Modern Speaker Technology

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  • #26
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So I re-pose my question, originally posed to @marcusl, to you, @NTL2009: what do you think about the newer speakers that use neodymium magnets? I think rare earth magnets and mylar cones and high-precision tolerances in the manufacturing processes make for smaller speakers that are more robust and deliver great sound -- what do you think about those things? ...
I don't have any particular insight, but I think it is a very interesting question, and I hope someone with knowledge will come forward, or maybe one of us will find a good source on the matter (I'll be busy today, but maybe I'll find time later).

But I'll take a semi- educated stab at it, and I'd say it's been an evolution, not a revolution. I think most would agree that sound quality in these small devices has generally improved over the past decade. I'd attribute it to mostly small improvements in materials, design, and also more attention to detail,and consumer demand. Early on, people were satisfied with (edit: "amazed by") what a device could do. As time went on, those features became expected, so manufacturers needed to do other things to differentiate themselves, and one of those things was better sound quality.

Materials play a role, probably more computer modelling, and design-wise, I suspect they have been more clever in placing the speaker(s) and using the empty space in the device to provide a resonant cavity (like the box/port of a standard bookshelf speaker does).
 
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It's pretty easy to make a DAC these days with noise 100dB or more down from the signal. Better noise performance only matters if your reference design sucks in the first place. Assuming you're starting with a decent DAC, better noise performance will only help your spec sheet, and it won't be even slightly audible. If you can hear noise from the DAC under normal circumstances, that falls very clearly under option 1 that I had above: your baseline is spectacularly bad. This is certainly possible of course - many modern products have bad designs. However, you don't need "quad dac" designs to achieve inaudibly low noise.

EDIT: On the other hand, differences in speakers are very clearly audible. Among all of the things audiophiles focus on, speaker differences are the one where you should clearly focus the most, since that's where you'll get by far the best return.
I'd agree with all that. But again, that's not contrary to @sysprog saying he can hear the difference, but I would tend to attribute it to a poor DAC in comparison, rather than this DAC being so superior. Maybe the multiple DACs are marketing hype, maybe it is a way to get better overall performance with lower overall power? I think the link said that some DACs could be shut down when you are in a 'non-Quad' mode? So maybe each single DAC is a low power design with higher noise/error as the trade-off, but by averaging 4 of them when desired, they can lower the noise level, and therefore balance noise/power on demand. That would also be consistent with observing that switching between the two modes is noticable.

I just tried an experiment with my good headphones, and my kinda-budget smart phone (Moto- G4, ~ $220 USD unlocked). Unfortunately, I have developed mild tinnitus over the past 4 years or so, so I really can't differentiate noise levels this low anymore anyhow :frown: . I would need some decent test equipment, or, if motivated enough, I suppose I could rig up my good-quality ADC (I use it for digitizing some of my old LPs), and use the freeware Audacity audio editing/analysis program to record the noise levels. If I boost the signals with a low noise amp, I might be able to measure differences. But with my tinnitus, I probably won't get that motivated.

I also used my good headphones and good DAC to test my hearing again. Sadly, it drops off by about 10 kHz, and is just gone by 12 kHz. I got similar results straight out of my laptop headphone jack with cheap earbuds, which tells me even budget components are actually pretty good these days.

 
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I think much of the sound quality advancement in small speaker tech used in phones and laptops has grown out of the steady work that's been done over the past decades on headphones.
 

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