Single-Ended Triode (SET) Amplifier Revolution of the 1990s. Did it really happen? Was it Successful?

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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Was there really a SET amplifier and horn speaker revolution in the 90s? Was anyone around in this hobby in the 1990s to witness it? Was it successful? What was the outcome and impact?

My impression of the recent history is that we have had some expensive hard to drive box speakers , like Wilson and Magico, that are thriving. (On the other hand, companies like Magnepan, and others that produced larger panel speakers, are on the ropes.)

To complement these hard to drive box speakers, the industry has had a solid state amplifier revolution with new brands like Soulution, Consoulation, CH Precision, etc., come around in the last 10-15 years. (Tube companies like audio research, on the other hand, seem to be on the ropes. and other tube brands are known only to experienced audiophiles and are not easy to find for those not in the know.)

Seems like these days audiophiles are older, deafer, and richer. They are after "hyper- details" and "accuracy", although most don't know what accuracy is and can't define it. And the hifi industry seems to be fighting for this segment.

An average person walking on the street will find a wilson, magico, sonus fiber, and McIntosh. But they will be hard-pressed to find a horn with SET.

Other than a few passionate SET - horn aficionados on this site, who have experienced the subtlety, delicacy, flow, aliveness, and emotional connection to the music these types of systems can deliver, what was the effect of this SET revolution?
 

PeterA

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Nice topic but one that I am afraid is not very popular. I switch to the horns and SET recently. Never been happier.

I think the big problem is finding speakers for our rooms that work with SET‘s.
 

K3RMIT

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Sep 4, 2020
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Was there really a SET amplifier and horn speaker revolution in the 90s? Was anyone around in this hobby in the 1990s to witness it? Was it successful? What was the outcome and impact?

My impression of the recent history is that we have had some expensive hard to drive box speakers , like Wilson and Magico, that are thriving. (On the other hand, companies like Magnepan, and others that produced larger panel speakers, are on the ropes.)

To complement these hard to drive box speakers, the industry has had a solid state amplifier revolution with new brands like Soulution, Consoulation, CH Precision, etc., come around in the last 10-15 years. (Tube companies like audio research, on the other hand, seem to be on the ropes. and other tube brands are known only to experienced audiophiles and are not easy to find for those not in the know.)

Seems like these days audiophiles are older, deafer, and richer. They are after "hyper- details" and "accuracy", although most don't know what accuracy is and can't define it. And the hifi industry seems to be fighting for this segment.

An average person walking on the street will find a wilson, magico, sonus fiber, and McIntosh. But they will be hard-pressed to find a horn with SET.

Other than a few passionate SET - horn aficionados on this site, who have experienced the subtlety, delicacy, flow, aliveness, and emotional connection to the music these types of systems can deliver, what was the effect of this SET revolution?
So hurtful yet true lol. I love horns and planners. horns I think are faster and great decay. I would love a simple set setup but no clue where to go
 

dwhistance

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Feb 15, 2019
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Yes to the reappearance of SET amps in the 1990’s though I don’t think even an ad man would call it a revolution. I seem to remember horns came a bit later though more in the “underground” than the mainstream. Here in the UK I was first aware on Impulse horns in the early 1990’s, they were generally sold with Audio Innovations amps which weren’t SET’s but we’re low power. My own first horns were Avantgarde Trios in 2003, first with the CAT JL 1’s I owned at the time then with various SET’s starting with Supratek Merlots, then Wrightsound 1.75’s .

I no longer have horn speakers due to a move to a smaller home - I am using Ocellia Calliope Grandis Signatures at the moment. However I still use a SET amp, an SJS Arcadia PSE2A3 which I have owned for 18 years now. Reading Peter A’s “Natural Sound” thread has made me consider horns again so I have been researching variations on corner horns as they should work in my living room and will even be a little more family friendly than the Ocellias.

David Whistance
 
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astrotoy

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My horns and SET amp date from the turn of the century I bought them used a couple years after our fin de siecle.

Got hooked on SET's when I was visiting Hong Kong at the end of 1996, and walked into a small hifi shop in Central, looking for records. In the front of the shop was a portly gentleman demonstrating his new amplifiers to the shop owner. It had the biggest tubes I had ever seen. It was Riccardo Kron and his wife Eunice was sitting at the mid point of the shop. I heard this amazing sound and asked if I could join them listening to the amps with WE300 tubes. Way too expensive for me in those days, but a few years later I bought a pair of used Cary 2A3 amps and then found their match with a pair of used Avantgarde Duos. Had them ever since. Larry
 
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cjfrbw

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LOL! Was that a question(s) or an editorial?

I think the answer is: just wait until the economic cycles of high end fashion have worn out the huge, radioactive SS monolith toe stubbers and the cycle rolls back once again to 'discover' SET's and hi-eff horns as if they are a fashion novelty.

I don't think anybody who has heard a wonderful horn/set implementation needs to be convinced.
 
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Solypsa

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The 90s triode and horn era ( in the US maybe that means the NYC scene ) was a success in my book because it brought some then-younger blood to the table bridging 'old concepts' to that present. I didn't catch on till the early 00's as in the 90s I had fled being an audiophile ( or trying) so was not paying attention. There was also a similar 'rediscovery' among discerning dj's of older nightclub designs based on an earlier era of horns that started up in the 90s as well.

My observation is that most people are short on time and space these days. You need space to set up horns ( this includes people that technically have space but cannot imagine using it for speakers ) and time to absorb and understand the value proposition in musical terms. I am leaving out the very-rich in this observation, but this does include my experiences with friends and clients that have many times over 6 figure annual earnings.

My 2c
 
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morricab

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Was there really a SET amplifier and horn speaker revolution in the 90s? Was anyone around in this hobby in the 1990s to witness it? Was it successful? What was the outcome and impact?

My impression of the recent history is that we have had some expensive hard to drive box speakers , like Wilson and Magico, that are thriving. (On the other hand, companies like Magnepan, and others that produced larger panel speakers, are on the ropes.)

To complement these hard to drive box speakers, the industry has had a solid state amplifier revolution with new brands like Soulution, Consoulation, CH Precision, etc., come around in the last 10-15 years. (Tube companies like audio research, on the other hand, seem to be on the ropes. and other tube brands are known only to experienced audiophiles and are not easy to find for those not in the know.)

Seems like these days audiophiles are older, deafer, and richer. They are after "hyper- details" and "accuracy", although most don't know what accuracy is and can't define it. And the hifi industry seems to be fighting for this segment.

An average person walking on the street will find a wilson, magico, sonus fiber, and McIntosh. But they will be hard-pressed to find a horn with SET.

Other than a few passionate SET - horn aficionados on this site, who have experienced the subtlety, delicacy, flow, aliveness, and emotional connection to the music these types of systems can deliver, what was the effect of this SET revolution?
I would say there was definitely a revolution that began really in the 1990s. Just look at the sheer number of available SET amps now, from Europe, from Asia and yes even from America. Horns were kind of kept alive in Asia but have now really caught on in Europe and this seems to be slowly seeping into the US as well.

You see several makers of horns in Germany, some in Greece, Cyprus and Eastern EUrope. THere are also an increasing number of high sensitivity "conventional" speakers where maybe the tweeter is horn loaded but the rest is high sensitivity cones. Single driver speakers have also gone through a revival.

While still not "mainstream' there are far more options than ever before, which suggests a much stronger customer base than ever before as well.

THe 80s was the rise of the great panel speakers (Magnepan, Apogee, Acoustat, Infinity etc.). Every serious audiophile had big panels...because they simply sounded better (they still sound great if you use an appropriate amp). The 90s moved away from big speakers (although that has somewhat reversed in the 2000s) but not big amps. The last 20 years has shown a serious growth in the SET amp and the increased acceptance of horn/high sensitivity speakers...as people start to realize what was missing in the previous paradigms. This also has led to an awareness of what was lost from the distant past (western electric, Altec, JBL etc.). Of course there were some who never lost sight of this era that produced some fantastic speakers and amps but they had definitely faded from the general public consciousness. Now; however, an audiophile might not like SETs/horns but they have definitely heard or heard of them...something that was not really true before the 90s.
 

hb22

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Diy 211 se + ProAc Tablette Reference 8 Signature in 5 * 5 meters room, Nearfield position.
The best of the best :)
 

Atmasphere

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Was there really a SET amplifier and horn speaker revolution in the 90s? Was anyone around in this hobby in the 1990s to witness it? Was it successful? What was the outcome and impact?
Joe Roberts (IMO) deserves most of the credit for bring SETs back to the audiophile world back in the 1990s with his magazine Sound Practices.

By the end of the 1990s major tube amplifier players were offering SETs amps of their own and there were many smaller boutique manufacturers that specialized in them. The Philadelphia Triode Show in 1998 (which we attended) was something that could not have occurred in the 1980s....

The Chinese responded with a good number of new production power tubes like the 300b, 2A3, type 45 and others during this time. Western Electric considered producing their famed 300b again. JJ, Kron, Elrog and others started making DHTs too. If you know what 'DHT' means than the question is best answered by a 'yes'.

So I'd say it was successful, which IMO should have been very obvious. Was this post meant seriously?
 

PeterA

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I had written that I thought the big problem is finding speakers for our rooms that work with SETs. Perhaps just as difficult is finding good sounding speakers that work with SET‘s.

How many speaker options are out there that are efficient enough and acceptable in the typical listening room?

I really like the corner horn aesthetic but you have to have two good corners in a pretty big room. High ceilings help. Other horn designs seem to need a fair amount of space.

I think there are quite a few more conventional speakers that will work on 30 watts but would really sound better with 50 and I think most SET‘s are below 20 W but I’m not really sure.
 

Atmasphere

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I had written that I thought the big problem is finding speakers for our rooms that work with SETs.
It is! As a consequence, most people are using SETs with speakers that can't show them off. If your SET installation has a 'dynamic' quality which seems far beyond the power that the amp otherwise has, then you are not hearing the SET at its best.
 

microstrip

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The rediscovery of the SET , DHT and horn speakers outside Japan is usually associated with Jean Hiraga in Paris - I had the pleasure of listening about them from some one who participated in these sessions in the middle 80's. For an extremely interesting reading on the subject see this series of articles. http://truefi.blogspot.com/2015/10/30-years-of-revelation-i.html?m=0
 

ddk

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Was there really a SET amplifier and horn speaker revolution in the 90s? Was anyone around in this hobby in the 1990s to witness it? Was it successful? What was the outcome and impact?

My impression of the recent history is that we have had some expensive hard to drive box speakers , like Wilson and Magico, that are thriving. (On the other hand, companies like Magnepan, and others that produced larger panel speakers, are on the ropes.)

To complement these hard to drive box speakers, the industry has had a solid state amplifier revolution with new brands like Soulution, Consoulation, CH Precision, etc., come around in the last 10-15 years. (Tube companies like audio research, on the other hand, seem to be on the ropes. and other tube brands are known only to experienced audiophiles and are not easy to find for those not in the know.)

Seems like these days audiophiles are older, deafer, and richer. They are after "hyper- details" and "accuracy", although most don't know what accuracy is and can't define it. And the hifi industry seems to be fighting for this segment.

An average person walking on the street will find a wilson, magico, sonus fiber, and McIntosh. But they will be hard-pressed to find a horn with SET.

Other than a few passionate SET - horn aficionados on this site, who have experienced the subtlety, delicacy, flow, aliveness, and emotional connection to the music these types of systems can deliver, what was the effect of this SET revolution?
I've been at this since the 70's and IMO what you see today is the result of superior marketing, the audio magazines and in some rare instances better engineering. I never experienced a triode/horn revolution, a handful of companies made/make valid products the majority are DIY projects commercialized that bring no sonic benefit to the table. I believe this battle was lost in the 70's wether we like it or not. As for companies like ARC, have you heard their products lately? The people who first designed these products are all gone and you have corporate engineers with very limited analog education designing these products.

david
 
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thedudeabides

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tima

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I've been at this since the 70's and IMO what you see today is the result of superior marketing, the audio magazines and in some in rare instances better engineering. I never experienced a triode/horn revolution, a handful of companies made/make valid products the majority are DIY projects commercialized that bring no sonic benefit to the table. I believe this battle was lost in the 70's wether we like it or not. As for companies like ARC, have you heard their products lately? The people who first designed these products are all gone and you have corporate engineers with very limited analog education designing these products.

david

Superior marketing and small companies was my reaction as well. While there are exceptions most of the audio magazines will not cover a company below a certain threshold, so the exposure isn't there. Well established brands are what they are for a reason. It's possible to break through but you need to get noticed.

ARC, imo, did not benefit from sale of the company and it's winding through various corporate ownerships and possibly forced (my conjecture) influence from Italy. The untimely loss of Ward Fieberger who was WZJ's right hand man held them back at the same time. ARC and CJ contributed to the acceptance of tubes. The ageing and retirement of original owners and designers and the failure to find or groom talent is a factor. We see incremental improvement in design but not much real innovation.

I was an audiophile in the 90's. If there was a horn/SET revolution in the US, I didn't hear or read about it. Edit: there was a time when the internet and the flow of information internationally was scant.
 
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Hear Here

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In the very late 90s (2002 in fact) I bought my first horn speakers, not because they were horns but because I didn't like my existing ATC 50 Active speakers and I’d read the Stereophile review of the Avantgarde Unos during my search for a replacement speaker. I had no intention to go for horns but Robert Deutsch's review was compelling to the extent I found a London showroom to give them a quick listen and bought them.

SETs were then the go-to amp for horns so I dabbled with a number of amps (845, PX-25 and 300B), but 3 years ago decided there must surely be a solid state amp that would provide equal or better enjoyment without the hassle of tube amps, their running costs and the power bills they generate.

I still have Avantgarde horns (3rd pair) but after home testing a dozen ss amps, I'm very happy I ditched the tubes. No plans for switching from horns after getting fingers seriously burnt by buying Martin Logan 13As without a home trial first.
 

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