One thing I learned on my wanderings through the plethora of loudspeakers on offer at AW14 was that Hifi people don’t like mid-range clarity (or “vocal-realism”). To the contrary, they design for something called ‘warmth’, an alien concept to me as it is produced by cabinet vibration. That means it is NOT under the control of the amplifier. That means it has nothing to do with the actual MUSIC.
Some companies go as far as relying on cabinet vibration to increase the sensitivity of their loudspeakers. This is not good science. For example, if one gains 3dB from panel resonance (you know who you are), that means you are running at a 40% distortion level.
It also seemed that I was the only manufacturer to present independent test results. Don’t get me wrong; they were not designed with measurements but by ear. It just coincidently seems to be that when they sound right to me, they produce almost perfect test results on paper.
And when they sound right to me, they sound right to almost everyone else.
And so, in no particular order, on to my skimpy speaker show report:
The Inspire room had some AE speakers costing £1550. My notes say they were good with guitars “but no ‘bite’ to vocals”. Given that within 1%, amplifiers and players are much of a muchness. That means that the eventual ‘sound’ in a demo room relies on wildly different loudspeaker design philosophies, approaches and even technologies, plus the skill of the demonstrator.
Incidentally, I spent 3-4 hours repositioning my Caterthuns, knowing the sound quality that was available from them and not resting until we had achieved it. I even pulled back from using a RIAA stage we were supposed to launch because it was designed for ‘warmth’ not overall performance, and it showed.
MCRU (Mains Cables Are Us) were demonstrating some £2500 floor standers with a ribbon tweeter. Now, I know some people appreciate a ribbon tweeter, but I’ve personally never heard a good implementation of one, and this occasion was no different. I could hear the lack of integration with the bass units. Stick with the day job guys.
I got to the Avid Audio room on the Sunday. Their big (6 foot tall) £43,000 flagship model had had a drop and wasn’t working through Saturday. Their other loudspeakers were not capable of filling the huge room they had, and many people were heard leaving muttering words of disappointment. When I was in there, however, they had got them working and WOW!, what a sound. Pulled out 3 yards from the back wall and 2 yards away from the sides, the stereo imagery on large scale orchestral works was as holographic as I’ve ever heard. No false ‘warmth’ was present, and this allowed the music to flow freely. The Avid designer, Laurence, popped into my room and purred when stroked by my Cats, but more of this later. I liked the big Avids very much.
I wonder about some people. I’d suffer for my work (have done, many occasions) but I don’t suffer my pleasures. I wouldn’t have poor sounding loudspeakers for their aesthetic value. G-Point Audio seem to take the opposite point of view, demonstrating a Lowther fed mahogany horn loudspeaker in the shape of a large saxomaphone. They were very ‘WARMTH’, to the point of being intolerable; no bass and no top-end. I actually wrote “awful” in my notes. I didn’t get a price, but I bet they were expensive.
Another one suffering for their science was Music 1st, demonstrating Howes floorstanders with Voltactiv full-range permanent magnet drive units. Again they showed too much “warmth”; to the point I wrote “honky”, and hardly any bass, despite being 1/3 wave transmission line designs and tucked in the corners of the room. £7500. Interestingly, they seemed to extend well beyond the 8KHz my “full-range” drive units can get up to. Might be worth trying a pair of Voltactivs in some of my Caterthun F1 cabinets.
In the High End Cable room I encountered the Raidho loudspeakers. I wrote 4400; I think that was the price of these well finished stand-mounted loudspeakers. However, this is what I mean about ribbon tweeters; they do not sound balanced, they do not sound flat and they definitely should not ever be used in two-way loudspeakers due to their restricted envelope. They only come-in effectively at 5KHz. No bass-unit over 3 inched diameter can get up that far. This just ruins the vocal band. Just don’t do it.
Naim / Audio-T had some multi-way floor standers with a one-tone bass response. This is typical of the B+W falacy of tunning the whole cabinet to one low frequency and to-hell-with-the-consequencies. Don’t these people listen to their equipment?
In the Audio Note room, I met Dale from Luxurie. I’ve said enough about the sound in that room (I was ‘warmthed’ to death), except possibly that they (the Audio Notes) ruined their mid-range stereo imagery capacity by radiating energy in all directions from their over-flexible cabinet walls. £4200+
Didn’t get to the Audem room; another company more interested in their bottom line than in bringing hifi to the people.
Angel Sound / Select Audio had an interesting room. They had tiny 3″ speakers that were part of a midi-type system specified thus; 25W/ch valve output, streamer, blue-tooth, DAC. I think it even had a radio. Retailing at £1500 it’s amazing value. Chuck the speakers out and get a pair of Caterthuns!
Hart Audio. Call me, let me help.
And last but not least, Origin Live. Based on a Japanese drum design, these suspended loudspeakers exhibited ‘warmth’ from the resonating cabinets and lacked ‘bite’ in the mid-range.
If I were to walk into a room as a customer to see new equipment, I would want to be taken to new ground. That’s what my Caterthuns do. They are so capable that you never know for sure what will happen next.
I was asked about the ‘thumping’ sounds during an Eva Cassidy song, and we both realised at the same moment that we were listening to her fingers moving on the fret board. THIS is what I mean by ‘new ground’; revealing levels of detail unheard of in the past. It’s more than a “Wow!” factor; my Caterthuns can invoke disbelief.
Welcome to your new music collection.
It’s interesting to note that the most expensive loudspeakers in the show were also the ones that were closest to my Caterthuns in terms of their acoustic performance. Lets see what we find at Whittlebury.