Munich High-End 2018 Ron Report: Horn Loudspeaker Report

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#1
HORN LOUDSPEAKER REPORT

In the United States one simply does not see the number and variety of horn loudspeaker systems that one sees at Munich High-End. Many of the horn speaker manufacturers are in Germany and Italy and Greece, and many of those manufacturers just do not exhibit their flagship systems at audio shows in the United States.

Munich is the best show in the world at which to experience the state-of-the-art in horn loudspeakers. I learned a lot about horn speakers at Munich High-End 2016, and I learned more this visit as well.

The subjects of this discussion are: the Cessaro Zeta with dynamic driver basshorn system, the Living Voice Olympian with Elysian, the Tune Audio Avaton, and, for tangential commentary only, the Silbatone/Western Electric “system.”

On Thursday I visited the Silbatone/Western Electric room. This exhibit is different every year, as every year the sponsors rescue out of storage exotic, rare and valuable vintage drivers and speaker components, so every year show attendees are treated to a different, one-of-a kind, sonic experience. This year a couple of small drivers were planted next to a large dynamic driver and a large horn.

I found the sound of this year’s system to display very natural tone, but I found the drivers more disjointed and less coherent than the Living Voice Olympian system. But I stipulate that I might have been tainted by the visual way in which the drivers were piled next to each other more than any actually incoherent sound itself. Still, the Silbatone sound was not “of a piece” the way the Living Voice system sounded.


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Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
5,575
317
83
Beverly Hills, CA
#2
The Living Voice Olympian and Elysian combination is a very expensive and very revered loudspeaker system. Beautifully crafted, with burnished gold horn drivers and carefully finished wood cabinets, one can almost understand where the cost of the system is spent on the fabrication time of these components.

Sonically this Living Voice system sounded completely coherent and natural. String tone perhaps was the most natural and convincing I have ever heard in my life.

I thought the system sounded, for a horn system, open and transparent -- until I heard the Tune Audio Avaton. The natural and beautiful tone of instruments was what I found truly exceptional about the Living Voice system. I suspect that that tone and utter naturalness and coherency is what audiophiles pay a $1,000,000 for when they purchase a Living Voice Olympian and Elysian system. In contrast, perhaps I was influenced visually by the juxtaposition of the various Silbatone system drivers piled around, but I heard the Silbatone system to display a less coherent presentation, although with the the same (or perhaps even better?) naturalness of tone.



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Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
5,575
317
83
Beverly Hills, CA
#3
I heard the Cessaro Gamma system with linear basshorns at this show in 2016. Despite the enormity of the loudspeaker system, I (and many others) were puzzled to perceive the system to be lacking in mid-bass and low bass projection and power. How could this be given the massiveness of the left side wall to the right side wall array of basshorns?

This time, Ralph Krebs, the Founder of Cessaro, was debuting a brand new system. This new system, called the Zeta, employed the compression horn configuration of the Cessaro Omega, but substituted a less gigantic subwoofer option.

Rather than a huge line of basshorns behind the full-range systems, or a vertical array of basshorns standing next to the full-range systems (as in most photos of Cessaro or Avantgarde systems), the Zeta was demonstrated with the relatively low cost option of a subwoofer system consisting of four 18” drivers in a huge box between the full-range systems. Two of the 18” drivers fired forward, and an 18” driver on each end fired at an angle.

This Cessaro system sounded better than I recall the system in 2016 sounding. I think (but I am not certain) that this system was more sonically coherent than the Gamma system. The tone of instruments on this system was very good, but not as natural as what I hear on the Living Voice or on the Silbatone or on the Tune Audio.

On this system also, however, the mid-bass and low-bass frequencies seemed to be missing. I heard this and, more importantly, this was confirmed by a friend of mine who is a senior writer for The Absolute Sound.

A different friend of mine asked Ralph why the low frequencies seemed to be shy given the four X 18” subwoofer system. Ralph said that he was criticized several years ago for boomy bass, and he deliberately attenuates way down the low frequencies at the Munich show. This explains the puzzling lack of low frequency “oomph” both this year and in 2016. With a front-wall wide array of true basshorns, or a huge box stuffed with four 18” drivers, I am sure no Cessaro system in someone’s home will be lacking in low frequency power and extension.


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Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
5,575
317
83
Beverly Hills, CA
#4
After exploring horn loudspeakers at Munich High-End in 2016 I arrived tentatively at three important (for me, anyway) conclusions:

1) Although I continue to have trouble describing it articulately I feel there is a characteristic of horns in general which, to my ears, makes horns sound slightly less competent and convincing at reproducing vocals than either planar (ribbon or electrostatic) or state-of-the-art, conventional dynamic driver systems;

2) Horns do not appear to me to exhibit soundstage depth or a “layered” soundstage as well as other speaker topologies; and

3) If I listened primarily to jazz, or to jazz and classical, there is no doubt I would forget about ribbon and electrostatic and conventional cone drivers and purchase some big horn loudspeaker system, and I would never look back.

To my ears there is something about horns which reproduces the most convincingly of any speaker design the sound of brass instruments. Maybe this is not shocking; instruments like tubas and trumpets look at their business ends kind of like horn drivers. Somehow horn loudspeaker drivers move air kind of in the same way that air-powered musical instruments when being played move air.

I liked the Cessaro Zeta very much, but I feel like it was too big for the room (which I also felt about the Cessaro Gamma system with basshorns in 2016).

I did not bother to check out the Tune Audio room on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, as I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Kedar would want to take me there whenever he and I happened to be able to rendezvous. Tune Audio hails from Greece.

On Sunday I stumbled across the Tune Audio room myself, and I decided to walk in. I see an almost coffin-size box made of blonde wood with a horn on a bracket attached to one side of the box, and I see an all-black box of similar size, covered with a grill, just behind the first box.



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After just a minute of listening I asked myself, “What is this? What am I hearing?” STOP THE PRESSES!!! This was an Oh My God sonic revelation! I instantly texted Kedar to ask him to come right over to verify what I was hearing!

The exhibitor was playing some jazz track. I heard very realistic instrumental tone and an unexpectedly open sound -- very similar to what I hear from planar loudspeakers. I heard a box-less sound - - the same sound for which I value planar speakers. Often with a component one is not aware of a sonic defect unless one later is conscious of its absence in another component. I can enjoy conventional box speakers, but it is not until I hear again a box-less sound that I hear what I truly enjoy.

The small horn attached by a bracket on the side of the open box with seemingly no parallel sides handles 1100Hz and up. The open box reproduces between 120Hz and 1100Hz, and the closed, black woofer just behind the open box handles the range of 120Hz and down.



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After listening to selections of instrumental jazz, jazz vocals, classical, rock and pop I conclude that this is the single best horn speaker I personally have ever heard. Brass instruments were reproduced with the breathiness and the sensation of air being physically moved which makes horns my favorite speaker for jazz.

Called the Avaton, I found this flagship, yet relatively simply, three-way speaker from Tune Audio to be more natural sounding and more musical and more coherent than the Cessaro Zeta, which costs about three times the price of the Avaton. (Of course the Tune Audio black woofer box cannot reproduce the subterranean frequencies with remotely the extension or the sound pressure level of four 18” cones or a wall-length array of basshorns.)

While I still feel that there is something about horns which deprives them from reproducing vocals as authentically as other speaker types, I think this Avaton reproduced vocals at least as well as any other horn speaker I have heard.

With sympathetic musical selections I suspect the Living Voice Olympian can sound more natural than anything else. But in comparison to the Avaton, the Living Voice sounds more like a box speaker than it does like a planar speaker. The Avaton is the first horn speaker I have heard which reminds me of the sound of planars (and for me that is a highly desirable attribute).

Winding up the show on Sunday I certainly was not expecting to find something amazing. But there it was for the hearing. Before I left the room I told Manolis Proestakis, the Founder of Tune Audio, that I heard the Anima twice before, and that I really did not like it, but that his Avaton is a true sonic achievement. If I listened primarily to jazz the Avaton is the horn speaker I would purchase.




Tune Audio Avaton Specifications

System Sensitivity: 105db
Impedance Nominal: 8ohms
Crossover: 120Hz & 1100Hz
Recommended Power: > 3watt
Recommended Amplifiers: Low-mid powered tube SETs or solid state Class A amplifiers.
Low or no feedback designs are recommended.
Recommended Placement: Near wall or room corner placement is desirable.
Preferred clearance between speakers: >2m
Listening Distance: >4m
Dimensions: H210cm, W102cm, D210cm
Weight: 75Kg each
 

Tango

VIP/Donor
Mar 12, 2017
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Bangkok
#5
1) Although I continue to have trouble describing it articulately I feel there is a characteristic of horns in general which, to my ears, makes horns sound slightly less competent and convincing at reproducing vocals than either planar (ribbon or electrostatic) or state-of-the-art, conventional dynamic driver systems.
There are always surprises in this audio hobby. My prefer music is jazz and vocal. Although Cessaro has never made any good impression to anyone, I do believe, in term of lifelike realistic spooky stand there in front of you vocal, my system will not be beaten by any other speakers. And this, even more surprise, comes out of a Lyra AtlasSL. Some other horns can do too. Always leave room for possibility.

Kind regards,
Tang
 
Feb 7, 2011
89
25
8
www.the2ndtier.com
#6
After just a minute of listening I asked myself, “What is this? What am I hearing?” STOP THE PRESSES!!! This was an Oh My God sonic revelation!
I heard the Avatons last year at Munich. On the Friday I was underwhelmed, but on the Saturday they were my favourite speakers of the show (along with the Aries Cerat).

Before I left the room I told Manolis Proestakis, the Founder of Tune Audio, that I heard the Anima twice before, and that I really did not like it, but that his Avaton is a true sonic achievement.
I doubt you've heard the Anima at its best. Having heard both the Avatons and Animas, they clearly share a 'house sound'. The retail price of the Anima is a fraction of that of the Avaton - I reckon you get a lot of speaker for your money.

Mani.
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
2,629
155
63
Switzerland
#7
I heard the Avatons last year at Munich. On the Friday I was underwhelmed, but on the Saturday they were my favourite speakers of the show (along with the Aries Cerat).



I doubt you've heard the Anima at its best. Having heard both the Avatons and Animas, they clearly share a 'house sound'. The retail price of the Anima is a fraction of that of the Avaton - I reckon you get a lot of speaker for your money.

Mani.
I heard too many colorations from the Avaton...to me the tone was not as natural as the LV system or indeed the Anima from past years. I would choose the Anima or the Horns Universum most likely for an under 40K speaker if I had the space.
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
2,629
155
63
Switzerland
#8
After exploring horn loudspeakers at Munich High-End in 2016 I arrived tentatively at three important (for me, anyway) conclusions:

1) Although I continue to have trouble describing it articulately I feel there is a characteristic of horns in general which, to my ears, makes horns sound slightly less competent and convincing at reproducing vocals than either planar (ribbon or electrostatic) or state-of-the-art, conventional dynamic driver systems;

2) Horns do not appear to me to exhibit soundstage depth or a “layered” soundstage as well as other speaker topologies; and

3) If I listened primarily to jazz, or to jazz and classical, there is no doubt I would forget about ribbon and electrostatic and convention cone drivers and purchase some big horn loudspeaker system, and I would never look back.

To my ears there is something about horns which reproduces the most convincingly of any speaker design the sound of brass instruments. Maybe this is not shocking; instruments like tubas and trumpets look at their business ends kind of like horn drivers. Somehow horn loudspeaker drivers move air kind of in the same way that air-powered musical instruments when being played move air.

I liked the Cessaro Zeta very much, but I feel like it was too big for the room (which I also felt about the Cessaro Gamma system with basshorns in 2016).

I did not bother to check out the Tune Audio room on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, as I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Kedar would want to take me there whenever he and I happened to be able to rendezvous. Tune Audio hails from Greece.

On Sunday I stumbled across the Tune Audio room myself, and I decided to walk in. I see an almost coffin-size box made of blonde wood with a horn on a bracket attached to one side of the box, and I see an all-black box of similar size, covered with a grill, just behind the first box.



View attachment 41072



View attachment 41073



After just a minute of listening I asked myself, “What is this? What am I hearing?” STOP THE PRESSES!!! This was an Oh My God sonic revelation! I instantly texted Kedar to ask him to come right over to verify what I was hearing!

The exhibitor was playing some jazz track. I heard very realistic instrumental tone and an unexpectedly open sound -- very similar to what I hear from planar loudspeakers. I heard a box-less sound - - the same sound for which I value planar speakers. Often with a component one is not aware of a sonic defect unless one later is conscious of its absence in another component. I can enjoy conventional box speakers, but it is not until I hear again a box-less sound that I hear what I truly enjoy.

The small horn attached by a bracket on the side of the open box with seemingly no parallel sides handles 1100Hz and up. The open box reproduces between 120Hz and 1100Hz, and the closed, black woofer just behind the open box handles the range of 120Hz and down.



View attachment 41074



View attachment 41075



After listening to selections of instrumental jazz, jazz vocals, classical, rock and pop I conclude that this is the single best horn speaker I personally have ever heard. Brass instruments were reproduced with the breathiness and the sensation of air being physically moved which makes horns my favorite speaker for jazz.

Called the Avaton, I found this flagship, yet relatively simply, three-way speaker from Tune Audio to be more natural sounding and more musical and more coherent than the Cessaro Zeta, which costs about three times the price of the Avaton. (Of course the Tune Audio black woofer box cannot reproduce the subterranean frequencies with remotely the extension or the sound pressure level of four 18” cones or a wall-length array of basshorns.)

While I still feel that there is something about horns which deprives them from reproduce vocals as authentically as other speaker types, I think this Avaton reproduced vocals at least as well as any other horn speaker I have heard.

With sympathetic musical selections I suspect the Living Voice Olympian can sound more natural than anything else. But in comparison to the Avaton, the Living Voice sounds more like a box speaker than it does like a planar speaker. The Avaton is the first horn speaker I have heard which reminds me of the sound of planars (and for me that is a highly desirable attribute).

Winding up the show on Sunday I certainly was not expecting to find something amazing. But there it was for the hearing. Before I left the room I told Manolis Proestakis, the Founder of Tune Audio, that I heard the Anima twice before, and that I really did not like it, but that his Avaton is a true sonic achievement. If I listened primarily to jazz the Avaton is the horn speaker I would purchase.




Tune Audio Avaton Specifications

System Sensitivity: 105db
Impedance Nominal: 8ohms
Crossover: 120Hz & 1100Hz
Recommended Power: > 3watt
Recommended Amplifiers: Low-mid powered tube SETs or solid state Class A amplifiers.
Low or no feedback designs are recommended.
Recommended Placement: Near wall or room corner placement is desirable.
Preferred clearance between speakers: >2m
Listening Distance: >4m
Dimensions: H210cm, W102cm, D210cm
Weight: 75Kg each
Interesting report Ron.

If I was Ralph, I would risk a bit of "boomy" bass because there is a serious cognitive dissonance to see such a large speaker as the Zeta and hear no bass. There were mini-monitors that were more satisfying in this regard!

I find it interesting also that you would consider the LV system for Jazz when it is to my ears the worlds best system for classical music. In fact, that was about 80% of what they played (lots of Opera too that is spooky good and I don't really even like Opera!!). It has, IMO, a realistic soundstage with width, depth and solidity that was untouched elsewhere. The Avaton sounded unfinished to me and not well integrated.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
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London
#9
Yes the LV are better integrated. And integration has always been an issue with tune audio, with the Anima as well. But the LV tone is a bit too carefully warm tailored to not offend imo, while tune audio tone is more real and immediate. Both are colored ion their own way
 
May 30, 2010
14,529
227
63
Portugal
#10
After exploring horn loudspeakers at Munich High-End in 2016 I arrived tentatively at three important (for me, anyway) conclusions:

1) Although I continue to have trouble describing it articulately I feel there is a characteristic of horns in general which, to my ears, makes horns sound slightly less competent and convincing at reproducing vocals than either planar (ribbon or electrostatic) or state-of-the-art, conventional dynamic driver systems;

2) Horns do not appear to me to exhibit soundstage depth or a “layered” soundstage as well as other speaker topologies; and

3) If I listened primarily to jazz, or to jazz and classical, there is no doubt I would forget about ribbon and electrostatic and convention cone drivers and purchase some big horn loudspeaker system, and I would never look back.
(...)
Thanks for this descriptive report on large horn systems. IMHO and preference, classic music desperately needs depth and a "layered" soundtstage - it is one of the reasons why some cone speakers are my preferred choice.

The layering in opera recordings is usually artificially created - most of the time the singers are put in front and the orchestra in the background with significant depth. Although my experience with horns is limited, I have found that they can shine in this type of recording. Planars also sound big and real sized, but IMHO do not have the layering capabilities of a great box speaker.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
9,613
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London
#11
Horns actually shine, in classical, more on immediacy, tone, flow, piano, brass, etc etc. Also fantastic bass. For opera, I would prefer scintilla or full range (Pure ribbon). The problem with horns is there are many that fail to do what I just described
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
2,629
155
63
Switzerland
#13
Thanks for this descriptive report on large horn systems. IMHO and preference, classic music desperately needs depth and a "layered" soundtstage - it is one of the reasons why some cone speakers are my preferred choice.

The layering in opera recordings is usually artificially created - most of the time the singers are put in front and the orchestra in the background with significant depth. Although my experience with horns is limited, I have found that they can shine in this type of recording. Planars also sound big and real sized, but IMHO do not have the layering capabilities of a great box speaker.
Which is wrong because in Opera the orchestra is normally in front of the singers down in the orchestra pit. On my Decca recording of The Valkyries (Georg Solti 1965 Royal Sound vinyl) you can actually tell the orchestra is in front of the singers as they sound significantly farther back in the soundstage except when singing very loudly.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
9,613
365
83
London
#14
It will be amazing if what we see visually retains the same back to front or front to back thing when it reaches our ears. Next someone will say in opera recordings orchestra should be below the singers

Not to mention that there are a lot of aria performances done outside an opera setting with the orchestra behind the singer
 

asiufy

Member Sponsor
Jul 8, 2011
2,898
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48
San Diego, CA
almaaudio.com
#15
Funny how we all have very different impressions of the same setups :)

The Tune Audio was the same model as displayed last year, but while I enjoyed it quite a bit last year, this year was so-so. Might've been the amp, since last year they had the big Trafomatic amps, with a turntable, etc.

I actually preferred the big AG room (with their amps) than the one with tube amps, that was all midrange.

My pick for 2nd best horn after the AG was the Odeon with the NAT Magma amps. I didn't listen to digital, vinyl only every time I was there, but it was really good, nuanced, with the bass being just a touch "behind" the rest. But still very, very enjoyable, which is far from what I could say of the other horn systems. Some, like that funky chinese thing shoehorned into a small cabinet on the ground floor, as well as the back-loaded Pnoe, were truly puzzling...
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
2,629
155
63
Switzerland
#16
It will be amazing if what we see visually retains the same back to front or front to back thing when it reaches our ears. Next someone will say in opera recordings orchestra should be below the singers

Not to mention that there are a lot of aria performances done outside an opera setting with the orchestra behind the singer
For sure if the venue is not amenable to the traditional way of doing it then it might be different but in a proper opera house it will be ochestra down in the pit in front of the stage.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
9,613
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83
London
#17
For sure if the venue is not amenable to the traditional way of doing it then it might be different but in a proper opera house it will be ochestra down in the pit in front of the stage.
Yes that's visual. You won't hear the orchestra below the singers unless you are sitting right in the front. At a distance they will come together
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
5,575
317
83
Beverly Hills, CA
#18
There are always surprises in this audio hobby. My prefer music is jazz and vocal. Although Cessaro has never made any good impression to anyone, I do believe, in term of lifelike realistic spooky stand there in front of you vocal, my system will not be beaten by any other speakers. And this, even more surprise, comes out of a Lyra AtlasSL. Some other horns can do too. Always leave room for possibility.

Kind regards,
Tang
Dear Tang,

Yes, of course, I leave room for possibility. That is why I was careful to write “in general” (meaning not necessarily all) and “to my ears” (meaning I am not saying I am objectively correct — only that that is what I personally hear) and “slightly” (meaning it is a small, subtle attribute which I am trying to describe).
 

KeithR

VIP/Donor
May 7, 2010
3,214
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63
Marina del Rey, CA
#20
thanks Ron!

it appears if I decide to pursue horns at some point, a visit to Munich would be mandatory. although in the States, AG and Cessaro are really the only 2 options (and both only have 1 dealer iirc)
 

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