BackstageAn Engineer's Perspective

What to Look For in a Loudspeaker

Obviously we would like a speaker system to cover the broadest possible frequency range, have minimal response deviations, sound clean at any reasonable listening level and not be a slave to room placement. But how do we get there from here? We can start by examining some basic principles of loudspeaker design.

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Stereo Effect

I recall a very interesting conversation with Dr. Belle Julesz, Research Director of Psychoacoustics at Bell Laboratories for 35 years. This remarkable man came to understand more about the human hearing mechanism and the way the brain localizes sounds than anyone on this planet.

Somehow, we got into a lengthy discussion about how a barn owl rotates its head to triangulate the location of mice in the dark. We then related this to human hearing and localization of sources of sound. It seems that we, like the barn owl, tend to turn our heads a bit when we hear an interesting sound. Our brain wants to “view” things at a different angle to try to assign positional coordinates to the sound.  Sometimes this rotation of our heads is obvious, most of the time we don’t even notice. Yet, these subtle rotations allow us to “lock-on” the apparent source of a sound.

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Remastering with Legacy Products

Which pro do the record labels trust to remaster some of the greatest recordings of all time? Steve Hoffman of course. Steve chose the Legacy Whisper system as his reference at DCC Compact Classics.  “Whether it’s the velvety croon of Nat “King” Cole, for the screaming guitar of Eddie Van Halen, Whisper reveals what I call The Breath of Life; the very essence of these recordings.”

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Project Whisper

“My goal with Whisper® was to create the most undistorted mirror of the microphone to date. Whisper was built in prototype stages using electrostatic, ribbon, Heil and and moving coil transducers. The speaker that resulted represents our best efforts and has remained essentially unchanged over the last three years. I have resisted any and all temptations to flavor the design. In short, this speaker is selfishly designed to satisfy a very personal goal.

Being a life-long recording technique fanatic*, I literally wanted Whisper to be able to discern the differences between a Schoeps-Collette, AKG 414 or Neumann U-47 microphone in application.

To test Whisper for coloration in the design phase,  I would literally play a solo performance through Whisper and re-record it as a live event using comparable mic technique. This in turn would be played back and re-recorded again. Such a process is brutally revealing of any colorations and room dependencies. I have learned more with PROJECT WHISPER than any other project in which I have been previously involved and feel grateful for the acceptance Whisper has received in recording studios around the world.”

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Mastering With Legacy

American Recordings producer Rick Rubin made Legacy’s FOCUS his personal choice.

Rick Rubin produced Mick Jagger’s “Wandering Spirit” and Tom Petty’s critically acclaimed “Wildflowers”. Rick also orchestrated Run DMC/Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”, one of the most influential video performances in pop history. In 1997 Rolling Stone’s critic’s poll voted him “Best Producer”.

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Imaging Index

Through the years of qualitatively evaluating loudspeaker designs, I have employed a simple quantitative method for measuring a loudspeaker system’s ability to maintain signal correlation between channels in a reverberant field. I have labeled this empirical indicator the IMAGING INDEX. This method can also be used to fine-tune speaker/listener relationships within a listening room to achieve optimal stereo imaging. It requires little more than a sound pressure level meter and pink noise as a source.  But first some fundamentals should be acknowledged.

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Fundamentals of the 21st Century

For many years the listening room has been regarded by speaker designers as the great unknown; a set of variables involving room geometry, absorption coefficients and decay patterns. Designers have attempted almost as many solutions to room problems as there are rooms. Dipolar, bipolar, cylindrical, omni-directional, and highly directional radiators to name a few. Electrostatic, moving coil dynamic, ionic, planar dynamic, thermo- dynamic and even plasmic transducers.

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Technological Comparisons

Relying on an 8” driver to pump up your 2500 cubic foot listening space is like fanning yourself with a guitar pick. Distortion will rise and transient response will be compromised (unless you’ve recently devised a scheme for miniaturizing a 30-foot wavelength). The laws of physics dictate that a loudspeaker’s effective radiating diameter should increase proportionally with the wavelength of sound to provide consistently low distortion, broad dynamic range and uniform power distribution.

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Accoustical Sense

Every day at noon I head down to the corner coffee shop to restore my faith in humanity and get me some common sense. Yep. You heard me right. The ‘Coffee Cup’ is the joint with the 11 pickups and and my minivan parked out front. Inside you’ll find the heart of middle America. Farmers, construction workers and small time mechanics with one thing in common: they’ve all got real dirt on their clothes and life’s wisdom in their eyes. They have the kinds of faces that show up to fix your broken-down car on rainy nights.

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The Legacy Double Helix - Technology & Design

In the spring of 2007 our director of research and development, Bill Dudleston, was given the challenge of designing a new speaker system for the largest recording company in the world, Universal Music Group. More importantly, it would be utilized by the legendary producer/CEO/Chairman, Antonio “L.A.” Reid.

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