Like any other speaker, some are more successful than others and like any other speaker require proper setup.
Like anything Kenjit there are good ones and very bad ones. Horns can be the absolute worse sounding transducers you have ever heard.
However since developments with low power tube amps there has been increased interest in horns with marked improvement in sound quality.
Any multi-way speaker should be listened to at a distance including horns. Near field listening requires a one-way speaker like Quads or old Acoustats. Their sound doesn't change at all when you get close to the speaker. Very weird. I knew a person who used Acoustat 1s almost as headphones. If you closed your eyes you could imagine a large hall or concert venue. Open your eyes and everything collapses. Visual cues can ruin everything.
The efficiency of horns and their directional dispersion (an advantage) are intriguing but I have yet to hear a horn system that I would take over an ESL. Maybe someday.
Depends on which car you're talking about. I haven't heard any that work well with music given their intrusive and inherently dissonant sound characteristics. I think all car horns are pretty much made to work best in the near field, and if they disappear we're gonna have a lot of dead people out there. Personally I'd love to never hear another horn the rest of my life, but I guess that could mean I'm one of the dead ones and that'd suck. You might get more informed opinions posting this on Car and Driver. Hope this helps.
soix - LMAO
- I have a pair of Rethm Saadhana and I could not be more pleased. Of course that means I love them. You may not. I find that even in the temporary room I have them in (and there is so much wrong with the room) they simply disappear. I often am to right of whole system and near one speaker, but if I close my eyes, I can imagine being in a small live venue. (with artists like Eva Cassidy) but sound great even with all the music I listen too (Floyd to The Dead to Classical to Jazz)
Imagine how the prison yard at Shawshank felt when they heard ‘Duettino- Sull'aria’ from one of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’
I have horns and have had them my whole adult audio life, but they are quiescent now . My college dorm had Heresys which where considered very high end but they were hard to take if you weren't listening to live Hendrix. I couldn't get enough torture so as a more successful 30 something I bought LaScalas hoping to modify the crossover dampen the horn etc But I couldn't take enough and bought the most analytical speaker in a deal I couldn't refuse Focal Electra 936s. To 7 years to get rigth gear for them and I lost it all in a divorce.
Have a friend put their hands on either side of their mouth and shape them around it to form the shape of a horn (overlap fingers above their mouth and thumbs below and talk to you.
Next, have that same person place their hands in front of their mouth and speak to you.
Next, have them speak without any hands in the way.
2. Box speakers
Or, go to a good dealer with your fav music and try it live with all three and make your own decision. As always, do not forget that your ROOM is the most important variable in the listening experience.
I owned Klipsch La Scalla IIs for a number of months. From the midrange I heard no coloration, distortion or "cupped hands" sound. I thought they sounded like electrostatics on steroids. The tweeter was a disappointment (prone to over-drive) and the bass (15" dynamic driver) went deep when the music called for it but in general was a little "mild". I believe if horns were given the "Magico" treatment (diamond coated beryllium drivers) they would be my ideal design. P.S. Magico's flagship speaker is (was?) a gigantic horn array.
Proper horns are far and away the very best most efficient sound you can have. I figure that most of the time people who ask have not heard good horns and the detractors I cant figure out unless they too have never heard a good set. Now a pure horn system with good low end will not be small but the crystal clear dynamics can't be beaten. I run a two way horn system that goes from 27hz to 18khz and it is funny to watch people the first time they hear them and they will raise goose bumps on your arms. Horns, real all horn systems are not for those who value appearance before sound but if you value sound before pretty a good place to start is to go hear a set of Klipsch Jubilees or better. I am amazed at the number of people who have never heard a good horn system but can tell you how bad they are. If you are truly seeking the best sound you owe it to yourself to at least find a set of them to listen to and not take others people word for this. That includes my word as I can tell you all day long just like others will for differing systems and unless you make a real effort to investigate you will never know what you are missing.
I have rebuilt La Scalas with 25mm Baltic Birch sides and a separate top hap with the standard mid horn and a set of MAHL tweeters with B&C DE10 drivers and they were stellar lacking only in deep bass. Personally I like pipe organs so I need much deeper bass. By the way horns play anything you feed them and do so quite well.
As a last comment I am amazed at the number of people who talk about horns and then stick direct radiator woofer subs in there and those ARE NOT pure horn systems. Horns rule and the rest imitate at best.
I did hear JBL K2 years ago and those were great. I have also heard Avantgarde Acoustic horns and they were also good but they did not impress me as much in that very large room.
What I have most often read about horns is that they have fantastic dynamics but color the sound a bit. The also generally lack deep bass since that requires enormous horns and it is usually handled by an active subwoofer instead.
Again, to get a fuller understanding of what horns (can) sound like and how their virtues are most thoroughly brought into fruition, we should consider them in the all-horn realm predominantly (if you call somethings ’horns,’ then by definition you have to go all-in) and not only as horn hybrids - by far the most common use incorporating horns.
First, a hopefully inspiring and enlightening read from a guy I know, Sebastian, and how with some $4,500(!), ALL included, he has managed to put together an all-horn setup, fully active, spanning 20-25Hz to 20kHz (horn-loaded in the entire spectrum), and delivering some of the best reproduced sound I’ve heard:
Obviously horn speakers span a variety of sonic iterations, but why would we pose the question inquiring on their sound if we didn’t believe there’s a particular imprinting or trait, as a whole, that defines (all-)horn sound compared to direct radiators in their different incarnations - if it’s even the case? I do believe there is a distinctive and fundamental quality in horn sound that separates them from other segments of loudspeakers, and for others trying to get a bearing on this perhaps elusive quality (a "quality" others may regard as a flaw) - if one didn’t go out and listen to a bucket-load of horn speakers him- or herself - it could rightly be approached from a plethora of testimonials/reviews based on a wider range of horn speakers heard by a number of individuals, as would be indicative of the responses so far in this thread. Myself I’ve found some "resonance" (both in regards to all the horn setups I’ve heard, as well as in light of vital aspects in the sound from my own all-horn setup) in how to articulate horn sound at (some of) its best and most "primal" in an article from Art Dudley in his visiting horn speaker and SET "guru" Jeffrey Jackson at (and in the vicinity of) his place in Rhinebeck, New York:
Before I set off for home […] I had a tantalizingly brief listening session with a system built around Experience Music’s Baffled Medium loudspeaker: a time-aligned system in which the larger of two horns—both hand-carved from solid walnut and beautifully finished—extends down to 80Hz. Below that, the system hands off to an 18" woofer, compression loaded in a manner that maintains directivity in the transition area between the lower and upper bass. Amplification was by a wall-mounted brass-and-walnut EM amp that combines German Aa directly heated triode driver tubes with copper-plate GM70 directly heated triode power tubes; the signal-path wiring is all silver, the amp’s various Intact Audio transformers have nickel and nano-crystalline cores, and its rectifiers are mercury-vapor tubes, which Jackson describes as "fast and clean, much more so than even a Schottky solid-state rectifier." The source was a grease-bearing Garrard 301 turntable in a custom plinth with a Schick tonearm and an Ortofon SPU pickup head, driving an Emia Phono transformer.
I have a pair of 1972 Klipschorns that have been modified by replacing the OEM "top end" section with wooden tractrix mid-horns with TAD 2001 drivers, JBL tweeters (I forget which ones!), and ALK 120 db/office networks. The sound is magical and they image beautifully. Everything upstream is tubes ARC & Sonic Frontiers. This stuff has made me happy for over a decade.
Horns are simply mouthpieces attached to the front of chosen drivers. They sound as good as the total speaker system's synergy, true for any and all speakers. They must be properly chosen/integrated in the listening space like any other.
Significantly, they increase the efficiency of the driver's coupling to the air waves, which is why they need very little power to drive them, which makes them excellent choices for low power tube or low power SS amps. You want enough power reserve for distortion free musical peaks of course, but far less than reserve needed than using a low efficiency speaker.
Also, the horn mouthpiece has specifically designed, controlled dispersion, less possible with non-horn coupled drivers.
i.e. wider tweeter and midrange output than non-horn drivers: producing 'sufficiently' matching sound levels which widens the enjoyable listening area for a few people, rather than a single listener centered (centered is still ideal when listening alone).
i.e. limited vertical dispersion to minimize strong ceiling and floor reflections.
i.e. despite larger enclosure needed, the horn's controlled dispersion has less involvement with the face of the enclosure than often supposed.
Often, they are combined with large woofers for full range without sub-woofers. Large efficient woofers need efficient mids and highs, thus horns match well with large woofers.
Large woofers have the most interaction with the surfaces in the space, the woofers are still the challenge for matching the listening space. Stereo Woofers, properly matched to the space, is remarkable, another reason to choose full range systems (efficient or not, horns or not).
To allow less powerful amps, in a small room, a smaller horn tweeter and midrange speaker, coupled with a sub-woofer may be best for full range enjoyment. Sub's allow separate placement minimizing small room interactions.
Do they work with pop music and electronic music?
They work well with any music but upstream gear matters.
Do they disappear?Sometimes, depends on the quality of the recording and the source
Do they have even tonality?Not always. The right room helps. In all rooms though I’ve found that it is better with more volume.
are they for nearfield or far field?
Either. Dependent on volume.
These answers are provided from my own experience with my music choices, my gear and my rooms
Kenjit asks: "What do horns sound like?"
Imo horns done well often approximate the experience of listening to live music in most home listening rooms better than conventional cone-n-dome designs. This is in part because good horns tend to work with the room rather than against it over much if not most of the spectrum. For instance, most conventional speakers have excess off-axis energy in the lower treble region (because the tweeter’s pattern is very wide at the bottom end of its range), which can cause harshness and listening fatigue, and which is not easy to selectively attenuate with room treatments. Also horns enable excellent dynamics, which is nice because musicians use dynamic contrast to convey emotion, so conveying emotion is something a good horn system excels at.
Horns done not-so-well can have audible colorations and harshness, the latter typically increasing with SPL. These problems are artifacts of prosound-style horn profiles, where maximizing SPL within the desired coverage pattern is the primary criterion. Imo horn geometry is absolutely critical to achieving natural sound (it’s not the only thing that matters, but most problems arising from poor horn geometry cannot be fixed elsewhere in the chain).
"Do they work with pop music and electronic music?"
The good ones sure do.
"Do they disappear?"
Typically not as well as other types, but with good horn geometry (along with attention to other details) they can indeed disappear as the apparent sound source, though visually they seldom disappear very well.
"Do they have even tonality?"
Good horns can have exceptionally even tonality, in part because their off-axis response tracks their on-axis response very closely. This is a characteristic of unamplified voices and instruments that most loudspeakers fail to replicate. Minimizing the spectral discrepancy between first-arrival and reverberant sound also minimizes listening fatigue. Just for the record, horns aren’t the only approach that can accomplish this.
"Are they for nearfield or far field?"
Horns excel relative to conventional speakers for farfield listening, but can be designed for good nearfield listening as well. Since horn systems are typically quite large, few are designed with nearfield specifically in mind.
Georgehifi wrote: "Put any kind of horn in front of your mouth and talk, none will sound like the original uncoloured you without a horn."
If all horns were really as bad as this similistic demonstration indicates, none would survive in the marketplace. Nor would a company like Magico be using horns for their limited-edition top-of-the-line model, as dweller pointed out.
That being said, many horns do indeed have audible colorations, something I’m rather sensitive to, and ime it almost always traces back to problems with the horn geometry.
horn speaker manufacturer
If all horns were really as bad as this similistic demonstration indicates, none would survive in the marketplace. Nor would a company like Magico be using horns for their limited-edition top-of-the-line model, as dweller pointed out.But horns are far less popular than cones. They haven't achieved much success in the marketplace. Most high end speakers are using domes. If horns were superior, that wouldn't be the case.
phusis, thanx for the links. Wonderful story. He has done what I mentioned trying to do with K horns, triamp them and time/phase align the horns. It would be great experiment to try. Horns match the impedance of the driver to the air. That is exactly what ESLs do except the ESL diaphragm is already at the impedance of air so you don't have to do any matching. ESLs are not as efficient and larger but probably take up less space because they are so thin. Both speakers limit dispersion into the room lessening room effects. Implemented correctly both speakers are detailed and dynamic although more than likely the ESL is more detailed and the horn more dynamic. A horn system should be less expensive to set up as you do not need such big amps and the best ESLs are not cheap but I believe SoundLabs 845s are around $40.000 which puts them towards the bottom of luxury speaker world.
Many people from experience with small sub-less ESLs rightfully think that they are not very dynamic, can't do rock etc. If the ESL is big and tall enough they are extremely dynamic and if you sub them correctly things like snare drum snaps have a realistic authority that can only be matched by a live snare drum ( I play the drums. In my dreams I am Billy Cobham)
Same for floor toms and bass drum. After all the ESL is nothing but a big drum head. Soundlabs 945s are actually used for sound enforcement in smaller venues.
I know this is a horn thread. Horns have the capability to be the ultimate point source speaker. Magico certainly thinks so. I'd love to hear those things but I wish someone would do it at a realistic price.
ESLs make the ultimate line source. They are the best impedance match to air and they need no cross over till you get down to the sub.
Kenjit wrote: "But horns are far less popular than cones. They haven’t achieved much success in the marketplace. Most high end speakers are using domes. If horns were superior, that wouldn’t be the case."
Here in the US, Mercedes is less popular than Ford. In other words, popularity is not the yardstick of quality or performance (except in sales volume).
Just for the record, note that I’m not an advocate of horns in general. I am an advocate of horns done right, which is an even smaller sub-set, with correspondingly less "success in the marketplace".
Ime "horns done right" usually results in a large and expensive speaker that is unlikely to win any beauty contests. The Avantgarde Zero is a notable exception in the beauty contest arena.
"But horns are far less popular than cones. They haven't achieved much success in the marketplace. Most high end speakers are using domes. If horns were superior, that wouldn't be the case."
It's hard to know where to start when such uneducated reasoning is entrenched before experience. I figure most who say these types of things parrot what others say. Now who are those others? Primarily those who want esthetics of appearance far more than the esthetics of superior sound which is the domain of all good horn systems. This is also coupled with I want to brag about how much I have spent. The best all horn systems from people like Klipsch who are expert in doing this are not A, pretty enough and B, did not cost enough to brag about so C, the reviewers don't talk about them because D, "high end" audio companies don't make horns so they can't pay or bribe reviewers for favorable horn reviews.
Many of us who actually build things or buy all horn commercial gear from say Klipsch or JBL never get into ego but get into pure pristine awesome sound instead. Cones come in pretty boxes already assembled for people who are not hands on and care about looks more than sound and sadly that is the majority of the market.
What side of the fence are you on and I wonder if you are even going to investigate what actual horn owners are saying or will you do the reviewer leads buyer by the nose lemming thing. Sorry to be rude but I just don't fathom unreasonable and unknowing predjudice against the very best the audio world has to offer. What are the real owners of systems like this telling you and why is our word of real experience not worth at least as much as those who have disdain but no experience?
" Also the reason why horns are not as popular is because it’s much more expensive to do properly then direct radiators. "
Absolutely NOT true. My system with careful shopping and hands on work was less than $4,500. You can buy already built Jubilees from Klipsch for under 9G. Further you can by world beating Klipsch Cinema systems for far less than many fru fru cone systems but they are big and not pretty. They will however blow those pretty and expensive systems out of the water. Where does all this nonsense come from anyway?
Wow mahlman, who stepped on your toe? I like the possibilities horn speakers offer and I congratulate you for doing your own thing but most horn speakers go loud cleanly and that is about it. There are some that push the horn into extremely high performance regions like the Avantgarde Trio but they are very expensive and very big. Most horn systems that I have seen and heard had phase/time issues that prevent them from imaging up there with the very best planar, ESL and dynamic speakers. If you put a crossover at 450 Hz and the lower driver is in reality 3 feet behind the mid range you have an unacceptable delay right in the most sensitive part of the spectrum. Middle C is 256 Hz. The sound might be clean and dynamic but the image is going to lack resolution and the ultimate detail missing. In photographic terms the image is blurred. Every folded horn speaker suffers from this and I challenge you to live with an unfolded 20 Hz horn, talking about penis envy. The solution to this problem is using DSPs to provide digital time/phase correction and multiple amplifiers which the 300B groupies, the horn users, refuse to accept because god help us if we don't stay analog. Horn users are telling us that the fix is worse than the problem and we, I, am saying the problem is way worse than the fix. I think that wonderful horn systems can be integrated into normal home spaces with the help of digital correction and If I had the money right now I would love to try it. You are already invested so why don't you give it a spin?
This will be a long post, I apologize for that now, but I have been on a journey that might enlighten you. I became a die hard fan of single ended triodes about 20 years ago when I built one. It uses the 45 tube and puts out 2 watts per channel. It sounds magical but will not power many speakers. I bought a pair of Altec 755a drivers, 106 db/w/m, and mounted them in a pair of baffles, plywood sheets propped up on end and held up by the floor joists in the ceiling of my unfinished basement listening room. These are "full range" drivers, if you think full range is 70hz to 13khz. They did string trios, acoustic folk and solo guitar beautifully. Eight inches will only move so much air however so anything big or dynamic was unsatisfying.
About a year ago, Lukasz Fikus, the man who started Lampizator, came out with a speaker that he will not ship out of the E.U. It is called the Fikus Electric P-17, and it can be powered by low wattage amps. He had published the design for this speaker when he was a blogger about 11 years ago, so I built a pair. Using the same plywood already had, I installed a pair of 15" Altec 515b woofers, the 755a as a midrange and a RAAL ribbon tweeter. The system is a full dipole, open in the back. By this time I had two of these amps, and I bought a third. Using an active crossover, I built a tri-amped single ended system.
This speaker sounded fantastic but imaging was disappointing. Here's where the horns come in; I already owned a pair of Altec 203 two cell, exponential, compression horns. They sounded terrible as tweeters but I pulled out the 755s and put the horns in their place. Except for the ribbon tweeter, this system could have been installed in a small movie theater in the 1960s. The woofer and the horn were designed to go together which is why they sound so good together. With this new arrangement the imaging became very deep, solid and wide. Did I mention deep? The depth of image is uncanny. These horns are large, 31" long, 32" wide and 17" high. The horn mouth is 16" square and there are two of them. The compression driver weighs 22 pounds. They do not sound nasaly, and since they were designed for a 300 seat theater, anything closer than 20' is nearfield. They can play anything at ear splitting volumes and do it on 2 watts per driver. Lastly, I have installed the horn from an Altec 210 bass cabinet on one of the woofers, I'll do the other side when I get a chance. It does not change the tonality, or even the volume, but it does deepen the bass response. I can hear a 20hz tone out of the horned side, while I can't with the other side. The real low end cutoff is 28hz. The midrange horn is advertised to go to 300hz, but it goes lower and I have it crossed at 250hz. I cross to the tweeter at 5500hz. The tweeter goes to 40khz.
Efficiencies: 102db/w/m for bass, 114db/w/m for the horns and 93db/w/m for the ribbons. I currently run an 8wpc single ended transistor amp on the tweeters.
I love the sound from these speakers. Can they disappear? Yes, if I close my eyes. They are so physically imposing it's hard getting past that. Depth wise you would think they are 10 feet deep. Tonally they are fantastic, but I can adjust the levels of each driver individually, and I can change crossover frequencies easily. Plus, the horns and woofers were designed to work together.
So, this is what horns can do. Do all horns sound this good? Of course not. I have heard a couple of the the Avantgardes and was not impressed, although a round horn should sound better. By the way, if you are old enough to have been to the movies before about 1980 you have heard these speakers. Before that time nearly all movie theaters in the U.S. at least, used the Altec Voice of the Theater system.
The only reason I built these speakers however, was to show off my S.E.T.s. If you are using high wattage amplification, horns are unnecessary, but I still tend to prefer efficient speakers. My first choice is a panel, I have a pair of Sound Lab electrostatics. My next choice would be Magnapans. I am not a big fan of any box speaker. They always sound a little stifled for my taste. When I bought the Sound Labs, I owned a pair of B&W DM-7s. The salesman came to my house, left the Sound Labs and took the B&Ws to demo to someone else. After 5 days I knew I did not want the B&Ws back. I have owned the Sound Labs for 35 years. If I had to completely replace the Sound Labs with these horns, I would be just fine with that. I prefer the Sound Labs very slightly although I had to buy a pair of Mark Levinson ML-2 Class A amplifiers (25 watts, mono) to put the Sound Labs back on top as my favorite speaker.
Hope this was helpful.
" Wow mahlman, who stepped on your toe? I like the possibilities horn speakers offer and I congratulate you for doing your own thing but most horn speakers go loud cleanly and that is about it. There are some that push the horn into extremely high performance regions like the Avantgarde Trio but they are very expensive and very big. Most horn systems that I have seen and heard had phase/time issues that prevent them from imaging up there with the very best planar, ESL and dynamic speakers. If you put a crossover at 450 Hz and the lower driver is in reality 3 feet behind the mid range you have an unacceptable delay right in the most sensitive part of the spectrum. Middle C is 256 Hz. The sound might be clean and dynamic but the image is going to lack "
It has been an accumulation of comments in various places regarding horns can't do this or that and cone speakers are better. Of course when I state good horn systems beat anything else I fully understand all that goes into making them work right. Oddly enough the same holds true with cone speakers regarding gain control and timing and all that but most elect to just use a passive crossover and never know what they miss.
Yes my toes ache from all the assumptions of knowledge from people who think superb horns are expensive. They can be but don't have to be. Have you looked at my system? You would know if you had I understand everything that goes into making them right.
Yes they can be very big so that does rule them out for many. But big horns produce the finest bass out there and if that is what you want you either build some or compromise sound quality. Outside of Klipsch Cinema offerings I don't know of a single other company that currently makes full range all horn systems of worth.
You are so right jdl57. I have a good copy of Toad from Wheels of Fire and I never tire of following drum sticks and feet around like I was sitting there with Ginger Baker. I prefer efficient speakers because the smaller the excursion the better more distortion free sound you get and horns do this best. I would say horns are necessary no matter the wattage available.
I share your enthusiasm for horns, and the one that I own uses the same driver and horn for the mid and treble, so there are no time related distortions with the exception of the direct radiating bass drivers, and I have never heard the transition. I know that I am missing a couple of speakers here, but this is most of what I owned before I accidentally discovered the Klipsch CF-4 version 1. I haven't looked back since. It all has to do with the innate virtues of a well designed horn. Seamless, dynamic and present. And yes, they disappear and image like crazy. I have done some minor mods like Blackhole on the inner walls and self adhesive sound deadener on the outside of the horns inside the speaker.
ProAc Response 1s
Hales smaller monitor (?)
Dahlquist DQ 20
Focus Audio 777
Reference 3a de Capo
TDL Monitor (again)
Dahlquist Compact Monitor
Klipsch Epic CF 4 (present)
I have heard of them but never actually listened to them but they have a stellar reputation for sure. There was a set nearby for $1,800.00 recently but I was not interested enough to get them. Your distance between driver depth should not be an issue anyway as I figure it is to small to be perceptible. What do you think of the CF4 vs Khorns? Have you recapped the crossovers yet?
Ok Ralph. Let's see you get a pair of Avantgarde Trios by your wife. Make them in pink:)My GF and I bought a house together (finally met the woman of my dreams)- one requirement was that I would be able to run my Classic Audio Loudspeakers in the living room. We looked at slightly over 70 houses, which took over a year. She's more than alright with the speakers- they have a nice finish and sound better than anything she or any of her guests (as well as myself) have ever heard. Personally I would not want the Trios so that issue is moot, but I take your point- she would be quite unhappy with them unless our room was considerably larger!
My speakers employ field coil powered midrange drivers that have beryllium diaphragms with Kapton surrounds. The first breakup is at 35KHz, so they are very smooth and owing to the field coils, very fast like ESLs. Many times I've had people comment about that latter aspect. Now my speakers are hybrids so they employ dual 15" woofers allowing the speaker to go to 20Hz no worries. I like it when speakers can do this because our amps play excellent bass as they are full power to 2Hz and have no phase shift in the bass region whatsoever. Lots of wallop! BTW this is the same reason I like the Sound Labs; they too are full range :)
Most horns have a bit of coloration caused by the horn itself. Just start talking, then cup your hands in front of your mouth and listen to the change.
Some people are fine with that coloration in trade off for the increased dynamics and sensitivity.
However, there are some extreme high end horns (Avant Garde acoustics, for example) that do not have the coloration.
I have a lot of horns over the years. For the most part, they do not have the very focused imaging that non-horns are capable of. Although they do reproduce ambience and space very well.