Down With Flat! Letters part 2

Blowing Our Horn
Editor: I enjoy your magazine very much, but your comments and articles sometimes tantalize me. For instance, your subtle allusions to horn loudspeakers.

I happen to be one of the very rare audiophiles who takes horns seriously. What has happened to horns in the underground (non-Stereo Review) world? When you reviewed the Lensic movie theater system, there seemed to be magic happening despite the lousy frequency response. In the most recent issue, you suggest that frequency response isn't everything, and that perhaps it ought to be dropped as a major significator of quality! Is this a reflection of your previous horn exposure?

Some years ago Paul Messenger, in his "Subjective Sounds" column in Hi-Fi News and Record Review, described in detail his experiences with a Japanese horn system. He reported that it had simply the best sound he had ever heard! (This from an Englishman, no less.) It was a three-way multiamped system using highly modified Quad tube amplifiers and preamplifiers, a 99dB-sensitive 15" Altec Lansing 416A woofer (20-500Hz), a sand-filled wooden horn midrange employing a sophisticated compression driver made by Onken (500Hz-7kHz), and an Onken tweeter (7kHz on up). In particular, PM noticed no obvious "horn sound." Since then, he has talked about horns, notably Lowther and Tannoy, continuing to elaborate on the advantages of horn sound: ease of handling dynamics, etc.

Following up on Paul Messenger's article, I researched the Japanese hi-fi scene to the limited extent possible. Here's what I found:

Most of the serious Japanese audiophile systems are multiamp, horn-based systems. The three major horn and driver manufacturers catering exclusively to the hi-fi market are Onken, Goto (or Gotto), and YL or YSL (they apparently tried unsuccessfully to sell their products in this country many years ago; I found ads in old Audio magazines).

Altec, JBL, Klipsch, and Tannoy are still very popular in Japan. There is also a market for small, low powered (5-15Wpc) custom triode tube amps to serve as midrange or tweeter amps in highly efficient horn systems!

What I find amazing about the American and British hi-fi scene is that they both do an extraordinary job of covering themselves and each other, but neither wanders much outside the English-speaking realm, except for cartridges and tonearms.

I think it would be safe to say that the American underground press largely ignores horns, multiamping, and such small, high-quality amps as the old Pioneer M22 class-A, the Sony TAN86 class-A, and souped-up Dyna Stereo 35s and 70s, etc.

I would like to propose the following change of direction:

Choose one classic horn loudspeaker (Altec A7, Tannoy, or whatever) to include as a known standard in all amplifier and loudspeaker reviews. This would allow a headphone-like examination of an amplifier's capability at very low levels. In the case of loudspeakers, you would have a dynamic standard to answer many important questions: eg, How easily can current minimonitors handle crescendos?

Second, just as you have a British voice on the scene (Alvin Gold), should there not be a Japanese voice as well, describe the ultra high end from their point of view?

Third, how about testing some of the large super speaker systems of the past, using current, state-of-the-art electronics?

Let me emphasize that I'm not simply pro-horn or pro-Japanese. I merely question the intellectual rigor of your subjective analysis when you and your industry colleagues seem to exclude a very large area from your collective purview. The Japanese approach is so totally different that it should have been an ongoing subject of discussion in all of the major magazines; I have read not a single reference to it.

Many millennia ago, you reviewed the classic Altec A7 loudspeaker. I would dearly love a copy of that review!—Alexander Davenport, Albuquerque, NM

The US audio "underground" has been so nasty to horn loudspeakers for so long that it's almost impossible to find a manufacturer who will loan us a pair for review. We're still trying.

We haven't heard any Japanese horn systems, and have no contacts in Japan; any volunteers among our readers? Japanese speaker systems in general have not done well in these pages.

Your suggestion that we use a standard horn loudspeaker for all speaker reviews is impractical; our speaker reviewers don't share my tolerance for horns.

The Altec A-7 was reviewed in two Quickies in Vol.1 No.12 and in Vol.2 No.10.—JGH