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What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

Posted June 25, 2012 1:48 PM by rawlifelivin

Think of a loudspeaker in your head. Got it? Now what did that image look like? Just about everybody will have imagined a wooden box with conical drivers of various sizes pumping out their specific frequency range. Those with a bit of audio knowledge might conjure images of a dome or horn shaped tweeter but the speaker is nonetheless the same. Though it is by far the most popular, the dynamic loudspeaker design (as it is called) is not the only method to go about reproducing sound. A myriad of options are currently available to consumers making use of electrostatic, magnetic plane, ribbon, and other technologies. Many manufacturers utilize multiple methods in their products to get the best of both worlds, so to speak.

Personally, the design I enjoy the most is an electrostatic/dynamic hybrid loudspeaker such as Martin Logan's Electromotion ESL. Never have I heard a horn so clearly defined and realistic as I have through such a speaker. However, my audiophile-grade listening experiences are few and far between. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive the opportunity to listen to MBL Audio's unique loudspeakers. They have developed a proprietary technology called Radialstrahl which aims at radiating sound in 360 degrees. The reproduced sound has been hailed by journalists as "float[ing] effortlessly in three-dimensional space as with no other speaker."

Which design do you use? Which design would you use in a price-no-object system? And which design offers the best value?

Sources:

Hometheater.com

Mbl-audio.com

Martinlogan.com

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#1

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/25/2012 11:11 PM

A cost-effective audiophile system was my goal. I started with the bass driver and enclosure because, if you get that wrong, anything else is pointless. You also have to keep in mind the crossover. Passive crossover systems, no matter how well designed, just murder the sound, ESPECIALLY at the lower frequencies. So, that was my main reason for employing an electronic crossover with no phase inversion (or error) and fully adjustable. The other reason is it's just a lot easier to turn a knob to adjust things than to redesign the crossover if you get it wrong the first time. In fact, given the cost of high-quality passive components, the ONLY drawback is that you need TWO amplifiers. I used two stereo push-pull tube amps I built myself, 6L6GC for the bass amp, and 6V6 with Hammond ultralinear transformers for the high frequencies. I experimented with many different tube amps, including the much-touted EL84 and 7868/7591 and kept coming back to 6V6 for midrange and treble. Nothing beats a 6L6 for affordable quality tube amp capable of pounding out deep, rich bass accurately. The KT88 may be better but it is spendy. Just for comparison sake, I did try it with a three way passive crossover and I believe it to be a truism, you gotta bi-amp. You have basically four options with the bass: sealed enclosure, ported enclosure, hornloaded, or active-passive. Sealed I ruled out for obvious reasons. Horn-loaded has limited frequency response and would necessitate a subwoofer. Ported replaces the bass drivers "natural" peak at its resonant frequency with two smaller peaks above and below the resonant frequency. Active-passive flattens the peak and EXTENDS THE FREQUENCY RESPONSE LOWER. The passive radiator takes over from about 150 Hertz on down, and enables those lower frequencies to be reproduced more efficiently. Polk Audio used such a design extensively. Stereo Review in their measurements said they had NEVER measured lower bass distortion in any loudspeaker, and this particular model (SDA1C) had a response to 15 Hertz. That's not a typo. I can attest to the beautiful smooth bass of the SDA1C, I have a pair. Active-passive is easy to build. That just leaves the midrange and treble. I used to be a complete fan of domes since the first time I heard one. I still like domes for their superior dispersion, clear sound, affordability, low distortion, etc., but after hearing a planar, I'm now a big fan of the planar even though it actually has MORE distortion, not less, than a dome. I tried many different midrange drivers but since it only covers a very narrow range of frequencies (in this particular design), I don't think that it was all that critical; the crossover is at 1 KHz. I eventually settled on a Boston Acoustics 4-1/2-inch midrange. It's actually a very small woofer with extended frequency response. After I quieted it down with a 5-ohm resistor in series (it is very efficient) which was necessary as the planar and crossover are 8-ohm, the sound is great. I bought and sold tube amps for a while and customers who have heard this very affordable system wanted to buy most or all of it from me, repeatedly. I will also add that integrated amps are not the route to hi-fi. I am totally sold on the preamp-power amplifier(s) method. Tone controls (especially on a tube amp), on a power amp seem to do more harm than good. I use a 15-band pro audio eq and pro audio electronic crossover. using pro audio gear is the only affordable way I know of to get great quality at a great price for these two items. The sound source is a high-end ASUS sound card, a compromise (versus high-end DACs) as I was hoping to make a home theater system out of it. Unfortunately, while ASUS cards sound great, their drivers are abysmal or at least were. They may have gotten better. IF you are handy with tools, this system can be replicated for about 2K. I went to the local hi-fi store and asked to listen to their BEST system. It wasn't even close. The sound was sterile by comparison. After two years of tinkering with it, I'm very satisfied with this system.

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 10:41 AM

I've always been a DIY kind of guy but this certainly takes it to another level. After reading this I just want to go out and build a loudspeaker myself. What kind of experience did you have before you started this project?

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#5
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 12:11 PM

I cheated. I ordered two dual 15-inch speaker boxes from Best Buy (about 50 bucks a piece). The kind the kids put in their cars to annoy the crappola out of people like me. You can build your own if you want. I cut out a large portion of the board in the middle dividing the two 15-inch drivers. Air from the active driver has to be able to reach the passive radiator or it won't work. I used a 15-inch polypropylene cone woofer. Any more esoteric material is just going to cost a lot and WON'T be more efficient. A paper cone distorts more and has poorer bass response. After much study, I believe the plastic cone to be best. Even though the bass response (free air) rolls off after 30, the radiator carries it down even deeper, so you get your deepest tones, and VERY smoothly. The cabinets for the midrange aren't that critical, just a sealed enclosure, about the size of a LARGE surround sound speaker, about 10 x 8 x 6. Tweeters don't matter, they have sealed backs unless you use a dipole planar. Vifa makes good affordable domes. For planar, B&G ranked highest in actual tests. My speaker building experience is some over a 30-year time span, more studying than building I studied it to death. I would agree with the post about La Scalas with the caveat that bass response is poor. A true Klipschorn would probably do better. The Cornwall model is like a La Scala but has a conventional bass system. I listened to a pair hooked up to one of the better Pioneers from back in the day (which leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to a tube amp or even a modern well-designed MOSFET) and I was underwhelmed. I did hear La Scalas being used by a bar band and they were the best system I had ever heard in a bar band, but back then (1981) the bar band systems were absolutely horrid. Left me thinking that the guys in bar bands must be very lacking in funds for decent equipment. Klipsch did make a model with active passive bass and horn-loaded the rest. I'm fairly certain that was probably one of their best overall AFFORDABLE designs altho I have never heard a pair. Not everyone likes horns, although horn fans are very devout and Klipsch certainly did it best. The sound I achieved is low listener fatigue. You can listen to it for extended periods of time even at higher levels and it doesn't make you wince.

Tube power amps are not hard to build. Just a handful of resistors and about six capacitors for the two channels, one preamp tube and two power tubes per channel, and the power supply is easy, a couple of high voltage diodes, some cheap power resistors to drop it down for the preamp section, caps to smooth out the ripple. There is a 6 or 12 volt section to light the filaments, that's pretty straightforward. That's about it. After I had built a few, I could assemble an amp in one night while doing my job at the same time, but that's after making the cutouts and mounting the hardware. That's how easy the circuity is.

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#17
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

01/06/2013 1:52 PM

In the power amp, do you have an output transformer?

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#18
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

01/07/2013 12:46 AM

Good question Htesto...

I don't know if it is possible to make a (stable) good sounding tube amplifier that does not have output transformers... maybe so if the speaker is a known entity and the amp doesn't have to work with a variety of impedances?

JerryS has lots more experience in this area. I am curious also!

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#20
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

02/24/2013 1:11 PM

In the simple power amp, what did you use for output transformer (.i.e., impedance matching)?

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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 12:35 PM

My first DIY speaker project was around 1954. I got a Wharfdale 12" woofer and built a folded horn enclosure for it. The enclosure was constructed from 3/4" plywood and fit into a corner of the room. The front panel was of double wall construction. The walls were spaced 3/4" apart and filled with sand to lower the resonance. This was at a time before stereo, but binaural was around then. My favorite speaker system of all time was the Dahlquist DQ-10. A friend of mine had one of the best speaker systems I have ever heard in a stereo setup. He had an entire wall, about 12' wide with 5 sets of speakers for each channel Each set was driven by a mono bloc amp for a total of 10 amplifiers. The amps were fed from 2 five channel electronic crossovers. Everything of course were tubes. He owned a hi fi store, so he got the latest and greatest components. This was a long time ago, so I don't remember what components he had. I do remember the tape deck he had was a Concertone.

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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 9:46 PM

Dahlquist DQ-10 would have been my pick if I could have found a good pair. Wound up with the Quad ESL.

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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/27/2012 5:25 AM

There is a tremendous amount of information on the net covering DIY speaker designs and construction project, and you can start with some very simple designs before you get too complicated. For simplicity and ease of construction you could also consider starting with single, full-range driver designs, which are well-suited to horn-type enclosures, although the sound doesn't suit everyone's taste. You should certainly check out the ronclarke Frugal Horn.

Personally I am intrigued by Horn designs, as well as TQWP (aka TQWT or Voigt Pipes) and Transmission Line designs. I haven't built any yet, but I have several sets of drivers and speaker projects just waiting to get started.

Do some Googling on DIY speakers and the various designs, but be prepared to give up a lot of time to it, it's compulsively interesting.

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#2

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 12:42 AM

Ranked by DreamWorld Loaners to review on down to Reality,

My list is only speakers that I have personal experience with in my personal listening space - not at a convention or store or factory "shootout" - that I would like to have again to listen to more. There are plenty more. I have not had them at home in my system, so I can't say how I would like them.

Genesis Advanced Technology 1.1 - Yes, they sounded different than the IRS III, II, and I, but not enough to convince me to cough up the $$$$$$$$$$

Wilson Audio WAMM and Watt Puppies from 1988 - best speaker system ever made, I believe, in that it awoke the sleeping giant to the sound of... better sound from better speakers, and gave the world a speaker system that would easily expose the faults in electronics and those new-fangled awful sounding God-Forsaken things called Compact Disks. If you had a lousy to mid-grade amp, and improved it just a few notches, the WAMM would reveal a new level of "closer to the live performance". Change your cartridge, get better speaker wire and interconnect, place the speakers in the room where they needed to be placed... Everything made the music better and the Wilsons could still give more.

Bowers and Wilkins Nautilus - All day long, medium level listening, perfect soundstage, perfect reproduction, perfect everything and no fatigue and no end to the power when needed.

Infinity RS-Ib - Sold to pay for more college. Stupid moves #45 and #46 in succession.

B&W 803 - more accurate in the mids for warmer female vocals, and less expensive so I rank them a little higher for "all around" value.

Infinity RS-III - probably the best sound for the dollar ever made. Expensive, but outrageously gorgeous sound if you could keep them running and had enough amp and enough money for capacitors and ribbon tweeters. Setup was verrrrrrrrry important. But then...

Magneplanar Tympani IV - lacking in the authority in the bottom end for "party rock" just like all other electrostatics, but accurate in every way. It was easy to believe you were "there" at the performance with these baaaaaaad boys.

Quad ESL (presently have) - with Quad II amps. Wishing for old McIntosh 25 watt monoblocks someday to compare.

Paradigm Studio 100 (presently have with subs) - I've never met a person who was not happy with Paradigm as long as they had a brain, new something about audio and had the right box for the purpose and room. Yeah, some people walk into a store and buy something they can barely afford, go home and hook it to the outputs on the JVC jambox, crank 'er up and get mad when the boxes die before the end of Free Bird. That's not what Paradigm is for. The other thing is they seem to almost be room-independent. I have had my pair in three houses, in 7 different rooms, in 12 different arrangements. I have not liked some as much as others, but they always sounded better than whatever I would bring home to compare to in the same configuration. Eleven years later - still perfect. And the cabinetry is soooo gorgeous. Gotta love them for the price.

Sony APM-8 (long ago they new good audio) these were big. I just liked them for the servo quad-drive technology and the flat/square drivers. They sounded okay, and if I had to pick a pair to keep from that shop (they had Kirksaeter, Klipsch, Sony, Bose(Booms or Screetches Equally - wretched pestilent plague on all decent sound in the land) Quad, and Vandersteen, I would have kept the Vandersteens. But the Sony's were unique and so I had to pick them at the bottom of my list.

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#3

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 10:22 AM

For me, the halcyon days of gathering at a different co-worker's house for friday night beers while auditioning the newest vinyl LP's on different sound systems were '75 thru '76.

Having listened to The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Styx, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk, Elton John (etc.) on AR (Acoustic Research), Polk Audio, JBL, Altec Lansing, Pioneer and Marantz speakers (I had JBL-100's at the time), I became obsessed with finding "The Best".

My quest led me into conversation with a co-worker who was not "in our group".

I followed him home one day after work to listen to a pair of "La Scalas", which, at the time, were used to flood Radio City Music Hall with sound.

Suffice to say that I was duly impressed ~ his simple setup literally blew-away everything I had heard thus far! So ... to hear that there was a "Granddaddy" speaker to these, I simply HAD to seek it out.

Whenever you get into discussions about high-end gear, the "wanna-be" audiophiles crawl out of the woodwork.

NOBODY's opinion is "Gospel", because everyone has different tastes (based in part on what THEY have listened to the most, or thus far enjoyed the most).

There is only one speaker on the planet that has been in constant production since the 1940's (over 60 years!).

And, you don't find many speakers exhibiting higher efficiency (105dB/1W/1M), meaning they can fill a huge room with great sound using a modest-power amp.

No matter which loudspeaker design you choose to listen to, you'll want to tweak your listening environment accordingly to get the most from it. PWK earned numerous accolades throughout his career (on top of his degrees), with perhaps the highest honor being "The NMSU engineering department was renamed the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1995, in honor of Paul W. Klipsch." His research into everything from room acoustics to distortion measurement made him "a legend". Read the brief bio here ... or, better yet, read some of his best compilations in the Klipsch Audio Papers (if you can get ahold of a set. One day, I might put my own on ebay).

Be happy with whatever you settle for (or have settled for). And never knock something (especially with nonsense!) just because either you cannot afford it, or your environment won't support it.

"PS"~ I already 'detailed' my current system at Post#33, here...

It is not so much *how* you listen, as *what* you are listening to. ("Yea", that can be taken a couple different ways!) Happy listening !

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#8
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 9:44 PM

Klipsch was a genius. I sold more Klipsch Heresy speakers than all the rest of the speakers in the store combined. The LaScalas came in a light almost bleached birch which did not appeal to the wives of the man-shoppers, and in black, and a darker tone that was more like the cornwalls. The cornwalls were verrrrrrrry good - but you had to have equally balanced left and right corners or the soundstage would not balance, so they did not work properly for many rooms.

Nowdays, Klipsch still makes quality equipment in the upper range in their lines, but much like WalMart used to have quality merchandise when Mr Sam would only buy Made in USA products, the Klipsch lines seen to have dropped off like WalMart dropped off when they went offshore.

Klipsch also briefly ventured (pioneered?) into the line array field with a series of modular cabinets that had interchangable horns for different dispersion patterns. I got to hear them once in comparison to an EAW and a TurboSound system and for the money they won that fight hands down. Then Klipsch stopped making them.

I would buy a pair of LaScalas tomorrow if they would change just two things - the motorola high freq horn that is the source of all the grainy top end, and round off the corners of the cabinet. Can't begin to tell you how many cuss words have been tossed at those pointy corners while vacuuming the store - exactly at hip height and will get ya every time.

There was a DJ when I started college who had four LaScalas and had his whole vinyl setup in his Ford Van so he put corner jacks on the van to stabilize it and would stack the LaSCalas. Good, but the horn loaded bass just won't get down like it needs to for DJ work. Always seemed a little thin for dance music, although very accurate for jazz and vocals.

I will continue to nock Breathe Our Stereo Ether until they quit lying about physics to market to uneducated people and lemmings who don't have the will power to stay away from the koolaid.

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#7

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/26/2012 1:11 PM

Google (ron clarke horns)

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#11
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/27/2012 8:43 AM

"Neat" ... ... Gonna have to find time to read-and-absorb thoroughly

... Similar to THIS ... (? Got_Room ?) Cheers !

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#12
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

06/27/2012 8:53 AM

Well kinda sorta almost maybe. For size requirements i design for the lowest frequencies on a TL action which hands off to the horn action then to the baffle and finally the transducer.

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#15
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

11/03/2012 3:41 AM

I agree with Ron, I have been building my enclosures for about 40 years for medium outdoor venues and find the horn designs much better for long throw and even auditorium cover. Their efficiency is around 30% compared with `Acoustic Suspension` or `Front Loaded` which is about 5%. In earlier days, this meant less weight of power amplifiers to lug around. Today, switching power supplies have enabled light weight high power amplifiers to be constructed thereby enabling the use of, once again, lighter front loaded enclosures. I ended up installing a bar of 4 x 2 hardwood across the back of my Fane bass horns to stop the 1 inch ply back sheet from flexing, that is how much pressure a horn will generate. I even use stacked horn piezo transducers for the top end. It is definitely horns for me (sorry for blowing my own trumpet !!)

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#13

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

10/26/2012 8:12 PM

sorry, i don't have time to read the entire thread... i've never heard a tweeter that did'nt make me cringe.,, any ideas...

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#14
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

10/26/2012 8:35 PM

Yes. Single driver. If you are not happy with the bass output, even from a horn or transmission line enclosure, then use a subwoofer for sub-150Hz, or so. If you want to set up a 'Tweeter Abolition Society', then count me in.

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#16
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

11/05/2012 2:43 PM

I agree with "single driver, in the answer below. Look at the Fostex 126 or even the 103 single driver, With a helper bass driver (not BR but more BVR enclosure) and Bi amp with the XO around 250-300 Hz first order you have a superior DIY system.

BUT (theres always a BUT) my current system is Klipsch Forte 2 which is a 3 way with the mids and top based on horns and the bass provided with a 15" passive radiator.

All driven by a restored Marantz 2230.

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#19
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

02/23/2013 11:49 PM

That Marantz rocks. A friend of mine had that for his system back in 1972. It would shake the windows! We knew a local DJ who would bring new releases when he got them and play them on it before he put them on the air.

Got to hear Dark Side of the Moon 3 days before it's 'official' release along with everything else that came out in 1973 which may have been the most awesome year of Rock & Roll ever.

Cerwin Vega has always been my favorite.

That hooked up to their CVHD 5.1 home theater system with a good surround sound mixer in between would be the ultimate for me.

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#22
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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

11/29/2013 4:55 PM

I also have Cerwin Vega, but They need cone suspension repair kits, so for now, I'm not using them.

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#21

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

11/13/2013 3:15 PM

For Musical Equipment such as Guitar Amps my favorites are Celestion, and second Jensen. I prefer a 16 ohm matching setup with an SPI of 97-100 dB.

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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

11/29/2013 6:10 PM

I long for the days of the high fidelity shows that were conducted in New York City in the 50's and 60's. They would be held in a large hotel, usually the hotel new Yorker and would occupy 4 or 5 entire floors. The db levels were high and varied from room to room. I went to 4 shows until I left to work in another state. The memory of all the latest and greatest audio equipment (no solid state) remains. Although I have evolved (devolved) toward solid state and Cd's, I still have the sounds of those vinyls played through a tube amp running through my head. At the time, I listened exclusively to classical music and ran with a small group who "listened" to music on a regular basis. One friend, who is now dead, had a Bozak speaker system and a Marantz amp. I would sit with him in his NYC apartment and listen to record after record into the wee hours of the morning. Many times, his sister, who became my girl friend would be there to enjoy the music. It is interesting to note, his apartment faced Lewison stadium where summer concerts were held every weekend. Although they were free to the public, we could hear them from the apartment. Famous conductors and artists would perform there. Bernstein, Menuhin, Fransicatti (spelling?) were but a few. This was all a long time ago and I try to retain the memory.

If anyone my age who lived in New York City remembers the High Fidelity shows; I would like to hear from them.

I think some of those monster speaker systems, like the JBL Paragon's would give todays extremely expensive speaker systems a fun for the money; even without the fancy computer driven designs. I had a Dynaco 40-40 amp back in the early 60's. A well known amp designer (the name escapes me although it may have been Carver or Hafler) took a Dynaco amp which was as inexpensive as you could get and did a modification to it which cost but a few dollars worth of parts and made it compare favorably to amps costing 10x as much. The problem today is; it could be hard to find the parts anymore; try finding good output transformers. I had low-end Bogen and Pilot amps early on, but at least they were tube amps and sounded great to me at the time. It was only when I got into solid state that I experienced distortion and clipping. I'm not much into audio anymore; mainly because I can't afford high-end equipment.

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#24

Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

12/26/2013 5:14 PM

I am of the opinion that it takes large woofers (12"+) to get ground shaking bass, like you would hear from a cathedral pipe organ playing Bach's Tocata and Fugue in D. That has always been my approach to distortionless bass; large low efficiency, heavy magnet drivers and powerful amplifiers with heavy output transformers. I just don't see how these little bookshelf speakers, including Bose can put out quality bass. The physics of wave propagation have to be met. High frequency sounds can and need resonance, but not bass. I have heard many systems that have great sounds above 150 hz, but very few in the basement.

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Re: What is Your Favorite Loudspeaker Design?

02/16/2015 1:07 AM

With "money no object" there was one speaker that was mine to use for a while.

Reasonable range and response. The coil and stator only weighed 500kg before another 500kg of ballast was affixed. (Made it easier to move as two pieces.)

Armature was around 7.5kg with +/- 25mm normal movement available (overlimit protection at +/- 30mm)

The amplifier was 1kW RMS from 10Hz to 30kHz

It only cost around $160k (tax exempt). (Plus another $20k or so for cooling of amplifier and coils.)

It was part of our test lab equipment running vibration testing, usually sinusoidal sweep, but when switched to an audio input instead, output was effectively up to 0.5kW. With no load on the armature in audio mode the CRO showed a good signal match up to around 15kHz with some distortion beyond that.

HEARING PROTECTION REQUIRED UNLESS TURNED WAAAAAY DOWN.

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