Are Horn Speakers good or bad or simply a complete joke?

What are your impressions on these "acient outdated monster horn speakers" from the past? Are they any good, really bad or simply a joke? Have anybody have the chance to listen to some very well set-up horn speakers system power by single ended triode amps? Please share your experiences.
anyone responding with " simply a joke" may ship their horns c.o.d.
I have owned a pair of Klipsch corner horns and a pair
of Klipsch Lascala's in the past and thought they both
sounded great! Tube amps are definately the way to go
with these super efficient speakers. I've had others that
complain about the harshness of the "horn sound", but they
will play very loudly with little power!
The harshness is the source not the speakers.Listen with a viynl set up.Digital is the joke.
Older horns can still sound really good in properly set up. Klipsch, JBL and Altec Lansing sometimes still give me goosebumps when I hear them at my dad's.
I switched to horns 5 years ago and have never looked back--but ,of course,I attend live music 40 or 50 times a year--both old Altec VOTTs and Edgarhorns. my good friend JGH agrees with me 100%
Horns are great esp. if you like the punch / slam / dynamics of live music. Setup is critical, but the rewards are very worthwhile. A forum archive search brings up 54 references to horns in the speaker catagory alone - I suggest you pursue that lead. Below I have pasted in the search link for you (first entry below links to the above-referenced 54 finds). Below that are 10 direct links to individual posts from the aforementioned 54. There is a lot of good info here:
Edle, Since the Japanesee and the rest of the Asian world, has embraced this type of transducer, as well as being the first culture to recognise and endorse the return of vacume tubed equipment, I can assure you horns are no joke. When my Japanese friends tell me that JBL Hartsfields, WE horns in custom enclosures from the 1950s etc., are close to the best ever,when driven by great amps, I gotta beleive there IS quite a bit to it. The Asian community, as a whole, seems to have the ability to spot greatness in sound, well before the rest of the world realises the achievements........Frank
Any speaker that makes use of metal throated horn bodies can tend to sound hard, bright, glaring, piercing, ringy, metalic, etc... It is not necessarily the driver itself but the horn body adding its' sonic signature. Anybody that thinks that this is incorrect needs to dissassemble ANY metalic horn and simply "flick" it with your finger. You will hear a very resonant "riiiiiinging tone" that is bell like in clarity. Any type of vibration applied to the horn throat, such as mechanical resonance from the driver attached to it, can excite that "bell like ringing" to various extents.

Talking through the throat of the horn will also demonstrate how the horn body can effect tonality. This is where it pays to have someone that knows what they are doing design the horn body and then use that horn within the frequency range that it is most effective.

If special attention is paid to the design ( flare rate, materials used, damping, baffle diffraction, mounting, etc..), horns can sound EXCELLENT. As a case in point, the only system that i've ever seen get a standing ovation from the audience after a demonstration at an audio show consisted of horns made by K.A.R. ( Klassic Audio Reproductions ) being driven by Atma-sphere OTL ( output transformer-less ) tube amps. With some well chosen vinyl cuts, the sound was outstanding. All of this in a standard hotel suite with NO room treatments whatsoever. Sean
Sean -

I remember well the Classic Audio speakers (I forget the model; "T" something, I think) driven by Atma-Spheres at the 2001 CES - a very musical combination. Absolutely no hint of honk. Vibrant and richly textured, full-bodied, harmonically correct, and easy to listen to long-term. The system had very little signature of its own - each recording had a unique presentation and tonality, instead of all sounding the same (which is what happens when a speaker imposes its signature on the sound).

What kind of horns do you have? What did you think of the Avantgardes?
I was impressed by Living Voice and Acapella horns, driven by Atmasphere & 300B SE's (can't remember which). Acapella use composite matl for the horn, so no metalic ringing.

The midrange, the sense of space the holographic imaging were outstanding on both occasions (listening to female vocals). As with Sean, the venue was a hotel room with no treatment.

Great horns also to be had from Tannoy, JBL, and Lowther and others... Also listened to a pair of PRE-WW2, modified, WE horns originally used in a cinema!!! Yes: impressive (and massive).

Often bass-shy, horn-loaded speakers usually sport conventional woofers for the lower register. Matching the sound in a seamless sounding package is tricky!

Frap and Sean are right! For another manufacturer who has licked all the problems, Sean mentions in his post, take a look at and click on "exalibur" on the left of the page. What they have to say of this speaker is no hype. I've listened extensively to them.
Has anyone heard the Oris horn speakers distributed by Welborne Labs in the U.S. I have not heard these myself but would love to hear from those who have. I have heard the Classic Audio Reproductions/Atma-Sphere combo and really enjoyed them.
Duke, i've never seen or heard the Avantgarde's. Given my past experience with listening and modifying horns, i have a REAL hard time believing that they could sound "good" to MY ears. I've read the reviews and customer raves, but that is just a LOT of horn body in terms of resonances and ringing. Do you know what they use for materials ? Is it some type of phenolic or is it metal ???

I currently have a set of Klipsch Heresy's and La Scala's. I've had and modified more than a few sets of each of these, but they keep finding new homes when i'm done with them : ) The La Scala cabinets are in REALLY rough shape and need a complete overhaul. When i get around to doing these, i'll probably just start from scratch. I've been compiling notes ( both written and in my head ) for quite some time and this would be the perfect opportunity to apply ALL of them. I may need to sneak over to Bob Bundus' house and snag his ALK crossovers first though : ) Sean
Sean, Duke, I listened to a huge, Avanguarde model, quite a few times last year. The horns are polymer?, vinyl? (not metallic, anyway). Sound was ecstatic when listening to jazz or other SMALL ensembles. Female vocals also great (jazz & classical). The lower register was weaker compared to mids and highs. The sound was NOT evidently coming out of a horn -- it came out clear of "tunnel" colouration and perceptible ringing.

Please note, however, that this took place at a dealer's premises & not @ home; take it with more than a grain of salt.

As it's relatively easy for me to audition these speakers, I may be able to dig up more, if you wish.

Sean wants to snag my WHAT? Wow I'd better be more careful; I was just thinking about stopping by the radio shop & showing them off just to watch you drool! Maybe I'll only bring in one of them; that won't get you too far - hee hee.

I heard the Avant's in '99: no "cupped-hand" midrange horn resonance coloration was noticed although it was only a very brief audition. They're made out of some kind of a composite material.

As I said previously, setup is critical with horns. I'm also doing a similar mod-project (presently all on paper) of my Belle Klipsch's & still collecting the parts for this job. However as I've fine-tuned & upgraded my rig to a higher level of finesse, that cupped-horn coloration has significantly diminished to the point that it's no longer very much of an issue, even pre-modded. When talking "setup" I mean system-synergy: using the right matchup of equipment, cables, tweaks etc. It's a long-ish pathway to nirvana but I'm really very pleased, even prior to total optimization.
A very good friend of mine recently sold his Joule Electra tube monoblock amplifiers and stored his Merlin speakers in order to purchase a pair of Beauhorns and an Art Audio Jota tube amp (he retained his First Sound pre amp in his system). At first, I thought it would be very difficult for the new set-up to match or surpass his old one, especially since he had been getting really great quality sound (his system was very lively, transparent, dynamic, musical, and accurate with the Joule tube amps and Merlin speakers). Then after he installed the super tweater, I was amazed how transparent, musical, and dynamic these Beauhorns are. It is my opinion that when done right, the Beauhorn speakers can play really large and difficult pieces of music that other speakers are unable to (the music is more accurate and life-like. Orchestral music is a good example. After hearing the Beauhorns, it has altered my thinking and opinions in favor of horn speakers.
You guys should hear the new Klipsch RF series. With about 250 hrs. of break in, and the proper gear(because gear is system dependent)they sound really nice. But wrong gear and they will cut your head off.They are very neutral and revealing, will tell on your upline gear real fast.
Todd, horns are certainly unforgiving as you say. If a rig has any upline problems, then you'll certainly be more aware of that when playing through horns. If everything is setup properly then the articulation & control, definition & detail are amazing indeed.
I haven't heard the RF line, but now I'm really interested in checking them out - thanks.
I have had a pair of Altec-Lansing 846B's since 1974. They are the centerpiece of my Home theater system. Other than replacing one voice coil on one horn, they sound as good today as the day I brought them home. They are the '64 mustang of the speaker world and I wouldn't trade mine for anything out there today.
Not even for the 2002 Porsche Turbo Cabriolet of speakers?

I don't know what that would be, but an interesting question, no?
I have to add my 2 cents worth since every other post seem to say they are wonderful. I have been listening to speakers of every make and model at high end shops and low end shops for 30 years and have NEVER been impressed by horns. Was turned off in the 70's by Klipsh and the other day was in a stereo shop and the salesman showed me more Klipsh. I couldn't believe it, same old stuff! Scratchy, irritating sounds eminated to the point I had to go turn it down. My wife thought there was a serious "problem" with the amp or somthing. I guess everyone must apprieciate different things because they still make horns. If horns were the only thing that existed I would not be an enthusiast.
Well, I suppose you haven't listened to the newer offerings of this old principle nor have you read all of the above posts. Otherwise I agree with you. Cheers,
To cut to the chase, horns are not to my liking. While the Avantgards (the best horns I've heard) are not offensive sounding (unlike many of the cheaper horns I've heard), their midrange colorations are unacceptable. Additionally, their subwoofer does not integrate well with the horns.

I find it interesting that many horn lovers seem to choose them because of their ability to work well with low-powered SETs. However, I think most everyone agrees that the speaker has a far greater impact on the sound than any other component. Thus, my approach is to choose the speaker most to my liking, and then select an appropriate amp. Admittedly, such amps are higher-powered, and invariably more expensive than the horn-friendly SETs, but it is the only way I can achieve the kind of balanced, tonally-accurate sound I desire.

It is a curious phenomenon that while there are hordes of individuals who swear by horns, (1) horns are rarely found in high end audio shops and (2) the horn displays at audio shows (e.g., CES, the Home Entertainment Show, etc.) are rarely crowded.

I owned a pair of Klipshorns for a year and was never able to make them sound very good. This could easily be blamed on my room and electronics but I finally gave up and bought an M&K satellite/sub system that I used happily for about 20 years.

I wonder if anyone has experimented with some of the speaker correction hardware that has become available in the last few years. If you could take the good attributes of horns like dynamics and low distortion and correct the anomalies, I think you'd have something really great.
I have settled on the Köchel K300 horns coupled with Atma-Sphere M60 amps and have no intention to look elsewhere. I might consider some subwoofers down the road, after settling on a digital source and some further tweakery. I don't get to listen to many other systems, but I have a truly difficult time imagining a better setup. I don't doubt they are out there, but Lord this is good.
Horns are usually efficient and dynamic, and I hate them! I have never heard a pair that I liked. I have heard the CARS with Atmosphere amps in another hotel room at a different show than Sean attended and people were scampering out muttering some very critcal things. I usually agree with Sean on most everything, but until I hear different I'm not buying into horns. I suspect the previous post about people prefering low powered SET amps being attracted to them carries a lot of truth. To my way of thinking, thats like buying a car because you like to use a particular octane gasoline. I will say that they probably are an appropriate choice for many, just not me.
Unsound: Thanks for the kind words and vote of confidence. Having said that though, i don't think that there is any one speaker design that can do it all.

With that in mind, I like to compare speakers to women. They may all have some worthwhile and / or beautiful trait's, but i have yet to find one that combines all of the "features" and "performance" that i'm looking for*. As such, i've resorted to having multiples to choose from ( speakers, not women ) and tried to work with each of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses within each system. While we can't have it all, I sure can try : ) Sean

* I'm sure that the ladies feel the same way about men too, especially my girlfriend : )
yeah she probably has multiples to choose from too :)
Sean, I think your onto something, but maybe your priorities mixed up. I made the same mistake.
Until this year, I would probably have said that horns while very dynamic were not an ultimate answer given inherent colorations. two things have changed that perception, (1) the purchase by a friend of Lowther based horns and (2) my own purchase of a set of Acapella Campaniles which utilize an ion tweeter, a midrange horn and four 10" woofers. With respect to the Lowthers, while they are somewhat deficient at the frequency extremes, they exhibit a continuousness and presence that seem right to me, paricularly with single ended amps. With respect to the Acapellas, to my great surprise, given adequate breakin and proper positioning in the room and toe-in, the drivers mate very nicely and the sound does not localize on the drivers. All in all, a stunning achievement.
Remember now, there are different kinds of horns. There are front horns and back horns. I agree that the front horns do tend to have colorations that can be distracting. But rear horns rely primarily on direct radiator sound, with the rear wave being horn-loaded to reinforce the bass frequencies and the mid-bass that drops off due to baffle-step losses. They usually behave as bass horns down to a point, and behave as a tuned port below that, if they are made well. This allows lower bass than expected from the given horn length and mouth size. Lammhorn 1.8 is particularly good for this type of back-horn speaker. Efficiency is a little lower than front horn types, but coloration can be less, also. Back horn is the type I selected for my low power SET system. I like it.
I'd love to hear those ion tweeters.
My husband agrees with you, in part. He agrees that there are no perfect speakers.
Hahahaha... Good for you Judith. Do you have any sisters ? : ) Sean
I think they're just different. I have a friend who has some pretty old Klipsch horns, and they sound very nice. I haven't heard them in a few months (they're 290 miles away). They're clearly different from my electrostatics in some subtle ways.

I auditioned the AvantGarde Duos a few weeks ago, specifically because they're considered good horns. It wasn't an exhaustive session, but it was very clear that they are doing something different. Some folks like the AvantGardes because they are so immediate. They are indeed very up-front - I thought that "in your face" might be more accurate. Some folks like that, although I personally prefer a more laid-back presentation.
horns are ceratinly an "in-your-face" presentation: transient immediacy, detailed & very revealing are their hallmarks & some don't like that, although myself I'm hooked on their speed. They are in fact SO revealing that they will unmercifully show you any upline equipment flaws, so a clean setup is absolutely critical, which can of course be quite difficult & expensive to achieve. This characteristic may be considered desirable, or not, depending upon one's goals & perspective.
I have owned speaker like the martin logan prodigy ,with descent, heard at lenght my good friends avalon edilons and thiel 7.2,owned avantgarde duo, newer model ,and quite a few more speaker systems ,have gone from big $ solid state and tube gear, to low power afordable tube gear ,And I can say with confidence that the newer horn designs are not anything like the old horns ,my dual oris horn systen is phase correct and time alined, unlike avantgarde or other horn systems ,the new tactrix horns are far superior to all speakers systems I have heard and owned ,They are far from in your face of tiny honky sounding ,funny how most of the traits that people say horns sound like I have never heard [maybe they never did too].Anyway throw out your big solid state rigs and those terible monkey cofins or electrostatic air cleaners that need new diaframs every few years ,[that most people call speakers ],and discover what its like to have fun with your system ,I can play all types of music on my horns ,they just sound like music .Isnt that what we all want .
Many years ago I tried out a cheap University (brand) HORN midrange/tweeter with my Warfdale 12 inch woofer (which had a wool flanel surround, would you believe!). At the time I played a lot of Dixieland jazz, and the horn tweeter gave the most fantastic rendition of trumpets and trombones that I have ever heard. Of course, violins also sounded like trumpets.

The message here is that different speakers do different things well. How about a selector switch to cut in a Horn when appropriate.
The bottom line is that each and every speaker design will benefit from specific strengths, suffer from specific weaknesses AND contribute their own sonic signature to whatever is being fed into them. There is not a speaker made that can be distanced from the above generalization. Until we do have speakers that can make that claim, the selection of speakers will remain a VERY personal and subjective decision. Let's just hope that people are happy with whatever it is that they decide to buy / use and can enjoy their favorite musical selections with their speakers of choice, regardless of the various trade-offs involved. Sean
Amen to Sean's post. C'est La Vie
I heard many horn speakers and I can say they're all joke EXCEPT Avantgarde, but they consider to be not full-horn speakers except Trios that cost $50k at least, but even with no woofers go down to 32hz flat.
Blw, you might not believe but you can adjust the stage so they will not be so immediate. For example you can schuffle arround with placement of midrange and tweeter, you can bend it backwards or forward, you can adjust the crossover depending on what amp you're dealing with. Despite for their ultra-high efficiency they still neet to be driven with preferably >=15W/ch amp in order to comply with woofer amp. It does take a good half of year to set them up to your perfection but I tend to believe to manufacturer about their precision of music they're designed for.
I just bought a pair of Altec 886A's for $75.00. hooked em up the other night WOW. I geta Hard-On when I listen to them.
speakers are the most flawed part of a system. no matter what speaker you use almost, if you have a good front end and amp you will get at least reasonable sound. single-ended amps are the best sounding amps something like using a crossoverless speaker. there is a certain purity to them that a speaker as critical as a horn requires for best sound. the idea that one uses a horn speaker only because of their sensitivity to play their low powered se amp is just wrong. horns deisgned to give a semi-spherical wave form (like avantgarde and others)combined with their inherent low distortion are theoretically the ultimate way to go. horns with well damped flares will have low coloration to boot.
I'm going to hang on to my Realistic Mach 1's! I've seriously wondered if there was something I could do with these to reach the sonic level previous members have shared. Any suggestions or are these a joke?
It's an old thread, but I don't care...

I love the sound of horn speakers. My purchase in 1975 of a pair of Altec 846 B Valencias is the best $600 bucks I ever spent.

So very efficient and yet so powerful. The punch, the clarity, and the dynamic range cannot be described. And now that I'm beyond my heavy metal days, they are even more amazing to me now that I've rediscovered how great they sound at low volume levels.
I am in ecstasy with my recently acquired acapella high violons - I was not a horn fan until I heard these & the midrange is totally artefact free & life-like & mated with that awesome plasma tweeter... & yes Bob, I am amazed at the dynamic & holographic sound from the horn at low levels which is fabulous for late night listening - I may well sell my stax omegas now - I think the violons are more detailed & yet more relaxing in the HF than these world class cans.
Hi JDSpratt

I owned the avantgarde duos and never ever got on with them. Great dyamic shadings, but if you wanted to reduce their harshness in the upper octaves by change of room placement or alternative gear you would have to sacrifice the deatiled transparency. Furthermore the bass sound was awful and its integration with the rest of the speaker was even worse.

It painted in light strokes and there was never any escaping that whatever you used. Boy did I use equipment like there was no tomorrow.

I am looking for alternatives and would like to have that excitement of horn speakers with the solidity, soundstaging and tonal warmth of cones. I wonder if the acapellas are the ones for me.

I bought a pair of Avantgarde Duos 2 years ago - best upgrade ever in 25 years of hi-fi. I started off selling hi-fi with Ken Kessler - I'm now a surgeon. Nevertheless, I have been imbued with a tube and vinyl ethos, which I've kept for all this time.
The Duos have been a stunning upgrade; even my wife thinks they sound good. She doesn't care about hi-fi - all she wants is a Steinway; she's a family practitioner as well as a pianist. The Duos are even more stunning than when I mounted my Garrott Brothers London Decca Cartridge back in 1980, which was awesome. It's true that you have to spend time setting them up, but that's true of most high end kit esp turntables.
Just FWIW... to get horns and other high efficiency speakers to sound right usually involves an amplifier with a relatively high impedance output. Nelson Pass published an excellent article that raised this issue in Audio Express around the beginning of this year.

High efficiency speaker tend to be highly reactive and do not take kindly to overdamping! So the best sound is usually with an amplifier of higher output impedance. This, combined with the fact that tubes sound better then transistors anyway, is why SETs and OTLs are the best amps for horns. Just about any other combination will get you shrill results due to the reactive nature of the speaker.

IOW, horns are not shrill by nature. They get this reputation from being used with the wrong equipment!
funny how nearly in every single set up i have heard horn speakers in the final result is still the same. I have heard the avantgardes with valve amps in hifi shows and in my own room. I am not denying you cannot get a smooth response at the top end but this is almost always with sacrifice to the overall transparency and imaging (what little there is that is).

Furthermore horn lovers are not the ordained ones, horn speakers are outnumbered in the high end systems with low powered triodes etc. I bet by 10:1 at least. Are we saying therefore the rest of the audiophile fraternity are thick?