Book Review: High Performance Loudspeakers, Seventh Edition

High Performance Loudspeakers: Optimising High Fidelity Loudspeaker Systems, Seventh Edition, by Martin Colloms. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2018. Paperback, 696 pp., $95. Available as an eBook, $79.99.

"Listen to that—that's what I mean by 'cone cry!'"

It was 1979. I'd been taking part in a blind listening test of loudspeakers organized by Martin Colloms (footnote 1) for the British magazine Hi-Fi Choice and, after the formal sessions had ended, had asked Martin to explain something I'd heard. A drive-unit's diaphragm produces cone cry when it resonates at a frequency unconnected with the musical signal it is being asked to produce; we had been using an anechoic recording of a xylophone, and one of the loudspeakers we'd been listening to was blurring the pitches of some of the instrument's notes. Over the next few years, I took part in many of Martin's listening tests, and the experience of learning from a master—not only of the craft of designing loudspeakers, but also of the art of judging them—provided this then-tyro audio critic with an invaluable education in how to listen, and what to listen for.

The first edition of Martin's seminal textbook on loudspeaker design was published by Pentech Press in January 1978; the fifth edition (John Wiley & Sons, 1997) has been my constant companion the past 20 years, along with: Harry F. Olson's Music, Physics and Engineering (second edition, Dover, 1967); Vance Dickason's Loudspeaker Design Cookbook (sixth edition, Audio Amateur Publications, 2000); Philip Newell and Keith Holland's Loudspeakers for Music Recording and Reproduction (first edition, Focal Press, 2008); and Floyd E. Toole's Sound Reproduction: Loudspeakers and Rooms (first edition, Elsevier/Focal Press, 2008).

Both the technology and the theory of loudspeaker behavior have expanded immensely in the four decades since that first edition of Martin's High Performance Loudspeakers, not least because of the introduction of PC-based measurement and analysis systems, which he examined in the sixth edition (2005), and complemented with psychoacoustic research data and an examination of the different demands made on home-theater speakers. In the seventh edition's 10 chapters, each with up to 30 subchapters, Martin has expanded the sections on analysis and modeling, and included new sections on the increasingly popular Klippel and Comsol Multiphysics systems, as well as on the finite element analysis (FEA) of magnetic systems. He has added two new chapters, one on DSP integration into system design, and the second providing a worked-through example of the loudspeaker design process.

Chapter 1 is an overview of the field, followed by chapters on: the developments in all relevant technical areas; a detailed discussion of transducer design, including Air-Motion Transformers and Bending-Mode Radiators; a comprehensive discussion of the behavior of speakers when reproducing low frequencies and how that theoretical behavior is modified when a speaker is used in a room; and chapters on horn speakers, direct radiators, crossovers, and enclosures. Each chapter starts with first principles and ends in an examination of problems in implementation. While some mathematics had to be included, particularly concerning the modeling of a loudspeaker as an equivalent electrical circuit, Martin presents the math in a readily understandable manner.

Of particular interest to this observer of the field was Chapter 10, "Loudspeaker Assessment," especially these sections: 10.2.1, "Transient Response Decay Rates and Coloration"; 10.2.4, "Direct Versus Reverberant Sound Balance"; 10.5.20, "Electrical Impedance," which cites Keith Howard's development of the Equivalent Peak Dissipation Resistance (EPDR) index to reveal how difficult a speaker can be for an amplifier to drive; 10.6.18, "Analogue and Digital Programme and Its Effect on Listening Tests"; and 10.6.30, "The High End: 'High-Fidelity' Sound Quality."

A passage in that last section (p.628) excited a personal cri de coeur, if not quite a cri de cone, given Martin's mentoring 40 years ago: "There is no examination or qualification for audio critics. The bar frequently is set by the editors of audio magazines who may be still less qualified for this task than the intending critic. Regarding web publications, it is perhaps unfortunate that almost anyone can set themselves up as an expert reviewer, this including the audio field."

At the very beginning of the new edition, Martin writes: "Speech and music is noise with meaning. The recording and reproduction of sound is imperfect, and the imperfections in these processes reduce meaning and add noise. The art of the loudspeaker designer is the employment of science to help increase meaning for reproduced sound. . . . Science must serve art."

Amen to that sentiment.

High Performance Loudspeakers: Optimising High Fidelity Loudspeaker Systems, Seventh Edition, is a must-have addition to the bookshelf of any audiophile who wants to learn everything there is to know about the art and science of loudspeaker design. Just one thing appears to be missing: While there is a detailed discussion of cone breakup behavior, the term cone cry doesn't appear in the book's almost 700 pages!—John Atkinson

Footnote 1: Based in the UK, Martin Colloms has written more than 1500 loudspeaker reviews for many magazines, including Stereophile; click here, for example. He is currently the technical editor of HiFi Critic magazine.

tonykaz's picture


tonykaz's picture

Is Mr.Colloms frightfully busy Consulting Wilson Audio, PS Audio and Andrew Jones who seem to be continually learning more and more about transducer performance ?

Or, maybe all the Loudspeaker designers only need to purchase this definitive work.

I already realize/know Sennheiser make the finest transducers that don't seem to have any problems reproducing Bob Katz's Super Low Bass in Bombay Dub Orchestra recordings. ( try that one with 33.3 )

Maybe we should send the Beats People a copy of this Book as well as a few other still struggling Loudspeaker Manufacturers like Cerwin-Vega.

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Check out .....

'When Good Mangos Go Bad' ..... Album by Bob Katz :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Mr.Tony, read the review of Manger S1 active speakers at Twittering Machines, reviewed by Michael L :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

Your point ?

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is a different kind of transducer compared to the conventional transducers ...... It is also an active speaker :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

A low efficiency transducer with limited dynamic Range.

Hmm, this is the Same as a Headphone 50mm transducer only far more power hungry.

Of course it needs a Horn to give it an additional 9db. Gain.

I'm missing something here. Is it the device's beautiful packaging? , it's unique need for a very small Room to play convincingly ?

I do like the Powered aspect.

It seems to be an ultra tweek product for a rather steep price structure.

Does anyone own these things? Do You ?

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I don't own these speakers ....... I have not personally listened to these speakers (yet) .......

TAS reviewed the 'passive' version of these speakers about an year ago ....... That review is available on-line ........ In that review it was mentioned that the speakers are 89 db sensitive ....... So, the speakers are fairly efficient :-) .........

It would be nice, if Stereophile reviews them with measurements :-) ..........

tonykaz's picture

Shouldn't speak about TAS here but they did a rather brief, kinda-positive, semi-urging sort of Nodding Approval.

I, for one, would like to know if you are impressed enough to spend $10,000 Plus on a pair of these things. I haven't checked eBay for a used ( previously "Loved") Set.

I'll continue to bother you about your audition of these things.

My experience as a Buyer of every Audiophile Loudspeaker out there is that there are only a small few that can sustain Audiophile Love. Magnepans come to mind.

The tweaky niche loudspeakers seem to rapidly fade into oblivion ( taking their buyers money with them ) but if you are the Super High Paid Radiologist, that I think you are, then Go Ahead and Buy, you can afford it!.

Tony in Michigan