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Enjoy the Music.com
Volume 7 No. 2

Subjective Sounds
Article By Paul Messenger


  Having 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.

That's 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.

The 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.

Now 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.

It's 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.

The 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.

Although 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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