So What About Undercoating Your Speakers?

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by Chu Gai, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Back in the 80's, or at least that's when I remember it, when you went to buy a new car, eventually you went into an office to finalize the purchase. After congratulating you on your fine puchase and investment, even if everyone knew that you just bought a pig, you eventually got the hard sell on undercoating your car. Undercoating was supposed to protect you by protecting your car from rust that could start from underneath. There were all different options at all different price points. The way the dealer would see it, they were all good values, so long as you bought one. As Consumer Reports noted repeatedly, it was a bad deal though. There were a ton of loopholes all of which would void your warranty. Also the undercoating added signficant weight to your car and improperly applied, as it often was, sealed drainage holes which would accelerate the deterioration of your car. It was a good deal for the dealer and whomever applied it. The salesman would get his cut, so would the manager, so would the dealership, and so would whomever applied it. Profit all around and sadly no value to the consumer.

    I'd like to pick on two speaker manufacturers for what I consider to be the equivalent of undercoating - the parting of your money for something that provides nothing of value. In each case, the justifications provided by manufacturers and their willing accomplices, the 'reviewers', sound good but are based on nebulous and wishful thinking. Understand, I am making no comment on the quality of the speaker. If you bought them, like them, this is no chop on your choice. These are simply my comments regarding the sales practice. My purpose is to inform and hopefully you'll keep a little more of your hard earned money in your pocket. I just kind of figure if you're going to a Gentelemen's Establishment, you're better off holding the money and deciding how much the dancer gets instead of the dancer deciding how much, if any, you'll get back. Value and all that [​IMG]

    Totem

    Totem puts out a product called Beaks. You can see them at http://www.totemacoustic.com/english...ccessories.pdf and they're sold in pairs for something like $100 or so. They're supposed to reduce resonances and make other remarkable improvements. From some review on the web, they recommend you use at least two per speaker. Now you don't have to own Totems to buy these because they'll confer similar benefits to any speakers you own. I've got a tough time thinking that Totem's speakers are so poorly designed that they vibrate that much. I'd imagine they'll have the same effect as you putting something else on the speaker. Maybe a good sized bonsai might be nicer. Maybe dueling religious icons like in Southpark. Maybe just sit your fat-assed sister-in-laws on them and really dampen the vibrations.

    I did send Totem two emails from two different addresses. One asked for further clarification including measurements on the Beaks. The other asked for places I could listen to the Totems and reviews. I'm waiting over 2 weeks for the first email. The other was responded to promptly. Maybe not a terrible amount of money in some eyes. For 5 speakers you're looking at spending $500 and if you're of the mindset, the more the merrier, you might be dropping $1000 or so. I think there's better ways of spending your money.

    VMPS

    A lot of people like VMPS. Me, I don't like the way they dangle the high priced, do nothing for you, upgrades that put speakers into a different tax bracket. Specifically I'm talking about their wishful thinking silver wire and capacitor upgrades. The soundcoat is also a little speculative too. If we look at this particular model, the 626R

    VMPS
    626R loudspeaker
    Retail: $4150 pair (as reviewed)

    Base model: $799 each
    FST ribbon tweeters: $200 each
    Cabinet upgrade (ebony, rosewood, diamond black lacquer): $200 each
    TRT caps: $1200/pair
    Soundcoat: $150/pair
    Silver wire: $400/pair

    we can see that the capacitor and silver wire upgrades doubled the price of the speaker. Now if you're looking to drop around $3200 on a pair of speakers, then go out and audition $3200 speakers. By all means compare them to the $1600 VMPS (okay, $1800 with the FST tweeter). Maybe they're as good as or better than the more expensive ones. But for god's sake, is money that worthless? There's got to be something else you can do with the $1600 you saved. Room treatments, calibration software and a mic?

    There are other speaker vendors that I also think play too loose with people's money. Tannoy and their gold plated, tricked out super tweeter that can reproduce sounds that don't even exist on the medium you're playing. Maybe you know of some others. For me though, these two represent both the low and high ends of wishful thinking. I poop on their sales practice. So should everyone.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. JamesCB

    JamesCB Second Unit

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    I don't understand your point. Why are you singling out these two companies? There are tons of seemingly useless and ridiculously expensive "snake oil" tweaks out there. These two examples are nothing special. This is nothing new.

    James
     
  3. Mark Seaton

    Mark Seaton Supporting Actor

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    The scarry part is that in many cases these options come about from multiple customers asking about them, not just from the company. At least if the manufacturer stays involved, they have a chance of maintaining integrity of the product. It is a shame though, they would benefit much more by actually investing in a better speaker!
     
  4. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    Hey Mark - was it you that was telling me about that Egyptian cotton fill upgrade for my ContraBass for $600 extra?

    [​IMG]
     
  5. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Capacitor upgrades definitely make a big difference in a speaker, but their upgrade cost more than my main speakers did. The capacitor upgrade for mine was $100/pr. and made a very noticable difference in my speakers.

    Silver wire? Not going to make such a difference that it would be worth paying for, certainly not $400.

    As for spikes. Parts Express sells spikes for between $16-$20 that will do EXACTLY the same thing those are intended for. IMO, spikes, or any other vibration damper, do little or nothing for the speaker itself, but rather just reduce sympathetic resonance to whatever the speaker is sitting on. Is that worth $100 a pop? Not when I can try it for $16. I tried it with my old sub, and it actually did seem to improve it, but as I said, I think that is just because it was no longer making full contact and vibrating the floor.
     
  6. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    VMPS involved in such dubious practices (ala Audio Research, et al)?! [​IMG] Umm...either they're fools or geniuses (or is it geniusi? [​IMG] )...

    -THTS

    "...hi, my name is Frank...and am an SVS bassaholic..."
     
  7. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Hey, those ain't spikes, they sit on top of your speakers!
     
  8. Rory Buszka

    Rory Buszka Supporting Actor

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    Well, it's not playing very nice to talk bad about VMPS behind their backs. Instead, you should do it on their AudioCircle forum. That way people who own and have heard VMPS speakers with and without the upgrades you question will be able to tell you just how much the upgrades help the speakers' sound. Personally, I think VMPS's designer Brian Cheney is a genius to allow you so many tweakable options with his speakers. If you want really respectable sound for not a huge amount, you can buy a base model for very little money (Audiophile sound, accessible to people without an audiophile budget) but if you're the sort who goes for esoteric tweaks like capacitors and speaker wire, you can get that. Now, whether the improvement is worth the added expense, that's for you to decide. Some people think it is, some don't. The VMPS difference is that if you think the upgrades are worth it , you can choose to add them. If you don't think they're worth it, or don't have the money, then you can do without. Either way you wind up with a stellar product for the price. VMPS is a rarity in the speaker world because they don't charge you $15,000 for $200 worth of drivers and $100 worth of crossover components. You shouldn't take them for granted. You make the comment that if we want to buy $3200 speakers, then we should go listen to $3200 speakers. The point here is that even for $3200, VMPS speakers are kicking tail even in that match-up. Oh, and the effect of the soundcoat has been measured. It results in a very acoustically dead cabinet up through the upper midrange, cutting panel resonance by nearly 10dB in some cases.
     
  9. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Are you telling me those "bullets" are just weights? Now that's going a bit too far.
     
  10. gregD

    gregD Second Unit

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    More precisely, the "beaks" sit on top, you can vary their position, and they do whatever they do (I suspect nothing, but never tried em)... they also make matching "claws", which might -- or might not -- provide a noticeable difference insofar as they act as cheaper spikes would, and decouple the cabinet from the floor.

    I really like the way the entire line of Totem speakers sound, but the beaks-n-claws do make me wonder... guess you can always decline them, or try them with a guaranteed return policy... thereby confirming your suspicions.

    It's interesting to note that when you audition them at the shows, with the Totem team present, beaks-n-claws are nowhere to be found... but the local dealer's got em married to most every model in the joint.

    Caveat emptor... as usual.
     
  11. Robert_Dufresne

    Robert_Dufresne Stunt Coordinator

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    I had the privilege to witness a demonstration of those bullets by Totem at the audio show in Montreal a few years back.

    What the guy did is that he played a bit of music without the bullets on the speakers, then lowered the volume, put the bullets on and turned the volume back up just a bit louder than it was before[​IMG]

    Snake oil I say

    Rory

    VMPS is after an important market made up of "gullable audiophiles" who can be easily fooled into thinking that silver wiring will make a difference. I am surprised they don't offer diamond incrusted gold wires.

    These companies should be exposed for what they are.
     
  12. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Well, it's not playing very nice to talk bad about VMPS behind their backs.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Who's talking behind their backs?

    Look, all I said was...never mind!

    Actually, I think the folks at VMPS are geniuses...why? Well, just consider; I deduce from your post that VMPS seem to produce poorly designed speakers from the start so they can sell "mods" at insanely high prices to their adherents later on! If that is not a stroke of pure genius then I don't know what is! [​IMG]

    Man, I sure am are in the wrong business... [​IMG]

    -THTS

    "...hi, my name is Frank...and am an SVS bassaholic..."
     
  13. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Cheney is well aware of my views. Even if he weren't, as a manufacturer, he's as fair game as Dr. Amar Bose, the Sony Corporation, George Cardas, and everyone else. Like I said, I make no comment over the speaker's merits, simply value for the dollar with respect to the things that can get added to it as you proceed through the check-out counter.

    That's right John, they just sit on top of your speakers. But!!! You can move them around! Think of the fun as you move them a little each day when your wife isn't around. Why she'll look one day and thoughts of the topiaries moving around in "The Shining" will drive her bonkers.

    Regarding the capacitor thing, I can point to a couple of studies, where people were unable to reliably differentiate one type from another. Look, if you happen to think it adds a certain panache to your purchase, by all means add it. I just happen to think that turning a $1600 set of speakers into a $3200 set of speakers by not doing anything more than preying on people's hopes, dreams, and misconceptions is a bit much.
     
  14. Rory Buszka

    Rory Buszka Supporting Actor

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    No, they're not poorly-designed, they're just extreme no-frills until you start adding options. What I said was genius was offering speakers with and without frills that, no matter what price class they're in when you buy them with the options you select or no options at all, they're still kicking butt in whatever price class they happen to be in once it's all said and done. This butt-kicking-in-class sound is available to everyone as long as they can at least pay the price of the base-model speakers.
     
  15. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I have a friend with the identical speakers except for the cap upgrade on mine (I bought mine after listening to and being impressed by his). The difference is not a subtle one, it's quite apparent. This little upgrade is basically replacing every component in the x-over network except the foil inductors.

    I wonder how much better they would sound with beaks? [​IMG]
     
  16. AjayM

    AjayM Screenwriter

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    I can understand the idea behind adding something to the enclosure, such as "undercoating", as most enclosures built and sold are not built to the highest "audio" standards. Adding something with some weight behind it will obviously change the way the enclosure reacts to the drivers.

    Weights on the enclosure, I'm still skeptical about that one, but I've heard people say that it works. Note that I'm not talking specifically about the products mentioned here, but in general. I recall the story about some people visiting a true tweaker, as they were listening they could hear real results by moving around something with some mass on top of the speaker. But I'd have to hear it to believe it.

    Caps is interesting, they just did a blind test at one of the DIY events and very few people could actually tell a difference between an expensive cap and an ultra-cheap cap (both were measured to make sure they were the same value obviously), and if you look at the results as a whole they say people's decisions were random. Not sure I'd build a speaker with penny-level capacitors, but I'm not sure I'd spend hundreds of dollars on ultra-high end stuff either.

    But I will also say that if the difference can be heard by YOU who cares what science says. I don't care if you fill up my asprin jar full of sugar pills as long as my headache goes away. And in the end, that's all that really matters.

    Andrew
     
  17. BrianAe

    BrianAe Second Unit

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    I'd be interested in reading more about tests with caps since, unlike cables and beaks and shikta stones, there is a reasonable theoretical underpinning on why high quality caps would make a difference (at least I think there is [​IMG] )

    I also have to say I appreciate manufacturers that give a choice of high quality vs black box finishes and pass along the savings of the black box finish to the consumer. Of course, that assumes the mark up for a nice finish is reasonable.

    Other than that, I agree with most of what Chu says. I think sacrificing a live virgin chicken on top of your speakers would do more good then those beaks.
     
  18. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    The most recent link I've come across on testing for the audibility of different types of capacitors can be found here: http://www.pesupport.com/cgi-bin/config.pl?read=189025 although Atkinson did this a number of years ago and when the results were statistically analyzed by Nousaine, we essentially got a null result. I believe it was films and electrolytics.

    Now that doesn't mean, to me anyways, that one can use any type of capacitor willy-nilly (now that's a dated expression!) in any application. Like anything, you use the right tools for the job. Some types of capacitors don't age well in certain environments and changes can certainly result in audible consequences.

    I don't know what speakers you've got there John. I'll throw a few thoughts for your consideration. If we assume for the moment that...

    the capacitors in both your speakers have the same values or close enough that the differences result in only slight changes in the crossover points and...

    that I'm actually right with concluding that there's no audible difference between run of the mill vs uber caps

    then that suggests a couple of other areas that ought to be looked at a little more critically before making the leap that these sound differences are due to the different types of caps. For example, consider the following two reasonable scenarios.

    1) There could be differences in the way the cabinet has been constructed. One could be more leaky than another. I've noticed this seems to be a problem when things are hand-made as opposed to machine-made. It can also be a problem with the latter if the facility has poor QC, the vendor is looking to cut corners by using sloppy CNC places, etc.

    2) Significant variations in the drivers. Its not unusual for drivers to have some differences in their T/S parameters. That's to be expected. When a manufacturer sources a driver for large production runs, there's going to be (or there OUGHT TO BE!!!) an agreement reached with the supplier as to the target T/S parameters, their method of measurement, and an accepted tolerance. Random testing is done on incoming shipments to confirm the adherence to previously agreed upon specs and to also chart the values over time to establish a Statistical Quality Control chart. This way, trends can be seen and action taken if warranted. Lots that don't meet the goals usually go back to the supplier. How much do you want to bet that the rejected lots wind up in places like PartsExpress or Madisound? Anyways...to continue.

    VMPS for example, has stated that they source out the parts for their ribbons to different places and do final assembly in-house. If I'm substantially wrong here, please correct me! If so, what sort of means do they have in place to ensure ribbon consistency? What's the skill level of the assemblers? These are the sort of differences, that if not controlled, can lead to substantial differences in final performance that may indeed be audible.

    Just some thoughts John.
     
  19. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    The manufacturer I got my speakers from is a very small place. I don't know about other manufacturers, but this one runs response curves on each tweeter and then tries to select two that match as close as possible for each pair of speakers, single sourced AFAIK (printout of curves are included with speakers). He also does ribbons in the next level up from my speakers. I'm sure he runs curves on the mids, but he says the variance is very good for them already. The variance between two sets of speakers could be more significant though, especially since his pair are older than mine. The cabinets are both vented, tuned to the same 50Hz, made by the same small manufacturer, and should not be a large factor IMO (it's a possibility). These are my surrounds, but we threw everything up front to listen for differences. The most notable difference is a smoother midrange with additional detal, particularly noticable with vocals, and a slight damping of the tweeter (almost like putting on the grill after listening with it off).

    My main pair were purchased without the cap upgrade, which I later added myself. Again, after the upgrade, my main speakers exhibited the same change in midrange clarity and slight softening of the tweeter. At first, I wasn't sure I liked what was going on with the tweeter, but after a few days and a lot of listening, I found it to be very pleasant.

    So for what I spent, I am very pleased with the end result. If it were to double the price of my speakers, I would most certainly not have done it and still been happy.
     
  20. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Were the caps the same values as the old ones?

    As an interesting test (for me anyways, since I don't have to do anything!) would have been to first, before the upgrade, to have aimed the two speakers at each other with maybe a quarter inch space or so between them. Then they could be wired out of phase while being fed the same signal. The resulting output should be very low and whatever difference there is, is in fact, the difference between the two speakers. Now this difference might be due to geometric considerations due to drivers not lining up precisely or that they're not mirror imaged. Large audible differences doing this might though be due to significant FR differences as well as other issues.

    Then I'd have stuck the caps in one of the speakers (after having measured old vs. new) and repeated the test.

    You could always get the two sets of speakers together and run this kind of stuff. Might be interesting.

    Always good discussing things with you John. I don't mean to take issue with your hearing the differences. Only want to point out that there may well be other things in play here. Like you said, at least it didn't double the cost of the speakers. That's a big time ouch for me.
     

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