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Falcar

Why are horns not more popular in the speaker industry?

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I love the sound of Klipsch horns, but it sure seems like it a lot of audiophiles consider horns primitive and harsh. The old phonographs use horns and even the new ones do. I just feel like horns provide a crispness that cones cannot duplicate in the mids and highs. But of course, I like cones for the lower bass frequencies.

 

When and why did the speaker industry (other than Klipsch and maybe a few others) steer away from horns in favor of cones? Or has it always been just a few speaker manufacturers that integrated horns into their home audio speakers?

 

Thoughts?

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19 minutes ago, HDBRbuilder said:

Manufacturing COST...plain and simple!

 

for low frequency reproduction you can add size into the equation.

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42 minutes ago, moray james said:

for low frequency reproduction you can add size into the equation.

Which FURTHER increases manufacturing costs, BUT ALSO DECREASES WAF...resulting in poorer sales numbers.  For some reason the POPULAR trend has been speakers that are heard but not seen for decades now!  It is what it is...in the marketing world of things...unfortunately!

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Horns can be harder to implement, so you don't end up with the megaphone/cupped hand over your mouth sound. Modern modeling and design software, coupled with experience has come a long way toward having more manufacurers use them for the benefits they can bring. A couple of those being higher efficiency, dispersion control (smooth coverage from left to right/up and down). Altec and JBL have used horns in their high end speakers for decades, both home and pro use.

 

I even have a set of Sansui speakers from the early '70s that has horn tweeters. They also have the carved wooden grills that were fashionable at the time.

 

Bruce

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Horns remain popular in pro audio, which we all factually know to be incompatible with true high fidelity in the home.

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A good read, but note that the author of this article has moved to horn-loaded loudspeakers since writing this article, but I think some of this will begin to answer your questions:

 

The Art of Speaker Design

 

Make sure that you read through page 9 to see some of the aspects of design and construction that you have to consider when designing hi-fi horn-loaded loudspeakers. 

 

The bottom line is that you have to know what you're doing when designing horn-loaded loudspeakers--but they're superior in terms of sound quality if you do them right.  That takes talent and experience.  Klipsch has had both over the years.  There are a lot of loudspeaker manufacturers that can't say the same thing.

 

Chris

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7 hours ago, Falcar said:

When and why did the speaker industry (other than Klipsch and maybe a few others) steer away from horns in favor of cones? Or has it always been just a few speaker manufacturers that integrated horns into their home audio speakers?

 

I watched the transition (starting in Jr. High) and then the beginning of the road back (in progress).  IMO, it was basically an anti-horn propaganda job, plus the factors listed above, combined with a growing number of bad recordings that give less offense when veiled by inarticulate speakers.

  • 1955 - 1958  Horns were very popular, among those who could afford them.  The "best" speakers in every Hi Fi store I knew about were horns.  People heard them with high quality stereo magnetic soundtracks in theaters, especially the 6 channel Ampex equipped 70mm Todd-AO theaters with custom JBL fully horn loaded. speakers.  The better Record stores (which also sold reel to reel prerecorded tape) used them.  Stairway to Music in Oakland had 5 large horn speaker systems.  The 114 piece orchestra on the Around the World in 80 Days (1956) soundtrack was very frequently played on the JBL C55 rear loaded horn with its dual 15" woofers and horn loaded mid/treble.   The store owner would say, "That's probably what you heard it on in the theater."  Actually, the C55s were used as surrounds in the larger 70mm Todd-AO theaters, with 4 woofer, fully horn loaded designs for the (then) 5 behind the screen channels.  Altec equivalents were used in other theaters.  The third issue of Hi Fi Systems (1958) described 30 systems, number 1 of which (the best) had two JBL Hartsfield fully horn loaded speaker systems, buried in a wall behind a huge grille cloth.  There was little need to hide them, however.  They showed up in an art gallery shortly after -- you can see why:image.png.d8fbbe4e18b90b2225a084448cc7a90c.png  The elite welcomed these into their homes.  So much for WAF.  For less money, and better bass, Klipschorns image.thumb.png.545f72d47145668fa9e91f2f30913322.pngwere available, and gradually made their way into 8 Bay Area stores, where they could be auditioned at any time.
  • Very Late 1950s  Edgar Villchur  introduced his Acoustical Suspension bookshelf loudspeaker.  It could produce a great deal of bass in a very small enclosure.  But those of us who had horns, or were familiar with live orchestral sound, recognized that it sounded "muddy," and had limited dynamics.  But it was the beginning of the end.  For a fraction of the cost of a good horn system, one could have "balanced" sound.  Many other companies imitated these small speakers, which could be tucked in among the  books, and not call attention to themselves. 
  • 1960s  As more and more dealers started selling small speakers, people grew used to high modulation distortion and limited dynamics -- but if there was a large pair of horns in the same demo room, the difference was apparent -- to some of us.  Dealers who did not carry horns --- and some who had never heard one -- would cup their hands around their mouths to imitate what they considered to be the defects of "horn sound."  But when the public heard the "wow factor" of good horns, as at David Mancuso's loft parties in New York (using 4 Klipschorns), or at Paul Klipsch's live v.s. recorded concert with the Hartford symphony orchestra, their appetite for veiled sound receded.  But when the vast majority of dealers no longer carried horns (often to offer more attractive discounts??), opportunities melted away.
  • 1970s, '80s, '90s.  Rolling Stone, Playboy (twice), picked the Klipschorns for their best recommended system.  c.1986, J. Gordon Holt (founder of Stereophile) in complaining that "... so called hi-end audio is so far out of the musical mainstream that professional musicians can't recognize anything familiar in the reproduction their own instruments," said that "... musicians who listen to records are increasingly (according to our mail) choosing Klipschorns over the products of "hi-end" speaker manufacturers ... they want something to trigger their musical gestalt."  During all this time, high-end speakers got more and more expensive, while outrageously priced speaker cables, special power cords, etc. became foolish status symbols. 
  • 2,000 and beyond  Several horn speaker makers followed suit and marketed relatively high priced speakers, breaking the snob barrier that allowed them to be reviewed in the "Speakers over $10,000" category."  Meanwhile, the Klipsch La Scala II got an excellent "ears only" review in Stereophile.  Organizations like Classic Album Sundays and Brilliant Corners started using Klipsch fully horn loaded speakers for their critical listening sessions.  Horns may well have set out on the road back!
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17 hours ago, HDBRbuilder said:

Which FURTHER increases manufacturing costs, BUT ALSO DECREASES WAF...resulting in poorer sales numbers.  For some reason the POPULAR trend has been speakers that are heard but not seen for decades now!  It is what it is...in the marketing world of things...unfortunately!

Don't forget how much it costs to package an ship "little" beasts.

Also seems hard (significant investment in drivers and crossover) to get smooth frequency response without abberations.  Everyone is about measurements vs sound otherwise they would recognize the liveliness and dynamics horn loaded speakers as a little bit of a trade-off for realistic sound.

 

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