Originally Posted by warpdriver
The problem is always going to be: auditioning takes time and effort, and that effort usually pays off. Of course the dealer's room isn't your own, but in reality, I haven't had too much difficulty extrapolating the experiences at my dealer to my home environment.
I don't buy you should always avoid brands are "me-too". I have heard some me-too brands sound absolutely wonderful, so just because it's a mass market brand doesn't mean it can't provide a wonderful result. I think the success of any particular model of speaker depends on the synergy of parts. The designers at these large speakers companies aren't dunces, and I certainly think, say the guys at Harman, with their their state of the art automated testing speaker facility knows a thing or two about making world class speakers. Sometimes even within a model line you have some gems. I think that generalizing speaker brands is always a successful excercise. You keep bringing out B&W and generalizing about them, but even within their lines, they have some great and not so great speakers.
I've participated in a few local speaker shootouts and when it comes down to it, there is no correlation between perceived value (by looking at specs, prices, and parts lists, and inclusion of the hyped driver of du-jour) and the one my ear picks out to be the best. A few times a speaker that was available in my local best buy compared favorably to some ID and local boutique brands in several respects.
I do agree that the ultimate litmus test is to eventually get the speaker into your own home. Part of the allure of ordering speakers directly is that you get to try to hear them in your own room, but they are also betting that you'll generally like the sound once they are shipped to you and since returning them is a hassle (and sometimes incurs extra cost), you'll more likely keep them. To get around this and make an objective assessment, some people order several from speaker companies directly, compare them and return the ones that they don't like. That's one approach. I try to audution locally at some stores, listen carefully, and bring home the winner, and then have a shootout of my own (carefully level matched of course). The winner stays and the loser goes back assuming you are dealing with a store that allows this (sometimes not possible) You do have to make a leap of faith sometimes and take a chance on one speaker brand without hearing it first. But I think part of the fun of hifi in general is the journey, don't be in a rush. Hearing speakers in the flesh for even a few minutes with your favorite music often gives you a perspective that hours of reading forums won't give.
Many consumers tend to think that larger companies have these far superior engineering departments and technology which helps them build better speakers, but that's not the case. Designing a speaker isn't rocket science, in fact, any of us can download the software necessary and spend a fairly small amount to have a nice set of test equipment. Thus, any of us can build a 'me-too' that will be on par with most companies' offerings.
Yes, B&W has its own speakers that provide better value at various spots...often, speakers are priced at their perceived value and not sound quality. A large speaker with many drivers should cost more...and therefore does, but it may not sound better.
And if you're doing a shootout of similar designs, yes, you'll find it difficult to compare them...some drivers have different sound characters, and that's about the end of it (if the shootout is done correctly with levels matched, speakers hidden, same tracks used, etc.).
Have you listened to any of the following?
Linkwitz Orions, Gedlee Summas, Pi speakers, Seaton Catalysts, Danley's various offerings, Open Baffle Coaxial setup like the GR-Research Super Vs (paired with Open Baffle Servo Subs), properly done Line Sources from GR-Research/Selah, etc. etc....
There is more out there than traditional point sources...and if you're not hearing these systems, you're missing out. I own or have owned quite a few speakers and have been to shows...there is so much compression in a standard system it will shock you when you finally hear one with unlimited dynamics.
And specs will tell you all sorts of things, but there is more than just frequency response. Polars, CSD, Impedance, etc.....(polars being the most important to compare, from what I understand)...
If you want to learn more, check out: Papers
Some interesting stuff...