Horn Speakers at Munich High End 2016

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#1
While I auditioned the Avantgarde Trios with basshorns last year at the Avantgarde factory in Frankfurt, I did not come away with a general understanding of what horns do well and not so well, or why their devotees are so passionate about them (finding them, typically, to be more natural and musical than other speaker designs). Among the many benefits for me of going to Munich High End 2016 was the opportunity to explore additional horn speaker systems, most of which are manufactured in Europe.

At the Munich show I was able to survey a variety of horn systems at different price levels. I heard the Cessaro Gamma II F-8 (about €375,000), the Tune Audio Anima with Kion subwoofer, the Avantgarde Uno XD (€18,000), the Viva Audio Credenza (€79,000), the Martion Audio Einhorn, the Audio Tech Universum and the JMF Audio HPM500.


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I have come to the tentative conclusion that, to my ears, horns, at their best, can reproduce jazz and classical music with greater instrumental body and weight, greater “jump factor,” and greater overall realism than any other speaker technology I have heard. There seems to be something about the way horns move air which allows a greater suspension of disbelief on instruments like saxophone, tuba, trumpet, etc. Those instruments sound more real and more “in-the-room being played by a live musician” than I have heard from any other type of speaker.

In Munich I experienced a never-to-be-forgotten revelation with the giant, 18 foot wide Cessaro system. Playing an LP of Scheherazade, among others, that system sounded more like a full, live symphony orchestra arrayed in front of me than I have ever experienced in my life. I heard, more realistically than I have ever heard before, the power and majesty of a symphony orchestra reproduced in front of me. Soaring volume, crashing drums, galloping rhythms -- all at fully realistic sound pressure levels.

The suspension of disbelief from classical music on the Cessaro was easier than I have ever experienced before on symphony orchestra music. It was absolutely thrilling and transfixing!

But I also came to the conclusion that for some reason -- which I understand has to do with horn coloration or horn “cuppiness” -- I do not hear horns reproducing vocals with the singer-in-the-room transparency to which I am accustomed from electrostatic panels, from ribbon-based speakers and from the best dynamic driver systems.

If I listened primarily to jazz music and classical music I would buy a Cessaro or a Viva Audio horn system and never look back. But because my primary musical interest is vocals with simple acoustic accompaniment my search for my last and ultimate speaker continues. . .
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#2
Thank you for this honest and interesting report, Ron.

It emphasizes what I have always maintained: there is no High-End without compromises. I have considered from the start which compromises I am willing to make, and which ones not. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons why I have made relatively few system changes over the years. Too many audiophiles want everything from a system. This is not possible, and the desire is bound to generate a permanent state of dissatisfaction, even unhappiness.

Even if you have unlimited amounts of money to spend, no single system and room will ever give you the reproduction of all music without any compromise. If I were super-rich, I would want to have at the very least two systems in two different rooms of different size, one for large-scale music, and one for small-scale music.

Think about it. Many classical concert venues have a large hall for symphonic music, and a smaller hall for chamber music. There is an obvious reason for that. So if even designers of (also famous) classical concert venues realize that no single hall is suitable for the optimal reproduction of all music, then it makes no sense for audiophiles to pretend, to themselves and to others, that a single system in a single room can do it all optimally.
 
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fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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NSW Australia
#3
In Munich I experienced a never-to-be-forgotten revelation with the giant, 18 foot wide Cessaro system. Playing an LP of Scheherazade, among others, that system sounded more like a full, live symphony orchestra arrayed in front of me than I have ever experienced in my life. I heard, more realistically than I have ever heard before, the power and majesty of a symphony orchestra reproduced in front of me. Soaring volume, crashing drums, galloping rhythms -- all at fully realistic sound pressure levels.

The suspension of disbelief from classical music on the Cessaro was easier than I have ever experienced before on symphony orchestra music. It was absolutely thrilling and transfixing!

But I also came to the conclusion that for some reason -- which I understand has to do with horn coloration or horn “cuppiness” -- I do not hear horns reproducing vocals with the singer-in-the-room transparency to which I am accustomed from electrostatic panels, from ribbon-based speakers and from the best dynamic driver systems.
This is a good example of where current audio playback is still struggling to tick enough boxes, at the same time, to reproduce everything properly: the horns can do the big dynamics because of their high sensitivity; conventional playback does nicely on low key material - where is the crossover point?

I have never done horns, but work on making the electronics capable of competently driving conventional speakers. The drivers of the latter can easily do it, but they must be fed with high power, high quality signal when called upon for reproducing orchestral majesty - many setups simply fail to do this, for various reasons.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#5

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#6
But I also came to the conclusion that for some reason -- which I understand has to do with horn coloration or horn “cuppiness” -- I do not hear horns reproducing vocals with the singer-in-the-room transparency to which I am accustomed from electrostatic panels, from ribbon-based speakers and from the best dynamic driver systems.
Not sure I know the answer buy my question to Ron and others is could the present day horns not match up to vintage horns in every way?

I ask this only because my pilgrimage to Utah to hear David's Bionor speakers was a revelation to my ears. I heard not only the same things Ron heard with symphonic music and huge orchestral but when he played some solo artists, male or female I swear I heard the muscles in their lips move as well as feeling their uvula go up and down. IOW I have never heard solos as I did on David's system. Is this a reflection of vintage from current day speakers
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#7
I just noted the thread on the Bionor speakers, http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?18570-Speaker-Oasis-Bionor.

I am familiar with his upstream electronics, so I could sit; well, sometimes the happy feet took me on trip of their own making and I would find myself gliding around the room. You may ask yourslf, "how did I get here?" Where did the sweet spot go; well, it was everywhere...even fine while laying flat on by back, who knew that there was an ottoman placed in the middle of the room?
This behaviour I'm very familiar with - one of the signatures of competent sound is that "hearing everything, everywhere" aspect - once experienced, one can never accept second best straight faced again - the end of the rainbow always beckons ... ;)
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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976
113
Beverly Hills, CA
#8
Thank you for this honest and interesting report, Ron.

It emphasizes what I have always maintained: there is no High-End without compromises. I have considered from the start which compromises I am willing to make, and which ones not. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons why I have made relatively few system changes over the years. Too many audiophiles want everything from a system. This is not possible, and the desire is bound to generate a permanent state of dissatisfaction, even unhappiness.

Even if you have unlimited amounts of money to spend, no single system and room will ever give you the reproduction of all music without any compromise. If I were super-rich, I would want to have at the very least two systems in two different rooms of different size, one for large-scale music, and one for small-scale music.

Think about it. Many classical concert venues have a large hall for symphonic music, and a smaller hall for chamber music. There is an obvious reason for that. So if even designers of (also famous) classical concert venues realize that no single hall is suitable for the optimal reproduction of all music, then it makes no sense for audiophiles to pretend, to themselves and to others, that a single system in a single room can do it all optimally.
After my horn experiences, Al, I think this all seems correct. If I listened primarily to jazz I would get a horn system driven by SET and be done; no ribbons, no electrostatics.

For vocals with simple acoustic instrument accompaniment I, personally, would be done with a MartinLogan hybrid. But for my current project I just want something more elaborate than that. And I am not at all certain that a large four column system will reproduce vocals with acoustic accompaniment as convincingly as, let alone more convincingly than, the ML hybrid (see Peter A.'s posts on relationship of size of speaker system to convincing reproduction of solo vocalists and small ensembles).
 
May 30, 2010
15,318
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Portugal
#9
(...) For vocals with simple acoustic instrument accompaniment I, personally, would be done with a MartinLogan hybrid. (...) .
For vocals with simple acoustic instrument accompaniment played through vinyl I would simply get a pair of Soundlabs powered by an Atmasphere MA2 + MP1. I owned such system with an older version of my current speakers and if it was not for the advent of digital it would still be my reference. Amanda McBroom, Jaques Brell, Joan Baez, Leonard Coehn - they were never again so present in any system as with this one. As Steve said - we could feel all their muscles and effort. However this system was also particularly digital unfriendly with the digital of the late 90's - symphonic music was a mess, exactly the opposite of what you described with great horns.

Curiously the VTL750's did a fantastic job with symphonic music with the SoundLabs and digital - but the frisson of great simple vinyl was gone. IMHO the ambition of optimizing for vinyl and digital is even more problematic than small versus large music.
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#10
The seemingly contradictory requirements for music to always be well reproduced is that all the fine detail comes through with minimal blemishes, while still having the capacity to soar to high SPLs at any moment, in a blink of an eye. That's how the real world works, and the ear knows it - and why it 'rejects' systems that can't achieve that ... this is not trivial to make happen, but is certainly doable - having multiple systems as a workaround, for me, just does not compute ...
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#11
Not sure I know the answer buy my question to Ron and others is could the present day horns not match up to vintage horns in every way?

. . .
I do not know. I have not heard vintage horns.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#12
I do not know. I have not heard vintage horns.
you need to take the trip to Utah, Ron. It's huge Bionor speakers with all tube electronics, and countless turntables and cartridges to play. This is an experience you need to have before you consider your trip across the globe complete
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
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#13
Curiously the VTL750's did a fantastic job with symphonic music with the SoundLabs and digital - but the frisson of great simple vinyl was gone. IMHO the ambition of optimizing for vinyl and digital is even more problematic than small versus large music.
Interesting thread, Ron. Perhaps because few in the US have much experience with horns, the topic has shifted a bit to the issue of one system not really being able to "do it all." You stated that with horns, your experience tells you that they are better suited for some types of music than for others. Steve has heard a vintage horn system reproduce well all types of music.

Now we have this statement from microstrip which is most intriguing and perhaps worthy of its own thread. I never thought that a system could, or should, be optimized for a particular source medium.

Ron, why do you think that contemporary horn systems do not reproduce vocals well? Does it have anything to do with imagining and focus which is so critical, IMO, to creating a sense of presence and thus believability to the singer-in-the-room experience?
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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Greater Boston
#14
The seemingly contradictory requirements for music to always be well reproduced is that all the fine detail comes through with minimal blemishes, while still having the capacity to soar to high SPLs at any moment, in a blink of an eye. That's how the real world works, and the ear knows it - and why it 'rejects' systems that can't achieve that ... this is not trivial to make happen, but is certainly doable - having multiple systems as a workaround, for me, just does not compute ...
It's not just about fine detail and capacity to soar to high SPLs at any moment. It's also about scale. And no single system in a single room can scale everything perfectly, just as no single concert hall is optimally suitable for music of any scale, large or small, see my post # 2. If you think otherwise, you are deceiving yourself. Sorry for being blunt.
 

Robh3606

Active Member
Aug 25, 2010
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#16
Not sure I know the answer buy my question to Ron and others is could the present day horns not match up to vintage horns in every way?
Hello Steve

In many ways modern horns and compression drivers are superior to vintage. That said horns are a funny breed and there are many different types that all give a different presentation. Some of the larger vintage systems are truly outstanding however quite a few more have obvious coloration's. So sure there are excellent modern systems that can keep up with vintage horns and in most cases the more modern designs will be superior.

Rob:)
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#17
It's not just about fine detail and capacity to soar to high SPLs at any moment. It's also about scale. And no single system in a single room can scale everything perfectly, just as no single concert hall is optimally suitable for music of any scale, large or small, see my post # 2. If you think otherwise, you are deceiving yourself. Sorry for being blunt.
Think about it. Many classical concert venues have a large hall for symphonic music, and a smaller hall for chamber music. There is an obvious reason for that. So if even designers of (also famous) classical concert venues realize that no single hall is suitable for the optimal reproduction of all music, then it makes no sense for audiophiles to pretend, to themselves and to others, that a single system in a single room can do it all optimally.
I don't think I understand what you mean by scale here - what do you believe "goes wrong" when a system that can reproduce a large orchestral work does so in a small room?
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#18
Interesting thread, Ron. Perhaps because few in the US have much experience with horns, the topic has shifted a bit to the issue of one system not really being able to "do it all." You stated that with horns, your experience tells you that they are better suited for some types of music than for others. Steve has heard a vintage horn system reproduce well all types of music.

Now we have this statement from microstrip which is most intriguing and perhaps worthy of its own thread. I never thought that a system could, or should, be optimized for a particular source medium.

Ron, why do you think that contemporary horn systems do not reproduce vocals well? Does it have anything to do with imagining and focus which is so critical, IMO, to creating a sense of presence and thus believability to the singer-in-the-room experience?
I was most interested to make the trip to Utah and spend 5 days hearing his system. I was at that time far from an expert in talking horn speakers because as I said to David before meeting him that I had never heard a horn system that I really liked until I heard his because IMO it did all of those things right and perhaps in retrospect current day horns lack something that the vintage horns have, Just my opinion of course but to me the solos I heard on his speakers gave me goose bumps.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#19
. . .
Ron, why do you think that contemporary horn systems do not reproduce vocals well? Does it have anything to do with imagining and focus which is so critical, IMO, to creating a sense of presence and thus believability to the singer-in-the-room experience?
I have absolutely no idea. I am very puzzled. The transparency I am used to from all ribbon speakers, all electrostatic speakers and many dynamic driver speakers just wasn't there on any of the horn speakers I listened to.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,550
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113
Beverly Hills, CA
#20
. . . IMHO the ambition of optimizing for vinyl and digital is even more problematic than small versus large music.
Finally, one (1) problem I do not have to solve! :)
 

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