Our Philosophy - Performance and Value

June 6, 2005

When scientists or rigorous engineers say something is elegant, they mean it has or does absolutely everything that's necessary, without skimping but also without a trace of unnecessary overkill. It solves a problem exactly, without a trace of slop. Or, to put it in a way that comes from other origins but applies here pretty elegantly, "It's right on the money."

Right on the money is where we like to be. We look not just at performance but at performance-per-dollar in every speaker we make. We look for the absolutely best combination of performance and value we can achieve, and we are so identified with it that critics consistently have called even our most expensive speaker, like the Synchrony, an exceptional value.

To achieve performance and value together, you have to begin with performance. In our full-range speakers, the objective is never less than doing music justice: that is, building in enough high-frequency performance to supply full musical detail, enough low-frequency response to give the full "weight" of music, and a tonal balance from top to bottom that not only makes musical instruments sound like themselves but in the right relationship to each other, with no exaggerated prominence or ear-fatiguing coloration. As we go up the line to our most expensive speakers, the gains over that bottom-line requirement are in power capabilities — there's quite a difference between reproducing either rock or symphonic music at "reasonable" levels in "average-sized" rooms and going more and more full tilt for the loudest unstrained performance in a big room — and in the subtleties that add up to even more musical detail and more precise spatial imaging.

The extra fun in audio, and especially in speakers, is that while there are different definitions of "ultimate" performance, and people willing to argue till the end of time about them, there are some really elegant — neat! — things you can do by keeping some simple basic principles in mind and asking yourself how much of the "ideal" you can build into products at different price levels.

We ask you not to be put off by the word "simple." Simplicity — distilling things to their essence — is almost always the center of products people really love. Encrusting something with diamonds so it looks like it ought to do something, or standing on your head to do something you could do better right side up, may inspire some interest for a while, but not much gratefulness. We'll stand or fall on how well we achieve elegant simplicity in our products.

We'll also stand and fall on making products that are long-lived and not easily outmoded. There are plenty of fads in audio equipment, with speakers often leading the pack. But fads are momentary by definition, and we want our products to satisfy year after year. So we use what we know will work without undesirable side effects, and design as elegantly as we can manage.

What underlies everything we do, and has so much to do with the amazing performance-per-dollar of speakers like the PSB Alpha Speaker Series at one end of the financial scale and our Synchrony Speaker Series at the other, is Paul Barton's enormous attention to detail — his willingness to listen for hour after hour, to identify performance characteristics that others of us often can't hear, and to make adjustments in very small increments that you notice only in direct and close comparison with the previous state of things. This attention to detail is what produces the musicality that critics and customers so often identify in our speakers. And because so much in the design of fine speakers is common and easily accessible knowledge rather than a matter of black arts, Paul's attention to detail is as much our "secret" as anything.

If you want to get into the technical details of performance and value, we talk elsewhere in these pages about what people hear, about the real differences between speakers at different performance levels, about the laws of physics that govern speaker performance, and other subjects. If you are just beginning to get interested in the subtleties of audio-video equipment, we hope you will read those sections. What we'd like to advise here is that you bring high demands with you — that you ask yourself whether products are doing what they could to have a good performance-price ratio, or whether a designer has simply thrown money (yours, if you go along with it) at solving a design problem or at achieving some audible difference that may or may not have real value when you listen and look at home. We are confident that both you and we will do well with that attitude as a guide.

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