We audiophiles tend to be highly opinionated about pretty much everything, but I daresay in no area is that more true than horns, about which everyone seems to have a strong opinion. Over the years I’ve noticed that many opinion about horns are held by individuals who have very little — and sometimes none whatsoever — actual experience with this design. But even amongst those who have some familiarity with horns, it is often overlooked that all horns are not created equally. So put aside your biases and prejudices, and join me on my journey with the Sadurni Acoustic Staccato horn speakers.
Everything Comes to the Man Who Waits
In September of 2011, while browsing the internet, I came across a discussion of a new horn speaker. Though I’ve always been intrigued by horns, this one in particular intrigued me. In September of 2013, after two years of continuous correspondences, I got an excited call from Jorge Sadurni, owner and chief engineer of Sadurni Acoustics, the speakers were finally ready (or with the benefit of hind sight, almost ready), he was going to show them at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and after the show they would be sent to my home in New Jersey.
The night before the opening day of RMAF I knocked on the door to Jorge’s room, and for both of us it was like seeing an old friend, despite the fact that this was the first time meeting face to face. Although the sound was only so-so, I attributed this to less than optimal show conditions (especially problematic for a large speaker in a relatively small room), but I had full confidence of their ultimate potential. Over the course of the show Jorge and I had numerous discussions, including how to make the speakers more “user friendly.” After the show Jorge continued to work on them and then the following February, two large pallets arrived at my home, followed a few days later by Jorge himself. Jorge set up the speakers and, because of two snow storms, ended up staying with me for five days. During that time we adjusted the speakers, listened to tons of music, tried different amps (more on this below), shared stories of our lives, and Jorge got to meet some of my local audio buddies.
Soon afterwards, the speakers had to be shipped to Axpona Chicago. Because of changes he was making in the manufacturing processes, and because he was also moving his family from Mexico City to Austin, it took quite a few months before a new pair arrived. All that is to say that this review has been in the works for a long time, but it is a truly a pleasure for me to finally describe what are–to jump the gun– amongst the best speakers I’ve heard in my home and in fact, anywhere.
Although we often hear the adage “KISS,” which stands for Keep it simple, stupid,” a far better saying is “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.” I mention this because though the Sadurni Staccato’s contain a lot of parts–as becomes immediately apparent when assembling the speakers–nothing is superfluous, or there just for show. Let’s begin with the basics. The Staccato’s are a 4-way system, each speaker consisting of three horns –upper bass, midrange, and tweeter — and a separate subwoofer module. In developing the Staccato, Jorge tested dozens of different drivers from a number of manufacturers. Selecting drivers for horns presents greater challenges than selecting drivers for conventional speakers, because the driver’s performance is critically dependent on the horn in which it is placed. Though he prefers to keep the exact drivers used in the Staccato a trade secret, I can reveal that the four drivers he ultimately selected are from a variety of manufacturers, as no one company made the best driver for each of the horns.
The most eye-catching element of the Sadurni Staccato is undoubtedly the upper base horn due to its sheer size: it has a mouth diameter of approximately 36”, and uses an 8” woofer manufactured in Europe. The outer rim of the upper bass horn sits on the floor, but its rear portion is supported by a metal element called “the stand.” The stand includes a speaker-leveling base that is designed to allow one to slide the speakers around in a small area so as to optimize their position in the room, while still having the speaker isolated from floor vibrations. This was achieved by using a “second floor” base with bronze spikes that is the real stand for the whole horn system. Attached to a thick slab of maple wood, these spikes also allow for the speaker to be perfectly leveled.
The horn itself is a wonder to behold; it is made entirely by hand in Jorge’s shop, and is constructed from a series of concentric MDF rings which are first cut, then attached to one another, sanded, then coated with a special polymer, so as to maintain a precise Tractrix expansion, which is finally painted. It takes a crew of two or three experienced craftsmen over two weeks to make one pair of upper bass horns. I’ll have more to say about this later in the review.
Jorge is tight-lipped about the crossover points, and the nature of the crossover itself (first order, second order, etc.). The situation is further complicated by the fact that in addition to the electrical crossover, the horns themselves serve as mechanical crossovers. What he was willing to share is that that upper bass horn handles frequencies from 125 to 600 Hz approximately.
Attached to the upper bass horn’s top rear is an attractive metal element termed the “connector,” so named because it allows for attachment–direct and indirect, respectively–of the midrange horn and tweeter horns. Jorge refers to the midrange horn as the “Turbine” because of its visual resemblance to a turbine jet engine. It, too, has a Tractix expansion, and is similarly assembled from a series of concentric MDF rings. At its throat is a compression driver with a titanium diaphragm. The turbine horn handles frequencies from 600 to 10 kHz approximately.
Sitting atop the turbine horn is a smaller, metallic horn housing the tweeter compression driver in a metal horn. This is the only horn not made by Sadurni Acoustics, though the tube in which it fits is made in Jorge’s shop. The tweeter handles frequencies above 10 kHz.
Handling the lowest octaves are special tubular subwoofer modules, two per side, which are mounted horizontally in their own stand, separate and apart from the main horns. (Additional subwoofers are available at extra cost of $1,500 per pair.) Each subwoofer module tube contains a 6” woofer, the back wave of which fires into a labyrinth which continues to the back of the tube, then ultimately feeds out the sides of the driver, such that the backwave is in phase with the front wave. The subwoofer modules handle frequencies from 25 to 125 Hz approximately.
When fully assembled, the maximum dimensions are 53” tall (at the tweeter), 36” wide (at the mouth of the upper bass horn), and 40” deep; the subwoofer modules are 42” in length. Needless to say, the Staccatos are not small. Despite their size, they are extremely attractive, a testament to Jorge’s aesthetic sense. The upper bass and turbine horns are available in either red or black, though other colors may be specially ordered. My preference is red, and I affectionately refer to the Sadurni Acoustics Staccato’s as the “Big Red Horns,” though I know that Jorge doesn’t care for that term. Each pair is custom made to order; once an order is placed, it will take about two to three months until delivery.
The Staccatos are shipped on one or two large palettes. Assembling the speakers is not difficult per se but there are many steps, including (1) unpacking the boxes and containers from palettes, (2) assembling the horns and subwoofer modules, and (3) connecting all the wires between the crossovers and the drivers. Jorge is currently working on a detailed manual to aid this process; in my opinion, first timers should allocate the better part of a day for the entire process. Alternatively, Jorge provides assembly for an additional $1,000, which I would recommend.
Making the Connection(s)
As mentioned earlier, the Sadurni Staccato is a 4-way system. To properly divide the audio signal between the various drivers, the system uses two passive crossovers for each channel, and one stereo active crossover. The Staccatos must be biamped; one amplifier or one channel of a stereo amp powers the three horns, the other amp or one channel of a stereo amp powers the subwoofer modules. The user must supply the amplifiers (on this too, I will have more to say later). The connections are made as follows:
- Interconnects from the left and right outputs from the user’s preamp connect to the inputs of the user’s main amplifier. This amp can be as little as a half a Watt, or as much as 400 Watts, as will be discussed below.
- The outputs of the main amp connect via speaker wire (provided by the user) to the first passive crossover, which sits on the stand behind the speaker, and is partially beneath the connector.
- Each first passive crossover has three outputs, as follows:
- One set of speaker wire (included with the speakers) connects to the terminals on the upper bass horn.
- A second set of speaker wire (included with the speakers) connects to the second passive crossover, which is located in the rear of the turbine horn. This second passive crossover connects via speaker wires (included with the speakers) to the turbine driver and to the tweeter driver.
- A line-level interconnect (balanced; included with the speaker) connects to the balanced input of a Behringer DCX2496 active crossover (one unit included with the speakers). It should be noted that the Behringer is in the signal path only for those frequencies destined for the (sub)woofer modules. The left and right balanced outputs of the Behringer connect to the second amplifier or amplifiers, if monoblocks, provided by the user. The output of this amplifier is connected by speaker wire (provided by the user) to the woofer modules. The two modules on each aide are connected to one another by a jumper; if the second amplifier has two outputs, the jumper can be removed and two sets of speaker wire used, one to each subwoofer module. It should be noted that only the signal destined for the subwoofer modules passes through the Behringer. Jorge recommends that the amplifier for the woofer modules be at least 50-100 Watts. In my opinion solid-state amplification is preferable to vacuum tube, because of the former’s lower output impedance, which will provide better control of the woofer drivers.
If you’ve followed this closely, you might wonder (as I did) if it wouldn’t have been simpler to use two outputs from the preamplifier, one to the “main” amp, the other to the active crossover. Jorge explained that the method he uses—in which the active crossover receives inputs from the passive crossover, which itself receives speaker level inputs from the main amp—provides superior results because of the lower output impedance and higher gain.
Positioning the Speakers, and Making them Sing
In my large, well-treated room, positioning the speakers was relatively easy. Their final position, which barely deviated from the initial position we tried, was as follows (with all measurements from the front of the upper bass horn):
70” from the side wall
120” from the front wall
130” from the listening position
127” from speaker-to-speaker
They were toed in so as to be aimed approximately one foot outside the listener’s shoulders.
The subwoofer modules were positioned immediately behind the main horns, with the drivers pointing toward the center of the room. As is true for any subwoofer, the optimal position and orientation may be highly room-dependent.
(To be concluded in Part II: The Sound)
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