Down With Flat! Letters part 3
Editor: It must surely be the first time in all my reading of Stereophile that I have found myself in unqualified agreement with something you said! I refer to J. Gordon Holt's "Down With Flat!" editorial (Vol.8 No.4).
Because of this shining bit of truth in your otherwise lunatic outpourings, I have renewed my subscription.—David Meraner, Schenectady, NY
But not your faith, huh?—JGH
More "Down With Flat"
Editor: In the good old days, which lasted until quite recently, HF response would be fairly flat on-axis, but would fall more and more rapidly off-axis as frequency increased. The result was that the amount of high-frequency power radiated into the listening room decreased with frequency, even though the on-axis frequency response was nearly flat. Nowadays, with the dispersion problem "solved," the subjective quality of reproduced sound has been impaired, as J. Gordon Holt points out.
One wonders whether some undiscovered problem of psychoacoustics is involved. In science, most theories that have been around for more than 20 years have a hard time accounting for all the observed facts. Of course, it may be that we listen to reproduced music these days at levels much higher up on the Fletcher-Munson curve. This would make the ear's response flatter, and the high frequencies more prominent. But surely this isn't the whole answer.
Basically, we listen to recorded music for pleasure and for a sense of realism. If flat response is no longer a satisfying way of approaching these goals, then to hell with flat response! The idea served its purpose for a long time, as did the harmonic distortion fetish. But with THD commonly reduced to minuscule values, other factors dominate. The great ideas of the '50s are no longer adequate to guide us in the '80s, no matter how "self-evident" they may seem. After all, not so many years ago, it was self-evident that the world was flat and that witches ought to be burnt.
You will catch a lot of flack for blaspheming against one of the tin gods of audio, but be assured that at least a few of us agree with you.—Herbert Highstone, Oakland, CA
Editor: I agree completely that the issue of tonal accuracy has been overlooked by many speaker manufacturers. If tonal accuracy is not the basis of design in an audiophile loudspeaker, then what is? I have come to the conclusion, as have others, that most of the so-called high-end speaker manufacturers build and sell systems that deliver more spectacular Hi-Fi, rather than music. They put imaging, depth, width of soundstage, etc., ahead of all other considerations, and have trained their retailers to push these qualities on the consumer. The consumer buys the equipment, but soon tires of it because the Hi-Fi is spectacular, the music not.
KEF loudspeakers are perfect examples of this. They do all of those other things very nicely, but cannot deliver music that is tonally correct to any degree. That is why it took me more than a year of searching to find a speaker with a reasonable degree of tonal accuracy—the Klipsch Cornwall! Paul Klipsch has always considered midrange accuracy to be of paramount importance in the design of his loudspeakers, and, although they're not perfect, they come as close as I have heard to the real thing: music.
I would like to suggest to Mr. Holt that he obtain a new pair of these "old squawkers" and hook them up to a first-class front end (I have Linn/Naim). He will find the "awfully strident and dirty high end" all but gone, and in its place a sound that will please his ears as much as it has pleased mine.—John Kimes, Kernersville, NC
All but gone"? Just how much "all but"? Okay we'll see what we can do about borrowing a pair of K-Horns for review; the requests have come from too many quarters. Don't be disappointed if they don't turn out to be our favorite speakers.—J. Gordon Holt