Crutchfield Speaker Comparison Tool
For years we have been saying that the only way to know how speakers will sound in your home is to listen them in your home. That isn’t always possible. Many online speakers companies do offer a no cost in home “Audition” of their speakers which truly allow you to hear what they will sound like in your environment. But even with that it's hard to A/B different sets of speakers. Perhaps you can have a few sets on hand and then swap out cables. But more than likely you will order a pair and if they sound good you’ll go with them.
That is until now. Thanks to a listener, Glen, he pointed us to a service (SpeakerCompare) offered by Crutchfield that attempts to simulate how a speaker will sound through their website using headphones. This tool simulates the sound of home and car speakers tand lets you compare sonic characteristics between speakers so that you can make a more informed shopping decision.
The following is directly from the Crutchfield website:
About 15 years ago, Bill Crutchfield imagined a new type of “virtual” store, where speakers could be demonstrated online — something that had never been done before. He hired a team of engineers and built a specially designed testing facility in Christiansburg, Virginia. After more than a decade of research, this patented Virtual Audio™ technology is now available on our website.
Now when you're shopping for speakers, you can compare two or more pairs by listening to sample music clips with select headphones to hear sonic differences between each model. We hope you'll find it a valuable addition to conventional shopping resources like reviews, feature lists, and specs.
Our engineers, led by Rick Wright, Ph.D., and Gary Gibbs, Ph.D., had to develop a process for simulating the differences between speakers online. Rick explains that it starts with the team’s anechoic chamber, an acoustically neutral room that uses sound-deadening material to eliminate reflections. The room is equipped with highly sensitive microphones to measure each speaker’s frequency response, sensitivity, power handling, and other attributes.
Next, they gather data on important details like room characteristics and how our ears work. They also carefully measure the audio characteristics of different headphones to account for any sonic coloring they may add to what you hear.
SpeakerCompare tailors your listening experience to the specific type of headphones you have, so that what you hear is comparable to auditioning speakers side-by-side in person. Gary sums up the process of comparing the relative differences of speakers virtually through headphones: “When you break apart each of these pieces, model them, and put them back together, we can simulate the experience of listening with speakers.”
To date, Rick, Gary, and their team have measured hundreds of different home and car speakers. Their ongoing work ensures new models are researched as they're released.
To try out SpeakerCompare, select two or more pairs of home or car speakers to audition, then select your model of headphones from our menu. (We currently have more than 100 to choose from, with more on the way.) Pick a genre of music to cue up a song sample, and hit play. You can then toggle between each speaker in real-time using two listening modes: equal power mode lets you hear differences in loudness as they naturally occur, while equal volume mode gives you a more direct comparison of tonal differences between your selected speakers.
SpeakerCompare does something. On our B&W P3 headphones we definitely heard a difference in the speakers we listened to (Klipsch Reference R-51M, Polk Audio RTi A3, Wharfedale Diamond 210, and Jamo S 803). The only issue we have is without having the speakers in front of us we have to take Crutchfield's word for it that they have accurately simulated their sound. Likewise, we have no way of knowing that the headphone characteristics were accurately accounted for either.
We do know that Crutchfield spent a lot of money and time working on this so it is unlikely that the are selling snake oil. Final point, the work that Crutchfield has done was in an anechoic chamber which is not how any of us live. So where does this leave us? To know how speakers will sound in your home, you have to listen to them in your home.