Vegas '07 is the year pro drivers became legit in the American hifi subculture. Companies like Eminence, TAD, JBL, B&C, Hemp Acoustics (above) and others are creeping into the space where Scan Speak, SEAS, Peerless, Vifa and others once reigned. Eminence is the largest manufacturer of raw drivers in the world, but rarely provide pulp for the audiophile crowd. Zu really began the trend, working with Eminence for a number of their parts. But until now, pro drivers have remained the pariahs of hifi.
So what's the deal with pro drivers versus typical cones?
1. Low excursion: Typically, a pro driver will feature multiple mini surrounds, as seen in the picture above. Low excursion = snap and attack. Most hifi drivers are made with monster excursion and massive rubber surrounds. While the bass is deeper, the driver is mechanically slower peak to peak. As Adam from Zu says, "it's just physics."
2. High efficiency: While standard drivers have sensitivity in the 80s and low 90s, pro drivers are high 90s and into the triple digits. There are many high-eff drivers from Lowther, Fostex and others, but there is one big difference...
3. High power handling: Made for blowing the gray matter out of musicians and their fans, pro drivers can handle just ungodly amounts of juice. It's not uncommon for pro amps to be rated in the 1000s of watts, despite the high speaker efficiency. Lowther, Fostex and others are made for tiny watts and don't produce the SPLs of the pro guys.
4. Bass: The boom is an interesting issue with pro drivers. A 15" will typically be rated in the 50Fs range, while a similar hifi driver will be down in the teens. An 8" driver in a hifi setup can produce solid bass into the 20s while an 8" pro is considered a midrange driver. There are many ways to get deep bass from the pro gear, but with the low excursion, the thrubbing lows of the hifi world aren't typical.
5. Highs: Pro drivers are typically mated with a compression tweeter which, like their bass brethren, wail until your rims fall off. Crossovers typically happen in the 1.5k range, though guys like Zu and others take their crossover way, way up. This means that a 10-15" driver has to produce really clear midrange way higher than a similarly sized hifi driver would ever dream. That's why "full-spectrum" 2 ways are far more common in pro equipment than in hifi.
So are pro drivers better than their hifi kin? Up for debate, but there's no denying that there's a shift in the hifi market and more pro-based speakers are on the way. Keep reading for pics of the numerous companies showing pro-derrived speakers at Vegas07...