Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Battle of the Harman Kardon budget brands small bookshelf speakers: Infinity Primus p143 vs. JBL Loft 30

Infinity Primus p143 vs JBL Loft 30

I have been a huge fan of the Infinity Primus line for about a while now, I've used them in 2 different home theater set ups with great results. The reputation of them online is pretty dang high and in my opinion very well deserved. At their often occurring sale prices, I don't know of anything that can beat them. With that said, at full retail, the competition if much deeper and other options should also be considered if you are willing to spend that much.

I haven't been able to find much about the JBL Loft series online, in fact they don't seem to be a product featured on the JBL web page. But they are sold at Fry's and Amazon and carry a regular price point that would have them compete for the same audience with the Infinity's.

So knowing that JBL and Infinity are both owned by Harman Kardon, both are intended as small bookshelf or surround speakers, both use 4 inch mids, and that they both retail for similar prices; currently $128.49 for the pair of JBL Loft 30 and $59.99 each for the Infinity p143 on Amazon. I thought they would make for a comparison and review.


LOOKS/CONSTRUCTION 

Detailed speaker disassembly picture album



JBL: Small very basic looking almost square bookshelf speaker. Has a real xover, not just a cap on the tweeter. vinyl wood is clean if uninspired. 5 way biding posts that will accept banana plugs. Very light weight, cabinets are constructed from 1/3 inch MDF

Infinity: Significantly bigger than the JBL, similar black wood grain vinyl but almost semigloss. Nice binding posts but do not accept banana plugs without modification (or so the internet has said) Basic black grill but nicely presented and curves over the top of the speaker. Much heavier than the Loft 30. 

Winner: Infinity 


MUSIC TESTING

Acoustic Guitars - Arabesque - 5 Eiffel
I love this song because there are a few portions that remind me of a song from the movie Serenity. But this isn't about the greatest sci-fi movie of the last 15 years, it's about bargain speakers. In this example the Infinity p143 sounded very good, though they might be missing a little something to get some of the deeper cords and drumming against the guitar but it seems to be inline with what would be expected from a 4 inch driver. The JBL Loft 30's sounded very different, bloated mid bass give the impression of slightly deeper bass but at sacrificing a lot of detail. I also found the tweeters to be on the harsher side of things.

Adele - 21 - Rolling in The Deep
I found a pretty big difference in the vocal quality and imagine between the two speakers. The Primus' were pretty neutral sounding it sounded just like Adele should sound. Vocals weren't too forward or recessed. The Loft 30's were a whole other story. Immediately when AB testing, when switching to the Loft's its like the wind was knocked out of your ears for a second or 2. There is some small cymbal or tambourine throughout the song that just gets lost in the Lofts. I think its a combo of the in inflated midbass and something funky with the tweeter. Adeles vocals are way in the back and have a nasally quality to them.

Buffalo Springfield - Stop Children What's That Sound
This is admittedly a terrible quality MP3 that I have, we are talking Napster 1.0 128kps bad. But I wanted to play something old. Again the differences between the 2 speakers is immediately apparent. with the Lofts the vocals sound like they are coming out of a cave, they are unnaturally deep and without detail.

The Civil Wars - Barton Hallow - Billy Jean
 Love this song. And it sounded great on the p143. Imaging seemed strong and centered John Paul White's vocals. This song was a bit of an anomaly. As the sort comings of the Lofts were not as apparent for much of the song. The into is a little bloated with the Lofts, but its John Paul White's voice that gets some obvious resonances. This was even worse when listening to the title track. So while the Lofts fared better, they still were the losers. 

Katy Perry - Prism - Dark Horse
By now I've gotten a good feel for the comparison between the two speakers. The bass note in the song isn't all that deep and the p143 handle it pretty well. All the bad things about the Loft 30s shows up again. Inflated midbass that gets muddy a causes everything else to sound washed out. Vocals are recessed back and just a blog as far as imagining goes.

TL;DR

The JBL Loft 30's have a brighter slightly harsh tweeters, maybe a tiny bit deeper bass pretty muddy and carries into the mid range. Maybe tuned to give an artificial depth to the bass? Some noticeable resonance int he male vocal range. (Petey Pablo - part 2 - Still writing was a huge example of this). I also feel like the Infinity throws a bit wider of a sound stage and image better. Often the JBL's were just one smear of sound, where as the Infinity's had the ability to place the artist in front of you. Doing a much quicker AB testing with the Dayton b652, the Dayton best the JBLs. While there are still flaws in the b652, at the price it beats the JBL Loft 30. The comparison between the Dayton b652 and the Infinity p143 is much closer. Between the, the Infinity is the better more refined speaker that keeps it composer better particularly in the upper registers.

The frequency response graphs on the highlight the muddy bass and lower midrange on the JBL Lofts; while the Infinity Primuis p143 was incredibility flat. I would challenge anyone to find a better speaker pair under $100 new.

GRAPHS AND STUFF


Above you can see the difference in listening position frequency response. The Infinity p143 are much flatter throughout the range. Darn close to +/- 3db from 100hz to 16khz. I was a little surprised that the tweeter didn't have a little farther extension but it's so much and with such a steep drop off, I'd question just exactly what you would be missing. The JBL Loft 30 has a noticeable hump from 120hz to 250hz, which is what I would attribute to the muddy sound of the midbass range.


Above is the outdoor frequency response of the Infinity Primus p143. Outside without reflections this looks pretty good to me for a sub $100 speaker


Above is the outdoor frequency response of the JBL Loft 30, again showing that midbass range hump. Though the dip in the tweeter is not seen outdoors. 


Above is the individual driver responses of the Infinity Primus p143. I looks like the mid and tweeter and crossed over around 3.5khz and the port is tuned to about 80hz.


Above is the individual driver responses of the JBL Loft 30. It seems to use a much lower and shallower cross over point around 1.75khz  

Addtional Frequency response graphs album

Monday, June 30, 2014

Yamaha NS-6490 review by ZeosPantera



ZeosPanterahas a great review of another set of budget bookshelf speakers. This time the Yamaha NS-6490. Note at the Micca's being used as stands for a size comparison. 





From the looks and sound of it, these may be another excellent choice for those looking for big sound on a budget. Past reviews have also given these speakers high marks. Bookshelf Speaker Face Off 2009 results









Wednesday, June 4, 2014

DIY ABS/PVC pipe speaker stands





I have been needing some speakers stands and wanted to try to make a DIY solution for myself. I was inspired by this example and wanted to take my own stab at it.
Overall it was a fun project, but I did run into some difficulties when trimming the ABS pipes. I have a chop saw that has adjustments on 2 different planes and no matter what I did, it always seemed to be a degree or so off. Just enough to notice if you stood the pipe on a known level surface. Thankfully that didn't seem to affect the assembly.
The stands ended up being about 3 inches to tall for the SM 65's. When I thought them out in my head I had the SM 45s on them and a slightly taller chair for seating. Total height ended up being about 35 inches when something between 29 and 32 would have been better.
They will probably be moved and used as stands for the surround speakers and will be replaced with something pre-made.
If I was going to do it again, I think I would have chosen a larger diameter pipe, these were 2 inches and I think a 3 inch pipe would be a little more stable. I also ended up putting an old 10lbs weight on the base to add some stability.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

REVIEW: Pinnacle BD 500 - Everyone Needs a Pretty Little Black Bookshelf Speaker.

Link to speaker disassembly and graphs 
http://imgur.com/a/Yc9rA
http://imgur.com/a/wRlCg


Pinnacle BD 500 and Definitive Technology SM 350 

My first review of speakers that maybe considered to be of the true “budget audiophile” grade. Both of them have been found on sale recently. The Definitive Technology Studio Monitor 350's were found on Newegg on sale with a $50 manufacturer rebate which brought the total price before tax and shipping to $129.99 and the Pinnacle DB 500 which has been found on Woot.com regularly over the past year for $200.00. Both speakers are of very good build quality, very nice high gloss piano black finishes on both. The Pinnacle BD 500's finish is exceptionally good with a mirror like level of gloss to it. The BD 500's do feel rather light for even their small size. And the very scientific knuckle rap gives off a slightly hollow sound, which was surprising compared to the quality of their finish. However, internally they are well stuffed with high quality dampening material. 

Acoustic Guitars - Arabesque – 5 Effiel 
Both speakers kept great pace with the fast guitar plucking, and most of the quick bass notes. The SM 350s were significantly louder in the direct AB testing. They also felt more detailed and crisp. The BD 500 were smoother and mellower; but do begin to come a live a little more as the volume increases. At lower volumes the SM 350's had a stronger center image, but the BD 500 again improved as the volume went up. 

Audioslave – Cochise 
The BD 500's were more subdued though out the range; but Chris Cornell's vocals were slightly better pronounced and were never hidden under the brighter tweeter found on the SM 350s. There was bit more presence and detail to the 50 second long intro with the SM 350's. It felt like it was filled with more excitement and anticipation. 

Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man 
The SM 350s provided a very strong center image and the BD 500 were not far behind. I think the brighter tweeter in the SM 350 might have been a little forward and with a touch of reverb or distress or an almost echo like quality; it wasn't strong but it was there, most notable from 0:39 – 0:45. The piano sounded nice and solid across both speakers with the BD 500 maintaining its overall more mellow and less in your face sound. 

Cee-Lo Green – Closet Freak 
Now with the first test of deep bass. Neither speaker was very impressive or could reproduce the depth nor the volume of bass that this song requires. Again the brighter tweeter on the SM 350 becomes noticeable with a reoccurring bell throughout the song, but they also handled the high pitch of Cee-Lo's voice a litter better. Probably the most fun part of the song from 2:00 – 2:28 was handled better on the SM 350's. It was more fun and lively with particularly the impact of the horns was more noticeable. Both speakers handled the song well enough that enough though I've listened to this sound a million times, I picked up and heard back ground vocals that I have never noticed before.

Live – Dam at Otter Creek 
I was really pretty surprised with this song. Both speaker handled it very well. But I think this might have been a song where I would give the nod to the BD 500s. There is a lot going on in the guitar distortion and feed back in the song going on in the upper registers and the smoother more mellow tweeter of the BD 500 took the edge off a lot of it. Given that, during the AB testing the SM 350's would not have to be turned up as loud to get the same volume, so the brighter tweeter might be a bit less obvious. Both speakers handled the bass lines very well, solid drums and bass guitars all around. 

The Verdict? 

 It's hard to pick a winner and I don't think there necessarily is one. They are both great speakers with their own unique characteristics. The SM 350 is a fantastic speaker at the sale price point and still great at its current retail as a discontinued line. It's very detailed, you wont miss a note anywhere; but I do think it's a little on the bright side. If you value that more detailed and intricate response this would be a good speaker to start to consider. The BD 500, a good bit smaller of a speaker lacks a little in the lower bass department and was a much more mellow and smoother sounding speaker overall; and I never encountered any harshness or fatigue while listening. It also beings to shine as the volume picks up. 

My listening room is far from ideal, but it may capture a "real life" experience better than a properly treated room would. From the graph plots both inside and outside; there is a good hump at about 150hz (I'm not sure what happened @ 3 feet, my guess its some reflection that I didn't anticipate), I didn't play with any EQing but I would imagine that if this was hump turned down a little, it may liven up the sound a little bit. Either way, the BD 500's were great speakers. 

I did feel like the SM 350's created stronger center image throughout all the testing. If given the opportunity I would recommend listing to both. For me personally, my tastes are currently leaning toward the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 350. I felt it to be more detailed, I could “see” things happening better and can live with a slightly bright tweeter. 

I'll have a more detailed review of the much of the StudioMonitor line 350/450/45/65 in the future. 

I have used the Pinnacle BD 500 and matching center speaker as my 3.1 theater system and it has a performed great and I have really enjoyed them. It's been a tough decision and I did a lot of listening to both sets, but I'm starting to collect a few too many shiny black boxes so the Pinnacles will be on the market soon so I can work through the other pairs of speakers currently collecting dust.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Polk T15/R15 Review, Test, and Disassembly




The first budget speaker from a huge name brand that I’ve picked to disassemble and review. The T15 can regularly be found for in the $50-$60 at Best Buy which is what prompted my purchase and review. (From what I can gather the T15 and R15 are the exact same speaker, at the very least they seem to share the same tweeter. With the former being a Best Buy exclusive.)

Right off the bat it was by far the best constructed speaker I’ve seen in this price range. Thicker and a bit denser looking fiberboard than either the Dayton B653, Monoprice 8250 or the Sony B1000, the front face is nicely finished with what looks like a smooth plastic top surface, and most impressively it has at basic but real cross over (just a basic high pass and low pass filter for each driver). There is also some slight corner bracing going on. I didn’t weight them, but the T15 is heavier than the Dayton B652 and fares better on the knuckle wrap test.   

So did all these seemingly clear and obvious bonuses translate into a better sounding speaker for the money?

For a quick answer; no they didn’t. At least not to my ears and at least not for music. I’ll get to theater use a bit later.

For the ABX comparisons I used the Dayton B652, generally considered one of the best $50 pair of bookshelf speakers out there, since the price points are the same I felt they made a good match to compare to. Starting from the bottom, or the bass one might say. The Polk T15 was adequate for a small bookshelf speaker; it actually had pretty decent extension into the 80hz range. However, as music moved out of the bass range and into everything else the speakers response became very peaky in room. Part of this is just the nature of my real world testing environment (I had some oddly flat outdoor measurements throughout the midrange and up into 3khz or so). The end result was something that sounded very much like many voices were being projected through a tube. Following this, is a huge drop off in treble response starting at 2.5khz and really lasting though the rest of the audio range. This was seen in both indoor listening environment testing and outdoor testing. The Polk T15 might as well be the bastard offspring of the Monoprice 8250 and the Sony B1000.

When it comes down to it, musically these speakers are just not good performers out of the box. So I decided to use these speakers as my first attempt to make my own EQ files using REW. After a few go arounds I feel like I actually got some decent sound out of them. They became much more musical, the tube like sound was gone and I started to enjoy them as much as I have some of the step up speakers I’ve been listening to. So they do have some potential if you take the time to take some room measurements and EQ as needed.

As a basic home theater speaker, I didn’t encounter any of the obvious issues I did with music. I watched plenty of TV and movies, with The Avengers being my final test. Now they didn’t blow my socks off or anything but they were a vast improvement form the Samsung F6300’s built in speakers. If you intend to us them in this application I think you could so worse. The Polk T15 would probably be a serviceable surround speaker for any of the other similar Polk products. 


One thing I did take away as a whole, was that with a little bit of time spend working on an EQ file, these speakers really did become pretty pleasant. I don’t think it would be worthwhile to spend much time on room treatments or anything like that. But once EQ’d (a good) bit these were not bad. However out of the box I would still pick the Dayton B652 without question. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Frequency Graph comparison: Polk T15 vs Dayton B652 vs Definitive Technology Studiomonitor 350



The Polk T15 is a small entry level book shelf that generally retails for $99.99. It has recently been on sale at Best Buy for $59.99 and can be found as low as $49.99 during Black Friday sales. It is a good looking well build inexpensive bookshelf speaker, but I haven't seen much in the way of reviews of it. So I thought I would give my hand at it.


Details on the above graph:

  • Speaker test Polk T15, Dayton B652, Def Tech SM 350.
  • All were tested with REW using a Dayton UMM-6 usb mic placed in the listening position pointed forward. 
  • 1/6 octave smoothing.
I have been using them as my main set of speakers for the last few days, but have not been overly critical in my listening (critical listening and more detailed measurement are to follow). From my initial impression, they are not the most musical speaker, however they are better than the Monoprice 8250 and the Sony B1000. I did find them pretty enjoyable for TV, movies and games. 

This was just a quick comparison test between the 3 speakers and more detailed tests are to come, but I was again surprised by how comparatively flat the Daytons are. I enjoy the Def Techs the most, they are very nice speakers when found on sale/clearance they are almost unbeatable. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sony SS-B1000 Bookshelf speaker frequency response and disassembly



Disassembly Images 

I bought this bookshelf about a month ago with the intent to tests and compare it along with some other budget speakers (Dayton B652, Monoprice 8250, Infinity Primus P153). I wasn't really interested in posting anything in depth on it because after even a quick ABX against the Dayton, it was clear the Sony B1000 was not a very capable speaker.

However it has recently been featured on WOOT

http://tech.woot.com/offers/your-choice-of-sony-speakers

and on a few audio/HT posts on Reddit so I wanted to give my Average Joe input. To be short, this speaker sucks for $68.00 at Walmart it cost. It sucks at any sale price you can find it.

The hump between 80hz and 180hz has been common in all the speakers I've tested. I'm thinking its some sort of room resonance, or possibly characteristic of the cheap speakers. I will have a better understanding when I'm able to test the Primus 153 and Def Tech 350's I have. And in this respect it is not all that dissimilar from the popular Dayton B652. In my original listening comparison I noticed that all the highs just seemed to vanish. When I began the frequency response test it became very obvious as to why. There is a 5-10db drop starting at ~1.25khz and continuing until 6khz.. Thats huge! Now thankfully there isn't any huge peaks in higher registers that would make this speakers especially tiring to the ears.

You could probably EQ away some of this and find a better middle ground but for me it wasn't worth the experimenting.

On the plus side, they are constructed very well. Better materials than the Dayton's or Monoprice's as far as the enclosure is made. So they at least look OK.

The graph is an average of 4 measurements taken of the speaker. 1) Mic ~5 inches from speaker, pointed straight on and along the center plane of the speaker.  2) Mic ~3 feet from the speaker, pointed straight on and along the center plane of the speaker. 3) & 4) ~ 3 feet from the speaker and 25 degrees to the left or right pointed straight on and along the center plane of the speaker