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In the Forum: Horn-Loaded Speakers
In the Thread: Aporia - Silbatone Acoustics speaker
Post Subject: The prison of language and the lie in the symbolPosted by Joe Roberts on: 1/14/2009

I would agree that the Lowther is not hard to beat but the question is where and in whose mind does this competition exist?

Is the Lowther, Manger, or other full range single driver in competition with different multi-driver approaches, other single driver approaches, or is it the case that such units set up a challenge in themselves, the challenge to make a marginal tool work well within the arena the technology sets up?

I would say that if you have Lowthers, you have your hands full making that driver work without worrying about all those other types of systems you may not have. This is a reality show: You have a piece of string, a rusty razor blade, and a coconut build a raft and excape from the island.

Paradoxically, the challenge of full range drivers is that they are not actually full range. Getting "Full range" does not come in the shipping box from England, Germany, or wherever. It is a long odyssey and the promised land does not really exist, but if you are lucky and skilled you can get somewhere near it.

As myself and others have pointed out about the Lowther and what I am saying now about the Manger is that these drivers can have certain remarkable qualities, even if they don't do it all.

Here again, there is a disconnect between language/symbolism and experience. The single driver idea is attractive to many for mostly illusory reasons--no crossover, simplicity, single point source, etc etc. These are all beautiful notions. The art and craft of system building and listening to the speaker are in the realm of direct experience and trial and error, not philosophy or symbolism. The pretty ideas do not explain the good or bad things about the sound. Sound is in a way that cognitive notions do not exist.

I admit that I specialize in audio propaganda. Look at the magazine I used to publish. My job was to lure audio guys into the creative and fun world of DIY. It was not different from being a USMC recruiter. Promise a tiny slice of heaven when the reality is laying in the mud while the enemy is shooting at you. But when you are there, you learn and grow, and maybe enjoy a perverted masochistic sort of self realization. In any case, there is enough to worry about in any situation without worrying how other wars are going or how it would be better to be at war in Somalia rather than Afghanistan. One war at a time. Be all that you can be.

My reading is that Silbatone took on this challenge of playing a one key piano and tried to see what they could do with it. Can one get bigger bass than Aporia with a SUV sized bass horn?...YES. Can one get better midrange with a TAD driver on a wood horn?...MAYBE. Can one acheive better highs with a Stage Accompany planar tweeter?...Definitely.

But then here you are in front of this crazy looking thing at CES, this horn that looks like an air conditioner sitting on a bathtub. How does THIS speaker perform for music listening on its own merits, forgetting that there is a 9 way multiamp horn system in Room 3012, and a kapton diaphragm planar electrostatic in 2846, and the guy next door has a mini tower that juices up the 120hz second harmonic with a resonator to previously unheard levels?

In that context it doesn't matter if it is a single driver speaker. It is just a speaker. What you are listening to then and there.

The Aporia passes this test to my ear--and I hope somebody else who was there shares their impressions so I don't sound like a sales reptile. I thought it was a really good speaker, no matter what topology it uses. I can't afford it so it doesn't really matter, but it was very good.

The idea that they did this within the challenge of the single-driver paradigm is impressive to me as one who suffered through many different learning experiences dicking around with single drivers, but that is a different level of appreciation from the enjoyment of the sound experience. The lucky listeners are those innocent ones who never fought in the single driver trenches. They just get to listen to the sound.

So, how does price enter this discussion. Well, I can say that Silbatone guys came up with the price AFTER the prototype was where they wanted it. The product is designed by crazy people who have other businesses besides audio and they are making audio gear for fun and hobby and to build the most perfectionist items they can dream up. They are not really thinking as much about price or profit as how much people will appreciate the item.

But in discussions about the Korean market, I hear that many people do count the drivers when judging price. How can a single driver cost as much as a 3 way? This cost per typology thinking has a lot of traps in it and it is one of the things that Silbatone is trying to battle. It has uses as a metric but it is very easy to misapply or go too far with the quantative logic of value ratios.

So, imagine an alternative logic where the goal is to have a listener say "I don't like single drivers but the Aporia is different" or "I think SE 300B amps are junk but the Silbatone is better than my $75k Audio Research 75 watt whatever whatever" or " I never thought an 8W would play my Wilson WATT." They are out there trying to evangelize for the cause and showing off a little bit, winning people over to low power approaches, deconstructing mainstream audio marketing nonsense, and injecting their own extremist vision into the dialogue.

This is why they are so concerned with having horn speakers that are friendly to big amps, and why we are presenting moderate or adequate sensitivity as a virtue. They are trying to spread the horn message to non-triode freaks, to encourage a listen.

It is an unusual mode of marketing but it seems to work in Korea. In Seoul, you can take a subway and hear any insane hi end product made anywhere. The listening experience is available, not only the magazine fantasy of reading about gear or inhaling second-hand internet listening impressions. Silbatone sits next to Levinsons and Audio Physics and monster robot looking speakers you never heard of and says "Check me out while you are comparing gear." People on forums like this understand that SE amps and non-conventional speakers offer a respectable path to sound but there are many tradionalist high end zombies who did not yet get the memo. In the home market, Silbatone is the memo.

On the eternal WE question, all I can say is that 98% of people who like or don't like Western Electric sound actually never heard a proper Western system and quite possibly heard no actual WE gear at all.

If you take a 555 driver and stick it on an Altec horn with a threaded adaptor, as I have done, this is NOT a Western Electric system, especially if you only have one channel with that flea market find. It is a WE part. These parts were installed carefully designed theater systems with purpose designed xovers and huge elaborate baffles. The parts can be good for Altec type experiments but then the systems engineering contribution of ERPI gear is not in play.

Western Electric delivers the coup de grace when you fire up some music and ask "Why the HELL does this sound so good?" There is no logical reason for it. It is old. It looks like Thomas Edison's lab. It is not even a compression driver but a "Loud Speaking Telephone." I still don't know the answer to why it works so good. It is mysterious stuff.

That's the point. The listening experience. "Experts" stand before a WE system and laugh at the old junk, then when the music comes on their jaw hits their shoe. I did it to hi-end nuts in the 80s with 124 amps and 755A in slant front wall cabinets. HaHa ha...Patsy Cline record...BANG! WTF!? The WE theater gear is on a different order of magnitude. The designer of a very famous British loudspeaker recently visited the Silbatone collection, laughed at first, and then almost died when he heard Mirrophonic. Now he is super interested in field coil speakers.

Again, I am cured of the mania but I must recognize that Western Electric speakers are among the best. There is nothing like a TA4181 field coil woofer. I guess you had to be there to appreciate what I am saying. I love 416s but they are toys compared to 4181s.

So what does it mean that this Japanese editor uses Western? MY reading is that he puts the listening experience first then goes where his ears told him to go. I don't think he is following a cult trend...if anything he is spearheading it. His "Editors Choice" is something you can't even buy, that comes from an ancient civilization. I am willing to grant the guy respect that he chose what he likes and I appreciate that there is a license in that to pursue your own taste. He can have anything...why would he slum out with inferior antique junk just to make some obscure cultural point?

Ideologically, I am opposed to $100k audio systems and elitist vintage collector tribal religions as much as the next guy. Bracket out the price tag and the bogus hype, the theoretical arguments and mental pictures of ideal configurations, the ravings of internet poseurs, the opinions of all the  reviewers...just listen. Soak up the experience. Don't talk to any other audio nerds about it while the music is playing. And don't criticize the speaker for not being something else with more drivers or a ribbon instead of a diaphragn or whatever. What is there for your ears?

This is hard for people like us to do. We say "Aha, single Manger in a backhorn....hmmm..." then flip through the index cards in our brain. Isolate frequency ranges for detailed critique. Mentally compare Manger and Lowther, even though Lowther is not there and has nothing to do with the occasion. We think about space and scale, which is almost impossible to do when listening to live music.

I'm doing this myself in this discussion. Segmenting the continuum for analysis and playing the language game of audiospeak.

Maybe you know you have found something good when this specialist thought pollution disappears after the first round and a profound music listening groove takes over.

For all the limitations, single-drivers can get me to this place or at least they have at certain points of my journey. This only works if you listen to them on their own merits rather than mentally comparing the Edgarhorn 4 way system or the TAD 4004 with a transmission line bass.

Does the Silbatone Aporia horn deliver the shocking enlightenment vision for single driver systems that I argue that Western Electric theater gear does for large scale horns?

I am not sure this is a fair question because the scale of a big horn is so impressive that nothing really compares on sheer impact. It cannot be ignored. it is a different game. The good single driver experience is a more subtle and intimate affair, not for the circus.

Maybe the Aporia experiment will get people to give the single-driver topology a first listen or, in some cases, a second chance. The Manger driver does bring a new flavor to the art and beats the famous paper cones in some respects. The five-figure manufacturing cost of a pair Aporia horns is a serious effort to provde the best foundation for the driver to do its thing. And it is wild looking enough to get people to pay attention.  An interesting and educational product, I think.

I don't usually post on audio forums but some important questions are raised in this discussion and by this discussion. It is just that... a linguistic exercise. Moving around mental pictures like chess men. This world audio discussion is a parallel reality which has its own air supply independent of actual listening experience.  I used to write about audio a lot, but now I feel that the important things are almost impossible to talk about and talk is cheap. I'm retired  from audio and working on my archaeology degree.

Some of us might remember Harvey Rosenberg's 1993 book The Search for Musical Ecstasy where he presented a fabulous audio fantasy of the Rolling Stones playing live at Yankee Stadium on Western Electric triode amps and theater horns. It was an intense crazed chapter. I really felt the excitement.

When I got the 800 page draft of the book, I talked to Gizmo about it. The fact is that when he wrote that book, he had no experience of Western Electric gear and had never heard a triode amp of any kind. He imagined the whole 800 pages into reality. 800 pages on the Triode Guild and the new age brought on by the resurrection of triode technology and it was based only on abstract desire and tube lust. Pictures of a dream.

There are lessons in that never-before told story.

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