Thin Walled Speakers -Tonian, Musical Affairs, etc

It seems that a few speaker makers are using the thin walled, lightweight, less damping approach to building. For example Tonian, Musical Affairs and some others.

And I've read some very positive reviews of such speakers. I can see how they would sound unreal with vocals, acoustic instruments etc. But how do they sound with other more spectrally complex music- lets say rock. Do they turn to sonic mud?

I'd be curious to hear feedback from anyone who actually owns or has heard such speakers.

Good question!
Here's what Harbeth has to say (From their website)....

14. What is the importance of the cabinet construction, and what is a 'thin wall cabinet'?

Everything in the universe resonates, and that definitely includes loudspeaker cabinets! Some resonances are rather useful - such as the fundamental resonance of the air mass inside the cabinet which acts as a spring against the bass/mid diaphragm (cone) and when correctly proportioned, permits a good system bass response. Other resonances are not so useful or desirable, but result from Newton's Second Law of motion: 'every action has an opposite and equal reaction'. For example, as the cone moves inward, the cabinet must, by definition, push back against it, and this sets up peaky resonances inside the cabinet structure which are measurable outside the cabinet with suitable equipment.

At the design stage of a speaker system we need to be aware of the contribution of the cabinet walls to the overall sound perceived by the listener, even if not in the system's frequency response curves. At certain frequencies, untreated wood will be so acoustically transparent that sound waves will pass through it from inside the cabinet as if it is almost invisible; at some (and hopefully different) frequencies the combination of the panel's stiffness and mass will encourage it to sympathetically resonate with notes in the music. Taming these panel resonances is extremely time consuming at the design stage, and demands great attention to the smallest details of the cabinet construction, measuring equipment much trial-and-error. Whatever solution one arrives at, the best one can achieve is to suppress a panel's output and/or to steer it into a frequency band where it is either inaudible or benign: this implies at the bottom end of the audio spectrum.

It is self evident that if the 'raw' untreated panel is thin, that damping that applied damping will have a proportionately greater beneficial effect than if the panel is thick, where no amount of conventional surface damping can adequately suppress latent peaky resonances. The superiority (although at very high cost) of the 'thin wall' panel philosophy was invented and used by the BBC from the 1960's, backed up by measurements and Research, and is, to our mind, the best overall solution for an acoustically quiet mid band, where the ear is extremely sensitive to buried resonances.
I don't have an experience with the speakers that you mentioned, but I have Michael Green Audio free resonance speakers. They are not exactly thin walled, however they have no damping material in them only some tuning things.
They are not bad at all with rock, electronic music etc. but are much better with small scale acoustic music and vocals. Also, they really require tight control by an amp or they get loose. Very sensitive to the smallest changes anywhere in the system, that is good for tuning.
So..wouldn't be my choice for rock though they are quite dynamic with good bass for the 8" woofer.
Anyone owns Musical Affairs? I am interested too.
I have Tonian Classic 12's. I can assure you that the speaker does not turn the music to sonic mud when playing rock or orchestral works. You might not like the sound of PHY based speakers but it would not be because of its lack of detail or coherence. I consider these traits one of its strong points.
Light weight and less damping do not go together; the BBC "Thin Wall" design was based on designing a cabinet with a resonance at a less critical point and then damping that frequency. Not easy to do; requires skill in design and building. Can work very well if properly executed but simply making the cabinet thin and cutting down on the damping is likely to give a colored sound. I currently have 6 pairs of the "Thin Wall" construction as well as others of heavier construction. Actually my S 100s weigh around 80 lb. so thin wall does not mean light weight.
I am a long time Spendor guy. They rock with the best of them.
Nice writeup. But back to my original question... how do they sound with rock music? A lot of speakers sound great with acoustic music or female vocals, but fall apart with denser music.

Opinions from people who have heard please.
I have Tonian TL-D1s and yes, they can rock without the use of a mudroom. Even electronic fare like Trent Reznor's and Atticus Ross' soundtracks sound wonderful, varied and nuanced.

Just because a speaker is designed/voiced like an instrument, it will still give you a gratifying listening experience. In all genres.

Granted, it may be off a bit, but what isn't? What matters is, is it convincing enough to allow you to suspend belief?
With the Tonians, I always leave my brain behind.
To me, this is one of the more interesting speaker design issues. That two opposite approaches - eliminating vs controlling/incorporating cabinet resonance - can both work if optimized. For example, Audio Note uses cabinet resonance to its advantage - like the body of a stringed instrument. I believe that Living Voice does as well, but perhaps not to the same extent.
the Musical Affair speakers (and video) are very interesting

Nonoise- thanks for your account. People seem to love the TL-D1, and I am very interested myself.
Tnt-audio had a nice review, but their musical material was:

Chesky Jazz and Audiophile tests Vol2; Arthur Rubenstein - Fryderyk Chopin; Ustad Shahid Parvez; Live in Toronto; and Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.

All good music, but c'mon! It makes these speakers sound like old man speakers. No offense to anyone ;)
I AM offended you whippersnapper.. and I hope this gets your Underoos all in a bunch!!
But seriously, I had the nice opportunity to listen to Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo for two hours. Powered by a Leben CS-300X. We worked up to some very heavy dynamic Classical music, and they handled it with no problem!
I did really like them.

None taken :).
There was a time, albeit short, when I listened to some Queens of the Stone Age,
Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson to see how they fared and they acquitted themselves quite favorably. In fact, I was surprised at how good they sounded as I now listened to them from a different perspective than from my old Legacy Classics, which can rock with the best of them.
The Tonians do so many things so well that I can easily overlook their lack of bombastic like portrayal ability from heavily reworked studio fare. All one has to do is listen to some 'live' rock on these Tonians and you can easily be swayed into buying a pair.

All the best,
A highly resonated cabinet adds coloration's but also allows transducers to vibrate excessively this plus added coloration's can effect ability to image at higher volume levels since higher SPL causes increase in vibration and coloration's due to cabinet resonance that only increase with level.
True that (god how I hate that expression).

But if the cabinet's and driver's resonances are taken into consideration (designed in), in advance, and the drivers are adequately attached, the cabinet adequately braced, and in the case of the Tonians, being a semi-open baffle design, then it should handle most kinds of music provided its not used as a PA system.

Coloration can be a good thing as long as its intended.
When you think of a heavily braced, thickly walled, acoustically inert cabinet and all the sound absorption and abatement one must do to keep the sound from relecting back out through the drivers or ports at an unacceptable rate, who can say which is the better design? Both seem to work as long as they're well thought out in advance.
Coloration is not a good thing if your goal is to reproduce the music in its original form; thin wall and thick wall both intend to minimize coloration, they just use different methods to achieve it. But if you like coloration go for it; some like to walk around with tinted glasses after all. After a time they probably think the world is actually all pink.
It could be our ideas of coloration differ. Hues can be used to aid in tone. Gradations can enhance. Just how much is needed, or wanted, is in the ear of the designer. My take on coloration is of a slight application. Taking into consideration that speakers make the most distortion of any audio component in the chain (sometimes up to and beyond 10%), then coloration seems as reasonable as any approach in speaker design, along with cabinet construction, crossover design, choice of driver, etc.
As Nonoise stated, both types of designs can work or not work. I've had some pretty well damped and inert speakers I hated. Escalante Freemonts come to mind, they were 650 pounds of speaker that had no life or energy (not saying it was b/c of weight and inertness but they didn't "move" me. On the other hand Beauhorns with their thin walled cabinets were one of the musical speakers I've owned. Yes they were colored, or I'd say not as accurate as other speakers that have come thru my studio but at the end of the day they made me smile and listen to music.

(dealer disclaimer)
I think we need to keep in mind that speakers are a vague representation of the original event and things like cabinet design are a small (but sometimes crucial) part of this formula.

What I mean is if a speaker offers 15% of the real experience and a few percentages of that tone/quality is determined by cabinet design and is largly a matter of taste and musical preferences.

No design is even close to absolute and all should be taken with a grain of salt.

I tend to focus on the way a sound of a design makes me feel for instance...

my two cents
As Nonoise stated, both types of designs can work or not work. I've had some pretty well damped and inert speakers I hated. Escalante Freemonts come to mind, they were 650 pounds of speaker that had no life or energy (not saying it was b/c of weight and inertness but they didn't "move" me. On the other hand Beauhorns with their thin walled cabinets were one of the musical speakers I've owned. Yes they were colored, or I'd say not as accurate as other speakers that have come thru my studio but at the end of the day they made me smile and listen to music.

(dealer disclaimer)

my post was not intended for anyone in particular it was just referring to the overall tone of the responses and actually agreeing with several...

here's a video of Hans Kortenbach explaining the us of sitca spruce as material

amazing speakers
I watched that video. The argument that controlling the wood with bracing to achieve resonance properties similar to that of a violin or a guitar doesn't make sense. Those instruments, by design, are intended to make music over a limited frequency and dynamic response. Loudspeakers are quite different in that they must reproduce over a much larger frequancy response and dynamic range. Also, no mention is made of the phasing capabilities of such construction. Individual instruments have phase cancelling properties, again by design, in order to convey the proper timbre of the instrument. How does then one vreate a resonance function in such a cabinet design that replicates the correct resonance functions of all instruments, with all timbres intact, simultaneously?
It would be impossible to do as you suggest but I bet that's not what the designer was aiming for. The same can be said for very inert cabinets since they, too, cannot cover all the bases. And they don't. Otherwise there would be a formula, of sorts, and everyone would make the same speaker.

Every design is a compromise. All speaker makers settle for less. Some do it better than others.

It's just a different, and successful way of speaker making. Try to listen to one for yourself and it just might change your mind.

All the best,
I'm late to this thread, but I currently own a pair of the Tonian TL-D1s, and previously had owned a pair of high-end Green Mountain Audio speakers. These two designs may very well represent the extreme ends of the spectrum between the resonant and non-resonant.

As discussed above, the TL-D1s have the lightweight, resonant layered plywood cabinets. Green Mountain does away with wooden braced cabinets altogether in favor of a housing that's made from a marble-like "Q-Stone" compound that's basically immune to vibration.

So what's the difference? To my ears, there is no question it's a trade off, and the cabinet design is a major factor. I would say the GMAs have a significantly cleaner sound that is superior when it comes to timbral accuracy and pinpoint imaging. The Tonians, while impressively detailed, sound a little rough around the edges compared with the GMAs, and are far more vulnerable to fatigue.

Part of this, no doubt, is because the Tonians are more efficient than the GMAs, and more capable of revealing nasty stuff upstream in your system. But there's also the sense that the GMAs are these heavy, fixed objects, creating a safe place for an almost photographic, harmonically accurate presentation to occur - the Martin guitar can be identified as a D-28 rather than a D-18, etc.

Likewise, there's a strong sense that the resonant cabinets of the Tonians are exactly what's killing their ability to pull off that trick the way the GMAs do. The Tonians, however, excel at dynamics large and small because of those thin plywood cabinets, and the ribbon tweeter adds a considerable sense of openness and airiness. These two things together make for a presentation that, while obviously distorted to some degree, is far more lively and exciting - and, to my ears, ultimately more convincing. You may not be able to call it a D-18 every time, but you can hear and feel the thing vibrating like it's in the room.

That's not to say the Tonians can't be a little aggravating at times, and I do miss some aspects of the GMAs. If I had to sum it up, I'd say that if the GMAs evoke a painting by Rembrandt, then the Tonians evoke a painting by Van Gogh. While Rembrandt is revered for good reason, a lot of folks would prefer to live with a Van Gogh.

Nicely put. I recall reading a review of the Tonian Tl-D1s and the reviewer went on to say that although it may not be accurate, it was very convincing which made it so enjoyable to listen to. It kind of mirrors what you say about them.
I still can't fault them, but then I am prejudiced.

All the best,