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THE HORN LOUDSPEAKER - Part One - By Ralph Waters

Ok, lets dispense with all the funny stuff , lets get all the Freudian allusions and talk about horns without snide, snickering school boy humour.

Trouble is that horn speaker builders tend to conform to the Freudian stereotypes. Bigger is always better. The solution to more listening pleasure for the horn enthusiast is to always make it larger.

And their fixated determination to indulge themselves in this weird and wonderful world often sets them apart. But not always in a good way. You will usually find them at parties in the kitchen. They herd together and geek incessantly about the virtues of horns. They are myopic, dogmatic and unreasonable. You cannot really every enjoy a balanced relationship with a horn lover. They are all of course confirmed bachelors as no woman would allow a monstrous horn speaker into her loungeroom. The only exception to this was the man who made his horns from glass.

Like Austin Powers, " Do I make you horny baby", the horn brigade are really "out there" and inappropriate. Forget tiny little speakers and private moments of subtle pleasure. The horn speaker builder wants to dominate the planet, rule by sound, excoriate the entire neighbourhood and get their message across loud and clear. Horn lovers are tyrants and megolomaniacs of the audio spectrum. They take no prisoners.

The horn devotee wants to be heard. The horn lover wants to only hear of horns and nothing else will do. They scorn other technologies and the people that use them.

And with much embarrassment and speaking very personally, there is a horn lover inside of me. I have kept it carefully concealed for years and years and rarely indulged myself the luxury, too ashamed to admit it openly but as I get older the yearning increases. Long long ago I caught the bug.

But first the disclaimer: Horns create the best and worst of sounds. Like the girl with the curl, when they are good they are very, very good and when they are bad they are horrid. I mean really, really awful. Sociopathic.

Let me tell you how I caught the horn bug.

As a teenager I used to go into the city and dawdle along Kent St Clarence and Sussex streets. In those three streets you could go and visit about a dozen hi fi stores and hear the very most amazing sounds coming from all over the globe. This for me was my weekly bliss, to escape the burbs and enter the fantasy of hi fi land.

One day I was wandering past a shop in Clarence St, when a pressure wave of sound nearly knocked me down. I reeled and after a moment or two to recover, I dived through the door from whence the shockwave emanated. There was the BEAST. Klpisch La Scalas perched in the corners of the room. The culprit was a descending needle onto a record and the frequency was about sixty to eighty hertz, which sounds like a footy player just booted you in the chest. I was instantly hooked. Never mind the harsh shrill sound, The colouration or the distortion was clearly evident everywhere….. but the sheer amount of sound won me over in an instant. Acoustic testerone.

Every visit to the "pictures" I was amazed how the one speaker could fill the entire movie theatre. I was in awe of the JBL's, the EV's the Klipschs of the world. I admired these speakers much like some admire muscle cars or muscle men. I loved them. And when I went to concerts I again was reminded that the entire listening experience was only possible due to horn loudspeakers! Nothing else could do the job.

Later I was to discover the delights of the Big Beautiful Tannoys. Much much later I heard the breathtaking sound of the German designed Avantgarde Acoustics which I found well nigh faultless in their sound reproduction.

To my seventies ears, the very best of horn loudspeakers to my ear were the JBL's. I recall the years I spent at the Piggery at Byron Bay each year for the Blues Festival. Aagh, the sound was superb. Loud clear and clean as a whistle. The JBL's at the Musicians Club near Central Railway station were also stunning.

Somewhere along the way I developed an addiction to horn super tweeters. It was the only time I ever heard a cymbal sound real. With the horn loaded supertweeters, you could hear the snap of the nylon drumstick against the cymbal and the shimmer , glisten and decay. It sounded exciting and dynamic. It was real…

(As an aside, I discovered this amazing little super horn made by Coral . It was made especially for the highest frequencies. It reproduced sounds far and away beyond human hearing. 50,000 hz in fact…about three times higher than humans can detect. The proof of this incredible range was the firm proof that when coupled to a signal generator and amplifier, I could make every dog within one mile radius bark.)

Yes horn speakers could do things that other speakers could not. However ...


My love affair with horns was tempered with the stark realization that when they were done well they were unbeatable. And when they were not done well…..they were offensive. It seemed to me that few horn speakers sounded good…but the good ones were the entrance marked musical paradise. Gee that was a long intro.

So what is a horn loudspeaker and why can they sound so good and why is that they can sound so awful?

To make this as simple as I can, a horn loudspeaker is simply like cupping your hands around your mouth and speaking. You can be heard over a longer distance and with little effort. In the case of the bass and midrange, you take a conventional speaker and place a horn in front of it.

The downside is that any deficiencies in the speaker will also be magnified.

The horn can have different shapes and different sizes. The main virtue of the horn is that the horn makes the speaker go much louder. And have the theoretical possibility of reducing distortion dramatically.

The horn can also control the spread of sound (dispersion), with great accuracy. The great problem with horns is that they inherently introduce coloration or distortion. In theory the distortion of the horn loudspeaker should be ten times or more lower than a non horn loaded loudspeaker. However, the opposite is often the case.

Oh and the horn loudspeaker has one other really difficult problem, they are very hard to make them overlap smoothly. Peaks and dips are part of the curse.

The horn loudspeaker is like the filthy rich but ugly woman. The really handsome man with no brains, the good looking car with no go, the sky full of clouds but no rain….on and on and on with senseless analogies.

The loudspeaker technology with more good possibilities than you could ever desire and with so many foibles, irritating habits and shortcomings.

But here is the challenge….dominate the insubordinate traits of the horn loudspeaker, solve the near insoluble issues of the horn loudspeaker and resolve the insurmountable difficulties of the horn loudspeaker…… and then you have,….. then you have something so good and sweet and pure and wonderful that every acoustic dream and musical fantasy and well tempered hope and aspiration will all be fulfilled and culminate in pure pleasure despite the length, needless repetition and extravagance and exaggeration of this sentence.

To be continued ...