Audio components are often touted by manufacturers as “one size fits all”, but most audiophiles know this simply isn’t true. What works for you in your system may not work for me in my system. This begs the question: What exactly makes a piece of gear work for you?
What it all comes down to is exactly what you are looking for in your musical reproduction. Extreme accuracy? Recreating the ambiance? The spirit of the original performance? Relaxation? This list could go on indefinitely and may vary day-to-day for many listeners. However, chances are though that there are one or two things that are absolutely crucial for you as a listener to appreciate a given audio system.
It helps to start with a concrete example, so here are a few things that may be crucial to you as a listener and the type of loudspeaker that may fit the bill. This exercise can be done with any audio gear, but loudspeakers seem like the most intuitively easy to grasp for purposes of illustration.
“Accurate and stable imaging is most critical to me.”
Full range drivers or possibly coaxial/coincident drivers may be the best choice. This allows for the best integration of the source signal, often at the expense of frequency response and dynamic range.
“Maximizing the dynamic range is most critical to me.”
A large format multi-way system or possibly a horn loaded system may be the best choice. This allows for the most dynamic range over the audio bandwidth, often at the expense of poor imaging and coloration.
“Recreating the performance space is most critical to me.”
Minimizing early reflections/stored energy is essential to avoid masking spatial cues. An open baffle system may be the best choice, although the price is poor low frequency efficiency and the need for large woofers.
As for myself, I like my music to sound, well, musical! For me this means using drivers without nasty breakup modes – even if the modes fall outside of the bandwidth I intend to use the driver in. Unfortunately, this puts most drivers with with rigid cones out of the running: Kevlar, carbon fiber, aerogel, etc. Some metals might be okay, such as the highly regarded Jordan JX92S or an aluminum ribbon tweeter.
Frequency response aside, I think drivers should sound good on their own without any correction networks, etc. Here’s a little secret about driver breakup modes: They represent a lack of control on the part of the driver, therefore it takes very little to excite these modes – even if notch filters and steep crossover filters are used! You can’t control the uncontrollable, you can only try to minimize excitation of these modes.
A driver is simply not going to be more “accurate” if your brain has to sporadically allocate resources to “hear around” nasty twin breakup peaks at 3kHz and 5kHz. My opinion is to do yourself and your brain a favor and use musical drivers!