mimic an overhead channel very well.  To say nothing of the fact that most films are still released in 5.1.

 

JSS

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Hello all

 

Kvalsvoll, as usual, nice job. Quite well done, thought provoking.

 

I'll tell you an ongoing trend I see all too often, primarily with online posts and images, a dramatically unbalanced emphasis on every aspect ... OTHER THAN acoustic optimization.

 

It's something I've seen for many years. Time and time again I see these fantastically capable systems that leave so much performance on the table, both measurably significant and subjectively dramatic.

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@FOH, thank you for the kind words, and the article was not meant to be "nice", sometimes you have to take a stand.

 

Of course no speakers will sound good if you ignore acoustics, and sometimes a few well thought improvements can make the difference.

On the hifi-forums you often see people asking for advice on a new DAC because the bass sounds wrong.

The disaster is then completed by answers that follow up, with suggestions for a DAC known for more precise and accurate bass.

 

When ordinary people then come to visit this local audiophile with the expensive sound system, they conclude that spending money on a sound system is wasted, because what they already have sound just as good to them.

 

Amplifiers - I would like to see power output stages - mono or stereo - in a smaller form factor, like narrow, small front but full depth, so that multiples can fit into my media console along with the computer.

With class-d this can be done, they do not need the large heatsinks.

I have lived with a huge class-A with circuit boards exposed, it is cool and exotic, but now I feel I don't really need to see the amplifiers.

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I feel ya, man. It can be frustrating when trying to get some specific features for a great value.

 

However, these companies exist not because they bring you as a consumer a great value... they exist to make money.

 

 

I agree with the above /\ on the AVRs, but still, I think an AVR offers quite a lot for the money. 

If you use it right, it can provide great functionality and great sound.

As I said, at the few hundred dollar price point, AVRs offer a decent value.  Of course, I still don't need Internet streaming features, and anyone who does should probably just buy a Chromecast or Roku dongle instead.  But consider that if you need any feature above-and-beyond the standard, even one that should be inexpensive (such as pre-outs versus internal amps), you have to pony up a lot more money.  This wouldn't matter if the things weren't obsolete in short order.  Since I stopped having to upgrade my PCs as often as in the "older days", I've tended to spend a bit more on them instead.

 

I realize they are there to make money, and to some extent, the seemingly unreasonable markups on advanced features exist to subsidize R&D into new features that eventually find their way into the high value low-end models.  Still, I think this market is due for disruption soon.  I may be wrong, but I think that AVRs will gradually fade into obscurity being replaced by a variety of gadgets that offer more choices and flexibility for consumers overall.

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I've only ever used an HTPC and love having essentially an unlimited number of balanced outputs with 32 bit ESS Sabre DACs, no signal chain rolloff, no noise, tons of EQ options including different bass management based on content and even individual EQ on on file basis if I wanted it. 

 

Being able to actually decode Atmos or DTS:X may not ever happen, but I'm not really interested in them either. I'm fine with True-HD and DTS-HD.

 

Multiple HDMI inputs and switching aren't a problem, but getting the HDMI capture cards to work with all audio types like Dolby Digital Plus is still an issue. Here is one HTPC I built with dual HDMI capture cards and a 4 port HDMI switcher. I think I counted that it could handle output to 26 digital displays. I'm still testing various things. It is HDMI 2.0 complaint for input/output and can handle 4K. 

 

attachicon.gifHDMI.png

Interesting.  Do you ever have issues relating to HDCP encryption?  Can you point me to more info on these creations?

 

I'm actually looking to build a highly-specialized PC dedicated to audio processing very soon but am planning on going with many analog ins/outs.  It's a bit of a drag to have to have an additional ADC/DAC in the chain, but I tend to think it's a very minor compromise relative to the capabilities it will give me.  I'm planning on running 14 independent audio channels in my living room to 5 speakers (2-way active) and 4 subs.  I'll primarily be using it for room correction, crossovers, bass EQ, and perhaps eventually to handle direct music playback.

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I use 6 separate amps to drive 7 speakers and eight subs, I have one extra channel avialable that I use for odd testing of stuff.  4 of them do not use fans, and I replaced the fans in the 2 that do to quieter ones.

 

I also use the Denon Pro DN-500AV with all XLR outs.  The noise floor is much quieter than my old AVR, and no hum issues.  I only miss the DynEQ from the AVR.

 

My equipment is about 8 feet away from the listeners.  I also have a low in-room noise floor, except in the summer when the HVAC fan stays on all the time..  Aside from the occasional noise intrusion from helicopters, loud vehicles, and occasional neighborhood noise, my room is quiet enough to compete with the noise floor of my UMIK-1.  I can actually hear the transformer humming in my XPA-5 if a scene is quiet enough or if no other sound is playing.  If I get a sub amp, it's going to be installed in the coat closet.  OTOH, it seems like too much hassle with cabling and whatnot to install other amps in there too, but maybe it's worth considering.  I've noticed that some pro amps actually have startlingly high idle power draws.  I guess that it's expected that they'll be running close to capacity in a typical live event, so there's no point in making them efficient when demands are low.

 

So far, I'm running a mixed of unbalanced and balanced with MiniDSP gear in between.  There's just enough hiss noise in the mains to hear it, but I could probably knock it down 10-12 dB or so with a few tweaks.  I had some slight hum from my subs due in part to long unbalanced sub cables running under the floor and enough gain for each to play at 115 dB or so each with a 0.9 V input.  I reduced it a lot by simply making sure the sub cables didn't run too close to a nearby power strip.  Oh yeah, and my room has a strong modal peak at 63 Hz, so I really do consider myself fortunate.

 

I will miss Dynamic EQ if I don't find or create a suitable replacement.  I may experiment with this when I have my new processor running and am not busy playing with other things.

 

No ceiling channels for me until the formats have proven themselves and we can have multichannel PCM out capability available from the players/HTPCs with proper channel IDs.  You need a high ceiling or a small, fixed LP to really have the ceiling channels make a difference IMO (But I have yet to experience it, so my opinion is essentially invalid), as panned effects between the side surrounds in my HT with surrounds mounted near the ceiling can mimic an overhead channel very well.  To say nothing of the fact that most films are still released in 5.1.

 

I have been a pretty strong skeptic of getting any benefit from ceiling channels (or up-firing speakers) in any typical home theater setting.  My living room will remain 5.1 as a matter of keeping things reasonable.  As you say, ceiling speakers are only likely to benefit the MLP, yet IMO, the primary benefit of using multiple ceiling speakers in the theater is better imaging outside the "MLP".  Adding the impression of height can be done without ceiling speakers fairly well using HRTFs.  At least, the effect works great for me.  Some ears may not be as compatible.  Playing a sound through both surrounds with polarity inverted for one of them works pretty well too for a "voice of God" effect.  These tricks are less effective for listeners outside the MLP, which is where you'd rather like to have ceiling speakers if they weren't so close to your head.

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@FOH, thank you for the kind words, and the article was not meant to be "nice", sometimes you have to take a stand.

Of course no speakers will sound good if you ignore acoustics, and sometimes a few well thought improvements can make the difference.

On the hifi-forums you often see people asking for advice on a new DAC because the bass sounds wrong.

The disaster is then completed by answers that follow up, with suggestions for a DAC known for more precise and accurate bass.

 

When ordinary people then come to visit this local audiophile with the expensive sound system, they conclude that spending money on a sound system is wasted, because what they already have sound just as good to them.

 

Haha!  You know, most of the few people who legitimately have a problem with the bass response of their DACs frequent this forum.  Everyone else is just terribly confused.

 

Until only 3 years ago, I also assumed spending money on a sound system was largely wasted, provided that what you have plays loud enough for your tastes.  For many years, I rocked my Bose Interaudio 4000 speakers speakers with a pawn-shop 70s-era Marantz receiver.  Those speakers actually sounded quite good with lots of mid-bass and a very pleasing distortion on the high end.  I knew they weren't perfect, but I was convinced they were good enough.  OK, I wanted a subwoofer, but I couldn't really afford one and needed something that could compete with the 10" woofers and ports on the speakers.

 

I remember when "The Matrix" came out on DVD, I watched it many times on those speakers.  I thought it sounded awesome.  Then a former client of my boss invited us to watch "The Matrix" on his reference system.  This guy owned an audiophile retail shop with 2 channel amps costing 5 figures.  I was totally stoked because I knew the movie so well and loved the sound.  Well, I was totally disappointed.  For starters, the volume wasn't even turned up to any reasonable level.  Like, I maybe listened at what would be "-15" or "-20" from reference and he played it at closer to "-30".  The bass ... wasn't there at all.  Needless to say, I was bored, and thought the whole audiophile thing was a completely joke.  (I know now, it mostly is.)

 

Three years ago, I bought an AVR with Audyssey MultEQ XT.  I didn't buy it for that feature, but after I first ran the auto-setup, I was amazed at how the sound transformed.  It was a long way off from being correct in any sense, but the imaging and overall balance improved in many respects.  What was most striking is how the improvement was a lot more apparent to me than I noticed by merely listening to a "nicer" set of speakers.  That quickly led to my interest in room acoustics (that which is to be "corrected"), and of course that led me to room treatments.  Now I'm a true convert in the sense that I know how good audio can sound.  At the same time, I am a bit of a freak among those who don't give a damn one way or the other.

 

That gets me thinking that I need to show this system off to more people who actually care about audio.  Of course, the better I get at this, the more aware I am of my system's flaws even as it improves with each iteration.  I'm thinking now: "my upper mids and bass are a tad too hot, and I need to fix those issues before I'm really ready to brag.  But of course, I know that EQ won't truely fix my upper mids when what I need is a new crossover and new mains speakers that I haven't finished designing.  And so it goes.

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I'm actually looking to build a highly-specialized PC dedicated to audio processing very soon but am planning on going with many analog ins/outs.  It's a bit of a drag to have to have an additional ADC/DAC in the chain, but I tend to think it's a very minor compromise relative to the capabilities it will give me.  I'm planning on running 14 independent audio channels in my living room to 5 speakers (2-way active) and 4 subs.  I'll primarily be using it for room correction, crossovers, bass EQ, and perhaps eventually to handle direct music playback.

you might find this guys system interesting - http://digitalroomcorrection.hk/category/my-system/- brutefir based for the processing, lots of detail on how it is setup included. I doubt it is specifically what you're looking for but might provide some ideas/food for thought.

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Great story, @SME.

 

I have been building speakers as a hobby since around 13-14 years old, I have had efficient speakers with large midrange horns, the 400l onken-style cabinets with overmotorized 15" drivers, and then got on the wrong path - smaller speakers, dome tweeters and audiophile amplifiers.

Since I designed all my speakers myself, I employed some of the rules I had already learned - use large motor low-q drivers, cover the upper midrange with a separate larger dome, sacrifice low bass for impact and punch.

But 2x6.5" can only get you so far, and compared to the earlier designs there was always something essential that was missing.

 

Just listened to a Rickie Lee Jones release from 1989.

Crest factor approaches 30dB on this pre-loudness-war recording.

Just a tiny +3dB on the bass channel, and master volume at +8dB.

The sound kills the common accepted myth that "you can't reproduce like live concert", "drums never sound realistic".

Well, this sounds quite realistic and also very physical to me. 

I would say it is like live, but without the bad sound.

 

Yes, I am back on the right track now.

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you might find this guys system interesting - http://digitalroomcorrection.hk/category/my-system/- brutefir based for the processing, lots of detail on how it is setup included. I doubt it is specifically what you're looking for but might provide some ideas/food for thought.

 

Thanks for the tip!  Between BruteFIR and the Windows convolver program, I will have a good starting point, code-wise.

 

For the build, I plan to go all-out and use the faster quad core Intel Haswell CPU that I can get for the TDP limit I opt to go with, probably 65 W or so.  I'm looking at putting it in this chassis, installing a half-height AVB bridging PCI-E Ethernet card, and running a real-time variant of Linux.  I'm not sure how much CPU power I need, but I basically want to do matrix FIR processing.  In other words, each input channel can feed into all the different output channels with different filters.  If that box doesn't provide enough CPU, I can just add another one because the beauty of AVB Ethernet is that it is very scalable.  For DAC/ADC, I'm looking at using this.  It's got 16 balanced analog ins and outs at up to 8V, Ethernet AVB, a compact footprint, and a killer price tag.  I am too lazy to dig up the link, but I saw some line measurements suggesting almost no bottom end roll-off.  This combination will make my current MiniDSP stuff look like children's toys.

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I have been building speakers as a hobby since around 13-14 years old, I have had efficient speakers with large midrange horns, the 400l onken-style cabinets with overmotorized 15" drivers, and then got on the wrong path - smaller speakers, dome tweeters and audiophile amplifiers.

Since I designed all my speakers myself, I employed some of the rules I had already learned - use large motor low-q drivers, cover the upper midrange with a separate larger dome, sacrifice low bass for impact and punch.

But 2x6.5" can only get you so far, and compared to the earlier designs there was always something essential that was missing.

I heard you mention you were doing a new speaker build.  Do you have a separate build thread somewhere?

 

When I have finished addressing my DSP needs, I'll be looking to upgrade my Hsu Research HC-1 (with dual 6.5" woofers and horn tweeters crossed ~3 kHz) to DIY SEOS-12 and either 1 or 2 12".  I'm actually considering a 2.5-way style with the second woofer to try to retain some vertical directivity a bit lower, but I haven't done enough modeling to establish whether it's feasible.  The plan is to also integrate the speakers into a proper baffle, at least a partial one, due to room issues.  This will be tricky, and I may try using BEM computer modeling to design it.  The Hsu speakers have been great with 92 dB/2.83V sensitivity, decent power handling, and horn tweeters with good coverage and extension.  I had not heard them before I bought them, and after I got them set up, I knew I wouldn't be buying another pair of speakers again.  "My next pair of speakers, I will build myself", I told my wife.  And now the time has come.

 

The crossover on the Hsu is unfortunately too high to provide enough vertical dispersion without lobing, and I look forward to having strong directivity control down to 1 kHz.  I also want more headroom, if for no other reason than the ability to use DSP more aggressively while keeping distortion low.   With two 12s I think I can get up to 105 dB/2.83V or so (with 4 ohm impedance).  Using 200W/8 ohm amps, that should get me rms levels of 112 dB at the MLP, or peak reference rms level +9 dB (going with 83 dBC rms for calibration).  Yeah baby!

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