Andy Payor's Rockport speakers with the right associated equipment, Crosby modified Quad 63's, Acapella Violins and Campanile's with very careful set up and Triolons. Also many small monitor speakers when placed out into the room.
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I assume you mean they disappear. A mid and tweeter effect from reducing any edge diffraction that may localize the sound.
I find that tall narrow speakers (less than 8 inches), and small box designs (like satellites) often disappear most easily, as the edge diffraction in these designs become indistinguishable from the direct sound radiating from the driver.
I find that the big box speakers with large front baffles of a foot or more wide have a greater tendency to suffer from edge diffraction. Designers will usually offset the tweeter and mid range to one side to reduce the audibility of this. Triangular and odd shaped baffles also help in a similar way to offseting the drivers. Placing the tweeter or mid range on top in its own little mounting (like B&W) also helps.
Soffit mounting of big box speakers definitely has an audible improvement in completely "freeing the speaker from the box"; achieveing more solid and precise images between the speakers than freestanding. I have observed this myself.
Furthermore playing speakers without the grill can make matters worse, as the grill is often designed to help reduce edge diffraction artifacts.
Just my two cents... from the above you can usually make a good guess at how well a speaker will sound free of the box.
There are many speakers that can conjure images that are independent of themselves. There are both box and boxless designs that can do this very well in my experience. Certainly Quad, Martin-Logan and SoundLab electrostatics are proficient at this, as are the Magnepan and Eminent Technology planar magnetics. These designs seem to benefit from their boxlessness and their dipolar radiation pattern that cancels certain interactions with the room. However, these designs can sometimes produce images that appear less "solid". This kind of transparency of image can be distracting to some people, highly attractive to others. Omnidirectional speakers like the Ohm and MBL designs are fabulous at imaging, perhaps peerless. These are images that you can literally walk around due to the way in which the speakers propagate sound. The omnidirectional radiation pattern also allows you to enjoy extremely solid and convincing images from nearly any position in the room. I've heard very carefully designed box speakers from Totem, Von Schweikert, Kharma, Wilson, Avalon, Thiel, Vandersteen, and Aerial image as convincingly and independently from themselves. However, their power to image this well is more or less confined to a few positions in the room.
If you get a chance, listen to the Rockport Antares.
They disappear like no other (conventional) speaker I have heard. It is a rather large box speaker, as you would imagine, since it has a 13 inch woofer, (17"w x 28"d x 46"h). Although, since it is shaped more like a truncated pyramid, perhaps that explains why the images appear out of nowhere! My friend upgraded from the Avalon Eidolons (no slouch themselves at disappearing!), but these speakers are almost spooky at how they disappear.
Anyway, my two cents worth.
The new Legacy Focus 2007 HD's after proper break-in and with the right equipment paint an image such as the one you are seeking with fantastic bottom, mid and top-end. The new drivers, cross-over, etc....are a big step up for this latest revision.
I own both the Focus 20/20's and HD's and was amazed at how the HD's have achieved a great 'disappearing act' that is free of the box if I understand your question correctly...
Maggies and Vandersteen's have imaging free of the box but, from my experience the image floats unnaturally above the floor, is bloated, and never sounds to scale. Furthermore in both these examples it is not a shapely defined image at that. IMHO it doesn't sound like real players on a real sound acoustic stage, sorry. Yet, I see why many folks love them. To me it is a trick, smoke and mirrors. I need something more convincing or just maybe, in thirty-five years I've just never heard either set up properly.
Happy Listening! (or imaging, as the case may be)
The first speaker I heard that really "disappeared" was the narrow-baffle Meridian M2, a compact MTM that predated Joseph D'Appolito's landmark article in SpeakerBuilder. The midwoofers were KEF 5.25" drivers and the tweeter was a 2" (!) KEF dome, and the speaker was active (internal electronic crossover and amplifiers). I have yet to hear another MTM speaker throw a soundstage like that little beastie.
In a more conventional driver arrangement, in my experience Green Mountain Audio is king of the imaging department. Roy Johnson does a whole bunch of things extremely well. If I hadn't started up my own speaker line, I'd be a dealer for him today.
The sadly discontinued Snell Type A was also amazing in the imaging department, and was an all-around superb loudspeaker in my opinion.
Single-drivers speakers usually image very well. Omega, Cain & Cain, Lowther, and such. The best imaging I have ever heard was from an 8" Supravox field-coil driver, which is a full-range unit with no wizzer cone. Small sweet spot, unfortunately.
Many coaxial units also image very well, and in my opinion coaxials also offer timbral advantages over more conventional two-way configurations.
As mentioned by others, electrostats also tend to image very well. The concentric-ringed Quad 63/989/2809 is probably the imaging standout in this fine crowd.
Horn speakers tend to not image as well as other types; relatively few disappear as the apparent sound source. I'm a dealer for some that do, so I won't mention their name.
I'm sure I've left out many worthy contenders - frankly I don't place a very high priority on imaging. It's nice if it's there, but in my opinion imaging is secondary to both timbre and liveliness.
Many have noticed that narrow speakers generally image better than wide speakers. This has to do with how the ear/brain system localizes sound. Localization cues come primarily from the first .68 milliseconds of a sound impulse, which is the time it takes for a sound wave to travel about 8.5 inches (roughly the distance around the head from one ear to the other). A small time delay from the tweeter to a diffractive or reflective surface (say .2 milliseconds) is interpreted by the ear/brain system as a small angular image discrepancy. A time delay close to (but less than) .68 milliseconds is interpreted by the ear/brain system as a large angular image discrepancy. Applying this to image width, narrow speakers image better than wide ones unless the wide ones are wide enough to push the edge diffraction beyond .68 milliseconds, or unless the wide ones have large radius baffle edges so that there is no edge diffraction.
Looking back on the Meridian M2, the cabinet edges were closer to the tweeter's edge than with most modern designs because the midwoofs were very small (allowing a very narrow baffle) and the tweeter's dome was very large (not only having a narrower radiation pattern in the crossover region but also placing the edge of the tweeer closer to the cabinet edge). So it was a very good physical configuration from an imaging standpoint. The Green Mountain Audio speakers are even better - take a look at how minimialist the baffles are around their tweets and mids.
Evolution Acoustics MM3's. 575 pounds, 73 inches tall....a big speaker. it is truely 'free of the box'.
it does have a nicely curved cabinet where the tweeter and mid-range drivers are mounted.
it's a 3-way with a first order crossover....very seamless from top to bottom.
the cabinet is basically inert; it's made of 1500 layers of baltic birch plywood...glued together.
the ICE amp powered woofer/subwoofers are in sealed cabinets. many/most full range speakers that might disappear in the mids and highs have ported bass enclosures or some bass performance issues which do bring attention to them.
but even with all those issues; my opinion is that there are two other very significant reasons that the MM3's disappear......IN MY ROOM.
first; my room itself. it uses lots of diffusion to eliminate first reflections while retaining energy.......and all the built-in bass trapping keeps the bass under control.
second; the system has very low levels of distortion and a low noise power grid. any noise or distortion in your system will betray the speaker drivers and particularly the bass drivers. every time i find something that lowers the noise floor in my system the speakers disappear to a greater degree. the same for spiking the speakers compared to having then sit on pieces of carpet.
lower distortion = 'free of the box'....whether it is speaker design, room design, or system refinement.
In my room, the Magnepan 1.6 and 3.6 worked rather well. Of course, neither are box speakers. Currently, my Merlin VSM-Ms (w/ Bam, of course) disappear surprisingly well. Last night, I listened to Brahams 1st Symph., the London Philharmonic and Klaus Tennstedt conducting and never heard the speakers once. They really vanished. Not all recordings works so well though it seems most do. There are still some recordings that are channel specific that I am reminded that there is a speaker. I've read some posts from guys with both Maggies and Merlins that claim to have had success regardless of the recording. I guess my room and speaker placement is not optimal to work for all recordings, but I am still impressed with the very deep Merlin soundstage and how well they image outside of the box.
The responses are interesting. I have heard many speaker that image exceptionally well. Mine included...and some mentioned above. Very few I have heard make the enclosures absolutely disappear. I suppose I'm looking for the last 4%.
I should have mentioned that I am primarily interested in box speakers, but the mention od electrostatics is appreciated.
I agree that Merlins disappear very, very well. Some Ohm Acoustics I recently heard totally disappeared, also.
I know that many knowledgeable and experienced audiophiles will not believe this, but my Duntech Sovereigns completely disappear. It isn't easy, but it can be done. My room is 25'X19.5'X8.5" and the speakers are on the long wall. Unbelievable sound. Rest of system is H-Cat P12R preamp, McIntosh MC 402 amp, A computer based system, using the Bel Canto Dac3 in the USB mode. Anyone that want's to hear what I'm talking about is welcome to come and listen. Oh yes, also power cables, interconnects and speaker cables from Joe Cohen of Lotus Group. I've owned the Sovereigns for 21 years. Wouldn't trade them for anything else I've heard.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Alon. The Model I has stellar imaging that casts a believable soundscape. The dipole midrange mounted on an open baffle must be playing a role here. The box enclosing the 8 inch woofer is quite narrow which keeps diffractions to a aminimum.
The Totem Arro, Sttaf, and Mani-2 also deserve mention. In terms of currently available, affordable speakers, they're especially noteworthy. They disappear without much trouble.
The type of speakers and optimum set-up I am sure are important for imaging, and in my experience I tend to agree that monitor speakers and small front baffle speakers do this best. However, in my preamp search, I also found significant differences in imaging and the ability of the speakers to "disappear" depending on what preamp was being used, without changing anything else.
The Bose Acoutimass 5's did a great job of disappearing. Unfortunately there were many other reasons these were not great audiophile speakers; timbre, power handling, distortion, frequency response, transient response etc.(especially in the sub which sounded terrible)
I would definitely not pursue a speaker designed specifically for the purpose of disappearing; a balance of qualities is preferrable to having one defining feature.
I think there are many speakers that have the capability of "disappearing". However it seems that a certain degree of "invisibility" is dependent on the complete chain of recording from the studio all the way to the listening room.
Some speakers may disappear, move em and they're back or change the source and they're back or change the recording and they're back...
Well, you get my drift.
After saying all this, if all is optimized, it seems that planar speakers seem to be the easiest to make "disappear" followed by smaller monitors then narrow baffled, well braced floorstanders with quiet enclosures.
The issue is whether you can make a *particular* speaker disappear in your room and not have a "disappearing" speaker (since basically NO speaker can just disappear on its own).
Good Luck on your speaker hunt!
Just wanted to say I always enjoy and appreciate your sharing your experiences.
I know you've been the recipient of more than your fair share of pot shots, presumably because some people look for an excuse to find fault with one who has spent a lot of money on their audio system. As I see it, it's all insanity - just to varying degrees. Or maybe it's like criticizing the quarterback because he gets to date the cheerleaders - we'd do it too if we could.
I have learned and benefitted from your sharing your experiences with us. You have been able to try things that many of us have not, so thank you Mike for freely sharing so that we can make better choices with our systems.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
FWIW, I haven't had this problem even with conventional box speakers. Although I am in the very small minority, I listen to all music in surround. With a properly setup surround system, the speakers really disappear. Of course, there are system variable that make them vanish better than others, but surround has been the David Copperfield of speaker disappearing acts.
Imaging and the speakers "disappearing" aren't necessarily the same thing in my book - my Spica TC60s produced holographic images with small scale music but on large scale classical or rock - anytime they were pressed - they got congested and sounded like box-like indeed. Any decent speaker, placed correctly, should surely be able to image outside the box.
If we're just talking speakers that are actually "boxes" but disappear I'd certainly have to second various Alon/Nola speakers as well as ProAcs, Audio Physics, Ohms, Shahinians, Rockports...sure I'm forgetting some. Notice that many of these are dipoles or omnipolars.
Of course, then you have the planars and stats - the BIG Maggies, Quads, Sound Labs, Apogees which are not boxes and don't sound like it. Hooray!
Electronics and speaker placement are key to getting most box speakers to disappear.
Duke; thank you for the kind comments.
any time there is a speaker thread and you have posted (whether here or AA) i always read your comments to learn from you. i know i'll never really understand speaker dynamics like i'd like to.....but thanks for the always cogent observations and helpful answers. after reading your speaker posts over the years the excellent performance of your speakers at RMAF was no surprise.
I concur with Bdgregory's mention of Totem Acoustic loudspeakers regarding "transparency". I am running Forest's myself. As others have said, the whole audio hardware chain absolutely affects the final result - not to mention recording quality. From the responses, there's a lot of other good sounding stuff out there to consider.
I think the most interesting phenomenon I enjoy is when a musical entity is recorded hard left or right and still the sound seems to come from somewhere external to the drivers or the speaker itself. I find this to be true with Kharmas (and before this with Apogee Stages). Do other speakers out there do this? [By the way, I also will add my thanks to Mikelavigne for all the great, insightful posts of his over the years. I always look forward to them.]