The Snob Appeal Premium

I have learned that speakers are a typical victim of "Designer Label Syndrome".  Supposedly an $8 billion a year market (hard to believe) speakers are fairly simple beasts with little substantive improvements over the last 50 years. Ever since Paul Klipsch ( a character in his own right) read the Bell Labs 1934 papers and revolutionized speaker technology there have been few similar revolutionary improvements to the speaker. So- if you are an enterprising manufacturer of speakers (which are relatively cheap to build) how do you extract more and more money from the consumer ?  Answer: Synthetic demand driven by cachet' !  Like a pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers @ $650 a pair vs. New Balance runners @ 60/pr. It's snobby bragging rights stuff I'm describing here- perceived vs. actual value in a product. 

Here's an anecdotal example: 

I recently set out to build a high end mid-fi system (ARC preamp, power amp, Dac 9) for a large room "main house" (not a listening room) system. The goal was big, full, rich sound in a room full of furniture, chow dogs, kids and untreatable other things like 20 foot ceilings, multiple openings such as a balcony to the upstairs bedrooms, etc. Basically an audiophile's nightmare. 

I auditioned a number of speakers- Perlistens supported by JL Fathom subs, B&W Signatures, Bryston Model Ts, Vienna Acoustics Mahlers and Bethovens. IMO all of these are somewhat similar towers (except the Perlistens). The price point was not as important as the sound- given the limitations of the application. 

In the shopping for new or used I found a number of odd prices. The most unusual finding was a brand new set of Model Ts here in Audiogon advertised for $4K with a 20 year factory warranty. The dealer had one slide around of his hand truck and it put white paint smears on a corner of the Boston Cherry cabinet. Hmmm- 4 grand vs. 12 grand for a small fixable cosmetic flaw? I bought them. They sound fantastic. Some elbow grease and a furniture marker pen made the flaw vanish. 

I asked the dealer (Paul Kraft in Easton PA- great guy BTW) why the Audiogon Blue Book for a Model T was so low. His answer was "snob appeal". Apparently there is a big bragging rights  premium paid for having the UFO looking B&W Signatures vs what the snobs call the Bryston Model Ts "Axioms in a fancy suit".  I later learned that there are some prominent reviewers who refuse to listen to A/B speaker comparisons behind a silk curtain unless they know what brand is being scrutinized. To me that means "payola". 

Do the Model Ts sound better to me than the Mahlers, Bethovens, B&Ws? No. But they don't sound worse either (in my application). Do the above sound $8,000-$14,000 better than the Brystons in the listening rooms of the dealers? IMO NO WAY. To be fair price/value does color my perception much like a bottle of $40 Rumbauer Zin tastes better to me than $200 Silver Oak expense account wine. 

I'm guessing this post will anger brand snobs and garner snarky comments because their taste in sound is different than mine. Although this missive is really about personal perceptions of value v. sound I found my education on pricing fascinating and I feel great about finding amazing value in the brand new Model T's that needed 30 minutes of TLC to be at home in my family room. 

Moral of the story: Try em before you buy em, and look for value. It's fun and rewarding with no buyers remorse. 

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Ron…probably Aurender. Lumin is good as well but their app sucks. Also, you can eliminate the streamer altogether…if I’m not mistaking, your 866 is a Roon end point. I would at least try it free for 30 days to just see and hear if you like it. Roon has probably one of, if not the best UI. All you need is to install roon core on a computer that’s on the same network and use a tablet or a smart phone as remote. Run your ethernet cable straight into 866 and you’re done. 


The Aurender is the one I would like to try. I was considering Roon in the beginning but it seemed to be more than I needed. I can revisit it though. Thanks again. 
Happy listening !


I am tempted to build some myself .Like you I have a stash of premium hardwood-Birdseye and curly jarrah and Tasmanian Blackwood.

Hardwoods are not recommended for speaker enclosures.

Different hardwoods, depending on density and hardness, will have their own resonant behaviors that are usually centered over a narrow range, or ranges of frequencies.

MDF or birch ply, because of their construction and materials, have much better damped resonances, with lower peaks or dips. They are less likely to add their own sound to the music via resonance and ringing. But even then, to get extremely good results, they still benefit by further damping with things like: mass loaded vinyl, No Res, Green Glue Noise proofing compound, NVX sonic barrier on the inside of the panels.

There are videos on YT demonstrating how much more resonant and poorly damped hardwood is compared to MDF or ply. But all you have to do, is nock on a panel of MDF, then a panel of hardwood of the same dimensions, and the differences are easily audible.

Not to mention, hardwoods react to temperature and humidity changes much more, and will possibly crack, buckle, or pull away at the joints.

I can speak from experience. I originally built my Jeff Bagby woofer modules from 1" MDF, with a lot of bracing, and they sounded great. But after a few weeks, I added another layer of MDF with a layer of mass loaded vinyl between (for constrained layer damping), and the audible improvements were not difficult to hear.

@erik_squires wrote:


Not saying that part cost is the determinant factor in sound quality but rather that a DIYer has significant incentive to achieve excellent results  which would otherwise be out of their reach.

Also, I have long ago given up the belief that $$$$ means quality or desirability for me. Sometimes more expensive is better but many times it is not. A true audiophile in my mind can tell the difference.



I remember what the late Peter Snell achieved with cheap drivers in the AII's. It wasn't a case of luck or "one in a million," but rather careful selection, great implementation and design. He spent money and effort where it mattered sonically, not that the AII's were cheap per se, but by today's standard I'd wager they were.

I bought my studio installation amps 2nd hand. Their "audiophile" edition aimed at the hifi market, acquired new, sets one back 20x as much compared to what I shelled out per amp, and yet they're essentially similar in construction and overall execution. I heard them head to head, and they are indeed virtually similar sounding. Where they weren't by a smidgen you'd fool yourself believing the hifi edition was necessarily preferable. Believe me, it was splitting hairs. 

The need for über-built amps from the likes of D'agostino and others would appear to be grown mainly from hideously difficult "highend" speaker loads, passively configured with complex crossovers with a sponge-like ability to suck up power. Talk about bottleneck effect and nurturing a select segment of amp business. A friend of mine uses two bridged studio amps (very similar to ones I use) for a total of 3.6kW per channel into notoriously difficult-to-handle passive speakers. Now there's power in reserve, as there should be for any desired SPL, as well as a sound more freed and less restrained, but it took a whole lot of (quality) power to get there.

On the other hand remove the passive crossover for active configuration, as another friend of mine did with similar speakers, and it meant the world in harnessing even higher potential from the associated amps - as well as, in effect, the speakers themselves. It means seeing what you have potentially thrive sonically this way, significantly so. 

DIY grants the opportunity to realize designs that aren't readily available commercially, if at all - let alone at prices that are within grasp to "mere mortal." Skewing the typical segment of audiophile products can save you a lot of money - requiring an open, unbiased mind, that is. Buying 2nd hand, obviously. Going outboard active is also an element of DIY. Don't indulge in the audiophile market and its mechanisms. Challenge it; go rogue, and let the ears do the talking. 

I think more of brand confidence than snob appeal. Even if buying entry level, one hopes that a brand that makes lauded high end speakers provides the best quality components top to bottom of their offerings. This is no always the case. 

Yes, room, and tastes, and system integration,  but if you're spending $100k on speakers and can't find what you like, I think someone suggested Bose?  More seriously stated, we have unprecedented amazing speaker choices available to us now. 

I think it's more difficult at the low to midfi range, and for me, fortune favors the brave. Buy used and even old. For $1200 my legendary highly engineered KEF 107's are extremely tough to beat with great full range capabilities. My crossovers may have some rust on them, but they're weight would crush any current $1200 speaker crossover.  KEF is a brand to be confident in and new products such as LS50 appear to provide good value. 

Some manufacturers take advantage of their brand,  and while they provide nice sounding speakers,  they use the cheapest parts and charge the highest price possible on entry level products. 

It can be scarier to choose a smaller company, an internet direct company, especially one that appears to have few or even one employee,  but if you dont want to put all your money into overhead, I think that is the way to go. Is it nice to think that there is a huge team developing the best speaker?   Maybe. Even large companies will tout the great single engineer that developed their speaker. 

I think it's pretty well established that one or two people can design and build a fantastic speaker. The trick is finding the person designing that likes the sound signature you like. For me that is currently the very first home audio design by Daedalus. The best I have heard in my house ever. Caveat, I would not pay the $10-15k these would cost new though I think they're worth it versus other $10k original retail speakers I have heard. If I had that much money,  I would wait for a better used set of Daedalus to go up for sale. 

I used to steer clear of the smaller companies with supposed great speakers. If they're so great, why isn't everyone buying them?  The better of these companies are usually in high demand for what they can produce and actually back-ordered.  Salk Sound is an example of producing very high quality speakers and cabinets and always back ordered, until now going out of business with no one to take over. I suppose there's concern of long term support,  but I've yet to need support from any speaker manufacturer and many like Salk don't make their own drivers. 

Another one who, like Salk, uses same drivers as manufacturers such as Joseph Audio, is Tyler Acoustics.  I've yet to get a pair, but you can sometimes find some used at price of high end drivers, let alone crossovers and cabinets.  You'll never find that value with big name brands, and Tyler speakers are highly regarded. 

Even better than DIY, buy a used set of DIY for less than the cost of the parts after the builder moves on to the next project. Make sure you pay low since resale of DIY is the lowest of the low. I think this is a good example where more value is put on brand confidence than sound quality, but may have nothing to do with snobbery of brand or lack thereof if not a kit. Again the idea, if it's so great, why doesn't everyone DIY?  Also, lack of reviews, etc.