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.




I had a Sansui SP-5….something, don’t remember exact model. Weighed a ton. Beautiful cabinet made of solid wood with a lattice front. Must have had 5 or 6 drivers. Considering how wonderful my Sansui 881 & 9090DB receivers sounded, I was astounded at the utter trash sound of those speakers. I never opened them up to see what driver quality looked like, maybe it was just bad crossover execution. 

When I had my first job in the "Electronic Sound" (yes, that actually was the name of a Grand Rapids based 'stereo' store), I brought home the McIntosh speakers to try out. I had the tangent tracking  bang olufsen turntable, some Luxman pre-amp, etc. These speakers were huge square pieces of deluxe furniture that had some drivers somewhere inside there. They sounded like your Grandpa's stereo console if you covered it with four down blankets. Warm....very warm sounding. When the burglars broke in they stole my turntable (without the European connector), but left those speakers. I could see they tried to steal them but they weighed at least 200 pounds a piece so they were left behind. Most horrible speakers I've heard to this day. No wonder I've over compensated by getting Klipsch Lascalas. Crisp, revealing, and efficient to a fault but no McIntosh thankfully! (Makes one wonder how early "stereos" experiences end up affecting future sound choices?)

Zu Audio Cube, the shrill of Lowther Shout was simply painful. No reviewer mentioned this "feature".

I owned a pair of Ultralinar 100s back in the day. They were the best $99 / Pair speakers you could buy. They sounded great on rock and roll, BTO kicked nice. Compared side by side at the stereo store, you had to pay $500 / pair to beat them. Not a great low or high end on the UL100s. I removed the woofer out of curiosity to find a $10 woofer and $5 tweeter. The company made the most of it. I never had the case problem you experienced. They were a great starter speaker. The JBL Lancers I built way surpassed them as they should have with the $200 woofer, LE 20, LE 5 upgraded model. 1" thick particle board.