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Keep the Goal in Mind

This is a post that appeared in the DIY Loudspeakers mailing list back in December, 1998. The post was made in response to a thread about Bob Carver's Sunfire True Subwoofer.

It all started when Dan orginally suggested that for it's size and price, the Sunfire sub was an amazing woofer. Other list members pointed out far larger/expensive subwoofers that far outperformed the Sunfire speaker; however this was missing the point.

The reason I'm posting this: While Dan's post is specificalluy about the Sunfire Sub, I think the points he makes applies not only to audio, but to engineering in general: there is always a goal and the goal ain't necessaraily about being the biggest, baddest thing out there. Much of the time, it is about giving a segment of the population what they want. Just because their goals don't meet you desires, does not mean the effort was not worthwhile.

Read on:

Date: Mon, 8 Dec 1997 11:12:19 -0800
From: "Daniel C. Wiggins" <>
To: "Bass List" <>
Subject: Design philosophy

Well, after stirring up the pot with the "Carver TrueSub" thread, I thought I'd post some things about how we at Avatar design products, engineering design, and other generalities.

The first thing ANY savvy businessperson will do is to identify the market, or a niche within a market, that is not filled, and has the potential for payoff. Find it, learn it, fully understand it. Understand your customers. For instance, we saw a niche in high-end speaker sound, fantastic wood finishes, and low cost. Not many 35 - 20,000 Hz speakers, with REAL wood veneer (1/16" thick), solid wood trims, great imaging, stable impedance, good efficiency speakers sell for less than $3K; so we at Avatar designed the Paavani. $1750 gets you all of the above. And they're drawing enough interest and sales to make us believe we hit the market.

The next thing is to define the goals of the product that is to address the market:

So, taking these design goals, we chose a maximum cabinet size, then had some drivers manufactured, then designed the crossover. The end result is the Paavani. Is it the best speaker we can build? No. It is the best speaker we can build within the above constraints.

When we wanted more efficiency, we were willing to use a floor-stander; thus the Veda came to life. When we wanted to do the best $3K speaker we could, we did the Basant. The best minimonitor? The Indu.

See, our goals, approaches, and design philosophies are NOT the usual DIY approach of choose great drivers, design a cabinet, then the XO. We did it in a different order, as most manufacturers would. Get your goals, and see what you can do.

We had a set of design goals that mandated a max cabinet size; we wanted stand mounted, and since we wanted the tweeter to be 32" from the floor, we needed to keep the overall cabinet height to 20" max, to keep the "monitor" look and feel. Was this the best way? Well, we believe so, given our design goals.

Likewise when I design a SONAR system (my other job). I take into account what the market, or individual customer needs. What can they spend? Is the budget $50K, or $5 mill? Can it be a large rack mount, fixed location system? Or does it need to be backpackable for use in alpine lakes? Once the goals are set, THEN I can design the system.

The usual DIY approach (of which I am well familiar, having been a DIYer for quite a while!), is to buy the best you can afford, bar none, and go from there. Big box? So what. Don't spend money on the finish until the sound is the absolute best you can achieve (I've lived with raw particleboard and MDF boxes for years on end...).

That will give you great sound, but that won't sell product. That approach will result in a $15K large, room filling system. And that's what we have a preponderance of in the speaker market any more. Look at the number of $6K systems out there, as opposed to $2K systems. The reason for the extra cost is the more expensive (not necessarily better!) drivers. The complex cabinets. The questionable crossover designs and componentry. Too many systems are driven by the "pursuit of excellence".

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that the pursuit of excellence is a bad thing; on the contrary, it is the ideal goal! However, it will also result in a speaker system that is too expensive for the majority of people. It will result in a speaker that most likely will not sell. It will usually fail.

Good, solid engineering approaches need to be applied. Lay out your goals (including budgets: costs, time, etc.). Set your design milestones. And get to it. Make the compromises that you need to (NO speaker is compromise free). The end result will be a better product, both in terms of execution AND sales.

Does that mean that any speaker (or any product) designed in this manner is bad? Well, no. There are two things to consider when evaluating a product: how does its design goals apply to my desires, and did it hit its design goals. If the product's design goals don't line up with your desires, then DON'T EVEN WORRY ABOUT THE PRODUCT. But a product can be judged on its hitting of the design goals, INDEPENDENT OF THE FIT OF THE GOALS TO YOUR DESIRES.

Do I think the Dunlavy speakers hit their design goals? Absolutely! They're extremely well designed units, that nailed John's belief in perfect phase and frequency response. I admire that.

HOWEVER, I do not personally believe that perfect phase response is that important; thus, I personally would not consider the Dunlavys as a good speaker for me - the design goals are different. But it's still a good design!

Now, as far as Bob Carver's sub goes, he did a FANTASTIC job of hitting his design goals. Having talked to the man on several occasions about his design goals, the PRIMARY goal was small size: it COULD NOT BE LARGER THAN a 12" CUBE. he had to make it small enough that his wife could not find it within 5 minutes. That was a HARD DESIGN GOAL. Did that mean he could create a massive bass monster, like the CB [ContraBass]? Of course not. And he doesn't claim that, either. But he DOES claim that no other speaker its size can reproduce the level and depth of bass that his sub does. And that is true.

Based upon his design goals, Bob did an admirable job. He nailed, IMHO, every design goal he had: small size, high HT output (30 Hz and up), good frequency extension (20 Hz at acceptable levels), acceptable cost (less than $1500).

Now does his design goals line up with my desires? Nope. I'm not that concerned with size in a sub, nor high HT output. But that doesn't mean I don't think the product was well designed.

So remember, keep this in mind whenever you're evaluating products:

1. What were the design goals of the product?
2. How well does this product hit its goals?

If the goals aren't important to you, DON'T BUY IT. If the product does a poor job of hitting its goals, DON'T BUY IT. But

DON'T BASH PRODUCT THAT HIT ITS GOALS BECAUSE YOU DON'T AGREE WITH ITS GOALS. The goals and execution are independent; please recognize this!

This approach can also help you identify manufacturers that you should look at/avoid. If a manufacturer, in general, has design goals that you don't accept/desire, then it's a pretty safe assumption that most products from the manufacturer will not meet your needs. Don't worry about that manufacturer! Sped your time else where.

Likewise, if a manufacturer has as its design goals things you hold of value, then they are probably worthy of investigation each time you're in the market for a product they produce.

But please keep the set of design goals, and the actual implementation of the goals in mind. Don't bash a product just because you don't agree with the goals. If the manufacturer chose to accept a limitation, so be it. Don't bash because they chose it - bash if they didn't hit it! If the limitation is unacceptable, so be it. But the limitation, in and of itself, is not bash-worthy!

Anyway, that's enough ranting for now...


Dan Wiggins is President of Adire Audio (formerly Avatar Audio) and a hellava nice guy