Pulsars and the Mythical Armchair Speaker Maker

There’s another thread going about Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers which I did not want to derail, but it is showing up some common logical fallacies and dead ends I wanted to talk about.

As anyone who has read my posts knows, I’m a huge proponent of DIY for speakers and cables especially. Not that I think you should only go with DIY but because the more audiophiles who can build their own we have in the community the less snake oil gets spread around as fact and there’s less worshipping of the price tag as the almighty determiner of speaker performance.

The myth I want to talk about is kind of related. It is the idea that we should value speakers based purely on driver cost. JA’s Pulsars suffer from this because they seem to use off the shelf components, in very nice cabinets, with perfectly executed crossovers. The thing that I don’t understand are buyers who look at driver cost, and say "well, these speakers should cost no more than x amount, so I’m not buying them... "

I call hogwash. Speakers are more than a collection of parts. They are curated components brought together by a designer and manufacturer. Those same people who are likely to engage in this behavior:

  • Can’t actually design a speaker themselves
  • Would NEVER build a DIY speaker even as a complete kit because it doesn’t have a brand, nor would they buy an assembled DIY speaker.
  • Would probably go with a speaker with in-house drivers which have an even higher markup
  • May not have very good ears anyway

My point is, knowing the price of the parts does not make you at all qualified to judge what the final price should be. That is, fairly, in the hands of the market, and it doesn’t actually make you a better listener or more informed buyer. I would argue you end up buying speakers for brands with even more of a markup and more likely to have questionable performance.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a manufacturer to charge for parts, and skill. So, yes, talking tech and drivers and crossover components is always fun, but please stop evaluating the price of finished goods until you’ve attempted at least designing one pair yourself.

And again, DIY is a lot of fun, and if you want to go that way, you should, but let’s not denigrate high value, high quality manufacturers and delers by reducing them to part assemblers any more than you'd judge a restaurant based on the cost per pound of chicken.

Thank you,

I ask because I had a pair of Ryan Audio R610’s that were great...actually they were better than great and very well reviewed. Ryan Audio makes all of their own drivers in house and I believe they also make their cabinets and binding posts. Amazing build quality. I believe they retail for around 2k a pair. 

But as much as I liked them I also have a pair of speakers that were designed with off the shelf drivers and cabinets. They retailed for about $2500 a pair and they are immensely better than the Ryans (to me) and cost a a bit more. I have compared them to many other 2-way speakers including one of my all time favorites Proac Response 2.5’s and they are better, especially the bass. They are the speakers I have always judged other speakers by within that price range. In fact I would spend twice as much on a pair if I had to. The secret sauce is the crossover. The question is am I a sucker? Am I getting ripped off because the designer spent less on parts?

I have become very good friends with the speaker designer through the years and he is now retired. I recall a conversation we had where he told me that even though he kept his costs low and sold his speakers at a relatively low price, the best year he ever had making speakers netted him a measly profit of around $30k. 
“If you consider the cost of buying the drivers, paying somebody to do the box and the cost of dsp amps, thats an indication of the approximate cost.”

I’m aware of all of that but you still didnt answer my question. What’s the number? I’ll even settle for a %.
youre asking the wrong person. Running a business whether its selling steak or speakers is about profit however my goal is not profit its perfect sound. 
I don't see your goal in evidence, Kenjit.  

You state parts alone determine sound quality, and measurements trump experience.

So, what box of parts have you landed on??
So.... I own Pulsars. For about three years now.

On the way to finding them, I was listening to speakers in the $10-20K range - that was my dream budget, and I liked Vandersteen Quattro speakers a lot, but not enough to spend that kind of money on them. Likewise with every other speaker I could find in the range. They just weren't right to *my* ears.

Oh, and by the way, years ago I used to try to build speakers. Here's what I learned about that:
Drivers matter. Cabinets matter. Wiring matters. Components (resistors, capacitors) matter. Crossover design matters. Porting and port size matter vs. sealed box. How much 'stuffing' you put in the box matters.

But what really matters is how one puts all of those variables together. You can't figure it out with just crossover math and frequency response of individual drivers. It takes work. And time, lots and lots of time. I quit the hobby eventually, because though I'd come up with some *good* sealed box speakers (using Dynaudio woofers and Eton tweeters - and don't ask me how many tweeters I burned through to get there) that made me happy, I couldn't make them great. No matter what I tried, I couldn't make them even close to great. Yes, I experimented with Focal and ScanSpeak drivers (and I liked both), but I always came back to the Dynaudio / Eton combination for sealed box and Focal/ScanSpeak for a ported box. And they were good. But just good. Dammit. 


Years later, I happened to read the review of the Pulsars in Stereophile - now I take S-phile with a grain of salt - but I liked the look of what Jeff Joseph was doing with that tweeter (not dissimilar to the Eton) and the box shape and size and the unique woofer and thought - I'll find out about and maybe try these! I called and luckily managed to get hold of Jeff himself. He listened politely while I explained why I was calling and a little about why I was interested in his design. He told me a little about his own experiences and how he got started. Then he kindly offered me a set to audition in my home (no dealer near me). He needed to put them together and voice them and then test them, so it would be a couple of weeks. But I could return them if I didn't want them and he'd give me my money back. All of it.

When I heard them, brand new, I knew I was listening to art.

Yes. Art. No way were they going back.

Once they broke in, even more so. To me, they sound like I could never even imagine my designs should have sounded, so I can't say they were where I thought I was heading when I was building. (Actually, the tweeter performance is pretty much what I was expecting/hoping, but the overall combination is brilliant.) They're great speakers. I don't think I need better speakers.

And you know what else? I think they're way under-priced for what they do.

My advice to kenjit - stop wasting your time trying to get something for nothing. If you don't think (if you ever bother to actually listen to them) they are worth the price, don't buy them!

(I'll bet you haggle with artists trying to sell their own work on the street too. How much did that paint & canvas cost you?)