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Measuring Up: How Speaker Statistics Unveil the True Sound Quality

Wilson Sophia Series 3, spatially averaged, 1/3-octave response in AD's listening room (red); spatially averaged response of AudioNote AN-E/SPe HE in AD's room (blue).

Lower in frequency, despite its over-damped woofer alignment, the Sophia offers in-room extension at a full level almost down to 20Hz, though it is aided in this by the lowest-frequency mode in AD's room coinciding with the port's tuning frequency. For reference, the blue trace shows the spatially averaged response of Art's long-term reference speakers, the AudioNote AN-E/SPe HEs. The lumpier low frequencies, the excess of midrange energy, and the prematurely rolled-off top octaves are all that I would have expected from my own auditioning of the two pairs of speakers in this room.

Stereophile: Wilson Audio Sophia Series 3 loudspeaker Measurements in the room above and anechoic response on tweeter axis below.

When it comes to buying high-end speakers, detailed specifications, such as frequency response, distortion, spectrogram, phase, in-room response, and near-field measurements, are more than just fancy tech jargon. They are the acoustic fingerprint of a speaker, revealing the audio quality and hinting at how the speaker will perform in your listening environment. Buying a speaker without understanding these measurements is like buying a grab bag of unknown quality - you never quite know what you're going to get.

Consider a high-end speaker system that was lauded for its sleek design and premium build quality. It was a visual masterpiece, no doubt, but it was a different story when it came down to the measurements. Despite its glossy exterior, the frequency response measurement showed a roller coaster-like curve, indicating drastic variations in output at different frequencies. This meant that while some notes sounded excessively loud, others were barely audible, leading to a disjointed, unbalanced audio experience.

Moreover, the distortion measurements were far from ideal, particularly in the bass department. Despite the manufacturer's claim of delivering deep, impactful bass, the excessive distortion meant that the bass notes sounded more like a blur than a punch. It was a classic case of style over substance, a cautionary tale for anyone swayed by the aesthetics of a speaker without considering its acoustic credentials.

Another example involved a speaker that boasted of wide dispersion, promising an immersive sound field. However, the in-room response measurements told a different story. While the speaker did indeed have wide dispersion, it was at the cost of creating an uneven sound field, with certain areas in the room experiencing a 'sonic boom' and others a 'sonic void'.

These examples underline the importance of looking beyond the glossy brochures and marketing buzzwords when choosing a speaker. As a consumer, it's crucial to demand these measurements from manufacturers. After all, you wouldn't buy a car without knowing its horsepower, fuel efficiency, or safety ratings, so why should speakers be any different?

To wrap up, while aesthetics and brand reputation are important, they are not always reliable indicators of a speaker's performance. Measurements, on the other hand, offer a more objective assessment of a speaker's potential sound quality. So, the next time you're in the market for a high-end speaker, remember to ask for the measurements. Your ears will thank you for it

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