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'CRITICAL' LOWER-MIDS Corroborated & Dunlavy's Speakers Discussed

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This is another installment of a new experiment where correspondence between readers and this 'zine are published for the benefit of other readers.

Of course, for this purpose, permission has been obtained from the relevant readers and the names of those writing in have been, and will always be, changed in an effort to maintain their privacy. So then, the names are fictitious, but the content is absolutely real.

As far as possible these letters are virtually untouched, with the bare minimum of 'corrections' made. Where English is obviously a second-language, for a particular reader, slightly more corrections might have been made to aid others in understanding, but the 'accent' is untouched. In all cases, and for the most part, these few letters, selected for their content, remain raw (or refined, as the case may be) and unadulterated:

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WAJ
Apr. 03 2011 at 6:35 PM  

Hi Pry,

Welcome to WAJ on AUDIO. Hope you enjoy the articles here. And thanks for joining our little clique.

Best regards

WAJ

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Pry
May. 13 2012 at 5:52 PM

Hi WAJ,

I began a reply but it was deleted when I went back to my Profile to double check something.  Perhaps you should warn about that.

I discovered your site over a year ago but didn't remember registering at that time.  Now, with this registration I find within the About Me section a description I didn't just enter.  Is it possible I already had registered but that did not show when I (re)joined this week?

And so on to audio.  You cover a lot regarding the importance of the lower midrange to musical enjoyment.  I've not read that much of your site yet but how do you define that in terms of frequencies?  One place I found you referenced 200-500 Hz so I wonder if that is your intended range?

In a traditional 20-20K audio range, the lower midrange is usually defined as 160-320 Hz.  This would miss half an octave of your range if I understand it correctly as mentioned above.

It is interesting that in Jim Smith's well regarded book, "Get Better Sound" he states a similar position.  In his Tip #44 he identifies 192-384 Hz as "The one thing you system must have to be musically satisfying".  He states music reproduction must be flat or even show a small peak within this range, but never a dip, if it is to be satisfying.

So this question for you, do you recommend avoiding a crossover within this range, in addition to adequate driver size to move air?  It would seem if it is so critical that continuity should be maintained as much as possible.

I may have more questions as I read further into your articles so I hope you welcome that.

Regards, Pry

 

WAJ
May. 15 2012 at 12:09 AM

Hi Pry,

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Believe it or not, I'm sometimes also a victim of issues similar to those you've described, concerning the site. I've written them off as minor quibbles which perhaps go with the territory. I mean; it's free web-hosting - why would I fuss about it - right? (Different story if 'n when I ever upgrade to hosting which I actually pay for, however). My apologies to you for any minor inconvenience, though.

You're right, of course, about the lower-midrange being 320 - 160hz, officially and in the strictest terms. However, I was never ever accused of being the strictest adherent to official parameters. Perhaps I'm just delinquent - a rebel of sorts. For instance, though I respect the value of measurements, in audio, I also believe there's too much of an emphasis on them, especially since subjective impressions often call into question the real value of some measurements. Makes you wonder, sometimes, whether the right things are being measured. (How often do manufacturers really measure their components against the actual sound of real musical instruments? This is the sort of measurement I see as most important).

However, I digress; concerning my references to the lower-mids, and my citing of 500 - 200hz, this was originally an arbitrary range from the top of my head as an approximation of my own subjective impressions. This approximation was cited since my first article on the subject and, since then, I've just run with it - despite the official parameters. Yet, there is at least one article in which I cite the official lower limit of the lower-mids (160hz) and I suppose, after your admonishment, I could consider adhering to that lower limit from now on, since this doesn't really affect my arguments, or point of view. But the same doesn't apply to the upper limit (320hz). Regarding modern speakers, I believe their problems start long before 320hz. Subjectively, I believe these problems begin somewhere around 500hz. But this cannot be measured objectively since, as I've said, it's also a well-known fact that measurements don't tell everything. (A segment of my article on "Balance" elaborates on my opinions on this point). So, in this context, 500hz continues to be my upper limit in so far as the lower-mids problems with most modern 'conventional' speakers are concerned, in my view. 

Hopefully, this explains my stance.

By the way, it's nice to know that someone as learned in the field as Jim Smiths actually agrees with my views on the lower-midrange (which he defines as 192-384 Hz - also at variance with JGH of Stereophile's 320 - 160hz, for instance) and its CRITICAL importance to realism. But, interestingly, have you ever heard any of the mainstream audio magz really stressing this crucial point? Instead, they've long discredited this region with the term 'warm', with the advice that audiophiles avoid it like the plague, while they highly recommend speakers distinguished in their ineptitude in this very region. What does this tell you about the 'honesty' of these magz, and of the credibility of their recommendations - and what of their agenda, their motives? I can respect, admire, and trust a writer like Jim Smiths as one who honestly seeks to assist the audiophile. Can I really trust the mainstream magz? I'm simply disgusted by the very thought - pardon me.

You asked, "So this question for you, do you recommend avoiding a crossover within this range, in addition to adequate driver size to move air?  It would seem if it is so critical that continuity should be maintained as much as possible." And I believe you also answered the question - "continuity should be maintained as much as possible." This is important, for sure. But the surface-area of a driver (which is also competent at the lower-mids - many are not) is even more critical, if lifelike realism is the goal.

You also said;  "I may have more questions as I read further into your articles so I hope you welcome that."  No problem Pry  -  I welcome that.

Thanx for your apparent interest in the site. Whether or not you agree with my arguments, please do continue to enjoy the articles here.

Cheers!

WAJ.

 

Pry
May. 15 2012 at 1:33 AM

Hi again,

Thanks for your prompt follow up.  I would like to make a few comments on your points, then I'll withdraw until I've had time to read more of your articles.

1.  My entire reason for questioning your frequency range for "lower midrange" was simply a point of clarity.  Since you place so much emphasis on that, I wanted to understand your meaning as well as possible.  Sort of like talking about systems in small rooms, medium rooms and large rooms.  That would mean very different things to a Japanese and to a Texan!  So dimension ranges would be helpful in that example.

Also, I agree that measurement may not tell the whole story.  I'm not an engineer and I trust my ears more than my math. ;^)

2.  I see you approach frequency from the top down.  I always assumed it was common to refer to it from the bottom up.  Thus the standard audio range being called "20 to 20K Hz", not the reverse.  This minor point caused me to pause when I read your frequency references, not that ONE way is ABSOLUTELY correct and the other wrong.

3.  I think the important point about your definition is not the specific start and end frequencies, but that you are really talking about an octave and a half range if it is 160-500 (480 would be more exact as octave and a half of course).  My initial reading of one of your articles left me thinking one octave so I'm glad I now understand your intent.

4.  Jim Smith did not call it "lower midrange" when he discussed the importance of the 192-384 frequencies, he did not apply a general label at all.  So he is not at variance with J Gordon's definition.  He was simply being specific about the range he finds so critical for musical satisfaction.

As an FYI, for 19 years I owned Duntech Princess speakers.  They had two 10" Dynaudio woofers per channel, crossed over to the mids at 500 Hz.  Overall, I loved the musical presentation of those speakers (for many reasons), a main reason being their natural body and warmth with the music, without it being heavy of overly dominant.  But after that long I wanted to try something different, plus I wanted a smaller and lighter speaker system since I'm now retired and hope to move soon.  Finding a replacement is not easy.  Hopefully I'll pick up some pointers in your articles that may help that process.

Best, Pry

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WAJ
May. 19 2012 at 12:55 AM

Hi again, Pryso,

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I apologize for the delay in my response, in this instance. But the fact is that other endeavors sometimes take-up my time, so please bear with me in those instances where I may be caught-up elsewhere, at times. These eventualities are sometimes unavoidable, I assure you. More-over, I wanted to allocate time enough to properly address the issues you've raised.

I'll now address those issues in the order you've raised them:

1. No problem!

2. Thru my articles, you'll notice that I tend to speak in 'general' contexts and terms. Where specificity is absolutely necessary I do provide it but more often than not, provided the point(s) can be made in general terms, that's the way I tend to present them. Also, perhaps due to my radical non-conformist nature, if I don't see a valid and pertinent reason to conform to trends, and conventions, I tend not to strictly adhere to them. For example and as you rightly point-out, the spectrum is conventionally referred to as 20hz to 20khz but, since 20khz to 20hz amounts to the same thing, I tend to use either order of this term, without even thinking about it - since it really doesn't matter.

However, concerning the advent of my version of the lower-midrange; for the sake of the argument, consider that in most modern speakers treble to middle-mids may be 'OK' (not really true - but just for the sake of the argument). The major problem I perceive with them is that, starting from around 500hz thru to around 200 (or 160hz) the reproduction is much thinner than the tones produced by actual instruments, in my experience (thru innumerable ‘live vs recorded’ comparisons). This explains the order in which I originally cited that range (i.e. 500hz to 200hz, instead of 200hz to 500hz) as we're looking from the 'OK' top-end, down to the 'lower-mids'. [The fact of the comparisons also explains why my version of the lower-mids starts higher than the official parameter (i.e. 500hz,as against 320hz) since 500hz is about where I perceive the 'lower-mids' problem in most modern speakers to begin - as I explained in my previous e-mail.]

3. No problem - re; above.

4. You asserted; "Jim Smith did not call it 'lower midrange' when he discussed the importance of the 192-384 frequencies, he did not apply a general label at all.  So he is not at variance with J Gordon's definition.  He was simply being specific about the range he finds so critical for musical satisfaction."

You're so right. He may not have called it the lower-midrange, but 192-384 hz is what it is - the lower-midrange. And (on this next point) I respectfully beg to differ; this is indeed at variance with J. Gordon Holt's definition of the range as 160 to 320 hz, strictly speaking. But the point is inconsequential, really. It doesn't matter what the 'official' parameters are, to the last digit, what's more important is a general idea as to the region to which we all refer. Basically, I'm in agreement with JGH's definition but, at times, such definitions are more useful as general points of reference - not as cast-in-concrete perimeters, forbidden in the crossing of same. My own above-outlined 'excuse' for crossing JGH's lower-mids perimeter is a classic example. And I'd bet Jim Smith may have an equally valid 'excuse' for doing the same, albeit to a lesser degree than my own 'transgression'. (Indeed, on another occasion it may well suit another argument to incorporate frequencies down to 320hz as representative of middle-mids, in strict accordance with JGH's concept. As I see it, the points being made are of much more significance than strict to-the-digit adherence to parameters and perimeters, which are only useful or even intended as general guidelines, in the first place). As is the current trend in audio, we have a tendency to be caught-up on the minute details of a given situation and, in doing so, we run the risk of missing the big-picture - and often do. I tend to believe that the 'big-picture' is what's more important, and that the minor details, while also undeniably important, are less so in the context of the overall scheme of things - the 'big-picture' - in life, and also in music-reproduction.

In other words, I tend to focus on the forest, more-so than on the little trees. But then, these are only my opinions, I could be wrong. But, in reading my articles as you've undertaken to do, this should give an even better idea of where I'm comin' from - whether I may be right or wrong, in your perception, on any given issue.

By the way, and still on your point-4, you mentioned in reference to Jim Smith and the frequency-range 192-384 hz; "He was simply being specific about the range he finds so critical for musical satisfaction."

Perhaps I should point-out that my own advocacy of the lower-midrange came about from my many direct real-time comparisons between live music and the reproduction of it by speakers. I doing so, I found that this is the area most lacking in modern speakers, generally, causing their ineptitude at truly realistic reproduction of music (dynamism is the other deficient area - other speaker-types are much more adept at both and, consequently, at overall realism). After my first articles on the subject, I came across very rare statements from other sources (such as in; 6moons' review of Zu and Hiraga speakers, StereoTimes review of Legacy Whispers, JGH's piece on 'Midrange-Madness', Dagogo's review of Tannoy Churchills, and PositiveFeedback's review of Osborn Grand Monument speakers)  all alluding to the same thing; the lack of most modern speakers' ability to accurately and realistically replicate the lower-mids realism of real instruments, as they should.

But your account of Jim Smith's reference to the lower-mids as CRITICAL is the first time I'm seeing this point so emphatically stressed by another source. And so, after having gone out on a limb and putting my own credibility at risk by stating what no other source was willing to even acknowledge, let alone emphasize, it's now gratifying to see these other sources agreeing with and, Jim Smith in particular, emphasizing the point of the critical importance of the lower-mids. Thanks to the fore-mentioned, my credibility remains intact - perhaps even bolstered. And thanks to you, Pry, for bringing Jim Smith's comments to my attention. I was vaguely aware of his book, but not specifically of those comments until you highlighted them. Thanx, again.

But, alas, in leaving your point-4, I'm somewhat saddened by the remarks in your last paragraph; "As an FYI, for 19 years Iowned Duntech Princess speakers. They had two 10" Dynaudio woofers per channel, crossed over to the mids at 500 Hz. Overall, I loved the musical presentation of those speakers (for many reasons), a main reason being their natural body and warmth with the music, without it being heavy of overly dominant.  But after that long I wanted to try something different, plus I wanted a smaller and lighter speaker system since I'm now retired and hope to move soon.  Finding a replacement is not easy.  Hopefully I'll pick up some pointers in your articles that may help that process."

I'm saddened by the fact that, since you refer to them in the past-tense, you seem to have already divested yourself of an example of the very best 'conventional' modern speakers on the planet, in my opinion. Not that even more realistic reproduction cannot be had from other speaker-types, but I'm saddened by the fact that I suspect you'll be oriented towards replacing the Duntech with other 'conventional' modern speakers, and in doing so you may likely consign yourself to less overall realism.

Let me explain by reiterating my belief that almost any Duntech (or Dunlavy, for that matter) is among the very best of 'conventional' modern speakers. John Dunavy's views, for instance, on; some of the requirements for accuracy, the fact that 'expensive' and 'exotic' drivers/enclosures are un-necessary for accuracy, and on the fact that the 'sealed-box' is one of the very best means of reproducing accurate bass - all of these are views I enthusiastically share (for example, I think the sealed-box and the horn are the most accurate reproducers of bass, generally speaking, though there are specific exceptions).

As to why I believe your Princess is among the best of conventional modern speakers (and unlikely to be equaled by any 'conventional' alternative) well, you said it yourself, "..a main reason being their natural body and warmth with the music, without it being heavy of overly dominant."

In analyzing why this is so, I'd suggest that the fact of its small midrange driver being crossed-over to doubled 10"ers below 500 hz is the main reason for this. Effectively, the lower-mids are handled by the more capable larger cone surface-area of two 10"ers (the equivalent of one 12"er) imbuing it with the capability of more realistically reproducing the tonal weight, warmth, and natural body of instruments operating in this lower-mids region.

In looking at the 'conventional' modern alternatives, let's also recognize that most operate as mini-monitor/sub combos, even when presented as one-piece floor-standers. And let's not waste time by looking at the 'also-rans', let's look at the reputed very-best of these alternatives, the 'state of the art'; the ubiquitous Wilson WATT/Puppy.

In the WATT/Puppy the small-coned 7" mid-woofer is crossed-over to its woofers at 125 hz (which is also about where most others do, more or less). This means that the little 7"er is the unit allocated to (inadequately) reproduce the robust lower-mids tones (i.e. 500 to 160hz, and more) of real instruments. This is more than four times less the cone surface-area the Princess allocates to accomplish the same job. Which do you think is more realistic in this CRITICAL region? Perhaps you may have heard of these and others being described as 'lean' and analytical (traits which some do love, btw) but what do you think may be the cause of this? Damned if I know!

I implore you my friend, if you haven't yet gotten rid of your Princess, then hold on to her, even as you explore other alternatives. That way, if the alternatives don't measure-up (and most 'conventional' types will not) then you'll have the option of reverting to your beloved Princess, with renewed appreciation.

But then, if you've already said goodbye to the Princess with a view to seeking, as you say, 'a smaller and lighter' alternative, then I'm not sure of how much in the way of assistance I can render. Seeking a 'smaller and lighter' speaker-system in the pages of WAJ on AUDIO is like going to an exclusive Ferrari dealer in search of a small sub-compact car (LOL). Why? Well, this is because I'm a staunch and resolute advocate of tone and dynamism, in music-reproduction, with a view to a closer approach to realism. Physics, and the facilitation of such attributes, dictate that such speakers WILL be relatively large - though there are 'acceptable' exceptions.

Some of my 'A-List' recommendations are already listed in the article on 'The Ultimate Speakers...'. But most of those are either large, or heavy and, in many cases, both. I'm tempted to highlight the excellent Jean Hiraga-recommended JBL S3100, though somewhat tall, and heavier than the Princess. It's also rare, and available only on the used market. [Edited.]

No, I suspect that, in this context, the best compromise would be one that's not on my 'A-List', per se, but excellent in its own right, nonetheless. I'm thinking of the Tekton Pendragon. Its dimensions may be similar to those of the Princess, but I'm sure it's lighter, physically, though not sonically (i.e. not by much at bass and, definitely, not 'lighter' in the lower-mids). I suspect that the Duntech may have been very slightly more detailed at middle-mids, and that soundstaging may be similarly pin-point, but with a wider 'sweet-spot' in the case of the Pendragon. Both utilize doubled 10"ers for the lower-mids and, partially by virtue of this, their performance in this region will be similar. However, you'll find the Pendragon to be, by far, the more dynamic (especially since it's, by far, the more efficient). This, combined with its other assets, not the least of which is its relatively realistic tonality and its transient alacrity (imbued by the lack of a x-over thru most of the spectrum - a major, major, advantage) will result in possibly an even more realistic overall performance than most 'conventional' alternatives. It's quite possible that you may even find it more realistic, overall, than the excellent Princess - not extremely likely, considering your affinity for the traits of the Duntech, but quite possibly. The Tekton Pendragonis absolutely formidable - at a cost of only $2.5k.

Others which may not be as attractive in all senses, such as price/performance, are; ZuDefiniion, Zu Essence, and Tekton Lore. As I've previously indicated, several audiophiles, including several Audiogoners, have abandoned highly-reputed speaker-systems such as Magnepans and SoundLabs to now rave about the abilities of these 'reasonably-priced' alternatives. I'd respectfully suggest you include them in your search. An acquaintance who'd offer an opportunity for an audition could be of great assistance in this venture. Considering some of your priorities, these could be the ideal solution. Other possible alternatives are listed in the fore-mentioned article.

Finally, and on a different note, I've recently been thinking that my correspondence with some of my readers may be of interest and assistance to others, in similar circumstances. Please let me know if you'd object to my publishing of our correspondence (with minor editing, and name with-held, of course).

I must say, it's quite interesting chatting with you, Pry.

Best regards!

WAJ.

 

. WAJ
May. 19 2012 at 1:15 AM

Oops, sorry 'bout that: The real issue with the JBL S3100 is not so much their height but their width - they are a little w-i-d-e - as you'd expect from any direct-radiator sporting a 15" mid-woofer. Awesome performers, though but, as I'd hinted, not what you're looking for, I'm sure. Cheers!

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. Pry
May. 19 2012 at 7:47 PM

Hi WAJ,

No worries.  Your delayed reply was more than made up for by the depth of the content. :)

Regarding reformatting portions of our discussion for publishing?  While I would prefer to keep my name out of it, if you feel any of it might be of interest or helpful to others, fine by me. 

Yes, I miss the Duntechs, but I sold them nearly three years ago.  A buyer fell into my lap so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.  There were a couple of sonic reasons for that decision, but also their 6' height and 180 pound weight entered into it.  And after owning them for 19 years i became a little restless for a change -- even if that didn't make total sense.

Speaking of wide, a good friend recently purchased a pair of Tannoy Canterburys and they are certainly among the rare list of most musically satisfying speakers I've heard.  I believe they also match with your stated speaker requirements, based upon what I've read.  Unfortunately my retirement income does not accommodate $18K speakers.

So I'll continue to search and hopefully your site will provide an insight or two, if not for specific components, then at least for conceptual perspective.

Best regards, Pry

 

WAJ
May. 21 2012 at 12:00 AM

Hi Pry,

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Thanx for the go-ahead. Yep, it's a fact that audiophiles do help each other in the exchange of thoughts. And others who are privy to such exchanges are likely to also benefit, more often than not. For sure, this is why discussion-forums are so popular. I'm still seriously considering the idea of a 'Letters' section.

I don't blame you for missin'  them Duntechs - they're awesome speakers. I once had a fleeting encounter with Dunlavys (not sure what they were but, in retrospect, I'd guess they were SC-IVs) I was thoroughly impressed just by that brief experience. I have a data-CD with my collected reviews of what I think are some of the world's best speakers - Stereophile's review of Dunlavy's SC-VI is among those. It's the source from which I began to find myself in agreement with most of John Dunlavy's philosophies. My main reservation was with his emphasis on measurement in speaker design. But a re-read of that review, since chatting with you, revealed a footnote explaining that the great man also exercised a practice of comparing his designs to live music - this combination of measurement and live vs recorded comparisons is exactly what I advocate - so it seems I'm not a odds with the gentleman at all. I rank him right up there with several such as the Klipschs and Kloss' of this world.

More to the point, my discussions with you sent me off on a google-search for a review of the Duntech Princess. I never found a review, as such but, from your description of the driver-complement (and, now, your revelation of the weight and height) it seems the Princess is very very similar to the Dunlavy SC-IV - from driver-complement to the same 6' height and the same 180 lb weight. This is perhaps manifestation of remarkable consistency in the man's designs, from Duntech thru to Dunlavy.  (By the way, that google-search is the cause of my confusion as to the size of  the Princess since the picture I found on this page, taken from the perspective of the sound-engineer perhaps on a raised platform, gave the impression that the Princess was shorter/smaller than it really is: http://www.stereophile.com/content/fifth-element-34-page-2)

My point is this; all the great speaker designs of this world are built on sound principles - not hype, as is the current fad. John Dunlavy and all the greats eschewed things like kevlar cones and diamond-encrusted tweeters which, in my opinion, are only introduced to fool the gullible, and as an excuse to charge exorbitant prices. I believe our industry needs more of the talented and, just as importantly, honest designers and individuals such as Paul Klipsch, Rudy Bozak, Henry Kloss, Guy R. Fontane/Ronald Rackman (Tannoy) J. Gordon Holt (yes, in journalism too) and John Dunlavy, to name a few. The talent and integrity these guys displayed are sadly missed in our industry today. And the loss of icons of this quality partly explains the current state of our industry (and why it's so difficult to find a worthy replacement for your Duntechs).

That's just my two-cents worth. :)

Here endeth the sermon!  

Best wishes to you - and all the best in your search, my friend.

Keep in touch!

WAJ.

 

Pry
May. 21 2012 at 11:59 AM

Just a few further comments.

I frequently referred to my Duntech Princess as the older sibling to the DAL SC-IV and IVa due to similarities in size and configuration.  But I also found significant differences.  The Princess utilized Dynaudio woofers and tweeters and Scanspeak mid drivers.  Off the top of my head I don't recall the DAL drivers but they were less robust and tolerance brands.  Also, while the DAL also had stepped back front baffles to facilitate the time/phase alignment so critical to Dunlavy, the side panels were not cut back to the same plane as the respective driver baffle as with the Duntechs.  My guess was this saved production costs for the extra mill-work.  John was very conscientious about his costs so he could keep his retail pricing down.  (I believe that was the main motivation that brought him back to the US from Aus. to build the Duntech Black Knight here to save air freight.  When sales of the Black Knight disappointed he left Duntech and started DAL.)

Anyway, the result to my ears was a more open sounding version with the Duntechs than with the DAL which had their tweeter and mids recessed in a wood cavity.  The Duntechs had better dispersion and that very large box seemed to better disappear.  But those observations may have been from pride of ownership.

Several years ago I did have correspondence with John Marks at Stereophile, based on his comments on Duntechs.  He advised me that Sony imported Duntech Princesses from Aus. for one of their NYC studios, long after there was no US importer for Duntech.  Those are likely the ones in your attached link.  Marks agreed the Duntech models seemed superior to their DAL counterparts.

As for J Gordon Holt, I discovered and subscribed to Stereophile in 1971 and my audio life became a slippery slope thereafter.  I never counted but I must have owned at least 15 different speaker models between about '76 and '90 when I bought the Princesses -- then 19 years of stability and being off the "up grade merry-go-round".

Over and out.

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WAJ
May. 27 2012 at 11:00 AM

Thanx ever so much, Pry. Your insight is enlightening. Please do keep in touch.   WAJ.

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