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Howard Ferstler

Loudspeaker directivity by Roy Allison

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In the "Library additions and corrections" section I just posted a PDF copy of a draft that Roy Allison presented at the 99th AES convention in October of 1995 . It deals with loudspeaker directivity.

Howard Ferstler

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I'll leave the actual dome vs. horn directivity debate to HF and Z, since they seem to have that covered quite well.

Two observation/questions, however:

1. Why have horn-based loudspeakers always seemed to have a particular sonic characteristic? I'm not talking about the radiation pattern per se, but Klipsches, JBLs, Altecs, et al. all seem to have a certain hard-edged character to their sound. Some people refer to this as "horn coloration." Is it a function of the horn itself, is it a choice of the voicing by the engineer, or is it totally imaginary? But the notion that horns have a 'sound' is very real. Whether that notion is factual or not is something I'd like the Forum's feedback on.

2. People who like 'conventional' speakers (non-horns) don't seem to be willing to admit that horns ever sound good. They usually fall back on the old cliches of 'horn' sound, the tendency of horns to sound like PA speakers with a lot of hard MR emphasis, etc. This may or may not be rooted in fact, but hi-fi prejudices are tough to shake.

Comments welcome.

Steve F.

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Steve, I asked the same question of Zilch here in another forum and his response basically was - modern compression drivers and waveguides don't have that edgy, horn character to their sound.

I'm building one of Z's econo-wave designs now and will be in a better position to comment myself when it's complete in a month or two.

Here's an opinion from another regular poster here who's quite knowledgeable about AR speakers and who did complete an e-wave rebuild.

http://www.classicspeakerpages.net/IP.Boar...?showtopic=5465

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Steve, I asked the same question of Zilch here in another forum and his response basically was - modern compression drivers and waveguides don't have that edgy, horn character to their sound.

The JBL Ranger Paragon didn't have it, and with non-modern horns. Perhaps the result of aiming the horns sideways into the curved front diffuser panel. Neither did the Hartsfields I heard quite a bit of in my youth, but they were always tube-driven and weren't playing rock music. So my guess would be that it's mostly voicing decisions by the designers, but the only way to ever know for sure would be for someone to build one of these modern driver-waveguide combos and try to deliberately voice it to a sound other than the contemporary preference.

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Steve, I asked the same question of Zilch here in another forum and his response basically was - modern compression drivers and waveguides don't have that edgy, horn character to their sound.

So does that mean that earlier compression drivers did have a 'sound' to them? Is that where the cliche of 'horn sound' came from--early compression drivers? Or is there some character that the horn itself lends to the personality of the sound? Or were earlier horn speakers voiced to be forward-sounding based on how their designers thought these speakers would be used?

There's no question that the cliche of 'horn sound' exists. That it may no longer be true is not my question.

My question is how and why did horn speakers get this reputation in the first place?

And my other question (which admittedly is harder--if not impossible--to answer): why are aficionados of cone/dome/ribbon MR-HF drivers egotistically pre-disposed to dislike horns, to the point that they'll never admit that they can sound good, that they're not 'real' hi-fi, not 'refined'-sounding?

Steve F.

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And my other question (which admittedly is harder--if not impossible--to answer): why are aficionados of cone/dome/ribbon MR-HF drivers egotistically pre-disposed to dislike horns, to the point that they'll never admit that they can sound good, that they're not 'real' hi-fi, not 'refined'-sounding?

Steve, read up one post. Or perhaps I don't qualify as a true "aficionado," even though all the speakers I own are non-horn?

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Steve, read up one post. Or perhaps I don't qualify as a true "aficionado," even though all the speakers I own are non-horn?

Gene,

You are a true aficionado in every good sense of that word. I don't think you'd be arbitrarily egotistically predisposed to liking or disliking any particular design because of the design itself. On the contrary, my impression is that you embody all that is good about followers of this hobby--an appreciation for great music (both live and recorded), an appreciation and understanding of equipment and the whys/wherefores of its design, and a generalized awareness of the other important things in life which enables you to put your interest in music and gear in the proper context.

No, my question is aimed at those people who only like what they like BECAUSE it is a particular design: For example, some people will only 'like' acoustic-suspension bass. They don't want to acknowledge that ported bass can be as tight, detailed, deep, etc. Only sealed bass for them. If a double-blind A-B-X comparison proved that ported model 'x' was equal to or superior to sealed model 'y,' they'd make all kinds of rationalizations and excuses.

There are those kinds of people with horns as well. No horns for them. Only domes or cones or ribbons, etc. But horns are not 'sophisticated' or 'refined' enough for their discriminating ears.

That's my question no. 2--why do some enthusiasts feel that way?

Question no. 1 is still unanswered also--how and why did horns get their bad reputation (even if modern horns are as 'good' as anything out there)?

Steve F.

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Question no. 1 is still unanswered also--how and why did horns get their bad reputation (even if modern horns are as 'good' as anything out there)?

My own theory on this is that it's because of the huge number of really bad, cheap speakers turned out during the 70's and 80's by companies like Soundesign and Lloyds that had large plastic horn-shaped openings on them. They were mostly all styling inspired by the sound reinforcement horns used at rock concerts (and more expensive speakers with exposed horns that someone was trying to copy), and in many cases they probably weren't even real horns, just plastic trim pieces installed over the same little cone tweeters used in the previous year's models. After encountering several dozen of these awful rattletraps, many people just developed a Pavlovian horn=bad sound response that colors their expectations before they even hear new examples. These people probably also heard a lot of bad speakers with cone and dome tweeters, but since most of those tended not to have their drivers visually exposed, they didn't develop that same perception of those designs.

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My own theory on this is that it's because of the huge number of really bad, cheap speakers turned out during the 70's and 80's by companies like Soundesign and Lloyds that had large plastic horn-shaped openings on them. They were mostly all styling inspired by the sound reinforcement horns used at rock concerts (and more expensive speakers with exposed horns that someone was trying to copy), and in many cases they probably weren't even real horns, just plastic trim pieces installed over the same little cone tweeters used in the previous year's models. After encountering several dozen of these awful rattletraps, many people just developed a Pavlovian horn=bad sound response that colors their expectations before they even hear new examples. These people probably also heard a lot of bad speakers with cone and dome tweeters, but since most of those tended not to have their drivers visually exposed, they didn't develop that same perception of those designs.

That's certainly a very valid theory. Many non-'hi fi' speakers used faux 'horns,' as you said, to imply some kind of engineering credibility.

But I think among long-standing enthusiasts our age, the prejudice against horns was already firmly established by the '60's and '70's.

What caused that? Was it justified? "Every cliche has a grain of truth," goes the old saying.

I'd also like to hear from the pros on this: Is there some kind of horn throat-related resonance or other artifact that might color the sound? What, if anything, does a horn designer have to pay particular attention to?

Steve F.

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There's no question that the cliche of 'horn sound' exists. That it may no longer be true is not my question.

My question is how and why did horn speakers get this reputation in the first place?

The answer is two-fold:

1) Horns were originally used in theater and public address installations to provide high SPL in the midrange frequencies with low-power tube amps. Vintage horn designs thus do not translate well to home use for hi-fi. A clear example of this is Voice of the Theater, the very name defining its sonic character: all midrange for deployment behind a perforated movie screen to reproduce dialog, primarily. Altec took the same design approach and packaged it (with reflex bass in lieu of bass horn) for home use as Valencia and similar offerings, even then recognizing that the midrange was too forward and incorporating an asymmetric crossover to tone that down. To some enthusiasts, many habitués of the Altec forum, that forward midrange comprises the very essence of Altec "magic."

It wasn't until Altec engineers incorporated more comprehensive compensation via the Model 19 crossover technology to fully flatten the response and extend the high-frequencies that the design became balanced and viable in fidelity for home use. That done, the significant advantages of compression drivers and horns come to the fore in more listenable form: low distortion and superior dynamics, clarity and realism, and directivity control. Those old-school sectoral horns (811 and 511) do impart their particular sonic character to the result, but it is not unpleasant once properly EQ'd, as anyone may demonstrate for themselves by mating them with new 902 drivers, M19 crossovers (or Zilch's updated version thereof), and the midbass bin of their choosing.

2) The pros ultimately got it "right" using quality engineered components, but it wasn't cheap. Most consumer offerings using the technology, however, didn't, and common vintage examples (I'll not name them here,) which represent the larger experience of listeners, are best characterized as "nasty," and thus the bad rep. Over the years, however, advancing analytical means provided insight into why particular horn designs sound bad, and engineers, well aware of these faults, refined the art such that many modern horns and waveguides are largely free of the sonic colorations which plague vintage designs. Compression drivers have improved, as well, but I can mount a vintage JBL LE85 (we're talking 50 or 60 years here,) on a modern waveguide, and with a proper filter, produce a stunning result....

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1. Why have horn-based loudspeakers always seemed to have a particular sonic characteristic? I'm not talking about the radiation pattern per se, but Klipsches, JBLs, Altecs, et al. all seem to have a certain hard-edged character to their sound. Some people refer to this as "horn coloration." Is it a function of the horn itself, is it a choice of the voicing by the engineer, or is it totally imaginary? But the notion that horns have a 'sound' is very real. Whether that notion is factual or not is something I'd like the Forum's feedback on.

Steve F.

I agree that most early horn based systems have a colored characteristic, but I'm not sure that they all sound the same. The classic horns have a lot of faults. Their power response dies at 3kHz so they can only have highs on axis. Polar curves are all over the place so their frequency response will vary on and off axis. I don't think there is a curve you can draw, though, and say: "this is the sound of a horn". A projecting midrange seems to be fairly common, but even under that broad category there is a lot of variation.

I was just looking through an old Japanese book with measurements of a couple of dozen horn/compression driver combos. There seem to be some common traits of the radial horns and the way their response varies in horizontal curves. Every thing else is all over the map.

I have most of the Hilliard Altec papers from the 30s and 40s. They used one of the Hollywood Encino movie ranches to measure and develop the big theater systems on top of a big scaffold and crane. Of course, their systems measured pretty flat under their conditions. Crossovers were usually simple textbook affairs. Horns were valued by their ability to self equalize poor compression drivers, although they could only do that over a narrow range of angles.

It would be great to pull out a collection of classic speakers from the 50s and 60s, put them behind an acoustically transparent screen and listen. My suspicion is that the JBL Hartsfields and Jensen Imperials and EV Patricians would be laughably bad. Maybe great in their day, lots of dynamic range, but not what you would want to use for everyday music listening due to strongly colored personalities. Give me an unlimited Ebay budget and a year and I'll get back to you.

David

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Last time I played the Paragon (about 15 years ago), it quite sucked.

[Don't think I'll EconoWave it, tho.... :) ]

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It would be great to pull out a collection of classic speakers from the 50s and 60s, put them behind an acoustically transparent screen and listen. My suspicion is that the JBL Hartsfields and Jensen Imperials and EV Patricians would be laughably bad. Maybe great in their day, lots of dynamic range, but not what you would want to use for everyday music listening due to strongly colored personalities. Give me an unlimited Ebay budget and a year and I'll get back to you.

The last time I heard Hartsfields was just a few months before my uncle died (he had a pair of them in the banquet room of his restaurant, powered by some big Bogen tube amplifiers, two speakers but not stereo). The program material was either FM from one of the various sideband stations that used to provide background music to bars and restaurants in 1960's NYC, open-reel tapes and for some events, live performers using the same amp and speakers as sound reinforcement. I don't remember the sound being particularly harsh or grating, and when we played back recordings made of the live performers at events through the same speakers, I thought they sounded pretty realistic. Of course, this was a system built in the days when HF response to 12kHz was considered pretty hot stuff, and the program material was pretty laid back as well.

My college had a Ranger Paragon in the lounge of its alumni center. I don't know what the amplification was. I thought it also sounded pretty smooth in the early 70's, but again with fairly undemanding program material.

If I had the listening room space, I wouldn't mind having either model today.

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If I had the listening room space, I wouldn't mind having either model today.

If you gave me a pair of Hartsfields, I would definitely find some living room space for them. Probably buy a big equalizer, get out the furniture oil, and have some fun.

I'd love to have 55 T'Bird or 57 Corvette. Beautiful cars that were highly desirable then and now. Its fair to ask how they truly compare to todays cars? I know from the numbers that they wouldn't keep up with my humble V6, 5spd Nissan Altima. By reputation they don't handle or brake very well either. Should they be sent to the crusher, then?

This being a web site for those who appreciate vintage speakers, it is hard to get a balanced perspective on "how to deal with" the inadequacies of the dated products we revere. You can get used to a speaker's sound and enjoy its good points amidst its flaws. Nothing wrong with that. But if you do a fair comparison you have to admit that progress has been made and a lot of old products are very flawed.

At Snell we pulled a pair of Snell Type A mkII into the listening room and compared them to then current XA90s. People that heard the comparison kept asking if the Type As were broken. (They had just been carefully restored.)

Yes, old horn speakers have a sound. I'm just not sure how to define it.

David

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This being a web site for those who appreciate vintage speakers, it is hard to get a balanced perspective on "how to deal with" the inadequacies of the dated products we revere. You can get used to a speaker's sound and enjoy its good points amidst its flaws. Nothing wrong with that. But if you do a fair comparison you have to admit that progress has been made and a lot of old products are very flawed.

I guess I should have mentioned that my uncle with the Hartsfields in his restaurant had AR-3s in his home and I had my 2axs (the same ones that are still in my living room today) at the time I was hearing the Paragon, and both JBLs were a perfectly satisfying listening experience compared to speakers many of us still enjoy having today, without any need to "get used to" their sound. I suspect that even though the JBLs were California-made models with horns they were designed during the same period as the ARs and with a similar design goal (the ability to competently play the sound of acoustic instruments, orchestras, etc., rather than electric guitars or exploding deathstars). Yes, I'm sure that both the JBLs and the ARs would probably "measure bad" compared to today's performance standards. But for people who still prefer the sound of vintage speakers over most modern ones they hear, that's probably more amusing than telling. And, of course, we all remember what von Recklinghausen said about things that measure bad but sound good, don't we? :)

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I'd also like to hear from the pros on this: Is there some kind of horn throat-related resonance or other artifact that might color the sound? What, if anything, does a horn designer have to pay particular attention to?

Steve F.

Here is a short course in horn design:

First you need to look at horn and compression driver as two seperate entities. The compression driver defines the radiated power of a perfect horn, while the horn determines the practical bottom end response and how all the radiated power will be directed. The combination of the two, of course, creates a complex three dimensional frequency response that may be good or bad.

Compression drivers can be measured on an "Impedance tube" which is a longish pipe with a microphone inside and a fiberglass sedge to absorb the wave. Having a constant cross section it will load the driver with a fixed acoustic resistance. Pressure will then be proportional to radiated power. Most compression drivers will work up to a first order break point around 3000 Hz where they will start to roll of 6dB/Octave. Then at a higher frequency diaphragm resonances or phase plug issues will cause the response to peak or otherwise "get messy" and then fall.

This compression driver response is then applied to the horn. The high frequency end of it generally becomes the power response (spherically integrated response) that the combination radiates. Measure it in a reverb room and you will see the hihg end of the compression driver again. In an anechoic chamber this response will be sent in various directions. Generally the high frequencies will beam on axis. Since the total power is rolling off, beaming on axis may make the combination flatter. This is a bit of a ruse because it kept designers designing beamy horns for decades: the more it beamed tha flatter it was...on axis. Constant directivity horns will roll off on axis, as the compression driver does, but will be more even from angle to angle. When equalized to flat they will maintain that response over a range of angles.

Now at the low end of things the horn is an acoustic transformer and its manner of area growth and physical size dominates low frequency response. For a century it has been known that exponential growth (constant percentage growth for fixed units of length) gives the most resistive load to the compression driver and generally flatest LF extension. True exponential growth along with adequate dimensions to support the cutoff frequency defined by that growth, will give the most extended response. There needs to be a good match between rate of growth (cuttoff frequency) and mouth area. For example, a straight pipe has a low (DC) theoretical flare rate. But since its mouth area is quite small (the diameter of the pipe) it is very poor at radiating low frequencies. In the end you just get reflections from the mouth and a sequence of response peaks related to length.

Although area growth determines LF radiated response, the side wall countours dominate the polar response. This was well developed in the 80s when the big three in pro audio came out with their constant directivity horn series. They found that well considered side wall contours, usually straight countours with end flares, could generate very uniform polar curves. Throat and mouth dimensions were found to define the bandwidth over which this directivity was achieved. Horizontal and vertical wall contours are generally independant and this can be used to give equally independant horizontal and vertical beamwidths. Although the horizontal and vertical beamwidths can be independant, once you define the sidewalls horizontally and vertically, you have defined the area growth. Perfect polar curves may be at odds with good LF response. Horn design thus becomes the art of the compromise.

Since the 80s the drive for perfect polar curves seems to have cooled somewhat and some designers even seem unaware of the CD design theory. Software for calculating horn response is readily available and there is, at least, an experimenter resurgence in interest in the subject. Horns remain popular in pro-audio where the very high efficiency, easily 25%, along with the ability to control audience coverage, make them essential for a lot of PA and cinema uses.

Class dismissed!

David

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Consumer Reports' loudspeaker evaluation methodology is regarded as a joke today:

http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2008/12/are-...oudspeaker.html

Their "Sound power" protocol has long since been repudiated by science, industry, and the marketplace at large, and they have themselves abandoned it, as well....

From Olive's note, CU is still using "sound power," but it's been demoted from the basis of their reviews to being one of multiple "analytics" they're using in combination. Any link to what those all are?

As I noted (and they noted, too in their summaries) the final evaluations were done by means of blind listening comparisons.

I seem to recall a difference of opinions between AR and CU as well, some years after the intitial CU review of ARs.

Similar disagreements about the quality of CU's tech reviews raged on for years between CU and reviewers who wrote for various photography habbyist mags. CU has always been great for getting info on owner reports of reliability and comparing manufacturer warranties, but has anybody besides the market segment that likes to shop at places like Radio Shack and Wal Mart ever really paid all that much attention to their technical opinions?

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Repeating the same tired old mantra is not going to confer validity upon it.

Allison himself has told Howard:

1) A variety of quality loudspeakers could do as well as or better than the ARs in the LvR demos, and,

2) The core thesis of the Allison and Berkovitz study (and consequently, early AR design) was flawed.

The paper itself demonstrates that to be the case, as I have repeatedly disclosed and discussed here in The Kitchen.

"Total power" has long since been repudiated, both as a design and listener preference metric, and the last I saw about it, CU has abandoned loudspeaker evaluation entirely.

AR was all but dead within a few years of their much lauded having 33% market share; perhaps there is mileage to accrue from blaming that on Ken Kantor, who put no small effort into resurrecting the earlier designs.... :)

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In one personal analysis (not printed in the AES paper but sent out to curious journalists and customers) Allison pointed out that the Consumer Reports listening-evaluation room at that time was heavily draped along its walls, which made it impossible for a wide-dispersion speaker like the AR-3a to properly integrate with the room. CR was at that time more caught up in the "speaker separate from the room" mantra than one might think, given their dependency upon sound-power analysis, and a speaker like the AR-3a might as well have been auditioned outdoors instead of in that room. I believe that Toole, when he was at the NRC in Canada, had a room that was similarly damped, probably with similar listening-evaluation consequences.

Howard Ferstler

I ran your comment above past Roy and he said:

"This fellow must own a concert hall to get an Rt approaching 1sec. Small domestic listening rooms typically have 0.25sec at very low freq's, 0.15 at HF. Medium to large domestic living rooms 0.35 at LF, 0.25 at HF. Nothing is thrown away is such rooms for listening spectral balance detection."

End of his typically brief comment

As I mentioned before the room at NRC was not out of the ordinary. Toole quotes a midband RT of 0.34 which makes it a little more lively than Allison's quoted typical.

I'm not sure why you would defend the earlier CU approach. A numerical ranking base on an ideal of flat power response is not something that AR ever advocated. Smooth power following a concert hall contour yes (but only in the early years, not in later years). Are you saying that Roy advocated flat power for the Allison products?

I would be interested in the CU report you quoted. Do you still have a copy? I am also looking for the CU Bose 901 review (that prompted the lawsuit)--can't find it on the web.

David

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"...AR was all but dead within a few years of their much lauded having 33% market share; perhaps there is mileage to accrue from blaming that on Ken Kantor, who put no small effort into resurrecting the earlier designs...."

As usual, Zilch, you don't have your facts straight. In 1966 -- just a couple of years after the last AR-3 Live-vs.-Recorded concert you so often malign -- AR had 32.3% commercial-loudspeaker market-share by unit volume. Contrast this with your favorite horn company, JBL: their market share was a paltry 5%. By 1969, second year after the AR-3a was introduced, AR had 27.8%, but JBL had fallen to 3.4%. In 1970, AR had declined to 20%; JBL steady at 3.9%. AR's market-share percentages certainly began to drop in the mid-to-late 80s and into the 90s, but it was still significantly above the west-coast crowd. So let's face it: during the heyday of high fidelity, only west-coast "movie-theatre sound" devotees seemed to be happy with the JBL "horn" sound. True music lovers didn't need their sound punched through a perforated theatre screen. In contrast, the more self-effacing, natural-sound reproduction from ARs, Advents, KLHs and Allisons kept the sales of east-coast, "Massachusetts-style" speakers miles above the harsh-sounding west-coast speaker designs of that period. It wasn’t until the end of high-fidelity sound, as we know it, that JBL made any inroads into the market, and by this time it was probably too late. Fortunately, JBL had Harmon Industries and the professional sound market to keep it afloat. So, Zilch, by denigrating AR's fine reputation you are simply attacking "success." So what's the point?

By the way, I don't think anyone would praise or blame Ken Kantor for the overall fortunes or failures at AR. His contributions were more subtle, and I don't think he affected the sales numbers at AR until the early 1990s with the AR-303 and so forth.

--Tom Tyson

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Fortunately, JBL had Harmon Industries and the professional sound market to keep it afloat.

Indeed so, making the very music Easties then struggled to reproduce.... :)

Footnote: Sidney Harman first took the helm of JBL in 1969, and between then and 1981, grew it from $8M to $60M through the decade of the 70s.

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Sorry, Dave. I do not have a copy. I am operating from memory, although I do have a copy of Roy's letter on the topic stashed away in my files somewhere. The letter was triggered by a CU review of the AR-3a that actually said the AR-2ax was a better speaker.

In all fairness, I made that same judgement in 1975 when I bought the 2ax instead of the 3a, partly because of the 3a's higher price, but also because the 2ax seemed better balanced in my then rather cramped living quarters (AR probably intended the 5 for people with my kind of space at the time, but the difference in sound didn't seem significant enough to justify its near-3a price). From what we know about the poor sales of the 5, I was apparently not alone in this perception, and considering the kind of bread-and-butter consumers that CU has always been primarily targeted at, the 2ax's more modest cost and power requirement probably did make it a better speaker for the majority of their readers.

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RE: number 1. Sure. Today, a number of good speakers could do as well as the AR-3 could do over 40 years ago. Is this progress?

He said it about back then, as I recall, and now provides yet more evidence as to the extent of contrivance required for the "show" to succeed.

No matter, shortly thereafter, Allisons could do it better. :)

RE: number 2. Allison never told me this. He still stands by that 1970 paper and its AES publication.

http://www.classicspeakerpages.net/IP.Boar...ost&p=83819

Even Allison is not into "total power," as evidenced by his work on the IC-20. But the current stress on the direct field and imaging is not something he would be enthusiastic about.

"Current?" Richard Small was duly unimpressed.

The weird thing about the direct-field crowd, is that modern pop music is not designed to present an accurate soundstage, anyway. So why all the emphasis on the direct field? How many modern "audio buffs" would be enthusiastic about the sound of live, acoustic instruments performing in a good concert hall? JBL only began to edge up on AR when musical tastes in this country went to pot. Heck, to listen to pop music today you do not need a true, hi-fi system at all.

Elitism in abundance, yet again, representing a paltry 4%. :P

As for Roy's paper, the one I posted was over 25 MB and given that you only have a dial-up connection, I am rather surprised that you ever managed to fully download it.

The Zilchster is nothing if not resourceful.

So, basically you are saying that the JBL line and other lines like it, are basically interested in "making" music instead of "reproducing it accurately." Hey, Zilch, that is not what hi-fi sound reproduction in the home is supposed to be about.

Synergy works. The engineering expertise is shared. If they can make the music, they can surely reproduce it. Tell Greg Timbers and Kevin Voecks they are clueless. John Eargle is part of that legacy as well; I believe he got it....

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