Worst Speakers Ever??

So, we’re in the (part time) business running a service operation with the purpose of keeping decent, aging audio gear from ending up in the dumpster. Got a call from a guy a few weeks ago requesting service on some items. He dropped the names of some well known brands -- Sansui, Onkyo, Garrard -- so, he seemed like a legit customer and I agreed to take them in.

When he arrived, the items totaled NINE pieces altogether and included the not-so-glamorous Sanyo, Realistic, etc. I have to mention, however, that the LAB500 was a pleasant surprise and a great example of a high quality "consumer" direct drive, fully automatic turntable.

Then, there were these speaker boxes with the SRL badge on them. Never heard of this brand. Not sure if it was an AARP thing, or a boutique brand that I was not familiar with. I yanked off the grilles and immediately noticed severe foam disintegration around the woofer cones. But, then it become obvious these were no "boutique" speaker. Cheap drivers. A not-so-dense cabinet. Very basic screw input terminals. These were designed to hit a price point. A "promotional" speaker.

A quick Google search lead me to the full name of the speakers -- Sound Research Laboratories -- a "house brand" for University Stereo in SoCal back in the day. This is making sense now. Removing a woofer gave a clear view of the "crossover." Yes, 3 capacitors to provide a high pass so that lower frequencies didn’t blow things up. A later RTA of the refoamed woofer revealed a bandwidth well past 5k. So? With a tweeter crossover at 5k, this would mean that ALL 4 drivers were operating in the same range in at least part of the audio spectrum. Not the best solution for linear, detailed sound. Not being one who likes to copy the Titanic with the hole already in it and head out to sea, I did some "complementary" mods to the speakers to eliminate part of the tug of war between drivers. They didn’t sound quite as awful as they did when they came in.

It got me thinking about my past experiences with "house brands" and "promotional" speakers.

Ah... Ultralinear.

We sold these back in the day. The cabinets were made of some fragmented materials squeezed together to resemble some type of organic substance , with a wood-grained pattern, literally, screen printed onto the box. Some joked that the cabinets were made of GLIT -- half glue, have sh...! Others mentioned that if you took these out of their cardboard cartons and sit them next to them, if a big gust of wind came up the speakers would blow away and the cardboard cartons would still be standing there.

I did have one real example of their build quality and structural integrity. In the "speaker room" we had the big floor standers (Pioneer HPM 200s, for example) on the floor and everything else on the shelves above. The Ultralinear 12" 3-ways were placed on the top shelf. One day I was doing some maintenance in the room and needed to rearrange and rewire some things to the speaker switcher. Then, there was this darned cable that was just a couple of inches too short. I gave it a gentle tug. Nothing happened. So, I put my body into it and gave it an aggressive pull. Right about then I noticed something moving in the corner of my eye. Followed shorty by the horror of watching the Ultralinears plummet from the top shelf and crash onto the HPM200s. The Ultralinears disintegrated on impact. My first thought is that I just ruined a pair of our most expensive speakers -- the Pioneers. I’m going to get fired!! Then, came the dreaded approach to the Pioneers to determine the extent of the damage. Not a scratch!! Not even the walnut veneer was damaged!! And there lay the totaled Ultralinear right next to them.

The Ultralinear speaker days came and went. And, so did I.




Worked briefly for a repair shop during college. They sold garbage "Hi-Fis." The speakers were about 16 × 10 and 6 inches deep. You could see hints of the chrome surround of the 8" woofer and the separate tweeter behind the fixed in place covers.  Turns out they were only painted on and the only driver was a cheapo 4" radio speaker. 

I'm embarrassed to say I owned 2 of the dishonorable mentions here.

My first set of speakers were Panasonic Thrusters. They came with an all-in-one system that was a stretch Christmas gift from my parents back then.

I bought my Mach Ones with money I saved mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. I remember saving up and them selling at $259.95 a pair. I had to wait a couple weeks for them to go on sale for $239.95 to buy. It was winter,  and my job stream had dried up for the season. 

I had those for decades. They ended up as garage speakers, eventually. Once I saw the foam surrounds were disintegrated, i trashed them. 

I should have re-foamed them so they could rock on!


B&W (Infinity), Polk, JBL, Klipsch, Cerwin Vega…ahh the cringeworthy memories!

edited: Infinity not b&w

Back on the olden days at Tech Hifi the only bad speakers to me were always the CerwinVegas. All muddy bass and not much else.