State of the Art Speakers and Imaging: Insights on SotA Planars vs Dynamic vs Omni Speakers vs The Real Thing

Mar 8, 2015
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Canada
#1
It's all in the title. I have my opinion and I'm sure many other contributors have theirs and I'm inviting insights.
What are your thoughts regarding image depth, density, placement focus and layering
It's great if you have opinions relative to live unamplified music as well.
 
Last edited:

Duke LeJeune

[Industry Expert]/Member Sponsor
Jul 22, 2013
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Princeton, Texas
#2
Let me start out with the disclaimers... I'm a manufacturer with unorthodox views on this subject.

In this post I'm only going to look at room interaction; getting the first-arrival sound right also matters, especially when it comes to precise image localization, but that's a complex topic that is less closely tied to the particular loudspeaker type.

In a home listening room there are two competing sets of venue cues: The First Venue which is what's on the recording, whether natural or engineered or some combination thereof; and the Second Venue, which is the playback room. We want to perceive the First Venue cues and not perceive the Second Venue cues.

So let me give an example of how these two Venues might square off against one another:

Suppose you have Maggies and they are placed one foot in front of the wall. Your soundstage depth is severely constrained by the wall - if you are lucky, you might perceive a soundstage extending about two feet behind the speakers (twice the distance to the wall). So the Second Venue cues are dominating the soundstage depth.

Now let's move our Maggies out into the room about three feet. This makes a worthwhile improvement - now our soundstage can seem to extend as much as six feet behind the speakers, but it's still being dominated by the Second Venue.

So let's move 'em out even more, say five or six feet. On a good recording, the magic starts to happen: We start to perceive a soundstage depth which corresponds with the First Venue moreso than with the Second. The improvement is greater than what can be explained by a few additional milliseconds of delay on the backwave. We have crossed a threshold into the First Venue.

Maybe we don't have enough room to pull our Maggies out that far, so we experiment with aggressively absorbing the backwave. This may or may not be a net improvement, but it fails to convey the sense of immersion we got with five or six feet. This shows that the relatively late-onset backwave is presenting the First Venue cues in a way that our ears naturally resonate with... no pun intended.

What worked well in my little example was, 1) a relatively long time delay between the first-arrival sound and the strong onset of reflections (arrival of the backwave); and 2) those reflections are inherently spectrally correct (same frequency response as the front wave). I believe these general principles apply regardless of what kind of speakers we have.

So with an omni, if professional room treatment isn't an option, we'd want to position them well out into the room to avoid early reflections. You see, early reflections pull the image towards the reflection. Most speakers have a wide enough pattern that they interact fairly strongly with the side walls, increasing the apparent source width beyond the left and right speakers. Omnis placed too close to the wall behind them can have the same thing going on with the wall behind the speakers, increasing the width of stereo images between the speakers as well. The result can be unnatural sound images like acoustic guitars six feet wide. The solution is, distance from the walls OR professional room treatment. Padding the walls with foam (amateur room treatment) is not a good solution.

The reason we don't want to overuse absorption is this: The ear will pick out the reflections of a particular instrument and bundle them with the first-arrival sound to create a reverberant tail which conveys the acoustic space of the First Venue, or a good approximation thereof. Typically, absorption selectively removes the highs, so now those reflections are harder for the ear to identify as belonging to the first-arrival sound, so they start to become "noise" rather than "signal". There is a "sweet spot" to decay times which is worth shooting for, and ime a professional will do a much better job of getting there over a broad portion of the spectrum than an enthusiastic amateur.

With most conventional dynamic speakers we can expect strong sidewall interaction, so again unless we have a large room professional acoustic treatment makes sense, ideally re-directing the early same-side-wall reflections in a direction other than the sweet spot, so that that energy arrives considerably later but with its spectral content intact.

Horn speakers can be aimed to avoid early same-side-wall reflections altogether, which is imo desirable, and may be a solution worth considering. In my experience a good presentation of First Venue cues calls for a decent amount of reverberant energy, therefore in my opinion with horn speakers we want to preserve our relatively scarce and therefore precious reverberant energy by avoiding unnecessary absorption.

But consider the foregoing to be merely a collection of generalizations, and the devils are in the details, and clever designers can be on a first-name basis with said devils. In other words, I suggest evaluating speakers based on their individual merit or lack thereof, rather than based on generalizations.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#3
“So let's move 'em out even more, say five or six feet. On a good recording, the magic starts to happen: . . .”

+1
 
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spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
10,548
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E. England
#4
8' from front wall for my spkrs, moved from 3'. Different beasts. Rather than sad dad dancer as before, more a nimble ballet star.
 
Likes: Duke LeJeune

the sound of Tao

Well-Known Member
Jul 18, 2014
1,775
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#5
Let me start out with the disclaimers... I'm a manufacturer with unorthodox views on this subject.

In this post I'm only going to look at room interaction; getting the first-arrival sound right also matters, especially when it comes to precise image localization, but that's a complex topic that is less closely tied to the particular loudspeaker type.

In a home listening room there are two competing sets of venue cues: The First Venue which is what's on the recording, whether natural or engineered or some combination thereof; and the Second Venue, which is the playback room. We want to perceive the First Venue cues and not perceive the Second Venue cues.

So let me give an example of how these two Venues might square off against one another:

Suppose you have Maggies and they are placed one foot in front of the wall. Your soundstage depth is severely constrained by the wall - if you are lucky, you might perceive a soundstage extending about two feet behind the speakers (twice the distance to the wall). So the Second Venue cues are dominating the soundstage depth.

Now let's move our Maggies out into the room about three feet. This makes a worthwhile improvement - now our soundstage can seem to extend as much as six feet behind the speakers, but it's still being dominated by the Second Venue.

So let's move 'em out even more, say five or six feet. On a good recording, the magic starts to happen: We start to perceive a soundstage depth which corresponds with the First Venue moreso than with the Second. The improvement is greater than what can be explained by a few additional milliseconds of delay on the backwave. We have crossed a threshold into the First Venue.

Maybe we don't have enough room to pull our Maggies out that far, so we experiment with aggressively absorbing the backwave. This may or may not be a net improvement, but it fails to convey the sense of immersion we got with five or six feet. This shows that the relatively late-onset backwave is presenting the First Venue cues in a way that our ears naturally resonate with... no pun intended.

What worked well in my little example was, 1) a relatively long time delay between the first-arrival sound and the strong onset of reflections (arrival of the backwave); and 2) those reflections are inherently spectrally correct (same frequency response as the front wave). I believe these general principles apply regardless of what kind of speakers we have.

So with an omni, if professional room treatment isn't an option, we'd want to position them well out into the room to avoid early reflections. You see, early reflections pull the image towards the reflection. Most speakers have a wide enough pattern that they interact fairly strongly with the side walls, increasing the apparent source width beyond the left and right speakers. Omnis placed too close to the wall behind them can have the same thing going on with the wall behind the speakers, increasing the width of stereo images between the speakers as well. The result can be unnatural sound images like acoustic guitars six feet wide. The solution is, distance from the walls OR professional room treatment. Padding the walls with foam (amateur room treatment) is not a good solution.

The reason we don't want to overuse absorption is this: The ear will pick out the reflections of a particular instrument and bundle them with the first-arrival sound to create a reverberant tail which conveys the acoustic space of the First Venue, or a good approximation thereof. Typically, absorption selectively removes the highs, so now those reflections are harder for the ear to identify as belonging to the first-arrival sound, so they start to become "noise" rather than "signal". There is a "sweet spot" to decay times which is worth shooting for, and ime a professional will do a much better job of getting there over a broad portion of the spectrum than an enthusiastic amateur.

With most conventional dynamic speakers we can expect strong sidewall interaction, so again unless we have a large room professional acoustic treatment makes sense, ideally re-directing the early same-side-wall reflections in a direction other than the sweet spot, so that that energy arrives considerably later but with its spectral content intact.

Horn speakers can be aimed to avoid early same-side-wall reflections altogether, which is imo desirable, and may be a solution worth considering. In my experience a good presentation of First Venue cues calls for a decent amount of reverberant energy, therefore in my opinion with horn speakers we want to preserve our relatively scarce and therefore precious reverberant energy by avoiding unnecessary absorption.

But consider the foregoing to be merely a collection of generalizations, and the devils are in the details, and clever designers can be on a first-name basis with said devils. In other words, I suggest evaluating speakers based on their individual merit or lack thereof, rather than based on generalizations.
Great explanations thanks Duke, it very much aligns with what I’ve found but it’s great to get some of the theory behind it.

I’ve setup Maggie 20.7s in three different rooms and optimum distance from the front wall was somewhere between 2.4m and 2.7m (7 to 9 feet approx) across the three setups. In all three I went near field setups with somewhere near 3 metres to listening and between 2.5 to 2.7m then behind. In each setup a matter of a millimetres seemed important with the magic dial in spot being ultimately super critical.

With the Harbeths 40.2s there is much more forgiveness, just need to get a metre away from boundaries and dispersion is quite wide. You are more at the mercy of the room.

With the dipole woofers in the OB Pap horns I have them set in a near field arrangement and they are just as every bit as critical as the Maggie 20.7s. This is more a function of dipole woofers rather than the horn. I have the Paps set 1250mm our from the front wall with 2700mm to listening and then there is another 3000mm behind.

I’m not real fast at speaker dial in and it usually takes me quite a few weeks to get it all just right even once the speakers are burnt in. I have to listen to a lot of different types of music to suss it out.

With dipoles in a room there usually seems to be that just one magical arrangement where everything then just completely seems to snap into place and the focus becomes the music and not the sound.

I had a great teacher in the importer of Magnepan in Australia who had been setting up Maggies for decades. Patience and exactness, knowing the tone of acoustic instruments and also great familiarity with the music are parts of the key with setting up dipoles for me.
 

Tango

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Mar 12, 2017
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#6
Horn speakers can be aimed to avoid early same-side-wall reflections altogether, which is imo desirable, and may be a solution worth considering. In my experience a good presentation of First Venue cues calls for a decent amount of reverberant energy, therefore in my opinion with horn speakers we want to preserve our relatively scarce and therefore precious reverberant energy by avoiding unnecessary absorption.
I am investigating this in my room. It seems consistent to your opinion.
 
Likes: Duke LeJeune

caesar

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2010
3,255
136
238
#7
Let me start out with the disclaimers... I'm a manufacturer with unorthodox views on this subject.

In this post I'm only going to look at room interaction; getting the first-arrival sound right also matters, especially when it comes to precise image localization, but that's a complex topic that is less closely tied to the particular loudspeaker type.

In a home listening room there are two competing sets of venue cues: The First Venue which is what's on the recording, whether natural or engineered or some combination thereof; and the Second Venue, which is the playback room. We want to perceive the First Venue cues and not perceive the Second Venue cues.

So let me give an example of how these two Venues might square off against one another:

Suppose you have Maggies and they are placed one foot in front of the wall. Your soundstage depth is severely constrained by the wall - if you are lucky, you might perceive a soundstage extending about two feet behind the speakers (twice the distance to the wall). So the Second Venue cues are dominating the soundstage depth.

Now let's move our Maggies out into the room about three feet. This makes a worthwhile improvement - now our soundstage can seem to extend as much as six feet behind the speakers, but it's still being dominated by the Second Venue.

So let's move 'em out even more, say five or six feet. On a good recording, the magic starts to happen: We start to perceive a soundstage depth which corresponds with the First Venue moreso than with the Second. The improvement is greater than what can be explained by a few additional milliseconds of delay on the backwave. We have crossed a threshold into the First Venue.

Maybe we don't have enough room to pull our Maggies out that far, so we experiment with aggressively absorbing the backwave. This may or may not be a net improvement, but it fails to convey the sense of immersion we got with five or six feet. This shows that the relatively late-onset backwave is presenting the First Venue cues in a way that our ears naturally resonate with... no pun intended.

What worked well in my little example was, 1) a relatively long time delay between the first-arrival sound and the strong onset of reflections (arrival of the backwave); and 2) those reflections are inherently spectrally correct (same frequency response as the front wave). I believe these general principles apply regardless of what kind of speakers we have.

So with an omni, if professional room treatment isn't an option, we'd want to position them well out into the room to avoid early reflections. You see, early reflections pull the image towards the reflection. Most speakers have a wide enough pattern that they interact fairly strongly with the side walls, increasing the apparent source width beyond the left and right speakers. Omnis placed too close to the wall behind them can have the same thing going on with the wall behind the speakers, increasing the width of stereo images between the speakers as well. The result can be unnatural sound images like acoustic guitars six feet wide. The solution is, distance from the walls OR professional room treatment. Padding the walls with foam (amateur room treatment) is not a good solution.

The reason we don't want to overuse absorption is this: The ear will pick out the reflections of a particular instrument and bundle them with the first-arrival sound to create a reverberant tail which conveys the acoustic space of the First Venue, or a good approximation thereof. Typically, absorption selectively removes the highs, so now those reflections are harder for the ear to identify as belonging to the first-arrival sound, so they start to become "noise" rather than "signal". There is a "sweet spot" to decay times which is worth shooting for, and ime a professional will do a much better job of getting there over a broad portion of the spectrum than an enthusiastic amateur.

With most conventional dynamic speakers we can expect strong sidewall interaction, so again unless we have a large room professional acoustic treatment makes sense, ideally re-directing the early same-side-wall reflections in a direction other than the sweet spot, so that that energy arrives considerably later but with its spectral content intact.

Horn speakers can be aimed to avoid early same-side-wall reflections altogether, which is imo desirable, and may be a solution worth considering. In my experience a good presentation of First Venue cues calls for a decent amount of reverberant energy, therefore in my opinion with horn speakers we want to preserve our relatively scarce and therefore precious reverberant energy by avoiding unnecessary absorption.

But consider the foregoing to be merely a collection of generalizations, and the devils are in the details, and clever designers can be on a first-name basis with said devils. In other words, I suggest evaluating speakers based on their individual merit or lack thereof, rather than based on generalizations.
Truly, brilliant stuff Duke!!! Thank you for typing this up!

How would single driver speakers, like Zu, fit with your analysis?
 
Likes: Duke LeJeune
Feb 14, 2020
38
17
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75
Portsmouth, UK
#8
Let me start out with the disclaimers... I'm a manufacturer with unorthodox views on this subject.

In this post I'm only going to look at room interaction; getting the first-arrival sound right also matters, especially when it comes to precise image localization, but that's a complex topic that is less closely tied to the particular loudspeaker type.

Horn speakers can be aimed to avoid early same-side-wall reflections altogether, which is imo desirable, and may be a solution worth considering. In my experience a good presentation of First Venue cues calls for a decent amount of reverberant energy, therefore in my opinion with horn speakers we want to preserve our relatively scarce and therefore precious reverberant energy by avoiding unnecessary absorption.
.
Interesting stuff and may explain my disappointment with newly purchased Martin Logan 13A speakers.

I'd been using Avantgarde Uno horns for many years (recently changed for Duos), but decided it was time for a change. I bought a pair of Quad 2905s and was impressed with their sound (surprisingly similar to the Unos) but "barn doors" are not acceptable in my listening room. After a dealer showroom demo I bought the 13A speakers as I was convinced they'd be a big improvement over the old Unos

Let me describe the room. It's almost semi-circular with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass and about 975 sq ft in area but only 7'7" high. There's a central column and the speakers are placed either side of this and facing across the room. There's about 12 ft behind one speaker and 15 ft behind the other but the glazed wall behind the speakers is at an angle, so no direct reflections. Same with the wall behind the listening position.

The horns sound great, but the electrostatics just don't sing. The Room Correction kit (Anthem PBK from ML) makes little improvement. However when listening from behind the speakers (in my dining and kitchen areas) the MLs sound far better than the AGs, though this was expected.

I'm sure that these new MLs should sound better than the 14 year old Unos, but they just don't - by a significant margin. So the MLs are for sale and I've acquired a nice pair of used Duos recently. I'm sure that my room is a bigger problem for the MLs than the AGs. Would you agree that this is the likely cause for my disappointment in these highly rated and reviewed electrostatic speakers?

Thanks. Peter

PS - AGs powered by NAD M32, Accuphase A-36 or Cyber 845 monos - MLs powered by Sanders Magtech or GamuT D200 III
 

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Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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440
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#9
Interesting stuff and may explain my disappointment with newly purchased Martin Logan 13A speakers.

I'd been using Avantgarde Uno horns for many years (recently changed for Duos), but decided it was time for a change. I bought a pair of Quad 2905s and was impressed with their sound (surprisingly similar to the Unos) but "barn doors" are not acceptable in my listening room. After a dealer showroom demo I bought the 13A speakers as I was convinced they'd be a big improvement over the old Unos

Let me describe the room. It's almost semi-circular with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass and about 975 sq ft in area but only 7'7" high. There's a central column and the speakers are placed either side of this and facing across the room. There's about 12 ft behind one speaker and 15 ft behind the other but the glazed wall behind the speakers is at an angle, so no direct reflections. Same with the wall behind the listening position.

The horns sound great, but the electrostatics just don't sing. The Room Correction kit (Anthem PBK from ML) makes little improvement. However when listening from behind the speakers (in my dining and kitchen areas) the MLs sound far better than the AGs, though this was expected.

I'm sure that these new MLs should sound better than the 14 year old Unos, but they just don't - by a significant margin. So the MLs are for sale and I've acquired a nice pair of used Duos recently. I'm sure that my room is a bigger problem for the MLs than the AGs. Would you agree that this is the likely cause for my disappointment in these highly rated and reviewed electrostatic speakers?

Thanks. Peter

PS - AGs powered by NAD M32, Accuphase A-36 or Cyber 845 monos - MLs powered by Sanders Magtech or GamuT D200 III
I have used and enjoyed Martin-Logan Monoliths and Monolith IIIs and then Prodigys since the 1990s.

I think your room makes it very difficult for planar dipole speakers to work. I personally would never attempt to place panel speakers in a room in which:

1) each speaker has a different distance to the front wall, or

2) the front wall is curved, or

3) the front wall is uncovered glass.
 
Feb 14, 2020
38
17
10
75
Portsmouth, UK
#10
I have used and enjoyed Martin-Logan Monoliths and Monolith IIIs and then Prodigys since the 1990s.

I think your room makes it very difficult for planar dipole speakers to work. I personally would never attempt to place panel speakers in a room in which:

1) each speaker has a different distance to the front wall, or

2) the front wall is curved, or

3) the front wall is uncovered glass.
Hi Ron. Well, before committing I had first asked on other forums (ML's own, AA, etc and ML themselves by email) about the suitability of 13As in my room and most suggested it would be a positive advantage to have the big distances to the back (you probably say front) wall. Perhaps the last place to ask would be the ML forum as users tend to have a bias towards ML speakers, but no one put me off. Furthermore I had found that Quads offered exceptionally good sound in the same location, so I had no worries with the MLs. Sadly a different story when installed.

I sold my 14 year old Unos for exactly the same price I had paid for them new (nil depreciation) and found a good pair of slightly newer Duos at a truly bargain price, so the big loss on the MLs will be mitigated to a large degree. They are still for sale - UK spec. Peter
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#11
Hi Ron. Well, before committing I had first asked on other forums (ML's own, AA, etc and ML themselves by email) about the suitability of 13As in my room and most suggested it would be a positive advantage to have the big distances to the back (you probably say front) wall. Perhaps the last place to ask would be the ML forum as users tend to have a bias towards ML speakers, but no one put me off. Furthermore I had found that Quads offered exceptionally good sound in the same location, so I had no worries with the MLs. Sadly a different story when installed.

I sold my 14 year old Unos for exactly the same price I had paid for them new (nil depreciation) and found a good pair of slightly newer Duos at a truly bargain price, so the big loss on the MLs will be mitigated to a large degree. They are still for sale - UK spec. Peter
I am very glad this story has a happy ending!
 
Feb 14, 2020
38
17
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75
Portsmouth, UK
#12

thedudeabides

Well-Known Member
Jan 16, 2011
1,365
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Alto, NM
#13
I have used and enjoyed Martin-Logan Monoliths and Monolith IIIs and then Prodigys since the 1990s.

I think your room makes it very difficult for planar dipole speakers to work. I personally would never attempt to place panel speakers in a room in which:

1) each speaker has a different distance to the front wall, or

2) the front wall is curved, or

3) the front wall is uncovered glass.
Totally agree with Ron on this based on four different ML models over 25 years.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#14
Hi Ron. Well, before committing I had first asked on other forums (ML's own, AA, etc and ML themselves by email) about the suitability of 13As in my room and most suggested it would be a positive advantage to have the big distances to the back (you probably say front) wall. Perhaps the last place to ask would be the ML forum as users tend to have a bias towards ML speakers.

. . .
Dear Peter,

I am sorry so many people led you astray. All you needed to do was to ask us.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
13,352
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London
#15
Another Peter led astray. :oops:

Peter, I am at the same post code you were at when you lived in London.

Extract of my message to you on the Martin Logan forum back in 2017. This is when I was still more favorable to apogee and suggested that for ultimate speaker not only planars,

"For your particular room, I would go horns, because you can place them back towards the glass, in any position as long as they have space, and the wall behind them has no effect. I would then add a curtain to pull over the glass for critical listening. "

Anyway, I am sorry to disappoint you, while you have gone horns, you have chosen the wrong one. As you remember back then I was suggesting trios (though much higher budget).

You could get better horns at much cheaper price for your room, but it comes at the cost of being led astray a few more times on forums.
 

Duke LeJeune

[Industry Expert]/Member Sponsor
Jul 22, 2013
439
388
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Princeton, Texas
#16
Truly, brilliant stuff Duke!!! Thank you for typing this up!

How would single driver speakers, like Zu, fit with your analysis?
Thank you Caesar.

There is a lot of variation within the world of single-driver speakers: Wizzer or not, augmented (by a dedicated woofer section or by a tweeter or both) or not, for instance.

My guess is that the Zu approach does not suffer from the off-axis radiation pattern flare which plagues traditional two-way designs at the bottom end of the tweeter's range, as it looks to me like their tweeter (almost a super-tweeter) has good pattern control from its horn loading. My guess is that the wizzer cone helps keep the fairly large-diameter fullrange driver from beaming too badly at its top end, where it meets up with the tweeter. If there is an off-axis discontinuity between the two drivers, it probably takes the form of an off-axis dip at the very top end of the fullrange driver, rather than being a distinct off-axis peak at the bottom end of the tweeter's range, which imo would be a definite improvement over the off-axis behavior of a conventional two-way.

Anyway as a broad generalization I'd say the Druids probably behave like a good horn speaker without the horn (well yeah there's a horn for the top octave or whatever, but its profile looks benign to me, so I think it won't "sound like" a horn).

But this is just me eyeballing and armchair-quarterbacking; I welcome correction from anyone who knows Zu speakers well.
 
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Duke LeJeune

[Industry Expert]/Member Sponsor
Jul 22, 2013
439
388
120
Princeton, Texas
#17
I'm sure that my room is a bigger problem for the MLs than the AGs. Would you agree that this is the likely cause for my disappointment in these highly rated and reviewed electrostatic speakers?
Thank you for providing so much information.

That's a LOT of asymmetry between what the left and right speakers are seeing, which could be an issue. Horns are the least affected by room asymmetry simply because of their constrained radiation patterns.

Here is another thought that comes to mind: Good integration between the panel and woofer in a hybrid electrostat can be largely a function of room acoustics and listening distance. You see, the panel approximates a line source, where the SPL falls off by 3 dB for every doubling of distance. In contrast the woofer is effectively a point source, with the SPL falling off by 6 dB for every doubling of distance. These effects are real; I measured them on SoundLab Dynastats (hybrids like your Martin Logans) when I had a pair years ago. The net effect can be a mis-match of several decibels between the loudness of the woofer and the loudness of the panel at the listening position.

Glad to hear you found a solution with the Duos!
 
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cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,597
349
260
Pleasanton, CA
#18
Can I mislead him for a while, or is his dance card full?
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#19
. . .

I am sorry to disappoint you, while you have gone horns, you have chosen the wrong one.

. . .
Bonzo75,

Has it occurred to you that Peter might like Duos? :rolleyes:
 
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bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
13,352
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#20
Bonzo75,

Has it occurred to you that Peter might like Duos? :rolleyes:
I thought he said Unos? It is possible with duos though if he hasn't heard good Altecs, DIY JBL, etc.
 

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