Loudspeakers

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John Bamford & Keith Howard  |  Aug 14, 2010
When informed I had a pair of horn-loaded JBL floorstanders coming my way for auditioning I confess I wasn’t particularly enthralled. And I was quietly cursing as several of us groaned under the 73kg weight of each enclosure, man-handling them down the stairs into my basement listening den. Then I heard them. It was mid-afternoon when they were first fired up, powered by my resident Mark Levinson No.
Keith Howard & Paul Miller  |  Apr 16, 2010
The famous Bauhaus diktat ‘form follows function’ was an aesthetic imperative rather than an engineering philosophy, and a good job too, because for structural engineers in particular the concept was already old hat. All those Martello towers littering England’s south coast, for instance, are not round in plan view on a whim: it’s because castle builders, centuries earlier, had discovered that round towers better resisted artillery bombardment than those with corners. It’s natural to suppose that modern engineers would never do anything so crass as to make something fundamentally the wrong shape, but don’t be so sure. Most loudspeaker manufacturers have done it, continue to do it, and give every sign of proposing to do it in perpetuity.
Ken Kessler & Keith Howard  |  Jan 16, 2010
Since the early 1980s, Wilson Audio has produced speakers as physically small as the Duette and the original WATT, not just behemoths such as the Alexandria. It has been my good fortune to have heard almost every model, either at shows, at the Wilson listening room in Provo, Utah or in friends’ homes. And there’s a reason why I have used the smaller Wilsons as my primary reference for 25 years or so: they allow me to listen into the recording. Unlike most, though, I don’t necessarily believe that the progression from smallest model to largest should incite an automatic desire to follow that ascent.
Keith Howard  |  Jan 14, 2010
The use of ceramic materials in loudspeaker diaphragms can’t be described as novel because every anodised aluminium cone or dome has a surface layer of alumina (aluminium oxide), allowing it to be described as a ceramic-metal sandwich or similar – as at least one speaker manufacturer has indeed done. But pure ceramic diaphragms are a rarity, and loudspeakers that use them exclusively, as the Lumen White Silver Flame does, are rarer still. All five drivers in this arresting-looking three-way design have white ceramic diaphragms in the form of everted (concave) domes. As explained in the box-out, the attraction of a ceramic diaphragm material is that it can be lighter and stiffer than common metal equivalents, which promises higher bending wave velocity and hence higher breakup frequency for a given diaphragm size and shape.
John Bamford and Keith Howard  |  Dec 25, 2009
Recently acquired by the Canon organisation, Cabasse of France has begun a concerted effort to have its speakers available for sale in the UK through a small network of specialist dealers. Coherent Audio Systems near Tewkesbury, Glos, a dealer that also imports and distributes high-end Oracle and Belles products, was recently appointed its marketing agent. Readers may recall we enjoyed Cabasse’s £3400 Iroise 3 model earlier this year, which features the company’s spherical-shaped BC13 coaxial driver married to a pair of 210mm woofers in a floorstanding cabinet. The Baltic Evolution comes from Cabasse’s substantially more expensive Artis range, and features the company’s more ambitious TC23 triaxial driver, which is designed to provide a point source with an operating bandwidth from 22kHz down to around 80Hz.
Ed Selley  |  Dec 24, 2009
When Arthur Bailey first described the transmission line loudspeaker enclosure in the pages of Wireless World in 1965, and then again in 1972, there seemed every prospect that this new alternative to the familiar sealed box or reflex cabinet would come to enjoy widespread use. Yet it never did. Instead transmission line loading has remained a relative rarity, associated with a handful of speaker makers in particular: IMF in the early years and PMC more recently, although B&W has made perhaps the cleverest use of it in the form of its inverted horn Nautilus tubes, which had their ultimate expression in the snail-shaped speaker of that name. Although the transmission line is often classified as a form of bass loading, its modus operandi actually affects a much wider frequency range, as B&W’s use of it confirms.
Steve Harris and Keith Howard  |  Dec 24, 2009
When John Durbridge and Ian Hanson met in 1993, both were studying electronics, and both chose to develop a hi-fi prototype as their degree project. John’s design was a two-way speaker, while Ian came up with a 100W power amplifier. Each then made a career in electronics but, with audio interests pushed into the background, John worked in industrial electronics while Ian then specialised in ultrasonics. Of course, their interest in hi-fi had never died, and in 2005 they decided it was time to do something about it.
Ken Kessler and Keith Howard  |  Dec 24, 2009
If you’re torn between the sheer impact of speakers in boxes and openness possible from panels, then your (hi-fi) life has inevitably been a series of compromises. If you own pairs of each, you probably swing between them, never quite satisfied – like owning solid-state and valve amps. You know your Quad 57s lack the bass of, say, big B&Ws or Tannoys. Conversely, you can’t get the openness of the Quads or Maggies out of your head.
Ken Kessler and Keith Howard  |  Dec 24, 2009
Whether it’s bravery, a weak grasp of colloquial English or a misguided belief that some wag won’t abuse the name, Sonus faber has anointed its smallest-ever two-way with the moniker ‘Toy Speaker’. Undoubtedly, as its literature proclaims, it chose that tag because it suggests joy: ‘Toys have always been synonymous with happiness and surprise. ’ And – cynical rotters aside – the first reaction you’ll have when you see the new baby is not that the name contains an intrinsic insult, but that the product is, well, adorable. Although deeper than an LS3/5a, it is narrower and shorter at 265x185x270mm (hwd).
Keith Howard  |  Nov 25, 2009
Not having had a Tannoy sub for review before, I was surprised to learn that the new, inexpensive TS range – of which this is the top model – is the first from this famous marque to include high-level inputs, which allow connection to the speaker terminals of a power amplifier. Of course, line-level inputs are also provided for direct connection to processors or multichannel disc players. What this means is that Tannoy’s latest trouser flappers – the 801 with an 8in driver, 1001 with a 10in driver and, you guessed it, 1201 with a 12in driver – are easier to dovetail into a wide variety of audio systems. In a home theatre context you will generally use the LFE output from the AV amplifier or processor, whereas in a conventional music replay system, where line-level outputs downstream of the volume control are often not available, the speaker-level inputs will be a boon.
Ken Kessler and Keith Howard  |  Nov 25, 2009
Blown away by MartinLogan’s Spire earlier this year [see HFN, Apr ’09], I assumed that it would replace the Summit. Before the ink was dry, the Summit X was announced, and at a higher price point to ensure that the gap would prevent customer confusion. But in order to justify the cost difference, for a speaker not that much larger, its performance would have to be instantly, audibly superior. Luckily for ML, the Summit X may be the best hybrid the company has delivered to date.
Keith Howard  |  Nov 17, 2009
Not many audio companies, to my recollection, have made the transition from manufacturing speaker stands to making the boxes atop them, but that’s the journey undergone by Kudos Audio. Its stands are still winning awards but today the marque is as well known for the five-model range of Cardea loudspeakers, ranging from the compact C1 – joint winner of our group test last year (HFN Nov ’08) – to the recently introduced, top-of-the-range C30. Slotted beneath the latter and previous alpha male is the C20, a two-way floorstander that uses the same cabinet and bass-mid driver as the lesser C2 but is equipped with a superior SEAS Crescendo tweeter and higher-grade crossover components. Included in the latter are the bespoke silver-wired capacitors that also feature in the C10 – the cut-above version of the C1.
John Bamford and Keith Howard  |  Oct 25, 2009
When Scott Walker famously sang ‘My Ship Is Coming In’ he could have been describing taking delivery of a pair of Focal’s £110,000 Grande Utopia EMs, surely one of the finest dynamic loudspeakers known to humankind. Standing over 2m tall and weighing 260kg (each!), the four-way ‘Grande EM’ with its electromagnetic 16in woofer and user-adjustable ‘Focus Time’ cabinet construction is a statement product that challenges the envelope of speaker performance. Privileged indeed are the audiophiles with adequately large listening rooms in which to accommodate them and deep enough pockets to afford them. Focal is France’s largest and most successful speaker manufacturer, producing several series of hi-fi models ranging from affordable to, well, the price of a Bentley in the case of the aforementioned flagship.
Richard Stevenson and Keith Howard  |  Oct 25, 2009
Oh to live in a trendy warehouse conversion overlooking the Thames. Imagine the acres of glass, the polished floors and the designer furniture with the Habitat labels peeled off. One’s loudspeakers would need to offer equally stunning visual splendour, exude an air of bespoke affluence and leave your friends (probably called Tarquin and Jemima) green with envy. Clearly you would need Jamo’s sumptuous R 909s or if your City bonus has been a little credit crunched this year, perhaps the smaller but equally lush R 907s reviewed here.
David Berriman and Keith Howard  |  Oct 25, 2009
These new Mission 792s certainly have kerb appeal, or maybe that should be curve appeal. With their contoured sides, wrap-around grilles and sculpted front, no one could accuse them of not standing out from the crowd – even if their looks are sure to divide opinion sharply. The shiny black finish is actually genuine piano lacquer, with seven coats applied to create a truly deep and lustrous gloss. This approach is both labour and time intensive, as each coating must be dried for 24 hours before it is rubbed down by hand and re-sprayed.

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