The mistake armchair speaker snobs make too often

Recently read the comments, briefly, on the Stereophile review of a very interesting speaker. I say it’s interesting because the designers put together two brands I really like together: Mundorf and Scanspeak. I use the same brands in my living room and love the results.

Unfortunately, using off-the-shelf drivers, no matter how well performing, immediately gets arm chair speaker critics, who can’t actually build speakers themselves, and wouldn’t like it if they could, trying to evaluate the speaker based on parts.

First, these critics are 100% never actually going to make a pair of speakers. They only buy name brands. Next, they don’t get how expensive it is to run a retail business.

A speaker maker has to sell a pair of speakers for at least 10x what the drivers cost. I’m sorry but the math of getting a speaker out the door, and getting a retailer to make space for it, plus service overhead, yada yada, means you simply cannot sell a speaker for parts cost. Same for everything on earth.

The last mistake, and this is a doozy, is that the same critics who insist on only custom, in-house drivers, are paying for even cheaper drivers!

I hope you are all sitting down, but big speaker brand names who make their drivers 100% in house sell the speakers for 20x or more of the actual driver cost.

Why do these same speaker snobs keep their mouth shut about name brands but try to take apart small time, efficient builders? Because they can.  The biggest advantage that in-house drivers gives you is that the riff raft ( this is a joke on an old A'gon post which misspelled riff raff) stays silent.  If you are sitting there pricing speakers out on parts cost, shut up and build something, then go sell it.


I hope they sell a lot of speakers despite the arm chair dorks. I like Danny Richie speaker reviews re: understanding how the parts add up to the whole.

I don’t think many audiophiles realize how hard it is to make a profit in high-end audio in general. We are fortunate that so many music loving people keep trying.



The high priest of chasing his own tail couldn't hold a thought long enough to do the math.

@tomcy6  It's getting harder and harder.

I hope they sell a lot of speakers despite the arm chair dorks.

Me too, the price is reasonable and the cabinet execution top notch.  I heard that tweeter with a ceramic mid-woofer, an attempt to build a kit with all German parts, and I really did not like the mid-woofer.   I adore the Scanspeak sliced paper cones though.  I have yet to hear anything significantly better.

Many of the better speaker designer/manufacturers have been at it for quite a while.  In most cases, it is not their first rodeo.  They learn stuff along the way and use their cumulative knowledge to create something special.  Those who have been at it for years probably have (more than?) a few duds in their stable that ended up being learning experiences.  It is nowhere near as simple as buying good drivers and stuffing them in a box.

 They learn stuff along the way and use their cumulative knowledge to create something special.

This is why I prefer to use active speakers that are actually bundled systems, let the designer use his budget to make the mistakes and I will just buy the end result of that cumulative knowledge.



The high priest of chasing his own tail couldn’t hold a thought long enough to do the math.

Amen, and let’s hope and pray he doesn’t find this thread. Anyway, and more importantly, I’m curious if you’ve compared similarly-priced drivers from both Scanspeak and Seas in any of your projects and if so what you found especially with the mids and tweets. I don’t recall ever seeing a direct comparison between the two so would be very interesting. Even if you haven’t done a direct comparison your general thoughts/experience with both would still be very meaningful.

Hey @soix

I know there are a lot of Seas fans out there, and if you like Joseph speakers you are definitely one of them. I’ve not had that memorable a listening experience with them (all at shows) so don’t really know.

I’m about to do a center, possible L and R as well using the Scanspeak Illuminator midrange so I’ll have a better update for you later.

The 7" Scanspeak mid-woofers have excellent high frequency response (the spec sheet is wrong) and just amazing bass output for the size. That combination has made them ideal for my 2-way projects.

@soix What I love about the top end SS tweets, like the Mundorf AMTs, is they absolutely vanish and have a glass-smooth presentation. They don’t call attention to themselves. They don’t say "I’m a Be tweeter!"

I’ve not measured the SS tweets, but the Mundorf AMTs have vanishing low distortion, energy storage and amazing dynamic range and much more forgiving of accidental overload than the average tweet.

If I'm not mistaken, the late, great Siegfried Linkwitz did a lot of testing with Seas and loved them.

If a manufacturer doesn't have the aptitude to R&D, build a driver in-house from scratch, he is not worth my time.

If he’s buying drivers from a 3rd party, dropping them in a fancy looking box and charging a 100k (such a deadweight genius!), nope, not worth my time at all. If he insists on dropping drivers from a different manufacturer in his box and calling it his great creation, i’ll pay him 200 bucks. That’s all he is worth.


It seems the cost of research and parts and all expenses related to speakers design is a way more complex business than most imagine...Thanks to the OP for his explanation being himself a designer...

"speakers snobs" ...I like the expression...

Citing the cost of drivers is akin to being a measurementalist. They can show you the numbers but that's about it.

All the best,

Hmmm, let me think of a few manufacturers who have the technical clout to R&D/build drivers completely from scratch in-house.....Pioneer/TAD, Yamaha, Sony, Technics, Elac, etc..They would still never charge a 100k, but, if they ask me for a 100k for their engineering clout, i’ll pay it.

Now, let me think of the deadweights (self proclaimed geniuses) who will just buy a driver from somebody else, drop it in a glossy li’l box, drop a few smt components on a board (crossover, wow! it must be more complicated than airplane design, must be worth more than a F150 raptor or a Tesla model X !) and still want a 100k. In his head, he really thinks he deserves a 100k!!!?!!...Oh, you know who they all are...Some you you even paid that doofus the full amount without taking several zeros off the price


Hmmm, let me think of a few manufacturers who have the technical clout to R&D/build drivers completely from scratch in-house...

Paradigm, I had a driver break and sent it back to the factory, they just re-coned it.

@deep_333 You can add Revival Audio to that list. They design and make all drivers (their entire speaker actually) in house in France, at a very reasonable price.

All the best,

The last mistake, and this is a doozy, is that the same critics who insist on only custom, in-house drivers, are paying for even cheaper drivers!

Makes me think of the argument made by some who’re actually involved in the making of bundled, active speakers, and how they stress that all the innards here are intricately matched. As it is though "matching" also comes down to amp downscaling because the rationale says there’s no need to use 3x200W actively for a woofer, midrange and tweeter when you can get by with 200, 100 and 50W respectively, which also conveniently cuts down cost. Sometimes there’s even a combo of Class A/B and D, but is 3x200W necessarily less of a match with 3 similar amp channels and overall topology other than (possible) excess wattages? And what if you had 3 externally configured amps of your own choice instead of built-in, cheaper variants, not to mention DAC’s? "Matching" can be a dubiously applied term, but implementation is indeed king, and active as configured externally/outwardly can be a playground of vast experimentation and great results from any segment, manufacturer, size, cost or whatever one chooses.

ATC btw. seems to be one of the exceptions to any general observation about custom, in-house drivers that are considered el cheapo, because they’re anything but. Very good amps too. And Mundorf AMT’s are certainly great in the HF region with the wider (i.e.: taller) versions also picking up on sensitivity, but actively configured with high eff. horns it’s less of, if any issue (I prefer a point source from the lower mids on up, but that’s just me).

"I’ve not measured the SS tweets, but the Mundorf AMTs have vanishing low distortion, energy storage and amazing dynamic range and much more forgiving of accidental overload than the average tweet."

My current speakers (FinkTeam KIM) employ custom Mundorf AMTs, and I certainly haven't ever heard a better tweeter, and over ~40 years in the game.


ATC btw. seems to be one of the exceptions to any general observation about custom, in-house drivers that are considered el cheapo,

TBC, I never said that in-house speaker drivers were necessarily low quality, but rather that the speaker makers ALWAYS increase their profit margins by going to in house parts.

That is to say, using ATC as a hypothetical example, even if we just assume (for argument’s sake) that they have excellent drivers, by making their own they definitely decrease the amount of money they pay per unit and therefore increase margins.

The calculus changes once you make in-house drivers. Instead of spending 10% of your sales price on the drivers now perhaps you can spend 5-7%. If you can also use cheap MDF manufacturing techniques for the cabinet you pretty much have a license to print money.

Of course, this gets us to another issue about audio gear which few want to face: Cost to make or buy does not equal performance, at all.

And this is where the ill informed speaker snob fails miserably. He won’t buy small maker speaker X for $5,000 because it has $500 worth of drivers, but he’ll absolutely buy name brand speaker Y for $8,000 which, by using only in house parts, only paid $250 for the drivers.  Of course, now the driver costs are hidden from him, but it matters not.  He's hot to buy!

Money is a very poor indicator of speaker performance in our industry, and I know that, I just want to point out that the idea you are getting MORE driver value by going to an in-house only brand that costs the same or more is weird.


"the speaker makers ALWAYS increase their profit margins by going to in house parts"

How could you possibly know that?  ATC went from using a fairly cheap tweeter in their top speakers to manufacturing a very sophisticated tweeter in-house.  I'd be surprised if that increased their margins.  It was about improving performance.  

How could you possibly know that?


Because the alternative makes no financial sense. Mind you, I am 100% not saying they did not also improve quality, nor am I saying ATC isn’t a good value. They may be, I make no judgement.

What I am saying is that all vertically integrated speaker makers enjoy financial benefits over those which are not.

To look at my point another way, those speaker snobs would have ZERO argument to make if they didn't know the price of the small maker's product.  It could be the exact same speaker, but take away their knowledge of where the driver's came from and their ability to hen-peck the product vanishes.

Post removed 

I do want to stop talking about ATC, because I'm sure they are a fine brand and I was only using them as a hypothetical but it seems like we are bruising them for no good reason.

Perhaps the real issue is that we keep equating parts cost with value of the finished object.  If brand X could make the same speakers for half as much money, would we object?

"vertically integrated speaker makers enjoy financial benefits over those which are not"

Benefits but also disadvantages.  There's no way to say which is bigger without a lot of detail.  They've got to buy machinery to make drivers, hire people to run them, how much volume do they need for it to be worth it?  Can they sell that much?  It's a judgement call, nobody knows the future.

Scanspeak is discontinuing a wonderful 10" woofer in the Revelator series - good bargain now. Recently assembled an isobaric sub configuration and powered it up with a Bryston 4B, and it sounds as fast as my ESL's.

Well there’s the domestic tranquility factor to consider… 😉

It took a bit for the new missus to cotton to the 1+1s but she came around. I think? 

But the B&W Matrix 800s OTOH won’t be installed in this living room! Next house will have an audio only room. 

As for gear, I’m not that picky I suppose with regards to having a consistent appearance. It’s a very personal preference right? I’m not all that fond of the looks of the newer ARC front end stuff. Love the amps and the “ghost meters” though. 

Performance uber alles though!

Happy listening. 

I am dumbfounded at the number of companies around the world trying to inject their footprint into high end audio market whether it is amps, DACs or speakers.  You are right OP, a small highly specialized market.

It appears to me the only way to break even is to see how high you can drive the price knowing there is a pool of audiophools out there.  Especially cables, power cords, bi-amp all the other useless drivel.

I am remined of the 'Corvette Theory" an economic professor mentioned when I was in university back in the 70s.  It basically stated, "If it is that expensive, then it must be good"

*L*  Personally @dekay , calling an ottoman a 'pouf' certainly ups the snob appeal...I guess...😏  My cats couldn't tell the diff until they got hit with the spray bottle.... one who takes drivers and mods them into Walsh drivers, one does learn the intricacies of accomplishing that....and trying to ensure that, after the item in hand has been baptised with various names and comments it actually performs as desired.
You do get the appreciation as to why a manufacturer would employ 'out of house' drivers, unless said subject did so, more or less from the beginning... 

Doing a recone with surround R&R isn't all that difficult...

A major revamp? 😑 

I do it because a pair of MBLs' requires a lottery win of some substance....not to
mention the means of driving same..
And it's the sort of challenge that has a 'zen appeal' of sorts... ;)

{ Lengthy Exposition Tyme }

Spouse 'suggested' I go 'do something fun'...*!*  "Why not go to this astronomical event, and watch the Perseid meteor shower where there's no city lights 'n all that...?"

(Looked at the event listing....)  "Because it's aimed at the 5-12s' we build stuff for, and allows the parents to drink beer, smoke 'alternatives', and park the kids elsewhere....But...."

*PG pause*    "....PE is having their DIY speaker comp and 'garage sale', which is more my sort of predilection...and I can see the Perseids by just getting out onto the Parkway...."

Done deal/transmission had just been restored on the Focus/could use 800 mi. of 'break-in'...and I could see what it was all 'bout, Alfie....

Which was $70 on Phoenix plugs for my amp, some grille cloth remnant of a sort I don't have, an Xmas surprise for the spouse ('some assembly required')...

...and 4 - 8" 4 ohm woofers foam surrounded with a 'look-alike' cf cone, and a vented magnet structure nearly the diameter of the basket.

Heavy little SOBs'...just the potential ticket for the distrib bass array I've in mind.

Entrants primarily a whole rash of bookshelf sized pairs, some standouts...

The Unlimiteds better as a whole; some nicely done woodwork to be appreciated.

Overall: 5% best of show, 10% not so much....balance in the middle of the curve between....Imho....such as it is and was...*S*

Basically...I spent the event as a spy of sorts....😏 ...and got an answer to my query:

Can one enter more than one category with the same units?  (There's 4...)

"Yes, as long as the entry fits the description..."

(*G*  A few dipoles; a couple of omnis that didn't impress...)

I can enter the Unlimited series; anything @ any $ amount.

The Under $300, anything spent on drivers by anyone.

Perhaps....The Over $300, similar to the <300 (IF I factor in my labor...*L*)

The 'All Dayton Drivers'

Got a year to get my act in gear....*S*


A speaker maker has to sell a pair of speakers for at least 10x what the drivers cost. I’m sorry but the math of getting a speaker out the door, and getting a retailer to make space for it, plus service overhead, yada yada, means you simply cannot sell a speaker for parts cost.

Not to be argumentative, but probably more like 15x (as you note further down): manufacturers get a discount on the shelf price of drivers, and we have to factor in the cost of other materials, of prototypes, of XO components which when used once are often discarded later, and... in all of this, the designers & the builders have to actually survive until they start receiving money for the speakers they designed!

What I am saying is that all vertically integrated speaker makers enjoy financial benefits over those which are not.

That is a logical inference except for the fact that large manufacturers, like Scan Seas, etc, benefit from economies of scale that smaller comapnies (like ATC) probably do not.
Having said that, ATC recently replaced the tweet it was outsourcing with one of its own manufacture -- so there must be a financial benefit there!

(and I, too, am using ATC as an example; in real terms, I find their speakers are bvery good and reasonably priced for the sound they offer...)



+1!!  I would add that it seems the higher the volume of a product that gets produced the odds of the product having lower quality increase. 

In regards to ATC, I would argue that the consumer is getting a better deal, because the in-house design offers higher value for the same price. My SCM35’s with a ScanSpeak tweeter always sounded hard on top. My SCM40 II’s ATC-made tweeter is far smoother and more detailed.


The over generalization here is a bit over the top!

What a romantic idea imagining a speaker builder starting his day tending to the trees in his forest that will someday be used for his cabinetry and trees that will be ground into pulp to form his speaker cones.  Then he tours his foundry that is smelting his copper and aluminum and checks on his wire drawing machines to insure all is running smoothly and that he will have enough copper wire to form the coils needed for speakers that day.  Next he checks on his capacitor winding machines and the winder making his resistors.  But before he can have his morning coffee he must stop by the chemical department and check on supplies of lacquer and solder being cooked up.

That scenario is not very realistic these days due to specialization and economies of scale.  R&D costs, tooling costs and just getting materials at a competitive price has driven the world down to a handful of manufacturers for just about every commodity out there.  Flat screen panels, for example are made by just one or two manufacturers globally.  Even auto manufacturers these days just assemble cars.  All of the parts, even the software in many cases is outsourced.  Every car shares many common parts from the handful of auto suppliers globally.  Henry Ford designed the River Rouge Plant in Detroit to be fully vertically integrated in the early 20th century.  It even had its own power station.  Those days are long gone.

 I have been in and worked in plants that were vertically integrated to various degrees.  Some were almost sand and gravel coming in one end of the building and finished product out the other end.  It is impressive but typically designed for a single product.  Manufacturers will not vertically integrate manufacturing without good reason.  They are either forced into it because they cannot find someone to make it for them or they have a secret sauce that they do not want to share with their competitors.

Speaker building is art and science.  A speaker is more than the sum of its drivers.  Integrating the drivers into a cabinet and matching up a crossover network requires some solid engineering design work, understanding of music, dedication and patience.  Outsourcing vs making components is ultimately a business decision.  A high end hifi company can't afford to do everything.  An engineer that knows how to  wind capacitors will likely not know much about machining wood or metal.  An electrical engineer designing crossovers is not likely to be a highly skilled cabinet maker.  Every employee adds burden to the cost of making a product which impacts ROI- return on investment.  If an owner can make more money putting his cash in bonds then he will shut down the business.  The market and perception of the product determines the selling price.  The cost to manufacture a product has little influence on the selling price.  We pay $100k for some speakers because we want to.  Ever notice how luxury items have increased in price at or above inflation for decades?  Yet the cost of televisions, refrigerators, all appliances are cheaper than ever.  Ever notice how willing we are to pay $1200 for a telephone?  And Apple has about $56 billion in cash.  Cost isn't driving the price.

Clearly there no definitive rules regarding driver/ crossover/ cabinet costs & final sound quality. As I was discussing w/  friend recently regarding another subject, this general principle of economics usually holds true:

You don’t always get what you pay for but you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

If you really want a speaker that has full frequency extension ( or close), has full body tone / richness, has nice open clarity, can image  at least reasonably well & can fill a decent sized room w/ true dynamics at realistic sound pressure levels, you gotta pay good money for it. This likely means at least $10 K on up & if you want a finely finished “ piece of furniture” cabinet, you can start at almost double that & end wherever…..

If you’re willing or need to sacrifice any or some of those attributes, there are speakers for less that can be quite good in many ways. 


Most hifi equipment is aesthetically boring. When all is said and done, an amplifier is a box, a DAC is a box and a speaker is a box.  I let my ears and wallet steer me. My KEF Reference 5’s are tall skinny boxes that I bought with my eyes closed and after almost two years, I’m still very happy with them, but if you put them side by side with the R-11’s they look pretty much alike, but my ears knew the difference.

I never quite could figure out the knock against speaker manufacturers that use off the shelf drivers?

Driver manufacturers such as: Scan-Speak, SB Acoustics, RAAL, Accuton, Purifi Audio, SEAS, Fontec, etc, etc, have done all the R&D, have all the manufacturing equipment in place, can run all the advanced tests on: materials, construction methods, cone geometries, etc.

They all have drivers made in different sizes, cone materials, at different price ranges. And most of them make drivers that are literally, as good as current technologies allow.

Those ScanSpeak Revelators and Illuminators, SB Acoustics Satori, Accuton, and others, are incredibly great drivers.

What does it matter if they are off the shelf?

And just for context, I am a DIY’r, and have built several speakers using some of the drivers above.


If you have the equipment and skill set, building a high quality cabinet is relatively simple. You can source high quality wood backed veneers in a variety of species. Sourcing speakers, design specs, and crossovers may be a bit more difficult. For instance, I could easily build a cabinet equal to the Dynaudio Heritage but sourcing the components to produce the same sound may be difficult. However, building a cabinet like the B&W 805 is not within the realm of a DYI. 

Imo loudspeaker design is a competition of ideas, a vital part of which is the implementation of those ideas.  Given that most companies have finite resources to invest in product development, it only makes sense to develop and perhaps manufacture major components in-house when that's the most practical (which includes "cost-effective") path to implementing the aforementioned ideas.


@erik_squires --

My impulse with ATC drivers was to acknowledge their overall excellence first, both sonically and built quality-wise, and thus assuming they’re not cheap. You may be right about them increasing their profit margins doing their own drivers, I wouldn’t know, but rather than an economic rationale as the predominant factor I’d guess the aspects of design execution and production consistency, certainly with the solid engineering capacity at their disposal, is paramount to them. Having heard both the older Seas(?) tweeter-equipped and newer iterations with their own tweeter design, I can attest to the latter being the better offering, and if that means being a profitable move for them on top - well, all power to that.


Money is a very poor indicator of speaker performance in our industry,

Part of me agrees with you because I have purchased speakers that offer great performance for not a lot of $ (mostly active but some passive.) I don't know what a good indicator of speaker performance would be I could rely on consistently. What would your list be? 

I think a little historical perspective may be helpful here?

There have been many cases where the "in house" driver was "the thing". The home-grown technology was the differentiator. Pioneers of electrostatic, ribbons, AMTs, etc. placed them on the radar -- and, kept them there. A Japanese company that builds motorcycles and pretty decent musical instruments developed the berryllium dome in house. This is just one example.

Then there’s the case of the Dahquist DQ10. An off the shelf woofer used successfully in a mid-range bookshelf speaker along with an array of "nothing special" components -- including a $5 Motorola plastic piezo super-tweeter. It was the attention to "other" factors that made the speaker a future Audio Hall of Fame’r. More recently, Golden Ear has had success bringing vintage technology that has been somewhat domant back into the spotlight. And uses off the shelf drivers from "others."

I can think of may factors why amanufacture would want to make components "in house", possible supply chain issues being one of them. To me, it’s not the cost of components that is the major factor. It’s whether or not the end user gets their money’s worth at the end. A measure of commerical success is usually a prettty good indicator.


You are reminding me of the Snell A/IIIs, which used inexpensive (but not bad) mids and tweets, along with modified woofers.  What made them special however was the incredible detail to the crossover and the hemispherical baffle the tweeter and mids wer eplaced on. 

Not too different from the Sonus Faber Stradivari IMHO.  The drivers are good, not exotic, but the wide, curved baffle is everything.

PS - Many of you making comments about cheap off the shelf tweeters would absolutely die if you know how good some of the inexpensive Vifa tweets were in terms of smoothness, low distortion and frequency extension.

The ring radiators especially, which have been used in everything from cheap Polks to Magicos, Krell and other ultra expensive speakers were very good within the low to mid power handling area and cost peanuts.

I never quite could figure out the knock against speaker manufacturers that use off the shelf drivers?

I tend to agree with @simonmoon here although I’ve no experience like him or Eric building speakers to back it up. Companies like Scanspeak, Seas, Vifa, RAAL, Dynaudio, etc. have been manufacturing drivers for decades, and if I was building speakers I’d have to have one big set of cajones to think I could meaningfully improve on their drivers’ performance. I’d think optimizing and using better parts in the crossover along with improving the cabinet structure/design would be higher on my list than trying to design/manufacture my own driver and reinvent a pretty damn good wheel that’s already been refined to a high level. I think those who think speakers that use excellent but off-the-shelf (or modified versions thereof) are somehow sub standard are kidding themselves or maybe just have a lot of $$$ to burn. Not saying in-house drivers don’t or can’t have significant advantages as they clearly can, but in terms of the overall speaker design it’s not tops on my list of concerns given the quality of good drivers today — or at least not until we get high enough up the price scale where the other critical speaker components have already been largely addressed. But that’s me. Good/interesting post BTW.

Worth noting that while there are a lot of inexpensive drivers that perform very well in terms of frequency response and distortion the big money goes to power handling.

It's easy to find a tweeter < $50 that's super smooth and clean sounding when it only has to handle 10 W or less, but an entirely different thing when you apply power to it. That's where, IMHO, the adults are separated from the boys. 

For this reason alone, though I may not use them, JBL professional products get a knod of respect from me always.