The 12 Most Significant Loudspeakers of All Time

tmallin

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May 19, 2010
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This is the title of a fascinating article in the current September 2010 Issue 205 of The Absolute Sound. In it, eight current reviewers of TAS, including founder Harry Pearson, were asked to name the dozen speakers which they thought to be the 12 most significant loudspeakers of all time.

It is clear from reading the article that few, if any, of the reviewers were naming speakers which the necessarily believe are the best sounding of all time, although there are probably a few of those among the nominees. No, the attempt was to name trend setters, designs which set the stage for later designs which built on the originals, or which inspired other designers to greater heights. Or, in a few cases, designs which have stood the test of time extraordinarily well.

Here are my takes on the list compiled from the eight reviewers' recommendations, starting from the bottom up. I thought it would be fun to comment not only on the current significance of the trend represented by each speaker, but also on the speaker's sound itself, if I'm familiar with it. I've been around audio long enough to have heard many of these at some length and over a number of years in different venues.

#12 Klipschorn

My own review if this speaker is the subject of a separate thread here. As I said in the first paragraph of my post which started that thread: " K-horns are controversial and opinions not only vary widely, but are usually extremely polarized: listeners seem to either love 'em or hate 'em." The K-horn made exactly four out of eight of the top-12 lists of the polled TAS reviewers. That's what I would expect for a speaker which so polarizes opinions.

I don't believe the Klipschorn is really representative of any significant trend in home or even pro audio. Corner horn designs are few and far between. The K-horn got the corner horn part right, I think, but, to my knowledge, not too many have followed that path. Most horn-loaded speakers today are not meant to be corner loaded and few use bass horns at all. The Avant Garde Trio uses a bass horn, but is not meant to be corner loaded; neither was the company's later Bass Horn. Another vintage monster speaker (with a 30-inch woofer), the Electrovoice Patrician, was recommended for corner placement, but was not a horn-loaded woofer and could work well anywhere in the room. Roy Allison's company once marketed the Allison 3, a speaker meant to be placed in a corner, but it was not a horn at all.

No, the significance of the K-horn is that the product has remained in production and quite popular and thought very highly of by many for more than 60 years since it was originally introduced, with only relatively minor changes to the design being made since its original introduction.

The Klipsch company holds this design fairly constant as a form of reverence for Paul W. Klipsch, the man, and has been extremely reluctant to make many changes in it over the years, even in face of better technology which Klipsch uses in other products. For example, there is the refusal to change the mid and high-range horns from the original exponential design to Tractrix shape, even though other models, even in the Klipsch Heritage line, now use Tractrix horns. Another example is the refusal to actually market the Jubilee two-way version of the corner-horn speaker with PWK was still working on at the time of his death, even though many K-horn enthusiasts feel that the Jubilee is quite superior. Yes, you CAN put together a Jubilee today with new parts from the Klipsch factory, but you have to know who to contact.

Those who relish the idea of improving their K-horns could do worse than contacting Greg Roberts of Volti Audio. Greg markets and has started to design updates and upgrades to the original K-horn, and by all reports, the results are both sonic improvements and pleasing visual art.

#11 MBL 101E

I can't say that I've listened to this design much. As the comment in TAS says, it measures very flat and, for me with my smallish listening room, that's a problem for an omnidirectional speaker. Unless the high end is rolled off a lot, in my book, in a smallish room an omni will sound too bright compared to unamplified music in a concert hall. It will also have confused imaging unless listened to from very close up and in a very well padded room. I owned the Walsh 5 Series 3 speakers, which are as close to omni as anything I've ever owned and what I said in the prior sentence even applied to those, despite the foam padding in the driver enclosure which prevents them from radiating full range in an omni fashion. Even so, and even though the on-axis response of the Walshes rolled off considerably in the high end, I needed to sit very close and pad the room more to get the tonal balance to sound natural to me.

Of course, I think most who like omni speakers really listen from much further back than I do and like the overall effect of "lighting up the room" with sound. They even like this effect in fairly live rooms. They find it exciting. I will concede that such designs probably work MUCH better in much larger rooms where the room walls are much further away than they are in my listening room. It is no accident that MBL speakers often are reported to sound great in the larger rooms at audio shows.

A much earlier example of an omnidirectional speaker which, for its time looked as unusual as the MBLs were the Design Acoustics D-12, which were shaped like a duodecahedren, 12 sided--especially appropriate fo this article.

#10 Original Large Advent Loudspeaker

The mention here was actually for the so-called Double Advent stacked array where the top speaker is inverted so that the two tweeters are close together. I don't think the picture of the speaker with the grill cloth off which appears in the article is of any Advent speaker, at least not any I'm familiar with and definitely not the original Large Advent which is surely the one meant by the reviewers.

I owned four of these originals back in my college days in the early 1970s. The tweeter looked like a doughnut with the hole not fully separated from the ring. The woofer was a 12-inch frame with a smaller 8" or 9" cone mounted in it. Here is a picture of the real thing.

I'm not really sure what trend the Advent is supposed to represent, or what made it especially significant historically. It was a later example of an acoustic suspension speaker by designer Henry Kloss, the "K" of KLH. In my thinking, the design is quite derivative of earlier work done by Acoustic Research and then KLH. The doughnut tweeter used in the Advent looks very similar to the one used in the earlier KLH Model 5 and Model 12.

Yes, the Advents were good speakers for the money in their day and are still pleasing today. Back in the '70s I bought them, rather than the Acoustic Research AR-3a or AR-5, primarily because the Advents sounded fine, were less expensive, and seemed to better handle music played at high volumes. Once I had the Advents, they also proved to have a very flat, neutral response from bass up though the lower treble, were unusually transparent to small details for the time, and could generate a modicum of imaging and soundstage even with the electronics of the time. A pair or two could play as loudly as one might want in a small dorm room without sounding strained. Sure, my friend with the Altec VOTTs in his dorm room could bring down the walls if he pushed those band PA speakers hard, but the quality of the sound was way too bright for close-up listening in a small room.

Yes, a Double Advent set up sounded better: bigger, cleaner, more authoritative yet in the bass regions, and more open. But, frankly, I more often felt that the four speakers could be used to better advantage by deploying them in a Dyna-Quad-like surround arrangement in the four corners of the room. I had two stereo amps available and was thus able to fully adjust the rear difference signal level for anything from ambient reinforcement for classical, to full swirl-around-the-room effects for Electric Ladyland.

#9 KLH Model Nine electrostatic

Here, I have to admit that I've never once heard these speakers. In the article, they are billed as the American answer to the British Quad 57. That may be. From all that has been written about them, however, I think I'd find them as frustrating as the Quads are to me because they promise more than they can really deliver. Like the Quads, they could not do symphonic music justice at realistic volume levels unless doubled up (at considerable expense for the time) and even then, the fuses would blow a lot.

The trend represented here is surely full-range line source electrostatics. It was probably the first commercial line-source speaker of any kind since it pre-dated the Magneplanars. Later models, such as the Acoustat, Sound Lab, Innersound, and the current Sanders models go way beyond the limitations talked about by those who have heard the KLH Model 9.

I do currently own a pair of restored KLH Model 12 speakers, however, which KLH said at the time were their closest approach to the Model 9 in a dynamic speaker, and which the manufacturer said was a much more practical speaker. The KLH Model 12 is a legitimate rival for the AR-3a, in my opinion, although I prefer the AR on most days. The KLH is more transparent than the AR and probably plays deeper and louder yet in the bass. But the tonal balance, despite seemingly more sophisticated crossover balance controls, is just a bit too incisive in the upper mids/lower highs and the treble from the doughnut tweeter is beamy. The doughnut-shaped tweeter looks like a forerunner of the one Kloss later used in the Advent, but in the Advent the treble definitely did not beam so.

#8 Infinity IRS V

I heard these at Lyric Hi Fi in New York once upon a time. Yes, they were impressive, as they should oughta been at that price. No way I could afford it then or now, or have a room it could fit into. This was the last iteration of the original astronomically large and expensive "statement" loudspeaker of the line-source variety. The Genesis company later started by Infinity's Arnie Nudell still markets similar looking speakers, although I don't think Arnie is involved in the current designs.

#7 Magneplanar 1-U/1-D

Magnepan invented the planar magnetic driver as an alternative to electrostatics like the KLH. A few other brands may use this type of driver, but Magnepan has had such a lock on this market for so long that the others are hard to remember. Most all Magnepans have been line source speakers and along the way Magnepan has developed quasi-ribbon and true ribbon drivers to extend the high frequencies and improve the transparency and low-SPL "life" of the sound.

I once experienced a similar type of "is it real or is it Memorex" experience of the type JV relates with these speakers. I could have sworn there was a pipe organ in the room even though I could see the speakers and knew what they were.

To my mind (and HP's according to his comments on these), current Magnepans don't have the bass realism and authority of these older multipanel models. That's a shame, because that's what's needed today to truly balance the performance of Magnepan's true ribbon tweeter which is so good it "sticks out" a bit in every current Maggie model using it. Yes, Magnepan made treble improvements later on and the current models are more transparent, but those who've experienced the older really big Maggies may miss their bass authority and overall balance. I certainly do. All the current Maggies (with the possible exception of the 20.1 in especially advantageous rooms) are too bright sounding for my tastes. Yes, you can turn that tweeter down with resistors, but it still "sticks out" a bit.

#6 Dahlquist DQ-10

This is cited for its open back upper-driver design and "phased array" design. I know of no test reports establishing that the Dahlquist could actually produce a time-coherent impulse response of the type which Thiel, Vandersteen, Quad 63 and a few others could and can. Certainly there are no such test results published for any of the later Alon/Nola speakers designed by then-Dahlquist-employee Carl Marchisotto.

I also think it is strange that in an insightful paper written for TAS, designer Jon Dahlquist argued that an ideal speaker should have a dipole bottom and directional top end. That is exactly the opposite of the DQ-10 design and subsequent Dahlquist and Marchisotto designs.

It also seems odd to me that this speaker was so popular. Yes, it was fairly open and transparent sounding, and could play much louder than the Quad 57. But anyone with two functioning ears could hear the Quad's much greater realism and transparency on any material played at levels the Quad could handle. It simply wasn't a contest. And HP's comments minimizing the problem with the tweeter-beaming and awful sound of that piezo tweeter Dahlquist used is not how I remember it: you had to arrange things just so to avoid hearing the tweeter. Many owners just disconnected it. And the Quad 57 form factor which the DQ-10 clearly aped forced Dahlquist to arrange the drivers horizontally across the face of the cabinet, rather than the entirely more logical and imaging-enhancing vertical arrangement which later Dahlquist and Marchisotto designs and other "time-aligned" designs would adopt.

Open-backed dipole design has been used successfully in the upper ranges of many speakers since the DQ-10, including the Alon/Nola models from one-time Dahlquist employee, Carl Marchisotto. I've always felt that the later Dahlquist DQ 20 and 30 models, which showed the open-backed midrange direction Marchisotto would later go at Alon/Nola, were far, far better sounding than the DQ-10. And models using dynamic drivers from Spica, Sequerra, Thiel, Vandersteen, Meadowlark, and a number of pro-audio lines can be shown to be able to produce a fairly time-coherent impulse response on the design axis. Thus, while the DQ-10 may have been the inspiration for these later designs, I always have found it a quite imperfect first sonic step in these directions.

In my opinion, time has shown that time-alignment of the drivers along a design axis is not the be-all and end-all some designers and listeners think it is. Such designs usually have too many real world problems which counteract the theoretical goodness. For one thing, the scientific evidence is slim indeed that people can even reliably hear time alignment among the drivers of a single speaker. Second, in all such designs, the room sound is no more time aligned and may be less so than in other speakers. This shows up in the frequency realm with wild variations in the response at various horizontal and especially vertical angles. Then there is the fact that the requires first-order crossovers make it difficult to build "time aligned" speakers which also have low distortion at high SPL or which even handle macro dynamics as well as other speakers. And I think it can be shown that the signature solid soundstage such devices usually evidence is more a product of narrow baffle, low diffraction design than "time alignment."

Still, the mystique is such that many designers use angled-back baffles, staggered-step baffles, or even baffles where the position of individual drivers is adjustable fore and aft and even in vertical angle to connote "time alignment" even when the design is not time aligned in any real way, as shown in test report impulse responses. There are some very expensive models which trade on this form-over-function model. I won't mention who they are, but you can find out just by checking Stereophile test reports.

#5 Magico Mini II

This is another one I have not heard, just read a lot about. It exemplifies the statement mini-monitor concept. Actually, though, while it is a stand-mounted speaker, it isn't really very mini-sized at all. It is a bit smaller than the stand-mounted TAD CR-1 which also exemplifies this approach, but not that much. This and #4 below shows what happens when Americans take it upon themselves to improve on the BBC LS3/5a concept. Of course, Americans make it bigger. And heroic manufacturing techniques give the manufacturer some reason to charge exorbitant prices for a small-ish two-way box, which adds to the appeal for some audiophiles.

I do very much applaud the use of acoustic suspension sealed boxes by Magico. I just wish that more current manufacturers of full-range speakers would offer this type of bass reproduction. While the over-the-top rigidity used here may allow the best possible realization of the acoustic suspension concept from a theoretical standpoint, more conventional manufacturing techniques might usefully warm up the overall balance just a bit, and would certainly allow more listeners access to acoustic suspension bass reproduction.

#4 Wilson WATT

RH's TAS discussion bills this as "the most popular high-end loudspeaker of all time." The unadorned, un-augmented-by-Puppy Wilson Audio Tiny Tott? Really? Is that by sales volume, kudos, ink spilled about it, or what? I very seriously doubt any of the above characterizations are true. Does ANYONE use these for home listening without extending the bass end with a woofer? Very early on Wilson realized the problem even before the Puppy came to market, making available the "beard" for open speaker stands to add a bit more bass heft.

I'll be polite and just say that I did not cotton to the sound of the original WATT. The tweeter was nasty and peaky, the bass was anemic. The sound of the later versions ameliorated these problems somewhat, I think, but after the arrival of the Puppy, the WATT alone was not often demonstrated. Even in the WATT/Puppy combination, the high end stuck out and seemed a bit sizzly to me, again a trend which was lessened as the iterations progressed.

The WATT is here to identify the trend toward high-priced, stiff-walled mini-monitors. The Magico Mini and Mini II were logical extensions of this trend to the statement level although, as mentioned above, they are not really mini. I'm not really sure that this stiff-walled approach is a trip I need or even want to take. To me, the latest BBC thin-walled approach to a mini-monitor, as exemplified in the $2,000 a pair Harbeth P3ESR is a much more realistic sounding speaker overall than any version of the bare WATT. Sure, the WATT will play louder, but, for me, this is not adequate recompense.

#3 Rogers/BBC LS3/5a

Well, at least the original BBC version of the mini-monitor got the recognition it so justly deserved in the list by coming out above the American derivatives, the Magico and Wilson. This speaker made seven out of eight of the reviewer lists. The latest iterations, such as the $2,000/pair Harbeth P3ESR, show just how far the original concept can be taken with improved modern drivers and technology.

I'd bet most of us can remember exactly when we first heard an LS3/5a. For me it was definitely one of those stop-you-dead-in-your-audio-tracks moments. Sure, not much real bass, but a nice warm, full sounding presentation, fabulous clarity and seeming freedom from distortion--like unto the Quads--and imaging/staging to beat the band. And the pair I first heard at a Champaign, Illinois, dealer was just casually (or so it seemed) sitting atop a couple of equipment cabinets.

#2 Acoustic Research AR-3a

Frankly, as much as I personally admire the AR-3a speakers, I'm more than a bit surprised to see that it made everyone's list of the top 12 and came out at #2, just below the obvious, odds-on favorite to win, the [insert your guess, or just look below]. The AR-3a is here because of its acoustic suspension bass reproduction and the pioneering use of dome tweeters.

HP's comments suggest that the 3a was the first AR speaker to use dome tweeter and midrange drivers. That is not true. The AR-3 before it also used domes for both mids and highs, but the AR-3 tweeter and midrange domes were larger in diameter. See here for a comparison of the 3 and 3a. Both speakers are highly prized by vintage-AR enthusiasts, but I think that most agree that the AR-3a sounds better because of less "woofiness" (the crossover from bass to midrange was lowered in the 3a) and more openness from the yet-better-dispersion of the smaller AR-3a domes.

In case any of you want to take a trip down vintage speaker lane (I talk more about my own vintage-audio experiences so far here and here) and acquire some of these classics today, you might be torn between the AR-3a and the Double Advent which HP rhapsodizes about and which made two of the lists. I used my four Large Advents in quadraphonic arrangement, as well as in Double Advent stacked style, and in an augmented Double Advent arrangement with those cute little wood-veneered Microacoustic/Microstatic tweeter arrays (remember those?) atop them. Let me just say that, doubled or not, tweeter-augmented or not, in my opinion, the Advents are no match for the mighty AR-3a.

Okay, Advents, single or double, probably will play louder than the AR-3a without destroying the tweeter. And maybe the Advents are a bit more transparent in the midband and at least equally capable of producing depth of stage.

But in all other ways, the AR-3as sound more lifelike and more real--majorly so. Especially in terms of both bass extension and treble extension, the 3a walks all over the Advents. Yes, the 3a treble is a bit soft, but in a way that is quite believably mid-hall in sound. Those domes were and are very, very good, in terms of dispersion and response, even by contemporary standards. By comparison, the Advent treble is more distorted and peaky and in-your-face. The AR-3as really do sound like real music in ways that most speakers then or now do not. The Advents, while they had/have a very clean and quite transparent midband, have a harshness compared to life in the mid-treble which sounds "hi-fi" to the AR's naturalness.

You can get more treble level from the AR-3a and reduce the possibility of blowing the tweeter by replacing the original tweeter with a modern ferro-fluid job. Then, however, to restore proper high frequency balance, you need to modify the crossover a bit. And beware that many modern replacement tweeters have neither the delicacy/transparency or the apparently wide dispersion of the original AR parts.

Also, if you get to hear the AR-3a and find it a bit bass heavy sounding--woofy or wooly--then the AR-5 may fit your ears even better. It lacks the ultimate bass extension and a certain "authoritative" sound of the 3a. But many--including me--feel that otherwise it is just about as fine. It never sounds thin, but definitely lacks any tendency to sound too bass heavy. The 10-inch woofer used in the 5 may well mate better with the small dome midrange than the larger 12-incher of the 3a does. (Later AR tower speakers like the AR-9 added an 8-inch midbass driver to the line up to ease the transition from cone to dome.) The AR-5 is also much less expensive to find today in any particular condition, although they are not so common on the used market as the 3a. There were not as many sold. I currently have one pair of AR-3a, two pairs of AR-5, as well as a pair of AR-2ax speakers.

If you buy AR-3a or other vintage AR speakers today, count on having to repair or replace something(s) unless the speaker has been restored recently by a competent restorer. Except for the very earliest ones, the woofer surrounds were foam and have long since disintegrated. The pots are almost always scratchy or intermittent. Capacitors often need replacement. Tweeter wires are fragile and often broken even if the tweeter itself is not blown. The original grills are hard to remove and are light colored and thus may be broken and/or stained and may need replacement. And on and on it goes . . . .

But with TLC and a bit of soldering skill, many--even all-thumbs me--can manage an AR speaker restoration project, given all the parts and help that is available on line. To get an idea about what you might be getting into, you can review the document, "Restoring the AR-3a" which represents the composite experience of many who have taken this trail over the years.

#1 Quad ESL 57

If you didn't guess the #1 pick, you probably just aren't old enough to remember these when they were available new in stores as "the" Quad electrostatic and have somehow not heard them later in life. As the comments in TAS indicate, there is a sonically crucial midrange slice where, in many respects, the history and goal of high-end audio--both designers and consumers--has just been trying to catch up with the sound the Quad 57s have always offered in that range when you don't attempt to push them too loud. Even the most recent Quads do not quite get there.

And, for some music, the overall clarity on tap here allows the 57s to play loud enough to be satisfying. This was more true for LPs than for CDs which generally have stronger bass and wider dynamics. Sometimes, what the 57s will do fine with cannot easily be predicted. I once heard them play the M&K Realtime direct-to-disk recording of Earl "Fatha" Hines at quite satisfying levels, even the piano and tuba opening cut.

HP and I differ as to the relative obnoxiousness of the high end of the 57 and the Dahlquist DQ-10. He was not much bothered by the DQ-10 tweeter while I was. He notes a "sheen" to the Quads which he says others may mistake for transparency. While I hear the 57's tweeter beaming, it sounds fine on axis to me.

But, I am right with HP on his assessment of the available dynamic range of the 57. With far too much of the large-scale symphonic music I prefer, you risk arcing and damage to these if you push them toward natural levels. Even the modern Quads are frustrating in not being able to handle such music at natural-sounding levels, but at least the newer ones have effective self-protecting shut-down circuitry. It's for this reason that I've never owned any Quad electrostatics. I admire the sound greatly, but know that I'd either damage them or be extremely frustrated with not being able to play music I like at soul-satisfying levels.
 
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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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#2
The 12 Most Significant Loudspeakers of All Time: Continued

The Also Rans

Robert E. Greene named a few speakers in his list which I think were worthy of inclusion among the most significant.

Quad ESL 63

This and its successors in Quad's line of electrostatics are, to my knowledge, the only attempt to make a planar speaker mimic a point source speaker. Quad did and does this through use of an analog delay line with many thousands of feet of wire.

I speculate that perhaps it is all this wire which somewhat reduces the midrange transparency compared to the 57, although certainly the heavy grill cloth used in the early version did not help, either. The earliest version was quite veiled compared to the 57; later versions are much closer, but still not there. The tradeoff is perhaps a more coherent sound and certainly the ability to play louder. There is still not enough SPL capability with modern digital recordings having a lot of strong low or even mid-bass, however. The much larger 989 and current 2905, by adding panels, add a bit more bass extension and SPL capability, but lose a bit of focus and add considerable brightness in the mid-highs. The smaller 988 and 2805 versions are more accurate and musical sounding, even if more limited in SPL.

The point-source thing is nice in a way, but tends to produce a very compact, vertically small image, the so-called "horizontal slit" effect. To get an adequate sense of image height, and also to prevent strong reflections off the floor--to get the most from these speaker spatially, in other words--most listeners find that you have to get your ears even with the middle of the panel, which means elevating the speaker 18 inches or so off the floor. But this causes a suck out in the orchestral power range of 100 to 200 Hz, something the Quad does not need. Alternatively, you can angle the speaker back a few degrees, which helps treble extension and clarity, but still makes it seem like you are looking down on the sound stage. Of course, the larger 989 and 2905 solve this problem, but give you added brightness in the exchange.

The 57, because it is not a point source but actually has a short line source tweeter running down the vertical center of the speaker, creates a more believable sense of image height and openness , even when it is near the floor and just angled back a bit. And that may be one reason why the 57 is the classic and the 63 is the also ran. Rumor was that Peter Walker was working on a line source electrostatic concept when he died.

Harbeth Monitor 40

This has been REG's reference speaker since at least as far back as 1999. I acquired a pair in 2004 and only sold them when I acquired its successor, the Monitor 40.1, which I now use as a reference.

REG and I have spilled a lot of ink about these speakers. All you really need to know is in REG's original 1999 TAS review of these which can be found here.

The proprietary Radial midrange (used as the bass and midrange driver in all other Harbeth speakers) driver is the breakthrough here, allowing a preternaturally clear and natural sounding window on the sonic world without the slightest hint of hard edge. This, together with the way designer Alan Shaw is able to seamlessly blend the mids and highs and the coherence of those drivers even in the very near field make these a real treat for those who know the sound of real live music. The midbass can be too strong in some rooms (mine included, but not REG's) without EQ. The M40.1 reduces that tendency and is a bit more forgiving in the upper ranges, making more commercial recordings sound beautifully real while perhaps being a bit less literally accurate.

Gradient 1.3

Read REG's review of this ground-breaking design here. I own a pair of these speakers and owned the later 1.5 Helsinki for about a year. The 1.3 speaker was designer Jorma Salmi's first attempt to design a speaker which maximally ignores the listening room around it in an attempt to come close to the sound that the recording would have if played back in an anechoic chamber.

Now, some may, with good reason, question this goal. Most recordings are not monitored in an anechoic chamber and are not intended to be played back there either.

Still, hearing what such an approach to speaker design can accomplish is instructive and, on many recordings, a major step in moving the listener into the concert venue, improving the "you are there" illusion, rather than "they are here." This approach stemmed directly from Salmi's "The Absolute Listening Test" which seems to show that as long as a speaker has flat frequency response, the sound of that a speaker is nearly identical to the sound of the source played through the speaker when such a speaker is playing the source in an anechoic chamber. Thus, Salmi has strived for both flat response and a maximum ability of the speaker to ignore the small-room acoustics of your listening room.

Salmi's later designs, the Revolution and Helsinki 1.5, took the concept of ignoring the listening room yet further. But the 1.3 is the one I've kept since it seems, to me, to strike a proper balance in getting rid of the listening room and being able to sound realistic on a wide range of recordings.

Other manufacturers have also begun to pursue the concept of controlled or constant directivity as a means of allowing their designs to be more listening-room independent. There has been a recognition that even sophisticated digital room correction cannot adequately cope with the colorations we hear due to room reflections, indirect sound from the speakers. This theoretical conclusion is backed up be experience with various types of equalization. Thus there has been a realization that what really irreducibly defines the sound of any given speaker is its power response rather than its EQ-able on-axis response. By extension, some manufacturers have thus begun to either limit the dispersion of their designs to make the on-axis sound more predominant in the listening room, or tailor the off-axis response so as to produce less subjective coloration when that sound does reflect from room surfaces.

Dipole radiation is a step in this direction, but some question whether it is really a plus. Yes, if the speaker is oriented straight up and down and not toed in, a dipole will not strongly activate room modes related to the room width or height. But toe in the speakers, or angle them back, and that begins to go out the window. Also, the back wave in such designs is very strong, requiring placement well away from room walls and the use of a lot of sound absorbing material behind the speaker if mid and high frequencies are not to color the sound through room reflection. In addition, while dipole bass activates room modes less, many astute listeners also hear less punch or impact from dipole bass.

Thus, methods other than dipoles have begun to be used to control directivity. Narrow dispersion, or at least very controlled dispersion via horns and waveguides are now frequently appearing. The benefits of "old-fashioned" wide baffles are also being rediscovered in keeping high frequencies from bouncing off side walls too strongly. Everyone from Klipsch to Geddes to JBL (the LSR 6332 being a prime example of what can be done with a relatively ordinary looking design) is getting into the act. And Gradient in its Revolution and Helsinki 1.5 designs has used special driver baffling which creates a cardioid-shaped dispersion pattern with little sound going to the sides or back.

Carver Amazing

In the early days of The Audio Critic, Peter Aczel adored these, following Bobby Carver's relentless quest to move every ounce of this design's potential into the actuality column. I owned the Amazing Platinum Mark IV, the last and by all accounts best iteration of these, for several years and used it in two different listening rooms, including my current one.

The speaker was a large line-source dipole radiator. It was also quite inexpensive at no more than $3,000 a pair. The 60-inch ribbon driver was used from 100 Hz up, with four very light-coned/small magneted woofers below that. The Mark IV had the woofers and ribbon producing a fairly coherent, in-phase wavefront.

The high-Q free-air resonance of this woofer design was arranged to more-or-less exactly counteract the dipole cancellation in conjunction with the taper of the shape of the panel--33 inches at the bottom to 27 inches at the top. To my knowledge, no other speaker had attempted such a trick and none has done it as well since.

Three controls on the speaker allowed for adjustment of apparent bass Q as well as for adjusting the tonal balance. In my room, it was possible to get these speakers to be plus or minus next to nothing from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. I've never owned or measured another speaker in this room that was anywhere near that flat in response.

It was also quite transparent and extremely open sounding. It seemed to be able to play loud enough, even in the bass when fed enough power, but you really needed several hundred watts to make them sing.

I would have kept these speakers longer, but, unfortunately they proved unreliable and thus frustrating for me. I must have replaced the ribbon drivers in each speaker at least half a dozen times each and got so good at it that I could almost do it in my sleep. Apparently, when pushed to the fairly high SPLs I favor, the ribbon would fail without any type of audible strain/stress warning. It was only later, when listening to piano or brass at a quiet level that I would hear the tell-tale crackly distortion indicating that the ribbon had passed its prime.

Too bad. I have to wonder whether Carver could have licked the ribbon problem is he had continued to develop this design. But Carver's speaker design efforts thereafter took other tacks, seeing the need for smaller, less room-dominating designs for the then-nascent home theater market.

Unnamed Trends

Horn Speakers

Other than the Klispschorn, which, as a corner horn, is really a special case, there are no horn loaded speaker systems in the list. This seems strange given the popularity of horn designs in the US DIY market, as well as the reverence in which horns of all types and vintages are held in the Far East market. Vintage Altec Lansing and JBL designs such as the Voice of the Theater, Hartsfield, and Paragon command kingly sums in some of the world's markets, as do vintage and current horn models in the Tannoy Prestige line.

DSPed Speakers

Some, like REG, think this is a logical way to move the art forward. Already there have been a few consumer-oriented designs which have in their conception anticipated the application of digital processing to EQ their inherent response, their in-room response, and even their crossovers. The Lyngdorf and Emerald Physics are just two recent examples of such designs. And of course Meridian was one of the pioneers of such designs by putting not only active amplification, but D/A converters in the speakers.

Perhaps we just need to wait some years for this type of design to gain traction in the consumer audio world. DSP control, along with active amplification, is already strongly entrenched even in the highest level of pro-audio monitors. See, for example the Klein & Hummel 0500C.
 
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Ocean56

New Member
Aug 26, 2010
12
0
0
Michigan
#3
The only speakers on this list that I've heard in person are the Large Advents - because I still own the pair that I bought new in 1978!

I still like them, musically, although I'm sure I could do better...
 

audioguy

WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
2,767
40
225
Near Atlanta, GA but not too near!
#5
Interesting. As many loudspeakers as I have owned, I have owned ZERO that were on the list. I did own Klipsh Cornwalls, Apogee Duetta and Diva and Wilson Watt/Puppy that are at least similar to those listed. (of the previous speakers I just listed, the Apogee Diva was by far my favorite --- by a long long way!!)
 
Likes: christoph

Orb

New Member
Sep 8, 2010
3,010
0
0
#6
How significant do you feel were the Lowther/Voigt speakers (possibly the corner horn)?
Just curious as they seem to have a lot of respect but these days most do not seem to remember the name.

Cheers
Orb
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
460
62
435
67
Chicagoland
#7
How significant do you feel were the Lowther/Voigt speakers (possibly the corner horn)?
Just curious as they seem to have a lot of respect but these days most do not seem to remember the name.

Cheers
Orb
Lowther drivers obviously have been used in a number of horn-loaded speakers, both manufactured and DIY over the years. In my opinion, however, they have not had the kind of impact on the overall loudspeaker market over time that it takes to make this list. And, as you can tell from this list, the K-horn is really the only horn-loaded speaker to make the appropriate waves in the "mainstream" of the audiophilia, including the audiophile press. Yes, I checked and there have been a few enthusiastic reviews in on-line audio-zines of Lowther-based products, here, for instance, but those products never made much of a splash in the "mainstream."

The Lowther driver represents the attempt to produce Holy Grail of a single-driver point source dynamic loudspeaker. Such attempts usually sacrifice both bass and treble extension, even if the midrange is made right, and even that is tough since many designs also seem to strive for great sensitivity and thus peak up the midrange response to improve that number.

The Quad 63 aims for the same crossoverless point-source goal in an electrostatic and has had far more popularity. The Sound Lab and some other large-panel electrostats go for the single-driver crossoverless Grail in a line source or panel radiation pattern. They, too, have had more mainstream acceptance, I think.

I think that another crossoverless design shows yet more promise. It is the type which combines a large number of small dynamic drivers arranged in a line source. Watch for future reviews of the larger ClairAudient line source array systems from Audience, the largest of which has 16 3" drivers in front or 16 in front plus 16 in back.
 

muralman1

New Member
Jul 7, 2010
479
0
0
Sacramento Ca
#8
I do think the Apogee name should have been there. There are a lot of spin off ribbon hybrids out there. I know of one start up builder who will be offering full range ribbon speakers. By the way, the Diva in the same room as my Scintillas. :D
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
460
62
435
67
Chicagoland
#9
I do think the Apogee name should have been there. There are a lot of spin off ribbon hybrids out there. I know of one start up builder who will be offering full range ribbon speakers. By the way, the Diva in the same room as my Scintillas. :D
I think Magnepan is there representing the subsequent ribbon-based speakers. The Maggies were there long before the Apogees. One can quibble over the differences between planar magnetic, quasi-ribbon, and true ribbon, but the idea of a large non-electrostatic membrane driven rather uniformly over its surface area originated with Magnepan.

In addition, the Carver Amazing Platinum also made the list and it contained a "true ribbon" driver which operated almost full range--from 100 Hz on up. The Carver also pre-dated the Apogees.

I did admire some aspects of the sound of some of the Apogee speakers, including the Scintillas. I also remember that the difficulty of driving some of the early Apogees helped make a name for Krell amplifiers. At the time, the Krells were one of the very few amps which could "comfortably" provide the current to drive the 1 or even .1 ohm load represented by some early Apogee panels.
 

MylesBAstor

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
11,223
7
585
New York City
#10
I think Magnepan is there representing the subsequent ribbon-based speakers. The Maggies were there long before the Apogees. One can quibble over the differences between planar magnetic, quasi-ribbon, and true ribbon, but the idea of a large non-electrostatic membrane driven rather uniformly over its surface area originated with Magnepan.
What about the Strathearn ribbons?


I did admire some aspects of the sound of some of the Apogee speakers, including the Scintillas. I also remember that the difficulty of driving some of the early Apogees helped make a name for Krell amplifiers. At the time, the Krells were one of the very few amps which could "comfortably" provide the current to drive the 1 or even .1 ohm load represented by some early Apogee panels.
Also Classe and Electrocompaniet. EC made, and were probably the only amps, that could drive the extremely low impedance original "big" Apogees long before Krell was a twinkle in Dan's eye :) 0.25 ohms impedance was a bitch for amps of the day to drive and most gave up the ghost figuratively and literally. (Also like the original Dayton Wrights could only be driven by the early Phase Linear amps :( )
 

c1ferrari

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
May 15, 2010
2,113
33
225
#11
Rogers/BBC LS3/5a

Still have the pair I purchased new in '77 or so...15 ohms.
 

vdorta

New Member
Dec 27, 2010
18
0
1
Issaquah, WA
www.dorta.com
#12
Tmallin,

New member here. I agree with you on most of the things you say. I would only say that I missed two speakers: the Spendor BC1, a trail blazer in high fidelity if there ever was one, and the Leak Sandwich, a pioneer in metal woofer construction. I owned one and listened at length to the other and loved every minute of it!
 

bwraudio

New Member
Jan 24, 2011
54
1
0
#13
Hill Plasma

IMG_0453..jpg This in my opinion should be one of speakers on your list. While it is very impractical, the Hill Plasma from 700 hz to 100,000 hz provided the most accurate, extended high end, with transient response that even todays best speakers can not beat!!!!! View attachment 1307
 
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FrantzM

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
6,464
6
255
#16
This in my opinion should be one of speakers on your list. While it is very impractical, the Hill Plasma from 700 hz to 100,000 hz provided the most accurate, extended high end, with transient response that even todays best speakers can not beat!!!!!
Never heard one but I must say this is a very impressive thing ... I would like to know however how you came to that conclusion? I have nver read a review about this ..err.. speaker .. Isn't it dangerous .. really? No ions clouds or ozone ..etc ?
 

mep

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
9,483
6
0
#17
Frantz-If memory serves me correctly the Hill Plasma tweeter generated lots of ozone which is one of the reasons it never became a commercial reality. There were certainly others. So, because this speaker was a flash in the pan and never a serious commercial product owned by more than a handful of people, how can it qualify as one of the most significant speakers of all time?
 

MylesBAstor

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
11,223
7
585
New York City
#18
Never heard one but I must say this is a very impressive thing ... I would like to know however how you came to that conclusion? I have nver read a review about this ..err.. speaker .. Isn't it dangerous .. really? No ions clouds or ozone ..etc ?
Frantz: Check your TAS's. Pretty sure HP reviewed the Hill's because seem to remember a comment about having rocks in the woofer cabinet?

Mark's right too 'bout the ozone :)
 

bwraudio

New Member
Jan 24, 2011
54
1
0
#19
The Hill Plasmatronics avoided the air polution hazard by having its own built-in supply of helium, which is a noble gas and thus unreactive even when ionized. Helium is also biologically inert, and being much lighter than air, promptly escapes to the upper atmosphere. Even in the best-insulated houses it will be gone in a matter of seconds, so it is completely safe. Peter Moncrieff of International Audio Review tested this plasma transducer in the late 1970's and claimed that it was the best transducer ever produced. The problem came about when one set the flow rate of helium too low (helium is very expensive) and this could then cause ozone to be a problem. One other area of concern was possible eye damage (ultra-violent) from looking looking directly at the burning plasma. Also the woofer that was used did not keep up with the plasma driver.
 

MylesBAstor

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
11,223
7
585
New York City
#20
Also the woofer that was used did not keep up with the plasma driver.
I seem to remember that being one of HP's complaints. Now gotta look out that review.
 

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