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In the Forum: Horn-Loaded Speakers
In the Thread: Aporia - Silbatone Acoustics speaker
Post Subject: Its all relativePosted by Joe Roberts on: 1/13/2009
At CES there were Viagra-junkie sized power cords everywhere for $5000. Around our room were $10k and $20k speakers that sounded like a wet jukebox. It was the land of delusion.

Value per topology is one way to measure but let's instead start with a price tag and judge value from that perspective. Silbatone is really cost no object gear built by and for the extremist luxury market. They are crazy maniacs seriously trying to build the best stuff they can, which is why I work with them.

Most expensive hi-end gear is insulting and boring, and not even well made beyond the thick faceplate. What are these manufacturers thinking? There are some idiots with a lot of excess money in this world but too many hi-end manufacturers are trying to sell excessive junk to this small imaginary group of buyers.

In Korea, the previous $15k Silbatone amp design (still available) sold 175 pieces. The amp sold because it sounds better than most of the sucker bet $15-50k amps out there and when people have a chance to listen, the sound sells the amp. For $15k I would want a couple cars and a speaker. I am not the market for these high-dollar toys but Silbatone intrigues me because it sounds really good and it is different from the copycat "audio jewelry" junk that is everywhere. Part of their fun seems to be showing up even more expensive Western imports in Seoul at a much better price in Korean money and far nicer construction.

I am not trying to sell Silbatone here, because I know no one at Romy the Cat is buying! I would only recommend purchasing any $30k audio item if you have excessive resources and spending surplus funds on audio makes you happy. I'm just making the point that ALL high-end gear is not equally ridiculous if you got the cheese to blow on a $30k amp and $30k speaker. I probably would build my own ugly stuff even if I had the cash because that's me.

I had literally tons of vintage gear and I am the first to say that 90% is not worth the time, although it can be pleasant. Western Electric is indeed different, especially the electrodynamic theater gear. Few have or have heard this rare stuff in properly matched stereo systems. Look at the pics of 1930s-1940s WE parts on the Silbatone site. This is very serious equipment that came out of the best research and manufacturing facilities in America at the time. Movie theater sound was the pinnacle of high-tech. It was designed to amaze people with sound.

The owner of the Silbatone vintage collection is my personal friend and he got my Lansing field coil speakers and WE gear because I know he will never sell it. He has a personal museum. He is THE most dedicated audio nut I know and I have known thousands. This guy tried it all and he is listening to the best he can find. It is WECO by a large margin.

The editor of the biggest and most influential magazine in the world, Stereo Sound in Japan, uses WE Mirrophonic gear with the 26A horn. You know he can get anything he wants on long term loan or as a gift, but he goes with the antique WECO heavy metal. Why?

Some myths actually are true. This is one. WECO field coil theater loudspeakers are the bomb. It is like eating psychedelic mushrooms to listen to this equipment.

Most of the WE maniacs are crazy with lust for items they don't have and will never get. It is a serious disease, audio AIDS. I'm glad I'm cured. Regular old proletarian green ALTEC is cool with me. I'm no snob.

On the Manger, I think the drivers cost something like $500 each. Yeah, sounds like a lot, but if they would work in a $1000 Lowther-style cabinet that would be good "topology value"--usual Lowther box challenges apply. Get out your table saw.

The Manger is really smooth and silky, the 180 degree opposite of Lowthers. A compression driver midrange would be more dynamic. Maybe there is a hint of the dead plastic cone sound, because the diaphragm appears to be some sort of plastic material. The slightly soft midrange dynamics work out though. One could imagine more snap but the overall feel is fairly lively.

On the other hand, the lack of peaks is unusual and refreshing. It delivers a lot of sparkle and harmonics, some of which I probably can't even hear anymore. No Lowther hash and tizz. My comparison with the old Quad ESL comes to mind again. Not super duper dynamic but it floats a very nice music space. Fantastic on violins and vocals. Clean, natural, precise, and smooth.

I think the horn helps to bring the Manger to life and certainly enhances and extends low frequency performance, which is only solid to 125 hz in a regular box, I'm told. Like the Lowther, you have to get tricky to get "full range" LF performance out of it. The usual tragic flaw.

From what I could tell, the Manger driver sounds very different from a standard piston cone, but I am not sure which part of what I was hearing was the Aporia and which was the driver. Really pure and smooth. Makes me rethink my retarded paper cone fetish.

The Manger is an expensive driver but the high cost of the Silbatone horn comes from the way it is built. It is precision molded from a custom developed composite foam with 40% air content for anti-resonant properties. The material was developed for this project by PhD scientists. The shape is like a math problem in topology and very challenging to die cast--an inside joke on any copycats. The horn is painted with 19 coats of automobile lacquer when a Jaguar gets 11. The diffusor is so complicated to make that nobody wants to do it. They had a mental picture and then did what needed to be done to realize this vision to the maximum level of insanity.

Is this going too far? Maybe, but you wont have the sharp angles, discontinuities, and resonating wood panels of most of the Lowther boxes out there. Nobody would mistake it for an overgrown DIY project either. It is an impressive objet that might fly in the Asian luxury market, especially after listening comparisons. Silbatone gear is too expensive but it is not mindlessly expensive. I really like their stuff, even though I recognize that there is plenty of absurdity in the idea of playing the game at that level.

Some of the most intelligent conversation I had at CES were with non-audiophiles who were lured into the room because the Aporia was so wild looking. One of these folks was the manager of the Las Vegas Symphony. We hung out for a while listening to music and discussing classical music reproduction. This fellow was no hifi geek at all, just trying to get a feeling for what was out there. He left very pleased with what he heard and I felt good about that because he was audio disease free, simply reacting to the music.

Another visitor was an older lady from Florida with a pair of AR-3x that she had since new. I told her she was lucky to have speakers that she felt no need to ever replace. We talked about the violin music we listened to and South American archaeology rather than equipment. She apparently couldn't care less about hifi gear. I am not sure why she was there but she stuck around for a half hour cause she liked the vibe. A buyer from Tourneau was also hanging out chilling with the music, didn't seem to care a whit about hifi. The Florida lady thought the Aporia was good but she was content with the old AR-3s. Plus, they look good with her oriental rugs.

That is where we all need to get to...where there is no need to look for something else. No audio AIDS. I feel that way about my Garrard 301. You can show me a turntable with a 100lb diamond platter spun by naked virgin pixies and I wouldn't take a second look.  In my mind, the 301 kicks all ass, except maybe the EMT 927's.

Speakers are always the hard part though. They are all incomplete in some way or another. I am not sure that it even makes sense to talk about the ultimate speaker because there is no such thing. I do believe that if such a speaker existed, it would probably be a horn. I'm still not sure what to drive it with.

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