Section 2 - Hi-fi drivers & vendors
Tuesday, 09-Sep-2008, 20:58:53 GMT
Last modified: 25-Mar-2007, 19:49:52 GMT








Go to (LDSG vendor guideline links)….

Vendor guidelines
Additional notes on boutique vendors
So you want to start a speaker business?
Driver national origins


Accuton ACI Adire Alcone Apex Jr. ATC ATD Audax Audio Technology Aura Axon
Beyma
Cabasse
Dayton Dynaudio
Eclipse Eminence Eton
Focal
GR Research
Hi-Vi Hiquphon Human
Jordan
Lambda LPG
Madisound Manger McCauley MCM Meniscus Monacor Morel
Peerless PHL
Scan-Speak SCH Seas Skaaning Stryke
TangBand Triangle
Usher
Vifa Visaton Volt


Guidelines:

Let's start this section out with a quote from a message I received when I embarked on this project:

" I too have been curious as to what others have used for drivers. I've read LOTS of posts about Linaeum tweets, Scan-Speak tweets, Dynaudio, Focal, Vifa, SEAS & Audax drivers. I rarely ever read about Morel, Eton, ATC, Peerless, Davis, Vieta, Cabasse, Accuton, Raven, JBL, Eminence, LPG, MB Quart, etc., ……"

Referring back to the introduction on the business perspective of speaker driver manufacturers, it's not surprising that some vendors have higher visibility in the DIY market than others - they're the ones who actively recruit and support DIY distributors. Those who are more ambivalent toward the DIY market won't have the visibility or penetration. With these facts in mind, let me try to summarize my feedback and research to date. The vendors listed are sorted alphabetically. Where sufficient information is available, I've also tried to characterize my respondents' views of the reliability of each manufacturer's published data.


Notes on boutique vendors:

As you peruse the LDSG, you'll notice that some vendors are quite small, some even one-person operations. Among these are Apex Jr., Bandor, BESL, Dillon Acoustics, E.J.Jordan, E-Speakers, Fertin, Hammer Dynamics, Human Speakers, Lambda Acoustics, Selah Audio, Stryke Audio, and others

These generally fall into one of three main categories:

  1. Small businesses hoping to become larger businesses.
  2. Small businesses hoping to make a profit, but stil basically a labor of love.
  3. Small businesses which exist to subsidize the owner's hobby.

Those in the third category often don't last too long once the owner finds out how much time, expense, and aggravation are involved in running a business. However, none of these are necessarily that much riskier than ordering from a larger dealer (those that have proven unreliable are not in the LDSG). Why deal with them, then? Most boutique dealers can offer prices and group discounts below those of larger dealers. The owners of a boutique are usually people with whom you can develop a rewarding personal relationship. It also gives many people a better feeling spending their money with a fellow enthusiast that they know personally.

What is required is a good knowledge of the facts of business life as it applies to dealing with such vendors. This is a simple matter of becoming an informed consumer.

A day in the life of a small vendor…

Running a small speaker business is a balancing act. Suppliers often ignore you since you're not buying parts in sufficient quantities to demand their attention. Without the financing of a larger business, you can't afford to keep a lot of inventory so your business model is less that of a supermarket and more like a brokerage. Your customers' familiarity is a double-edged sword. One the one hand, it gets them to do business with you. On the other, many feel free to consume vast amounts of your precious time chatting about your common interest. The fact that you're small also makes customers nervous and quick to panic when problems occur. The same person who wanted to chat cordially last week may be the same one posting public messages that you're a scam artist this week and demanding a refund.

With all this in mind, consider the following when dealing with a small vendor:

  1. Start out wth the knowledge that dealing with a boutique vendor inherently involves more risk than with a larger vendor. Therefore, treat the money you spend with them as you would any other riskier investment.
  2. Try to use their web site, if they have one, as a means to answer your questions. Try to avoid bombarding them with email just to answer questions which are either answered on the web site, or irrelevant to your doing business with them. Rest assured that their time is more tightly budgeted than yours, and wading through email can quickly waste a lot it. If you really want to help them succeed, don't waste their precious time with idle chit-chat!
  3. Make sure you agree with their payment terms up front. Many will bill a credit card at the time of shipment. Some orders have to be prepaid, in whole or in part, before volume purchases can be made to an OEM vendor.
  4. Ask up front when they expect items to ship. Long lead times are common among boutique dealers, so make sure you can tolerate them. Even more importantly, if the item(s) don't ship from stock, there may be unforeseen delays which are beyond the control of the dealer, so take their delivery date and ask yourself if you could tolerate something twice as long.
This brings up the issue of what happens when problems do arise… Murphy's Law being as it is, problems will arise from time to time! Here are some common reactions that you should avoid:
  1. It can be quite appropriate to post a message on a mailing list or online conference letting others know of the problem and asking if others have had similar problems. However, resist the tempation to automatically assume that you're being ripped off! Some people in such forums will gladly turn your simple inquiry into a feeding frenzy. Resist joining in and try to keep things calm for as long as is appropriate.
  2. If the dealer has an on-line presence, an email inquiry is certainly warranted, but remember what was discussed above regarding email. Don't assume that if you don't get an immediate answer, the dealer has skipped the country with your money. Telephone calls and faxes are much more appropriate and effective.
  3. Each time you speak with the dealer, get an update on your order status and a firm date when you should either have received it or check back. Be aware that if the dealer's awaiting a promised shipment from an OEM, the delivery quote is only a best guess. You're both at the mercy of the OEM, so taking your frustrations out on him/her may not be appropriate.
  4. If you decide to cancel the order, do it over the phone with a follow-up hard copy, either fax or letter. If the circumstances are beyond the dealer's control, he/she will usually provide a prompt refund in hopes of getting business from you in the future.
  5. Preorders are another matter, though. If you've already paid up front, and the money's already been paid or put in escrow for the OEM vendor, it's possible that you may have to ride it out. This is simply one of the up-front risks you have to consider when deciding to place your order.


Notes for prospective small businesses

Many people in the speaker building hobby at some time toy with the idea of turning their hobby into a business. When this urge comes over you, consider the following:

One of the rudest awakenings of a small business owner comes when he realizes how much higher the cost of doing business is than he planned. You also need to appreciate that while it may be obvious to you that you're doing your fellow hobbyists a favor by providing a source of something not otherwise readily available, their perceptions can be wildly different. Most significantly, they will expect you to treat them about the same as they've been treated by much larger businesses with relatively unlimited resources. If you're really serious about proceeding with it, here are some suggestions:

  1. Establish up front that your primary means of communicating with customers is fax or phone. Email is wonderful, but it facilitates frivolous and time consuming static that only contributes to the S/N ratio. Email is still necessary, but set up separate email accounts for sales and information so you can reply to the most important stuff first.
  2. More problematic is a "virtual business". What do you do if your business consists of multiple individuals at multiple sites, each with day jobs? Obviously, you can't easily publish phone numbers. Two suggestions:

    • Fax is still a good idea. Most people have modems which can receive fax'es unattended. It costs very little to install a second phone line which you can hook to your fax/modem and publish as your fax number. I've done this for years (except I still use a real fax machine) and it works well. When the inevitable telemarketers call on the fax line, I simply ignore it.
    • Who doesn't have a cell phone or pager these days? Pick a cell phone or pager number to publish as your "business" phone. Check in when you're at lunch or in the evenings and call back customers. Again, I've successfully used this technique for years. The key to doing this successfully is recording the correct voice mail message. Done correctly, you can come across as just as professional as your larger competitors.
  3. Make sure your profit margins are high enough. Sure, your pricing may tick a few people off and cost some orders, but that's a whole lot better than having to subsidize their hobbies from your own pocket. If the market isn't willing to bear the costs, they're better off without the product.
  4. When you do calculate your selling price, be very diligent in accounting for shipping costs. If you'll do any international orders, include enough to handle your side of the customs costs. If these are all new to you, do some quick research, then multiply everything ny two.
  5. Don't quote optimistic delivery times. Something always happens! It's a lot better for a customer to be pleasantly surprised by an order that arrives in 2 weeks rather than 5, than for someone to be frustrated after his/her 5 weeks turns into 3 months.
  6. Always assume that your customer base will include a number of clueless individuals whose sole function seems to be to make your life a living hell. These are the ones who want to engage in extended chats with you for free advice and information before ever ordering anything. These will be the same folks who can never understand why you can't sell something for only 10% over your cost (including delivery, natch), and will be the most vocal in vilifying you to everyone who'll listen when you don't live up to their expectations. In short, these are people who haven't the vaguest clue about how a business really works.
  7. To minimize the amount of time wasted in providing information to everyone who asks, nothing beats the return on investment of a well designed and maintained web site. Inevitably, you will still receive long-winded email requests for information - and especially long-winded discussion of theory and technical issues. Use these to create FAQ's and white papers on your web site, then answer each question only once.
  8. Consider payment options. A problem that one dealer ran into was asking everyone to pay up front so he'd have working capital. Then, when the OEM had production problems and the dealer had export problems, his customers (especially the clueless ones discussed previously) felt ripped off and began the vilification. How much better would he have been if he'd priced them higher and only asked for half up front and half on delivery?
  9. If you've never been an entrepreneur before, think at least twice before embarking on the business. Your first year as a new vendor will be filled with long hours, negative cash flow, and unsympathetic customers. If you're not prepared for that - both emotionally and financially - don't do it! If you survive the first year, it will still take some more years before the business is self-supporting, but you'll be tough enough to deal with it.
  10. After pricing your products at a point that's fair to both you and your customers, then quoting attainable delivery dates, remember to maintain communications! This is where email is invaluable. Quick email messages regarding order delays, etc. Can calm the fears of nervous customers. If they want more than that, tell them to call. As a last resort, you call them.
  11. A delivery date is a schedule and should be approached like all schedules - an estimate rather than your foreknowledge of what will happen between the time the order arrives and when it ships. Having made my living as an engineer, I've done lots of scheduling, and I've learned several things… First of all, all non-trivial schedules are subject to slippage. Plan for it! (One half-joking rule of thumb about scheduling is to take the first number off the top of your head, double it, then convert to the next higher unit of measure. If you include fortnights and quarters as units of measure, it's amazing how accurate it really is!)
  12. The other principle rule of scheduling is how to deal with slippages. Customers will be more willing to schedule one big slip than a succession of smaller ones. If you tell someone that it's going to be six weeks late, you'll have more satisfied customers than if you tell them, "next week" six times in a row.


National origins (vendor web site links):

Finally, different cultures and languages seem to affect driver design. For example, drivers from one French company often have similar characteristics to those from other French companies, etc. Although there are obvious exceptions to this generalization, here is a list of the country of origin for each various vendors, both listed and unlisted:

Australia: Jaycar
Brazil: Bravox, Selenium
Canada: Newform, RL Acoustique
China: Fostex, MCM/Audio Select, MCM/Dynavox.
Denmark: Dynaudio, Hiquphon, Peerless, Skaaning (AudioTechnology), Scan-Speak, Vifa
Estonia: Audes
France: Audax, Cabasse, Focal, Fertin, PHL, PHY-HP Supravox, Triangle
Germany: Accuton (Thiel & Partner), AER, Axon, Elac, Eton, Görlich, I.T. Electronic, LPG, Manger, MBquart, RCM Akustik, Visaton
Greece: Dynasonic
India: Axon, GR Research
Israel: Morel
Italy: ATD
Japan: HiVi, Eclipse (Toshiba), NHT, Pioneer, Versa-Tronics GR Research
Netherlands: Stage Accompany, Philips
Norway: Seas
Spain: Beyma
UK: ATC, B&W, Jordan, KEF, Lowther, Tannoy, Volt
USA: Altec, Audiobahn, Aura, Adire, Babb, Bohlender Graebener, Cadence, Decware, DEI, Eclipse, Eminence, EV, Hartley, Hifonics, Hsu Research, Human Speakers, Image Dynamics, JBL, JL Audio, Kicker, Lambda, Madisound/Swan, McCauley, Moth Audio, Orca, Oz Audio, Phoenix Gold, Raven, SCH, Stryke, TC Sounds
Taiwan: Usher Audio,


Discontinued and/or unavailable:

The following vendors at one time sold into the DIY market, but have since either left it or gone out of business. These vendors are noted since many of their drivers were recommended at one time. Some distributors or other DIY'ers may still have some of these for sale and, in general, they are probably safe purchases. Also noted here is SCH, whose drivers are often recommended. The problem with SCH is that msny of their drivers are from surplus sources and specific models sell out quickly, so any inclusion in the LDSG has proven in many cases to be obsolescent almost from the date of first publication.

Blueprint

Cabasse

Dynaudio

SCH




To view specific vendor recommendations, use the "Go to…" menu at the top of this page.


The following vendors are discussed in other sections:



Vendor guidelines - ATD:

ATD is a French company which makes several well-reported unconventional and full/wide range drivers. One of these, the 17LB can also be used as an excellent midrange. Read more about it in Section 3 (full/wide range drivers).


Vendor guidelines - JBL

JBL is one of the great names in American hi-fi, sound reinforcement, and autosound. See Section 5 (high efficiency drivers) for more information.


Vendor guidelines - Jordan

E.J. Jordan is a highly regarded British manufacturer of both full-range and wide-range drivers using metal cone conventional technology. Their JX53 and JX62/J62S are two of the few credible mid/tweeters on the market. Their JX92 is an excellent candidate for an extremely wide-range midrange driver. Their JX125 and JX150 aluminum-coned drivers are worth consideration as altenatives for Seas Excel magnesium-coned mid/bass drivers due to fewer problems in the upper stopband. For more details, see the Jordan listing in Section 3 on wide/full-range drivers.


Vendor guidelines - Manger

Manger is the premier DIY source of wide-range bending wave transducers. See their description in Section 4 on unconventional drivers.


Vendor guidelines - Triangle:

Triangle is a French company which makes several well-reported full/wide range drivers. One of these, the T17FLV08 can also be used as an excellent midrange. Read more about it in Section 3 (full/wide range drivers).


Vendor guidelines - Visaton

Visaton is a large German company with the reputation of having one of the best development labs in Europe. They sell several lines of drivers covering high-end, hi-fi, and pro (PA, stage, and sound reinforcement) drivers.

Most of my LDSG recommendations were for their pro sound drivers - see Section 5.Visaton also makes a recommended ribbon/planar tweeter - see Section 4.




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