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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A HORN MAKES

DIY Speaker-Systems....An Example (Re; My System) Pt. 2

by W.A.J

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Recently, a reader posed a couple of questions regarding my speaker-system. So then, I pointed him to part 1of this piece, naturally. However, I realized that the piece was quite outdated as my system had change quite significantly since then. Therefore, it's perhaps a good idea for me to update my description of my speaker-system, for those who may be interested.

Oh yes, it's basically the same system as described. However there's one major difference:

Horns!

So you'll still find two 18" woofers in two large 5' enclosures operating as sub-woofers thru the auspices of a 200 watt Sherwood power-amp. You'll still also find two 95db/w/m-efficient full-range towers (over 5' tall) each consisting of two KLH 12" mid-woofers and one Yamaha NS-10 mid-woofer. And where-as the latter had been previously operated crossover-less, it's now equipped with its own crossover-network, as an interim measure, prior to the probable eventual operation of these towers actively. That is; all mid-woofers operated by one amp, and mid-tweeters operated by another amp, without the slightly degrading effects of passive crossovers, as this chore is facilitated at the input-stage of each amp (as with the current sub-woofer system).

However at the top-end, that Altec 802 compression-driver, which was previously reported to have been divested of its matching 811 sectoral horn (with various smaller horns experimented with, instead) has now been re-united with its mate.

The result of this simple re-union is stunning.

Sure, I'll attempt to relate my experience, in so far as the effects of a horn on a good system are concerned, but I'm not too sure any one person can adequately describe these effects appropriately. If this were so, then I'm sure many more audiophiles would understand the benefits of really good horns. So then, if so many others before me have failed to convince the majority of audiophiles, then I don't mind assistance from other sources. In this context, I'll also refer you to the StereoTimes reviews of Sunny Cables' HW15S* and HW18S* speaker-systems mainly to give a sense, from another perspective, of how ridiculously superior a well-tuned horn system can be over virtually any other speaker-type - even as the, previously, 'anti-horn' reviewers compare them to some of the very best conventional speaker-systems in their collective experience.

On a personal note: Similar to these reviewers, I'd resisted the use of horns virtually all my life until shortly before now, as previously hinted, because of my prejudices against them. (Honk, if you know what I mean). I'd always admired their abilities from a distance (preferably) even while I shunned their colorations. However, in the process of writing an article on the Altec A7, it seems I'd inadvertently self-inflicted an over-dose of enthusiasm which drove me immediately to actually modify a pair of horns I'd long discarded after half-heartedly 'testing' them, just to confirm my biases, quite a number of years ago. (Merely damping resonances does wonders for a horn, it seems, and so too does employing the optimal x-over point so as not to overload the horn - both are transgressions I confess to being guilty of, previously, in my unfair, 'kangaroo-court-like', trial of these horns, years ago. Even more mods are in prospect, just to be sure). These slightly modified horns are now firmly ensconced in my own DIY speaker-system and I cannot, yet, begin to describe the difference, the vast increase in realism, horns actually bring to a system. I promise I will try but, hopefully, the confessions of those other similar non-believers will aid in this endeavor.

And though I haven't heard the Sunnys, I can certainly relate to all the say about them. I'll go even further to suggest that everything they tell you about them horns is ab-so-lute-ly true - I believe. I truly believe them! Indeed, I know for sure, now, that noboby could ever describe the effects of a really good horn system so accurately without actually experiencing them. [For instance; in the HW15S report, the point about the horn-system presenting near 100% of each of the drum's notes is absolutely spot-on, as is the implication regarding other speakers' lesser depiction of said notes. (Side-by-side comparisons of good horns against direct-radiating speaker-types will leave no doubt as to which is really superior - but I'm sure few have actually tried this).] Certainly, I know they're being completely honest about the Sunnys - beyond any shadow of doubt. After all, I'm experiencing the same things myself, apparently. 'Who feels it knows it' - as the saying goes. They've described the 'horn-experience' to a 'T'!

[Note, however, that these speakers cost up to 90 grand. My own DIY examples cost many times less than that. Are they as good? I doubt it. Not with independent reports alleging that these Sunnys border on the magical; I wouldn't go so far as to describe mine as such. But I'm certain they'd be playin' in the same 'ball-park' - perhaps closer than even I would imagine. Perhaps this may be evidence of yet another reason for doing-it-yourself, or  having it custom-built for you, I'd say.]

Suffice it to say; the increase in realism is STUPENDOUS! Yep, horns really do make a difference - a truly significant difference. And - no - it's not just about high efficiency, as I believed until recently. Based on what I've learned, I'd willingly bet that you could pad a horn down to the level of ordinary inefficient conventional direct-radiating speakers (let's say, about 88db/w, or even less) and the horn would still seem that much more dynamic. Absolutely! Apart from that (and this may relate to the previous point) they actually portray instrumental notes in a fuller, more 'fleshed-out', more authentically realistic manner than other speaker-types. And this is unquestionably demonstrable, as I've belatedly discovered in recent experiments and comparisons.

Horny Experiments: This discovery was made during my many bouts of experimentation testing my fore-mentioned compression-drivers with and without horns of various sizes. Non-believers should try this. I found that the purest, most extended high-frequency sounds were produced by the compression-driver WITHOUT the horn. Regardless of whichever horn one uses, and whether large or small, none will be as delicately-extended at high frequencies as the driver operating without a horn – all else being equal. Therefore, a good dome-tweeter, ribbon, air-motion-transformer, or even a horn’s own compression-driver, or any other good tweeter, unencumbered by a horn, will always be more delicately-extended at the highest frequencies than any bullet or slot-loaded horn-tweeter, or any other horn-assisted device – all else being equal.

However, and this is a very big ‘however’, the horn-loaded driver WILL be vastly superior everywhere else at every other frequency of the audio-spectrum, excepting at the very highest of extreme audible frequencies. Note that this vast superiority encompasses high frequencies which are lower than the fore-mentioned extreme highs, including the fundamentals of those extreme highs. Nothing reproduces the fundamentals of those extreme highs as well, or as realistically, as a horn – NOTHING – all else being equal. And, as previously mentioned, the same applies to all other frequencies.

Why?

.Well, in explaining that, I’ll revert to my experiments with my fore-mentioned compression-driver/horn combos. I’ve already illustrated the fact that extreme highs are purer, more extended without said horns. But every time a horn was placed on this driver, though the very extreme highs went away, the frequencies below were bolstered. In other words, every instrumental note was imbued, by the horn, with more realistic body and substance. The larger the horn, the lower in frequency this effect extended. So, while the ‘naked’ comp-driver (without the horn) or a regular dome-tweeter, for that matter, would reproduce the sound of a cymbal with more delicacy, and with more ‘airy’ highs at the very extreme, the horn would bring much more of the TOTAL note to prominence – much more akin to the sound of that cymbal in real life (despite the seeming diminution of the highest of hifi highs). Therefore, the initial transient (that metallic ‘click’ of the stick on cymbal) would be much more apparent and realistic, with the horn. And so too would be the ensuing ‘splash’ of the cymbal’s subsequent resonances – the ‘meat’ or ‘body’ of the note. All this would be much more lifelike and life-sized than with the ‘naked’ comp-driver or dome-tweeter which, both, would diminish or miniaturize the note to a much smaller, toy-like, version of the real thing, with less ‘body’ (albeit, with very extended highs, at the extreme, yet, devoid of similar realism).

.For my own horn-combo, this effect continues down to the mid-frequencies. And so snare-drums, for instance, are depicted with exactly the same level of realism (let’s continue not to even mention the dynamism, here) with much more realistic body and substance than the conventional direct-radiating speakers, by themselves. All instruments benefit from these realistic effects imbued by the horn, without exception.

But, in stepping away from that particular aspect, it would be remiss of me if I were to omit mentioning my impressions of a horn reproducing a horn – a trumpet, for instance. Let’s consider that rare and elusive loudspeaker-attribute; upper-midrange PRESENCE!

I keep referring to The Absolute Sound’s issue # 162, for various reasons, and perhaps I’ll never stop. In an article of that issue entitled; ‘Sonic Realism’, TAS’ writers lament the lack of ‘presence’ in modern speakers as one factor precluding realistic reproduction today. On the contrary, they also cite the presence of this upper-midrange presence (pun not intended) as one of the reasons for the lifelike realism of ancient theater-type horn-systems. (Dynamism was also cited as another reason for their realism, incidentally).

In concurring, I’d agree that no other speaker-type, in general, is as good as a horn at this important aspect of reproduction; upper-midrange presence. Recently, I commented on a Magnavox amp I'd acquired, not too long ago. Since they were tested together, some of the comments regarding the amp also relate to the performance and complementary strengths of the Altec 802/811 horn-system, as employed by my own audio-system and, indeed, all such similar horns. Here’s a snippet of my comments;.

But the very first impression of the Maggie's abilities, on that day, was its ridiculously superior depiction of the treble-frequencies. It bears repeating. Upper-midrange presence was also outstanding, and this, combined with the Altecs' similar strengths, combined to render the upper-mids 'bite' of trumpets, for instance, with absolutely startling realism - another of this amp's outstanding traits.

Such horns, obviously, are especially good at replicating the realistic presence TAS alludes to. But, in addition to that, such horns are especially adept at replicating wind instruments; most of which are (you guessed it) horns. Looking at a trumpet, compared to an Altec 811, for instance, I’d suggest that the horn’s prowess at replicating horns relate to the similar manner in which sound is propagated thru both.

Whatever the reason, the fact is; nothing replicates a horn like a horn!

I tend to agree with many that a fully horn-loaded speaker-system, from treble thru bass, is the very best system that can be assembled, at today’s levels of technology, and for various reasons we need not explore here. Though, some of these reasons are illustrated above. The same advantages as manifested by the horns in the upper-half of the audio-spectrum could also be garnered for the rest of the spectrum thru the use of horns at these frequencies too. However, while I believe there’s no real substitute for horns in the upper-octaves, reasonable results may be elicited with the use of carefully selected and implemented direct-radiating drivers and enclosures, for the bottom-half of the spectrum. .

.Nevertheless, I also believe that, in circumventing the horn, at lower frequencies, extra-ordinary measures must be taken in order to ensure qualities similar to a horn in its areas of strength. Some of these strengths are; dynamism, low distortion, transient-response and realistic body. All of these strengths, and more, have been ensured in the design of the sealed-box mid-woofer segment of my own DIY speaker-system. These components and their attributes have already been described in part 1. And the account of the resulting sound, here, is still relevant, with the addition of the fore-mentioned description of the horns’ contribution. No need for repetition here.


Killer-dynamics from my own 18" woofers also facilitate similar performance to that reported for the 18"-equipped Sunny, especially. The difference in realism between a large woofer and the small, even a 12"er, needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated: Stunning, crushing, devastating, or absolutely-lifelike; these are only some of the adjectives which spring to mind. Combine that with the best aspects of a horn, and you'll never look back to anything less-capable, or less 'devastatingly' realistic.  The point I'm making is that, based on my experiences with a similar system, I can assure you that the extra-ordinary superlatives used, in those reviews to describe those Sunnys, are not exaggerations. Compared to most speakers, in describing properly executed speaker-systems equipped such as the Sunnys, superlatives are apt - perhaps even inadequate to really convey the level of superiority.

Conclusion: Now, I’m not suggesting that such speakers, incorporating horns, are the only way for us to reproduce music. I’m only saying that such types of speakers are among the best I know of, for the purpose.

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