Editor's Note: Although this product has been available for several years, it is being reviewed in considerable detail because it is a strong contender for the title of "Best Available Loudspeaker System, Regardless of Cost," and because we plan to review some of the other contenders for the same title within the next few issues. We feel that since all of these systems represent a considerable outlay of money, prospective buyers should have a thorough understanding of the merits and demerits of each system, so they will know what to expect from them in the way of performyince capabilities and operational requirements.
The concept of a loudspeaker with its own built-in amplification is an idea whose time should long since have come. Technically it makes a lot of sense, and in some parts of the world—not to mention professional circles—it's quite popular. But commercially, the idea has never really taken off in this country. And while the loudspeaker manufacturer should be in a better position to make the best amplifier choice, American audiophiles seem wedded to the idea of making their own amplifier/loudspeaker match.
Mirage /ma-'räzh/ n [F, fr mirer to look at. fr. L mirari] 1: an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over a hot pavement, that may have the appearance of a pool of water or a mirror... 2: something illusory and unattainable, like a mirage.
Even to a nontechnical observer, someone without a deep grasp of the germane technical issues, the Amazing Loudspeaker should indeed prove a source of amazement. First of all, there's no box. Don't mistake the back grille for an enclosure—if you pass your hand along the Amazing's behind, you'll realize that the grille is merely a cosmetic cover; you can actually stroke the woofer magnets if you're so inclined. Yet without an enclosure or electronic trickery, this speaker boasts excellent dynamic headroom and true flat bass extension almost to 20Hz. Just think of the woodworking costs inherent in trying to coax such low-end performance from a conventional box speaker. The savings in carpentry have been put toward one heavy-duty ribbon design. The Amazing begins to sound like an incredible bargain at its modest (by high-end standards) asking price. What's the catch? Fundamentally, the answer lies in superior engineering. And, as Bob Carver will readily admit, good engineering isn't inherently any more costly than bad engineering.
The penultimate stop on Bob Reina's British Invasion Tour of Affordable Loudspeakers (footnote 1) brings us to the doors of KEF. Although KEF is a large and well-established British firm, I've noticed that their product lines have not been as visible in the US as those of, say, B&W, Wharfedale, or Mission. In fact, the last time I heard a KEF speaker, it was the company's then-flagship design, at a Consumer Electronics Show nearly 20 years ago! Before that, when I lived in London, KEFs were ubiquitous, down to the older, entry-level designs tacked to the walls of the ethnic restaurants I frequented. My strongest KEF memory is a cumulative one: Every KEF speaker I've ever heard, regardless of price, venue, or setup, has always produced good, convincing sound.
The Hartleys I wrote about last month may be the loudspeaker drivers that time forgot, but the venerable Lowthers of Sidcup, England, reign supreme as the horseshoe crabs of the loudspeaker world: strange, ungainly things that have scarcely changed since the days when Franz Schmidt and Robert Johnson walked the earth. Literally.
Genesis Advanced Technologies was formed in 1991 to manufacture loudspeakers designed by industry veteran Arnie Nudell, who was responsible, with Cary Christie, for some of high-end audio's highest-performing models when both were at Infinity Systems. The company was acquired a few years back by Gary Leonard Koh and some of his friends, but Nudell remains with the company as Chief Scientist and the company has offices and a production facility in Seattle.
Audiophiles sure don't have it easy. We put in a hard day sweating to hear those diminishing-return differences, and when we're finally ready to pontificate, no one at the party will obligingly ask us what we think. They've made that mistake before, you see, then spent the next 45 minutes frantically looking around the room for someone to rescue them.
There was once an Englishman named H.A. Hartley, who was a contemporary of H.G. Baerwald, P.G. Voigt, P.K. Turner, and other men whose first two names are lost to us. Hartley was a capable designer and audio theorist, not to mention a gifted lecturer and writer—his literary achievements include a book on astrology (footnote 1), of all things—and he's often credited with coining the expression high fidelity. Most important of all, in 1928 H.A. Hartley teamed up with the aforementioned P.K. Turner to create an audio manufacturing company known as Hartley Products, Ltd. The Hartley company made electronics and loudspeakers, the latter of which included full-range coaxial drivers using energized field coils and, later on, quite powerful permanent magnets—just like their countrymen at Lowther Loudspeakers, Ltd.
The Magnep1anar Tympani I that is the subject of this report is already an obsolete model, having been superseded by the Tympanis IA, II, and III that were unveiled at the CE Show in Chicago this past June. Since many of our readers already own Tympani Is, and dealer stocks of them are being sold at a substantial price reduction, the report should still be of interest. We will publish follow-up reports on the newer models as soon as they become available for testing.
In 1966, two avid audiophile/music lovers—a nuclear physicist named Arnold Nudell and an airline pilot named Cary Christie—labored over weekends and evenings for 18 months in Nudell's garage to put together the world's first hybrid electrostatic/dynamic loudspeaker system. It cost them $5000 for materials, launched a company (New Technology Enterprises), and helped contribute to the popular myth that all of the really important audiophile manufacturers got started in somebody's basement or garage (footnote 1). The system was marketed as the Servo-Statik I, for the princely sum of $1795. (At the time, the most expensive loudspeaker listed in Stereo Review's "Stereo/Hi-Fi Directory" was JBL's "Metregon," at $1230.)
Back in the 1970s, I used to hang out at an audio store on Northern Boulevard's Miracle Mile. After business hours—and sometimes during them—a group of us audiophiles would put every new product through the wringer. One of the most anticipated was the original B&W 801, which appeared in 1979. The 801 was simply unflappable. Fed enough power, a pair of them played louder and cleaner than anything we had ever heard, including the mammoth, multimodule Fultons that were the pride of that shop. But—and this was a big but—the 801 lacked immediacy and engagement, and I soon fell back to preferring an earlier B&W model, the DM6, which seemed more coherent and to offer the music out to the listener. The 801 was more objective and detached, but boy, could it knock you over with the right source material.
I live in a house that has a pyramid-shaped roof, so I guess you could say that I have a thing for pyramids (footnote 1). That's probably why I was immediately drawn to the Green Mountain Audio Diamante. I'm also attracted to floorstanding speakers with small footprints, since my listening/video room is only 13' by 16'. My Holy Grail of loudspeakers is a small speaker that's flat between 20Hz and 20kHz, can do 110dB sound-pressure–levels without straining, and costs less than $1000/pair.
More, I think, than any other link in the audio chain, loudspeaker designs tend to reflect the personal preferences, opinions, and philosophies of their creators—think Henry Kloss, Paul Klipsch, Rudy Bozak, David Wilson, Jon Dahlquist, Arnie Nudell, and Amar Bose (just kidding). Consider, if you remember, where Ken Kantor took Acoustic Research when he took over AR's design reins. Might as well have called AR NHT, for all that the new designs followed the old.