Horns for SET: Low budget solutions

I've been an audiophile for quite some time and am about to take the plunge into the SET/Horns combination. I am a PHD student so that means that I have a very limited budget to work with. I am building a pair of Welborne DRD 300Bs which provide about 7 watts.

I'm now looking at how to best match these with horns. My goal is to get the most holographic image possible while avoiding the "shout" that horns are infamous for. I'm not too concerned about bass limitations as I have a subwoofer to help out there. Also, space is somewhat limited so I can't go with a huge speaker like the La Scala or VOTT.

I'm looking at Lowther and Fostex designs. Cains also seem to be a favorite. Can potentially build my own if necessary, but if they are less expensive I also don't mind just buying them outright. Any ideas would be appreciated.
klipsch heresy for most of what you would get from a lascala....otherwise things get weird or expense, or both

I understand your mindset. I was where you are now when I was in grad school and had almost the same thinking.

The two most important thing you should do is ask yourself "what do I want?" and to do a lot of research before you make a decision. You will have to decide what compromises you can live with. The second point is that the, in my opinion, the mainstream audiophile community knows very little about horn speakers. Just a quick rant, but it seems sometimes that the mainstream community think horn speakers are just Lowthers, Fostex, AvantGarde or Klipsch.

There are two major categories of horn speakers, front loaded and rear loaded. Examples of front loaded horns would be AvantGarde and Altec VOTT while rear loaded horns include most Lowther and Fostex designs like Cain and Cain, Rethm, etc. [Note the Cain and Cain Abby is not a horn but a Voigt pipe]. Almost all of the rear loaded horns are folded horns where the 'horn' travel is folded so as to reduce space. Some horn purists do not really consider rear loaded horns to be real horns for various reasons.

One truism is that getting bass from a pure horn design (i.e. horn loading only) requires lots of space. This is a just a reflection of the laws of physics, marketing is not going to change this. The bass cutoff is governed by the size of the mouth of the horn. A true 20Hz horn needs a mouth on order of 8 ft. by 8 ft. and a lot of length for the horn expansion. Check out this link for pictures of a true deep bass horn. http://www.kbrooksaudio.net/custom.html

You can get 40 Hz in a large rear loaded horn. On the otherhand, the bass quality is fantastic. The bass speed and dynamics are hard to beat. In fact, the dynamics is one of the strongest points of a horn speaker. This is something that conventional dynamic speakers have a hard time beating. So you need to decide how much bass you want versus space and money?

The alternative strategy is to use a horn for the highs and mids and use a fast dynamic driver for the bass. You can add a sub to a backloaded horn ala Cain and Cain. My personal favorite is to use a compression driver horn mid/high coupled with a 12" or 15" bass driver. This is the formula for most of the Altec speakers. This works well because the cabinet can be made to a reasonable size with real bass extension while maintaining the dynamics.

Horns get a bad rap for "shout" and beaming. This is often the result of poor implementation. A horn has a natural tendency to beam due to the physics again. This can be countered by good horn design. Most audiophiles forget that for many decades, Altec horn loaded speakers were the industry standard for recording studios.

You will have to listen to some horn speakers to see if they are to your liking. Both the best sound (Shindo Latour) I've every heard and the worst (Loth-X rear loaded horn) were from horn speakers. For your situation, it might be that a horn speaker is not the right solution at this time. I spent several years pondering your very question and ended up not going the way of the rear loaded Lowther or Fostex. You might consider a single driver open baffle speaker as an alternative. I ended up sticking with high efficiency dynamic speakers and then moved to a pair of PHY-HP based speakers instead of the horns. I'm currently saving up money for a pair Shindo Latours.

If you really want to do horn speakers, I would recommend taking a look at a Altec 604 driver in a Stonehenge cabinet. Go to http://www.iconicspkrs.com/stonehenge.html. You can buy this speaker from Iconic or buy the drivers from Great Plains Audio and build the cabinet and crossover yourself. Another stragtegy is to get vintage Altec horns and bass drivers off ebay and build a speaker that way. It is not expensive if you stay away from the 288C, 802A, 515b, and 416A drivers.

Anyways, check out these sites for more information.

http://www.audioheritage.org/ (check out the forum for info)
Look at the Cain & Cain stuff, lotsa bang for the buck there!


This is a no-brainer, the Horn Shoppe Horns are the best speaker value on earth and I am using them with 8wpc Dared Set amps. They portray the truth in musical experience. Go to Audio Circle and read the Horn Shoppe Forum. For $850 if you can afford that they are unbeatable!! Ed is the most approachable person in audio as well. They are hand built by him and his father. Sound is almost perfect. If you can put them close to the wall the bass will be ample.
If LaScalas are too large, then I'd look for a pair of Klipsch Cornwalls. A vintage pair can be anywhere from garage sale prices, which could be ridiculously low, to around $900 at the high end. Careful in pairing a sub off with horns. Horns are extremely fast and responsive, which can make them hard to keep up with (though certainly not impossible). There is a hybrid Frankenstein version of the Cornwalls that someone came up with using, I believe, the mid-horns from a LaScala. Appropriately the result is known as the Cornscala. I think you might be able to find some info on the Klipsch forums.

The problem is that in your budget(I'm guessing $2000.00) high effiecient horns are compromised somewhere. Either the bass,midrange is to shouty,peaky sound,highs rolled off. You'll have to pick the compromise you can live with, according to your taste of music and of course system and room.
Abdou, all of the above recommendations are good ones. One thing you really will have to consider is room size:

1) Large horn speakers with multiple drivers (Altecs, Cornwalls) certainly need space. Not just because of bass, but you have to be able to sit 8-14ft away for the drivers to integrate properly. In a huge room this would be my favorite option.

2) In a very small room, Fostex based speakers are much easier. Without sitting far away you will be able to get fairly good imaging. Good examples are the Hornshoppe Horns and Cain Abbys. Both have enough bottom-end extension to get away without a subwoofer in a small room. Also you can always add a subwoofer later. In my small room the Abbys work like a charm.

Much of the above will come down to a matter of taste as well. You should try to find audiophiles in your area that might let you listen to their system - always a good idea to make friends ;)
Excellent post from Rchau. I suggest you read his post again.
Don't overlook the Zu's. I have Klipsch CW's and Zu Druids. Different, but I love both.
Thanks for your thoughtful post Rchau. To clarify my motives, long ago I heard a pair of horn loaded speakers from a maker called S.A.P. (Strumenti Acusti Pricizione) or something like that. They had the uncanny ability to throw a soundstage out into the room that I've never heard before. Most dynamic drivers project sound behind the plane of the speakers...some well to the side of the speakers and of varying degrees of depth. I've been told that horn loaded speakers combined with a SET is the only way to produce a 3 dimensional soundstage that projects out into the room (in front of the speakers as well as behind). I've never been able to forget (or afford) the SAPs...they cost about 20 grand. But I'm looking to recreate that feeling of incredible 3D presence while not also sacrificing tone. I won't part with my old system which hinges on Sequerra monitors and a Mac 225 tube amp. I have heard horn designs that I didn't care for...so I'm loath to invest huge sums of money (even if I had it!). So in order of importance for me its: tone and imaging first, then dynamics, then in last place, bass. I own an ACI subwoofer which is very quick (compares to the REL) and which can mate with horns I'm told. I listen primarily to jazz, folk, acoustic world music, a little electronic music, some classical but rarely to hard rock.

This changes things a bit. I've heard the S.A.P speakers many years ago and they do sound very good. Looks like you are looking for a presentation that is a bit forward and basically 'in your face'. The Welborne DRD will move you a bit in that direction. My last pair of amps were a pair of Welborne DRDs (2A3 version). The sound you are looking for is a matter of taste so you may have to search a bit. Even among very good horn speakers, not all of them will suit your needs or tastes.

I guess my best advice is to do a bit of looking around and learn what is possible with horn speakers. I'm a firm believer in horn speakers so I think it is worth the effort. However, horns don't work in all situations. If space is a real concern then a backloaded Fostex might also do the trick although those rarely have the big scale of a larger front loaded horn system.

Since you like the S.A.P. so much, I have this idea. The big S.A.P. speaker (the one that costs $20 K) basically uses a horn mid/high with a dynamic bass cabinet reinforced with a supertweeter. This is a common horn set-up. They use an Onken style bass cabinet with a wood mid horn and a bullet supertweeter. You might want to do a bit of research on Onken (Jensen) bass cabinets [http://www.studiomaudio.info/onken.html]. One can find DIY tons of plans for the Onken cabinets since they are very popular in Japan. With a little woodworking skill, you can make your own S.A.P. clone. Unfortunately, commercial designs like the S.A.P. are all going to be very expensive. There are actually a lot of commercial designs similar to the S.A.P. in Asia and Europe. There is someone on Audiogon selling a Onken based horn speaker right now.

Interesting that you mention the Onken, since the same guy who had the S.A.P. eventually moved to an Onken based set-up. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to hear that that system.

I like the Onken idea, though Onken tend to present the same space limitations as the La Scalas...namely they are huge. I'm in a tiny apt. in Chicago and they'd take up about half of my living room. Or am I wrong?
The Onken cabinets can get rather large especially if they are used with 15" or 18" bass drivers. They tend to be wide but shallow. However, the Jensen bass loading (i.e. Onken) can be made using much smaller drivers that are amenable for smaller rooms. Welborne used to sell plans for an Onken bass cabinet for use with the Oris horns that were not too big. I had them for a while while setting up a friends Lowther driven Oris horn. These used a 10" driver so the size was manageable.

That's why I suggested the Stonehenge cabinet and an Altec 604 driver. The cabinet ends up around 18.75" wide, 14.75" deep, and 44" tall. These are not tiny but workable in all but the smallest rooms. These can also be placed close to a wall so you save space. You can go to Iconic's website and see pics.

You might want to visit osaudio.com. He's a former distributor for Loth X and Zingali horns and usually has a few pairs of each available on closeout. FWIW, I listened to the SAP (Quattro if I recall) pretty extensively when I was auditioning horns and much preferred the Zingali. YMMV.

I'm in a tiny apt. in Chicago and they'd take up about half of my living room.

In that case I would urge you to consider single driver speakers. The Abbys project a fairly large, life size image that extends forwards. It is much easier to achieve reasonable imaging with single drivers. You won't be able to extract the full potential of a larger horn speaker. If you still want front loaded horns the smaller Heresys would be worth a consideration and an affordable introduction to low-power hi-efficiency amps/speakers.
Another vote for the Abbys, with the plus point that they are really attractive. There are some seriously big ugly horn speakers out there. Zingali are simply beautiful sounding and looking speakers. The cheaper overture I believe, speakers are not so impressive, but the larger HM I believe are remarkable, but there are'nt many dealers to hear them at.

The Overtures are actually very fine performers, provided you go easy on the volume control. All sorts of bad things start to happen as spl goes up, but up to modestly loud levels these speakers are quite neutral, dynamic, and musical. For the application described here, I surely wouldn't rule them out without a listen.

Of course, like all speakers, they will not be everyone's cup of tea.

Check out the Hornshoppe Horns from Ed. He's a great guy to talk to (try to get him off the phone!) and for your size room, even bigger, they sound like they'd be a perfect match.
They are for me.