spent many years conducting group tests on mainstream, popularly priced
loudspeakers, I find myself doing one-off reviews on a wide range of unusual
and interesting models, most of which are best described as unique one-offs
themselves. Although it doesn't provide such an informed view of the sharp
end of the market, this change has the notable benefit of providing a broader
perspective on the wide – and indeed rather more interesting – diversity
of speaker design. I currently seem to be fated to receive a number of
speakers with 'full range' drive units. A couple features in this issue,
at least two are planned for the next, and I've tried a number of others
over the years and elsewhere.
enough exposure to more or less convince me of a number of observations.
First, crossover networks are inherently bad things that are far better
avoided if at all possible. Secondly, the single 'full range' driver
approach is unquestionably valid in theory, but invariably compromised in
practice. Thirdly, and much more contentiously, high sensitivity (and/or
efficiency) seems to be an essential ingredient in achieving realistic dynamic
expression. Comparing the dynamic behaviour of full range driver loudspeakers
of high and average sensitivity leaves me in little doubt that sensitivity is
an important factor.
ideal would therefore be a high efficiency, full bandwidth speaker with a
single full range driver. Such speakers might exist, but a pair would probably
need to be loaded by horns the size of a house, and that is hardly practical.
In the final analysis of course, practicality lies at the heart of the
problem. Many people want small (and if possible invisible) loudspeakers, and
that explains the widespread enthusiasm for miniature loudspeakers at a
variety of quality and price levels.
I'm not going to say these little speakers don't work, often rather well
by their own lights, but they're never going to provide the 'shock of the
real' that a much larger, higher sensitivity speaker is capable of
delivering. Small loudspeakers can be very capable indeed at reproducing
sound, but to these ears at least are largely incapable of fooling the ears
into believing that they can mimic reality.
ironic that the development of technology has actually had a negative impact
on the way hi-fi has evolved, Small speakers only started appearing after the
arrival of higher power amplification and the introduction of two-channel
stereo. Without those stimuli, we would probably still be listening to one
large, high efficiency loudspeaker, and consequently hear something closer to
the original sound, rather than settling for a reproduction thereof, however
accurate. Few people have the inclination, the funds, or the space to
accommodate a pair of Tannoy Westminster Royals, but quarter-wave speakers go
some way towards horn loading, and I've tried a couple of examples in recent
years that have worked rather well, don't take up a huge amount of funds or
room space, and feature single full range drivers with decent sensitivity.
Bodnar Sandglass Fantasy (reviewed
in HIFICRITIC Vol6 No4) is quite
a steal at £3,500. And although it can't quite match the Bodnar's all
round performance, the £2,550 Cain & Cain Abby
is somewhat smaller, looks rather prettier and costs less, so is
another likely contender.
these two models do have quite a lot in common with each other, both are so
very different from today's loudspeaker norm they're all too easily
overlooked. Compared to many of today's luxury miniatures, however, they
seem a remarkably good deal, and do at least bring a taste of genuine hi-fi
realism to the table.
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