Listening #167: Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinema loudspeaker Page 2

Jäckle also designed the amplifiers for the Cinemas' bass enclosures, which share real estate with the speakers' crossover elements: a 7kHz high-pass filter for the treble horn, and a 300Hz low-pass for the midrange horn—both executed with paper-in-oil capacitors—along with 6dB/octave low-pass filtering in front of the bass amplifiers, behind the secondary windings of each input transformer. No electronic equalization is provided.

Crate to plate
The Hommage Cinemas are shipped from Germany in lightweight padded crates; the AcousticPlan power supply is shipped separately, also from Germany, and the Line Magnetic compression drivers are shipped via UPS from Tone Imports in New York. Setup was straightforward. The user fastens the 555 driver to the midrange horn by means of a threaded collet, and attaches the 597A driver/horn to the bass enclosure as described above, then makes the electrical connections to the NT1 field-coil supply. The DC cables are a little over 16' long, terminated with XLRs at their power-supply ends and either O-lugs (treble) or tinned bare wires (midrange) at the ends that connect to the drivers. The fabric-sheathed "pigtails" that go from the bass enclosure's integral crossovers to the midrange and trebles drivers—39" long for the 597A, 27" long for the 555—appear similar to Auditorium 23's enduringly recommendable speaker cable, and are terminated with gold-plated Z-plug bananas at the crossover end, and O-lugs or bare wire at the other.

Though heavy, the bass enclosures are not difficult to move: as mentioned above, the sturdy bronze feet are fitted with stiff felt pads; the user can "walk" the cabinets across carpeted surfaces and, with care, slide them across hardwood floors.

I used my review pair in two different rooms. The Cinemas spent a short while in our living room (27' by 21' by 8'), and a far greater amount of time in the room where I do most of my listening (19' by 12' by 8'). The speakers sounded better in the larger room in several ways: the sound was more coherent overall, surely owing to the fact that listeners didn't need to sit as close to the drivers; and it seemed easier to dial in really superb bass performance, to achieve both temporal and timbral tightness along with good bass extension and excellent bass and lower-midrange color. That said, our living room is our living room, and isn't suitable for serious listening without intrusions from pets, visitors, or life.

In my smaller listening room, I wound up with the Cinemas roughly the same distance from the front wall as my big Altec Valenciasca 3' between the rear surface of each bass enclosure and the wall—with different distances between the each bass enclosure and its nearest side wall (23" on the left and 27" on the right, both measured from the centers of the sides of the enclosures). Toe-in was generous but not drastic—I could still see the surface of each enclosure's inner side panel from my central listening seat—and I carefully leveled each bass enclosure before installing the midrange and treble horns. And I did indeed position the speakers so that the 597A tweeter horns were mounted on the enclosures' outer edges.

Just prior to the Cinemas' arrival, distributor Jonathan Halpern called with some advice about setting bass levels: The knobs for Volume Woofer 1 and Volume Woofer 2 both go from "0" to "10," and Halpern recommended beginning with both knobs on both speakers set to "5." That proved to be good advice: For weeks, I enjoyed the Cinemas with those settings, temporarily avoiding the temptation to obsess over knob-twiddling. Only two months ago as I write this—around the time I temporarily moved my system into the larger room, then back again a few days later—did I begin in earnest to experiment with woofer-volume settings. I determined that, in the 27' by 21' room, the system sounded best with both Cinemas set to a little over "6" for their 12" woofers (Woofer 1), and between "4" and "5" for their 7" woofers (Woofer 2). In my smaller room, I vacillated between "6" and "7" for both channels' 12" woofers (higher for piano and solo recordings of violin, guitar, etc., lower for orchestral music and bass-heavy recordings of jazz and pop), and gained clarity by keeping the 7" woofer in the right-channel speaker at "4," and the one in the left speaker between "2.5" and "3.5."


As for break-in, the Cinemas made very noticeable gains after just 12 hours of nearly steady use—before which they were extremely midrange-prominent, and their trebles were an odd combination of very muted and slightly brittle. By day two the trebles were fully audible, smoother, and of a kind with the mids—and the woofers went from sleepy to wide awake. Break-in was accelerated with the aid of another suggestion from Jonathan Halpern: To make the diaphragms of the compression drivers work harder than usual in the mechanical sense, use deliberately low DC voltage settings for the field coils—5V or less. Even now, it seems to me the Line Magnetic 555 drivers in particular continue to improve. Perhaps that's the reason why, every three or four weeks, I have found myself turning up the field coils another 0.1V, to the point where I now run them at 6.4V—a level that, a few months ago, seemed to provide just a bit more explicitness of detail than I cared for. (For the longest time, I cruised at a steady 5.9V.)

In a more recent conversation with Jonathan Halpern, he reported exceptional performance when powering the Cinemas with a dual-mono pair of Line Magnetic PR-22 Tungar field-coil supplies ($3750/pair). (Tungar was General Electric's trade name for the gas-filled rectifier tubes they made in the late 1920s, said to be well suited to outputting low voltages; each PR-22 has three of those big, hot tubes.) While no one can deny the appeal of spending less money for something that offers both potentially greater sound and distinctive styling—the oddly shaped Tungar tube would not have looked out of place on the creation-scene set of Bride of Frankenstein—consider that bringing a pair of PR-22s into a smallish room already filled with tubed electronics is bound to raise the temperature to an extent that is both measurable and, in all but the coldest locales and times of year, uncomfortable. I haven't heard, let alone seen, these alternate power supplies (I write this in late August, a time when the humidity levels dampen my enthusiasm for such things), but if I can keep the Cinema review samples for a few more weeks, I'll try to get hold of a pair of Tungars and report back.

Midrange, not mudrange
Before swapping them out for the Hommage Cinemas, I sat down for a good listen with my Altec Valencias. I mention this only because my system, thoroughly warmed up for the occasion, sounded especially good, in a key way: It was keeping my attention focused not on the sound of the hall or the artifacts of the recording technology, but on what the musicians were doing. One evening in particular, I found myself nearly mesmerized by how conductor Adrian Boult shaped every line in his recording of Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, with tenor Nicolai Gedda, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic and John Aldis choirs (2 LPs, EMI SLS 987).

A day or so after I installed the Cinemas, I began jotting down notes on how well they played a variety of records. To return to those notes six months later is to be reminded that, as a critic, the praise I give those things that most impress me seems mild and with little fire compared to the remarks reserved for products that impress me in the here and now but do not change my point of view. And the Hommage Cinemas changed my point of view, simply by being the most thoroughly competent, contemporary, high-efficiency speakers—estimated sensitivity 105dB, estimated nominal impedance 20 ohms—I've had in my home.

And if competent doesn't sound like a terribly exciting word, consider that literally every other single-ended-triode–friendly speaker I've tried has been beset by one or more failures that my ears have had to squint not to hear: lack of bass, lack of treble, lack of coherence, screechiness, edginess, mechanicalness (ie, lack of musical flow), lack of spatial information, grossly skewed frequency response, and, worst of all, gross inability, despite their efficiency, to communicate the wonderful things that are on my records, not to mention the wonderful things the rest of my system does to uncover them.

Over the years I've had them, I've come to know the sounds of the various amplification and source components I'm lucky to own; with the Cinemas in place of my Altecs, while music was supremely coherent and unfussy and artistically satisfying, I found that it was also easier than ever to identify the products upstream. The differences in musicality between my Garrard 301 and Thorens TD 124 turntables were heightened, not glossed over. My EMT OFD cartridges were even juicier and more dramatic than ever. My Shindo Haut-Brion sounded more like a Shindo Haut-Brion, my Fi 421A more like a Fi 421A: the former was primary-colorful and richly textured, tending to emphasize the attack components of notes, while the latter was more pastel in its approach to colors, with clear-water clarity and head-spinning momentum and flow.

After six months of using the Hommage Cinemas with such a wide variety of amps and cartridges, I came to know the Auditorium 23 speaker as a distinctly coherent-sounding thing. Its mid and treble ranges sounded as if cut from the same cloth: It was difficult to tell—and, given the satisfying end results, difficult to care—where one left off and the other began, so much so that, every time I put my ear up to the 597A horn, I was mildly startled to hear any sound coming out of it at all. The bass range, for its part, was also of a kind with the mids, but the attack components of notes didn't sound quite as taut as I'd expected: the edges of bass notes were slightly rounded, although without any suggestion of slowness. I've listened to countless piano recordings through the Cinemas, and musical timing was never less than perfect—and the sheer presence and musical will of the player always came through 100%, as on Samson François's singularly emotional 1963 recording of Chopin's Prelude 2 in a (mono LP, UK Columbia 33CX 1877).

Perhaps more important than sonic coherence are two defining qualities that the Cinema also had in spades: physicality and ease. The former was evident every time I played that François collection; I delighted in hearing his often deliberate, startlingly forceful touch reproduced so convincingly. Physicality was no less apparent—or appreciated—with subtler recordings, such as Julian Bream's The Golden Age of English Lute Music (mono LP, RCA Soria LD-2560): the music exited the loudspeakers with the full force of Bream's original performance, no less and no more.

I'm sure the almost uncannily good sound of the Bream record through the Cinemas was also a product of the speakers' exceptional ease—that too-rare quality in which music is neither shot nor squeezed, toothpaste-like, at the listener, nor left hanging stagnant, half a world away. With record after record, music simply happened; although there's no way to know for sure, I was always left with the sense that the force behind its remaking was on a par with the force behind its making.

Drawbacks? Treble extension was noticeably less than one associates with modern loudspeakers, manifesting in lessened air and sparkle with some recordings. (That didn't bother me often. When it did, it was with 1960s and '70s multitracked pop recordings, on which voices had already been dulled by excessive studio fuckery.) Bass notes were, again, a little more rounded than I think is absolutely neutral: the oft-heard E-flat3 in the first movement of Mendelssohn's String Quartet 1, for example, as performed by the Eroica Quartet (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907245), was just a shade too rich and plummy. (But that didn't bother me, either: I like plummy, as long as it doesn't affect timing—and through the Cinemas, timing was tight as a nut.) Although stereo imaging and spatial depth weren't bad at all, I doubt whether the Cinemas would please those folks who insist on being able to hear that Jacintha's left tonsil is bigger than her right. And as far as the price goes . . . well, with my daughter in college, and being as close as I am to at least semi-retirement age, I don't imagine there are any $50,000/pair loudspeakers in my earthly future. That said, given the work and materials that have gone into the Cinema, the price seems fair—and I know of no similarly or lower-priced alternatives that offer this combination or strength of qualities.

Nothing happens till it happens twice
Years ago, when I returned to college and earned a degree in elementary education, I was taught the concept of the spiral curriculum: the notion that most subjects are presented to the student more than once during his or her time in school, always in greater depth and with greater nuance than the time before. Thus the first-grader who knows that Lincoln freed the slaves becomes the fifth-grader who knows the Gettysburg address by heart and the 10th-grader who knows all about the relationship between slavery and the technology of agriculture in the 19th century. (And if the student is athletically gifted, he or she may become the 12th-grader whose coach pressures the social-studies teacher to award a passing grade without the need to know any of those things. Look out, voting booth, here they come.)

I remember one of my professors drawing a parallel between the spiral curriculum and the image of a falcon that spirals away from the falconer in ever-greater circles—the same image that W.B. Yeats used to great effect in his poem "The Second Coming." At the time, I also couldn't help thinking of that poem's second-most-famous line, the centre will not hold—although whether I did so as an informed pessimist or merely as a cynical crank is something I no longer recall.

It seems to me now that revisiting the same topic every x number of years works only if the topic in question is something the learner wants to know about; otherwise, the experience is one of deeper and more nuanced levels of indifference—a dissolute if not quite apocalyptic conclusion to one's career as a learner. Thus my tendency, and surely that of every other passionate reviewer, is to tiptoe around my favorite passions, and to sneak them into the dialogue every few years or so. The main reason being: Given the slow and gradual nature of my own audio education, I wonder if I would have gotten wooden horns and Western Electric compression drivers at age 42 instead of 62. Probably not.

In the Hommage Cinema, Auditorium 23 has given us what may be the best and easiest opportunity to experience once again a class of loudspeakers that dead engineers forgot to keep making. As second chances go, it's a hell of a thing.


Anton's picture

I will seek out this piece of kit to hear, but one question from last month's column will remain sadly unanswered...

"And how was it that companies in the 1930s could offer, for reasonable prices, technologies that all but a few modern manufacturers declare are "too expensive"?"

55K is still well north of what most of us, I suspect, can reasonably toss around.

Herb Reichert's picture

high resolution - voice articulating - audio reproduction was a matter of national, commercial, and strategic importance. Think cinema, telephone and international communications -- Low distortion audio was the NASA space program "rocket science" of its time -- cost was not an object

"And how was it that companies in the 1930s could offer, for reasonable prices, technologies that all but a few modern manufacturers declare are "too expensive"?"

Severius's picture

I'm watching the world series as I type this, in which the Chicago Cubs appear for the first time in 71 years. A baseball analogy seems appropriate here:

A.Dudley* has been absolutely, positively, unquestionably perfect in during his stint at Stereophile - batting 1000.

Heck - he's even managed a metaphysical 1001.

Not once; not one single, solitary, infinitesimal split-atom-nanosecond in time/space -or even beyond it - has The Prophet ventured anywhere near to auditioning anything but the most non-linear, midfi-to-ultra-low-fidelity rubbish available [short of blaster PA systems - but there's still time], while sneering and spitting on actual high-end gear - when not actually stooping to defecate on the very notion of it.

Why? Cause high-end gear doesn't have any - oops, aint't got no [I have to remember to adhere to the Atkinson/Stereophile Manual of Style - see below] - humaneth. Humaneth.

Adopting and paraphrasing Aleister Crowley's dictum, The Prophet has proclaimed that Humaneth Shall Be The Whole Law.

The wilder the frequency response curve, the grittier the distortion - all distortion - the more piercing, the more punishingly painful the sound - the more Humaneth the device in question has and - according to The Prophet's - the better it it is.

In the present case [uncannily consistent, as noted above], The Prophet's singled out the following axis of praise"

"Treble extension was noticeably less than one associates with modern loudspeakers, manifesting in lessened air and sparkle with some recordings. (That didn't bother me often...]". And why should it? Who needs some thing as prissy and effete as high frequencies anyway, unless they're really screeching - as is the case in many of The Prophet's favorite fullrangers.

"Bass notes were, again, a little more rounded than I think is absolutely neutral...(But that didn't bother me, either...]". Of course not. It ain't jack if it don't thump [learning good usage quickly from the 'Phile's Pulitzer Prize winning journalists].

Most important is that the devices - whatever they may be; amps, loudspeakers, FM tuners, anything - lack that most hated, the most Harry Pearsonesque of all attributes: imaging and spacial depth of image. Those depraved items prevent you from hearing the musicians. Humaneth means " keeping my attention focused not on the sound of the hall or the artifacts of the recording technology, but on what the musicians were doing".

Because, those are mutually exclusive categories. You jest can't hear the music if your gear's actually reproducing the hall and placing the musicians in three dimensional space. That's totally that depraved, windbag, Harry Pearson high-end swindle crap.

Being at least partially hearing impaired really helps your own personal Humaneth. And, timing. Timing. Ragged, low-fi sound with great "timing". That's really important.

For his coup de grace, The Prophet demonstrates his considerable writing skills, which in turn demonstrate his powerful intellect, by using profanity. After all, what would a Dudley piece be without adolescent expletives? But, The Prophet's no ordinary pimply sixteen year old imprisoned in an sixty-year-old fart body. No sir. Here, The Prophet enlarges our language with a brand newly made up profanity: "fuckery". As per Atkinson's Manual of Style.

Exactly what you want your kids/grandkids/nephews reading as you try to introduce them to the dying field of high-end audio.

As is typical of The Prophet's faithful disciples [and who isn't one?], "Anton" above praises The Prophet for his "Wonderful Review, Good Perspective". Yes. Completely.

*The Holy Prophet of Audio, who'd every utterance and incoherently formed thoughts are sacred and of which all of us are unworthy.

HammerSandwich's picture

Perhaps you should have posted a bunny photo instead.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you so much for your succinct commentary. I want to marry you and have your baby. But since I'm past childbearing age, I shall instead make do by posting a bunny photo on my wall, dressing it in Holy Prophet garb, and calling it Peter Severius. Perfect for Halloween. Hmm... I could even dispense treats dressed as the Holy Severius.

Severius's picture

Severius! is my actual nom de guerre.

But, your site doesn't allow for punctuation in screen names. You may look up my internet audio legacy on, and even better on the original [although all of that original site's gone].

-Neward Thelman, aka Severius!

Anton's picture

Art probably poops bigger internet audio legacies than you after eating corn.

Severius? What don't you just smite The Prophet with your magical lightning bolt +20HP?

Here's a little help: change your name to The Severius. ;-P

Anton's picture

So, who on earth wants his/her kid, grand kid, nephew, niece, etc. to have to sit through your fist shaking equivalent of "You, Art! Get off my lawn!"

LOL, Audio Crank.

These types of speakers can sound awesome, in case you are too good to listen to different things.

If you ever leave your lair....The epitome of this type of sound, I think, is often produced by a company called Silbatone at Hi Fi shows.

They use nearly 100 year old speakers matched with Silbatone electronics that are honestly startling in terms of their musicality and 'rightness.' Even other manufacturers walk around saying WTF (ask your nephew to translate) about how good those babies can sound.

Our hobby is about listening and finding pleasure, and this sort of speaker is simply one way to enjoy.

For your nephew: Please tell your uncle to shove the "The Prophet" stuff up his ass. Now, go listen to as many different Hi Fi set ups as possible, don't listen to your crank uncle, and have fun. If you ever want to so bitterly piss and whine about something as harmless as a column about a vintage styled horn speaker, please refer back to my first sentence in this paragraph. Cheers!

Uncle Severius, I think your up-tightness extends to your tympanic membranes. (I have a hunch you can't spell Harry Potter character names, either. Either that, or I'd wager you have a fine little 1:64 scale fully painted Warmachine toy.)

Severius's picture


Anton's picture

Astute of you!

John Atkinson's picture
Severius wrote:
Treble extension was noticeably less than one associates with modern loudspeakers, manifesting in lessened air and sparkle with some recordings. (That didn't bother me often...)". And why should it?

It did bother me when I listened to the speakers at Art's before measuring them for a follow-up review to appear in our January issue. In that follow-up, I do suggest that something like the tweeter used by Zu Audio would be sensitive enough to match that superb-sounding horn-loaded midrange unit. However, in his "Manufacturer's Comment" in the January issue, Keith Aschenbrenner explains that using such a tweeter would not be historically appropriate.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rschryer's picture

No one is telling you what you should like or read, Severius. IF AD's writing offends you, turn the page. Just try to have some fun, okay? This is a hobby, not a debate on abortion.

dalethorn's picture

Horns are fascinating, and not just because they're incredibly efficient. The efficiency is certainly a part of it, in that you're hearing the amps at probably a much lower power level that they were designed for, or if they were designed for very low power use, a unique kind of amp. I imagine that one of those AES acoustical engineers could describe a number of ways those horns move air differently than cone speakers, or even electrostatic speakers, and how they sound different as a result. I've heard only the Klipschorns, in the 1970's, and they were impressive.

domainedujac's picture

Pleasures are dear and difficult to get.
Feasting the eye, fat grapes hung in the arbour,
That the fox could not reach, for all his labour,
And leaving them declared, they're not ripe yet.

Johnny2Bad's picture

Anton asks " ... "And how was it that companies in the 1930s could offer, for reasonable prices, technologies that all but a few modern manufacturers declare are "too expensive"?" ..."

Well, they were not "reasonable prices" back in the 1930's in the first place. They are rare because no-one, with rare exception, could afford them and the associated amplifiers. Most people played records on a turntable with an acoustic, not electric, horn. And few people could afford those.

Herb Reichert's picture

the Western Electric 12A to be the first "electric" loudspeaker (ca. 1927?). They are LARGE wood horns and were driven by the WE 555 field coil compression driver refered to in AD's story. They are extremely rare but I auditioned a pair recently and (to my ears) -- no loudspeaker driver ( today or yesterday) delivers a lower distortion midrange.

Just sayin'

Herb Reichert's picture

It was 1926 - "Vitaphone sound system for motion pictures used a new speaker developed at Bell Labs. Wente and Thuras designed the Western Electric 555-W speaker driver that was coupled with a horn having a 1-in. throat and a 40-sq. ft. mouth; it was capable of 100-5000 hz freq. range with an efficiency of 25% (compared to 1% today) needed due to low amp power of 10 watts. The power amps were 205-D. Older loudspeakers were balanced armature type, but the newer 555-W speakers of the Vitaphone were moving coil type." sorry

BTW: these were not sold to end users. They were leased....for five years. Uses were instructed to destroy the 12As at the end of the lease period. Each 12A horn had over 100 seperate wood parts - none of which possessed a right angle. How much would that cost today?

Svein01's picture

Dear Art,

I love your review and I hope I get to enjoy music trough the Auditorium 23 HC at one point in time. I personally own a Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega (G2) that plays in harmony with a pair of Thöress 300b SET amplifiers and a Cary SLP-05 as preamp. I have enjoyed many audio systems, but with the Avantgarde horn speakers being conducted by the Thöress I swear I can see the reflections of my own image in Miles David´s trumpet on the Kind of Blue album, or see the smallest movement of the skirt of the blonde girl sitting next to me is the club at Frank Sinatra´s album Sinatra At The Sands.

Why am I writing this romantic, personal praise of my own system? Simply to encourage you to write a review of a what I consider to be a modernistic take of Auditorium 23 HC, the Avantgarde Acoustics Duo (or indeed the Avantgarde Acoustic Uno, witch I have not listen to myself). It would be very interesting to get your thoughts on this speaker, and while I am no big fan of comparison test, it would be interesting to get your thoughts on the travel horn speakers have gone true since the classic Western Electric days to modern, highly engineered and scientific based horn speakers like the Avantgarde Acoustics.

And if you do decide to test or simply listen to the Avantgarde Acoustics, I highly encourage you to listen to them together with the Thöress 300b, for your own listening pleasure.

Best regards from Norway

domainedujac's picture

•Ask the right questions about value; “we tend to overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot.”

domainedujac's picture

My Japanese friends called these 1930s Western Electric tube creations "talkie amps," for the millions of movie houses, telephones, radios, and PA systems they were designed to power. During the Great Depression, "speech intelligibility" was of immense strategic, economic, and political importance. In America, audio engineering was to the 1930s what the A-bomb was to the 1940s, what NASA was to the 1960s, what railroads were to the 1830s. Just imagine, the world's best minds and $$, all focused on accurate, "mirror-like" audio reproduction.

Herb Reichert, STEREOPHILE

Surge's picture

I wanted to like A23 when I was shopping for just this type of speaker. I don't care much for Shindo, but I have a full Kondo Japan setup, using the 8W Souga, M77, Sfz, SME V8 Kondo wired tonearm, and all Kondo silver cabling.
I would never run a LM Chinese driver in such a setup. To be honest, the cost of the speaker should be $5K, max, to justify such a low end driver.
Plus, the horn shape is just plain wrong. Look around, no other respected horn speaker design uses that non-symmetrical shape.
Looks nice, but again, at $50K we expect much more.