To horn or not to horn


I have never owned a horn speaker. I’m curious if there are any who are first time horn speaker owners after having owned other types of speakers for many years, and are you glad you switched?
needlebrush

Not much love 🤷‍♂️

Try switching the question around the other way and you'll probably be killed in the rush.

Cheers George
Horns bring a couple of interesting dimensions.  Dispersion control (less room tuning to worry about) and high efficiency and dynamics.

There's a good reason why JBL's top end home speakers use them. :)
You might want to read my forum...Horn Speaker Suggestions.  I went through a very long process before deciding on horn speakers.  Never in a million years did I think I would end up with horn speakers.  I listened to tons of very high end non horn speakers before deciding on Viking Acoustic Grande Voix speakers.  What sold me was the clarity of sound. I love hearing each instrument and that is what horn speakers do for me.  
Needlebrush wrote: "I’m curious if there are any who are first time horn speaker owners after having owned other types of speakers for many years, and are you glad you switched?"

I don’t fall into that category. My (condensed) back-story is, I was a thriving SoundLab (full-range electrostat dealer) with a solid anti-horn background and accompanying bias, then at CES nearly 20 years ago I heard two horn speakers that abruptly shifted my paradigm. They were the Classic Audio T-1 and the Edgarhorn Titan. I’m still a dealer for SoundLab but now I am also a horn speaker manufacturer.

Georgehifi wrote: " Not much love [for horns]🤷‍♂️

"Try switching the question around the other way and you’ll probably be killed in the rush."

I dislike most horn speakers, but not all have an audible "horn signature". Imo the problem is that horn design is deeply rooted in the PA world, where acoustic amplification was the top priority. But it is possible to design horns which prioritize low coloration. The devils are in the details.

Just as not all dome tweetered speakers are created equal, so too not all horn speakers are created equal.

Duke
I think that a listener's preference for horns (assuming that they are good ones) will be in good part based on how much they value realistic dynamics, and the sense of ease that horn loudspeakers display.

That is not the priority of every listener.
if you have sweet sounding amp,go for horn speakers:)
My folks loved to dance, they would fire up the console, drop the tone arm and about 1 min later the Metregon would start sounding pretty good.

Horns, you can spend your life trying to get there.  Horn people, are horn people.

There are some neat looking ones through the years. Jensen, JBL, Klipsch, Altec. A LOT of handmade, one of a kind setups too, crazy looking stuff.

I had Imperial horns in my teens and early 20s, few speakers of the time were better. Of course I'd say that..LOL

I thought they were the Coolest Daddio. 
Not  much love here either.
At various times my main speakers were Bose 901s, Series 1. Magnepan IIAs, Acoustat 2+2s and three way d'Appolito Dynaudio towers.  When it  comes to the realistic portrayal of music of all scales and types none of those systems could hold a candle to my present fully horn loaded, DSP controlled, tri-amplified DIY speakers.  Properly executed horns can be splendid.
I heard the big JBL’s once, they went for almost 50K for the pair.  If I could afford them and had the room to support them, I would have bought them in a heartbeat.  Nothing beats the dynamics of good horn speakers, but the good ones are very expensive.  
I have had some Ref 3A de Capos in my main system for 10 years. stand mount 2 way speakers no crossover. Love the sound.
A few years ago we bought a cabin in the mountains and i needed to put a second system together. I had just bought a 2/6 watt tube amp so needed some hi eff speakers. Had a choice of some wonderful Cornscalas (99db) or some Klipsch Quartets (97.5db). Both horns. heard them on Quicksilver minis and both were great and the Quartets were $400 in the box with crites upgraded crossover and Ti tweeters and about $600 less. Very different sound than I was use to, much more shouty. I like to think of the difference with my setup as the de Capos give a more recorded sound and the Quartets a more live sound. They both work just different. Now I wish I had bought those Cornscalas.....
Let’s assume you find two pairs of speakers you like enough to buy, one pair horns.

Horn’s high efficiency sets you up for SUCCESSFUL lower power needs. That saves money, and the amp size/weight goes down, thus location flexibility increases.

High efficiency, horns or not, are always my recommendation to allow an easier entry into tubes, when lower power size truly saves money, size, weight, heat output.

Generally, if horns, the midrange horn size usually leads to a bigger woofer, thus less need for a subwoofer. That protects bass imaging, so, that could be considered a related advantage of horns. Of course, larger enclosures only work in certain spaces, and want to be out away from rear and side walls. I go for heavy enclosure on 3 wheels (3 wheels always wobble free and more pounds per wheel), push back for more circulation space, pull out for dedicated listening.
Horns can be as smooth and transparent as any speaker made. Like any other kind of speaker technology there are bad examples and excellent examples as Duke pointed out earlier.


Horns don't have to be all that big. For example you can have a quarter wave rear loaded horn in a small floor standing cabinet, that can go down to 50-60Hz. At that point its easy to set up a subwoofer system (keeping it below the critical-to-human-hearing 80Hz), which is not a bad idea anyway if you don't like standing waves messing with the bass at the listening chair. One of the best distributed bass array systems is the Swarm made by Audiokinesis; if set up with a quarter wave horn as I just mentioned, you can have a compact and efficient system without sacrifice of sound quality compared to much larger systems.
I like the good ones. 
As others have suggested not all horns are created equal. However, I dislike a higher percentage of horn designs than any other speaker type. 
Heresy IIIs and a couple of REL subs does the trick for me. And my single ended tube amp has only 4 tubes so tube rolling is inexpensive (and fun, my preamp has 4 matching tubes but not expensive). Note that before I started looking around for efficient speakers to match my amp, I hadn't listened to any Klipsch speakers for years...I found that the Heresy IIIs had none if the drawbacks that horn critics famously have issues with, and each is a coherent and revealing little powerhouse even with less power. 99db efficient...yeah man...
Well... I've done the entire journey from low power & horns to mega power and Wilson's or Focal's at least three times over the last 25 years. For the last 5 years and will continue into the future with my horns driven by 300B's.  When done well, nothing can match a horn system IMHO. 
And I would say that when done well, horns do a very particular thing better than all other designs. The sense of ease you get with horns is really special. This can be intoxicating for a time, but to me always falls short in all other areas when compared with the best dynamic and planar designs. 
@needlebrush --

I have never owned a horn speaker. I’m curious if there are any who are first time horn speaker owners after having owned other types of speakers for many years, and are you glad you switched?

My switch was gradual, from Direct Radiators to hybrid designs (2-way, waveguides + DR woofers), then to all-horn mains augmented by a DR sub and finally the same mains coupled with a pair of tapped horns subs instead.

This goes to show the following: if you want to truly consider a horn speaker system then it must rightfully function as such in the entire frequency spectrum you’re using it or intend to use it in, or else it’s not a true horn speaker system (but rather a horn-hybrid). Period, end of story. In the same fashion one doesn’t call a hybrid vehicle with both a combustion engine and electrical motors for an electric car, but rather a hybrid.

Suffice to say, if you really want to wrap it all up coherently there’s no way around horn-loading into the sub bass range as well - indeed it’s much more important than one would immediately believe. Most people don’t even know what horn-loaded midbass sounds like, not to mention extending it into sub bass, but it adds a particular ease, easy-flowing presence and sense of being enveloped to the sound that sets true horn speakers apart from direct radiators and even horn-hybrids.

No doubt; to me the switch was absolutely worth it, but it takes dedication for a number of reasons. There’s also size to consider, for while poster @atmasphere pointed out horn-loading down to the midbass can be had from a physical package not too excessive in size, relatively speaking, with sub bass via horns you can’t dodge the need for size.

Once there however having chosen a quality implemented all-horn set-up, which is not not necessarily easy nor cheap to come by (unless you go DIY), it really is a different kind of listening experience, and one that by nature distinguishes itself from the sound of direct radiators and horn hybrids - positively, I find. Most may think of horns in terms of dynamics and SPL-capabilities (with an implied sense of crudeness, perhaps), but quite a few have commented on the sound of my set-up being especially suited to music with live acoustic instruments (classical and jazz), well-recorded voices, as well as blues and the techno/trance/etc. genre. The least attractive sounding music via my set-up is a lot of the pop/rock genre that sounds the way it is: artificial, often overproduced and compressed.

Whenever someone says as an absolute that all horns are "honky", "bright", "forward", etc. I usually discount any opinion they have after that. Horns can be all of that or none of that. But so can many other designs. With care in system choices and room treatments, horns can be very, very good.

Oz



Big fan of horn speakers, in general. 
stereo53,768 posts04-21-2020 8:43amI heard the big JBL’s once, they went for almost 50K for the pair.  If I could afford them and had the room to support them, I would have bought them in a heartbeat.

Same here, I was in the Oakland Hills after the rebuild. The trees were still pretty small. Everest Dd6600 or 6700, filled the whole hillside with this wonderful highland music, bagpipes, and pan flutes. I thought I was in heaven, really heaven. Inside was 7th heaven, just sublime, all Krell 
and JBL. Oddball was the turntable, no idea who made it.

I got to work there for 2 months. Wonderful perk.., guy loved to show it off,, along with his pair of 100,000.00 dollar shotguns..... LOL

Regards
I love all loudspeakers types horns just do more things performance-wise that I prefer sure they may not be for an amateur but if done right horns are one of the better ways to great sound. But the sad thing is audiophile products are not the best place to search for performance in horns the good ones are costly as a home and most are so hamstrung by bean counters and lifestyle design to be not worthy of consideration. Most who say they hate horns have very little experience with horns in a home setting and I can see why not many available of quality for home use and ones that are are rare and costly. If one wants horns and high performance you will need to educate yourself and may have to do a bit of setup at the least. With horns, full horn loading is the best way but its also the largest way. If the horn speaker has a woofer in a box under it you have not heard a horn system at all. 
ozzy62,
You said it. I have nothing to add.
@oldhvymec captures a couple of really nice sentiments when he says:

Horns, you can spend your life trying to get there.

With capable commercial horn system being for most intents and purposes an oxymoron, I think you’d better be someone who enjoys the process, if not a desperate struggle. Someone who is unnaturally drawn to long odds against. Someone who can tease out bits of potential in the midst of heavy uncertainty, if not chaos. Someone who can see tiny specs of light at the end of very long tunnels. An unreasonable optimist. Because much of the time, you’ll be responding to the skepticism (both yours and others’) with some form of, “sure—but do you know how good it COULD sound?!” Maybe most horn systems are not good enough; but, I know that the best are as good as it gets.

Horn people, are horn people.

Horns bite hard, and I don’t think there’s an antidote. In particular, once you get a taste of honest-to-God horn-loaded (mid-) bass [check in with @phusis above]—and you come to realize its fundamental correctness—a qualitative shift occurs and a door closes behind you. @needlebrush asks about a move to horns, “are you glad you switched?” To which I think the answer is, “nah, son, horns switch you.” You can’t un-experience this, and so you have to deal with it—in all of its impracticality and complexity. It’s amazing the number of problems you never knew you had once you take on horns. In all their glory, they were never meant for your living room; but what was meant for your living room is no longer fulfilling. So, what to do? Well, you become a “horn person,” I guess.
"If one wants horns and high performance you will need to educate yourself and may have to do a bit of setup at the least. With horns, full horn loading is the best way but its also the largest way. If the horn speaker has a woofer in a box under it you have not heard a horn system at all. "
I very much agree with johnnk's statement quoted above.  Horn mids and highs with ported or sealed bass go together like coffee and spoiled milk.  My DIY tri-amplified horn speakers use Bill Fitzmaurice designed HT Tuba 1/8 wave 25 Hz folded corner horns crossed over at 200 Hz with a roll off of 100 dB/octave provided by a DEQX DSP.  The impact and realism of bass heavy instruments, especially drums, bass guitar, pipe organ, etc. must be heard to be believed.  Also the continuity and coherence of the sound from very low bass to the very high highs is truly excellent.  This is not just my opinion but is also an opinion voiced by numerous audiophile friends who have heard the system at length on .repeated ocassions.

As equalized by the DEQX DSP my horn speaker's output at 25 Hz is identical to the output at the 1kHz reference tone.  The HT Tuba bass horns are only 18 cubic feet in volume.
Horns for sure! I have the Charney Audio Companion and have no need for a sub or tweeters. If you like to be engaged with what the artist is doing than a good horn set up is the way to go! No filters (crossover) to muck up the sound! 
http://charneyaudio.com/

I think that we need to distinguish the difference here between front loaded compression drivers and back loaded full range drivers as the two couldn't be more different.  
After years of never owning horns, I just bought a pair.

Like many have said here, I never ever thought I would like horns and never listened to many because of the feedback of others.

I bought a pair of Heresy II for $320 locally (yup, a steal) and have fallen in love!  Last pair of speakers I bought had a vifa ring tweeter and an electrostat 8" mid and now they sound dead and flat in comparison to the Heresy.

They are so airy and not overly bright as I had assumed.  Don't seem to be as temperamental to my room and setup either.  I am also wondering if with getting into my mid 40's that my hearing is the other issue, am I naturally rolling off the highs because I'm getting old?  ;) 
Go over here: www.whatsbestforum.com.  Should be re-named the
” horn lovers forum”.
But if you do, don’t make the mistake of saying that horns sound like a “cupped hands” effect...since none of the lovers over there can even hear this, lol.
since none of the lovers over there can even hear this, lol.

Nor should they be able to hear this. I have owned 4 pairs of horns and none have exhibited this trait.

Oz



I have Heresy's and Speakerlab 7's. The H's have metal EV mid and treble horns. The 7's have plastic mid and treble horns. The H's sound colored (overly bright) in the midrange and up. Some call this "detail" - not me! The 7's sound far more natural (and listenable) in the midrange and treble! Plus with their combination of a 12" and a 10" woofer per sealed cabinet they have the full authority in the lower bass that the H's lack. No contest - the Speakerlab 7's are clearly better sounding than the vaunted Heresy's! Not as good-looking though with their flat-black white-speckled finish! 
Cupped hands effect is BS only horns I heard that sound like that are old metal victrola horns. It's just one of the many horn myths [like all horns honk] that 1950s salesmen used to talk mono horn owners into small weak stereo speakers.  But just don't mention bass distortion thermal compression and distortion at higher SPL to non-horn owners they just don't seem to hear it or do they? I hear many monitor and slim tower owners say after 30-45 mins of listening they had enough-enough thermal compression that is. 

I sold my first pair of Heresy's quickly when I had a chance to buy a pair of Altec Madrid 872's (15" bi-flex woofers). 
... don't mention bass distortion thermal compression and distortion at higher SPL to non-horn owners they just don't seem to hear it or do they?

@johnk --

It would require of them to know, and having lived with the difference. Once heard how relaxed and effortless bass reproduction can sound like, even at full click, what's not just sounds forced, malnourished and less enveloping. Although, periodically matters are sought inverted with the claim that horn dynamics are "exaggerated." I guess comfort doesn't welcome the occasional being startled..
I have not responded to this thread, but a brief comment ( I hope it brief, for everyone ). I grew up around, and involved, with live, unamplified music. I was also introduced, and owned, Klipsch Heritage speakers, well over 50 years ago. With so many different brands and models of speakers, being owned, auditioned, and set up by me ( I was in the audio business ), I feel, horns in general, imo and ime, captures the most true, and honest representation, of that, of what I grew up to. Perfection in speakers, or any piece of audio gear, will never exist, as this, in part, is due to the inherent limitations of the recordings we listen to ( why so many listeners I know, only listen to the better recording labels out there, as we all know who these labels are ). Whatever problems horns have ( shell resonance and vibration ) can easily be tamed, if not, completed be eliminated, and with proper set up, and listener distance, they can be the closest, to what one hears, live. I say, " can " be closest. My buddy, playing guitar, and us singing, with a mic and guitar mixer, sounds wonderful through our Lascalas ( we both own them ). Most dynamic speakers, and panels ( those I have heard ), cannot handle this playback, as this becomes torturous, and the sound simply compresses, distorts, breaks up, etc. I know this might be extreme, but in the end, it all becomes subjective, and personal. ymmv. I hope everyone well, during this time of the pandemic. Always, MrD.
Did not mean to ruin and end the thread
Hopefully nobody quits if things stay civil...

while my modified Cornwall’s are gone to a buddy in the mountains, I have a bit of experience with horns and can appreciate what they get right , but I also own Vandersteen, Thiel, Apogee and Quads and find their virtues compelling and equally imperfect in other ways... unamplified acoustic instruments in reverberant space on digital and high speed tape are my Reference- enjoy the music and the journey:-)
@mrdecibel --

Did not mean to ruin and end the thread

Hardly, for the most part I see you doing the very opposite in acknowledging the aspect of subjectivity in audiophilia - through your range of experience, not least. That is, we shouldn’t avoid, less politically correct it may be, calling things by their right names; my understanding of what’s subjective implies the priority of what we choose and what constitutes our (p)reference, but that doesn’t make traits like unrestricted dynamics, ease, transient ability and presence any less important, objectively, in the pursuit of what emulates a live, acoustic (or amplified) performance. The question to or what’s perceived by some may be what’s sacrificed in other sonic areas getting there, but to my ears good horns generally have less character than direct radiators; music simply happens more naturally and uninhibited (my next "adventure" is acquiring a pair of horn-hybrid pro cinema speakers, recently used in an actual theater in Germany, for fully active (i.e.: sans passive cross-over) duties - oh well, they’re still +100dB’s sensitive).
I also appreciate mrdecibel's contributions.         With phusis' mention of pro cinema horns, how about the JBL 4676 model? (with 4550 bottom cabinets). Does anyone have any experience with these, or opinions regarding such?
@isochronism --

I also appreciate mrdecibel's contributions.         With phusis' mention of pro cinema horns, how about the JBL 4676 model? (with 4550 bottom cabinets). Does anyone have any experience with these, or opinions regarding such?

I don't have experience with those you mention, but perhaps @johnk could share some insights here?
Yes, johnk would certainly be knowledgeable!!              I have an original pair put away for years. I've been looking for a larger place to move to for some time. Hopefully soon!
... I have an original pair put away for years. I've been looking for a larger place to move to for some time. Hopefully soon!

I'd assume just having a pair of those stored away would require a larger place :) They're big for sure, but do they necessarily need longer listening distances to sum the presentation at one's ears? 
I've heard these referred to as "long throw" so you're correct as these were also used on stages, etc. YouTube video (search jbl 4550) shows these in a home environment. Plus some crazy-Asians (used VERY respectfully:) have no problem in small dwellings. I did use these for a small period (years ago) with a 50 watt SS amp, which is what I had at the time. I have 300B & 45 SET amps, (which I used with Beauhorns) and just recently purchased a Marchand 2-way active crossover to utilize in near future with JBLs.
Try out / audition a few manufacturers if you can. Best way to discover what you like. I've got Cornwall IV's sitting on plinths I made custom out of cherry (matches the cabinet finish) that use large rubber and cork isolating pads as feet. To me, they sound absolutely beautiful playing Classical, Jazz, Rock, ambient, electronica, dubstep (known for insanely bass heavy sound).. I'd put them up against most anything and they'd hold their own.

With quality gear, everything will sound good but different. Like great gourmet food, it's all about the flavors not what's "best".
" Throw ". Some listeners do not get it, unfortunately. Most of the larger horn speakers ( google Klipsch Pro; a grand scale example : Klipsch KPT-CINEMA GRANDEUR ), would require an extremely large room, and ime, for sure, a great distance, between them, and the listener. A few folks I know of ( many here on the Gon ) would have no problem, listening to them, from 8 - 12 ft away. As much as I would happily own a pair, along with the associated gear to run them, they would not work in my current room, a room, that my Lascalas, work, very well. Lascalas, can fill a stage, albeit, on a smaller scale. YMMV
Jet88, enjoy the CW IVs. If you are interested, some simple modifications that I have been doing for years on Klipsch Heritage models, can be seen on YouTube, by " The Boston Audiophile ". He shows you, on his CW IVs. Enjoy !
Tomic.....All good my friend, and you enjoy as well !   
@mrdecibel --

" Throw ". Some listeners do not get it, unfortunately. Most of the larger horn speakers ( google Klipsch Pro; a grand scale example : Klipsch KPT-CINEMA GRANDEUR ), would require an extremely large room, and ime, for sure, a great distance, between them, and the listener. A few folks I know of ( many here on the Gon ) would have no problem, listening to them, from 8 - 12 ft away. As much as I would happily own a pair, along with the associated gear to run them, they would not work in my current room, a room, that my Lascalas, work, very well. Lascalas, can fill a stage, albeit, on a smaller scale. YMMV

Of course going by the very biggest pro cinema speakers out there (used in actual movie theaters) would have one dealing with +7’ tall behemoths, and is something like trying to fit a Big Block Chevy V8 engine into an older Fiat 500 - at least if typically sized domestic environments are thought of. Proper summation of the sound would likely need distances that extend beyond one’s interior (and exterior) surfaces..

Fortunately pro cinema speakers come in different sizes depending on the number of seats that needs to be reached effortlessly, and the ones that will see their way into my set-up are 2-way with 2 x 15" bass drivers per cab and a single compression driver-fitted 90x40 coverage horn on top. Bigger auditoriums would see a similar speaker package fitted with an additional and dedicated, big midrange horn, with the biggest auditoriums needing additional capacity from the mid-bass bins as well.

Pro cinema speakers, not least used, hold potential bargains, and can function very well in domestic milieus. They’re not beauty queens, and even the smaller ones are still big, but if that’s an acceptable factor there are good results to be potentially had with a wide performance envelope, including both sound quality and prodigious headroom (mine will be high-passed and augmented by my tapped horn subs from ~80Hz down).

To me it’s an experiment, also for trying out a fully active configuration, and the particular cinema speakers I’ve acquired (should arrive later this week) use excellent drivers that in a hifi-ish package would cost ungodly amounts of money. We’ll see - hopefully I’ll be able to integrate them well.