Simply better

March 11, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Simpler is better for quite a number of things including, traveling, truth, recipes, and math.

But simpler isn’t always better for high-performance home audio. Sometimes a bit of complexity does a better job.

Take for example a loudspeaker.

It’s simpler to use one driver than it is to use multiples, yet the results support the harder and more complex route. It’s perhaps comforting to believe the coherence found in a single driver should outdo any Rube Goldberg crossover extravaganzas aimed at perfectly marrying multiple drivers, but the facts simply don’t hold sway. A woofer attempting to be a tweeter just doesn’t work no matter how much we wish it would.

Another example might be found in circuitry. We may like the quick wave of a hand simple design of a single amplification device in the signal path (proving more that short is better than lengthy numbers of devices to travel through) but we cannot ignore the fact that adding more complexity in parallel like current sources, regulators, and DC servo loops, aren’t significantly better sounding and performing than a single device and a handful of resistors.

Simple can be better but it’s not a universal axiom we should rely upon to choose our equipment.

When in doubt, have a listen.

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21 comments on “Simply better”

  1. No problem using more drivers designed and optimized for specific frequency range in order to produce higher SPLs when having low power amps. But why destroying coherence and losing of power in a passive crossover and again destroying coherence due to badly arrange drivers (no phase coherence due to different listening distances and specific driver delays). The latter best seen in car stereo where obviously the main focus is on highest SPLs. 🙂

  2. Good point. I think the problem is when people advocate simplicity or complexity as a mantra. Some think things are complex because the designer hasn’t found the simple way. Some systems just are complex and, as Paul says, often it a matter of bolting together less complex subsystems for an overall complex result.

  3. “When in doubt have a listen”…Bingo!
    Some two way loudspeakers sound very good…some might say excellent, especially
    when fed by a very simple 3 element crossover because the mid/woofer driver rolls-
    off naturally…when in doubt have a listen.

    Since we’ve been watching PS Audio – ‘aspen FR30’ presentations lately, I just
    thought that I’d pass on the MSRP/RRP of a pair of FR30’s in the land down-under:-
    AU$48,000 (US$34,500)

    1. Freight costs are killing prices and polluting in the process.
      Somewhere I read about a company making speakers out of concrete–inert, and reasonably priced.
      And they double as a bomb shelter for small pets. 8-(

      1. Lp,
        Yep, a German guy makes loudspeaker cabinets out of concrete
        so that Ukranian hamsters can stay safe from ‘Vlad the Insaner’.

        ‘Concrete Audio’ – Germany
        Frank Nebel – CEO

        1. These German speakers look pretty refined. The concrete speaker photo I saw looked more like a sewer pipe stood up on end. Maybe that was the ‘entry’ level model? lol

  4. Simple or Complex. It’s the final results that matter.

    Most important, when it comes to audio, is the result achieved that each person chooses to live with.

    There’s a big difference in building (simple or complex) for one’s self or building for others.

  5. It all depends on the application and room size. My single driver system with 3.5W/channel tube amp sounds fantastic and costs about $2500. The single driver is specifically designed for full range and the folded horn cabinet allows surprisingly decent bass with very little driver cone displacement. It won’t shake the walls or fill a dance hall, but is just about perfect for this second system in a smaller room. The driver design and construction and cabinet are anything but simple yet gets the intended job done very well.

    1. I agree. After building some (relatively) low-power Pass diy amps and preamps, I wanted to take the “simpler is better” route to its logical end — a single-driver speaker. I found a 95 dB driver with what seemed like quality build (neodymium magnet, cast basket, Kevlar/paper cone), I built a couple of different enclosures from scrap plywood, and after some fiddling with ports and stuffing, went with a braced MDF bookshelf-size box that sounded surprisingly good. But boy, big difference fine-tuning a physical speaker compared to substituting capacitors or other electronic components. Everything takes 10 times as much work with the speaker. And, as Paul likes to say, it’s all a trade-off. But getting that midrange sound right must be 90 percent of the battle. And it’s just my wife’s art room, not my listening room. She’s developed a good ear over the years and agrees that there’s a sweetness to the Class A Pass gear. So I’m in for maybe $1500 in that setup, vs. about $13,000 for my listening room (Magnepans, REL sub, Rogue Sphinx, DS dac, Stellar phono pre, P3 power regenerator, turntable, CD, etc.) Sure, the listening room is superior. But 10x? All depends what you’re after.

  6. Be it a recipe or audio equipment, the number of components shares equal importance with the quality of the components used, and the ingenuity in combining them.

    The FR30s are excellent speakers because these three elements are present. The short comings in most designs result when one of these three elements is short changed.

  7. I believe in “KISS” methodology! However, sometimes adding a hug, sprinkled tenderness and soft touches “gets you there” to faster/better Nirvana!!! 😉

  8. Experimenting with simple and complex is fun and great learning experience. I built a system that had three active (single op amp) third order bandpass filters after the RIAA preamp. The RIAA preamp pc board was Teflon substrate. The output of the bandpass filters went to each its own amplifier with its own power supply matched to the frequency of the filter. Each power amp connected directly to the device it was powering. No speaker crossover was my project goal. Deciding on where the BP filter cut off frequencies were and trying to keep everything flat in in phase was started getting in the way of fishing… LOL

  9. This post reminds me of an article I read a while back about the lampizator guy doing mods to CD players. He was going to put a tube output stage on a Krell KAV 300 CD player, when he opened the cover and looked inside it had 280 transistors in the output stage, he couldn’t believe it. what were they thinking? He then proceeded to listen to it in stock form and couldn’t believe how good it sounded. The only mods he done were replacing the drive mechanism and replaced 1 opamp.

  10. Simpler … What is simpler? Right now I am playing / listening to 1 and/or 2 Rel subs known as the 212SEs (double stacked self powered) with my IRS Beta without woofers and my sats Krell Resolution ?4s?.

    To place a sat on top of the sub, I cut a 2″ by 2″ square out of sorbathane rubber, because the REL logo is on top..

    Now, which is the better combo? The subs with the mid/tweeter panels that are being treated like sats or the actual sats that have no L-EMIMs (no lower midrange drivers ) and ported …

    IS simpler neccessarily the better way? or is the better way, the simplest or none..
    I have yet to decide… Maybe I am making things too complicated..


  11. As a practicing architect for 40 years, I was schooled in modernism, whose heroes were minimalists like “less is more” Mies van der Rowe and “a house is a machine” le Corbusier. But minimalism can be sterile and cold. In architecture as in audio, different tastes appeal to different people. Organic complexity can be welcoming, exciting and uplifting…offering a more satisfying pallet to the senses. Imagine a tree, a flower, an animal, a rock without complexity. How boring life would be. Trees have multiple branches of different shapes and sizes for a reason. The optimal, most efficient form is not necessarily simple. Just look at the surfaces of the human brain.

  12. “The simpler the better for a range of things, including travel, truth, recipes and math” – but agree not for a writer. The more unique the story that the writer writes, the more colors he adds to its description, the more popular this story will be, as an example, look at the articles written on the website. People dream that everything is simple. For example, the simpler your application or the terms of the promotion, the more likely it is to succeed. But in art this is unacceptable

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