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The Beatnik Ponders Speaker Cabinets

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's JourneyIn a recent interview here on Dagogo, Yoav Geva of YG Acoustics said, “the rigid approach prevails and for good reason. The logic is that whereas a musical instrument must resonate to have its characteristic sound, these resonances are already included in the signal as recorded by the microphone, and therefore are already included in the recording. On the other hand, a speaker that plays back this recording should not add its own resonances to the sound, because they have nothing to do with the recorded instrument. Instead, the speaker should reproduce only the real instruments’ resonances by being true to the recording.”

That quote, and the rest of Dagogo executive editor Laurence Borden’s excellent interview with Yoav Geva, got me to thinking about the speakers I have owned over the years. The first pair of speakers I ever owned I built with a friend in high school. They were terrible; I mean really terrible. Then I saved some money and bought a pair of used KLH 17s. Then I caught the audiophile disease and started up the chain of small box speakers. It all started in the seventies when I got a pair of Small Advents, Large Advents, and then after reading Harry Pearson’s review of the “Double Advents”, I had to have another pair.

Then, something happened that totally changed my view of what the potential of loudspeakers were. I had been going to the stereo shops in the Dallas area listening to speakers by AR, B&W, Bang and Olson, DCM, ESS, Infinity, and others I can’t think of right now. The problem was that none of them sounded like my friend Ken Askew’s Quad 57s. f course, back then we just called them the Quad Electrostats.

I purchased a used pair of Quads; got a great deal on them because one of them had a tweeter that arced. I saved up and had the tweeter replaced and then listened to them for years. T Since this article is about speaker cabinets, I should point out that Quads didn’t have any. Another speaker I liked a lot back then was the Dahlquist DQ-10. The DQ-10s were my introduction to the potential of open baffle speakers, even though it did have a cabinet for the bass driver.

So far my two favorite speakers basically had no cabinets, but then I got caught up in the newest thing in speaker design of the 1980s, mini-monitors. In a way these were the beginning of the dead cabinet, narrow baffle speakers. I read, researched, and went to listen to many speakers, but made the decision to buy a pair of Celestion 700SE which used rigid honeycomb alloy called Aerolam for the cabinet. This made for a very rigid, dead, but light weight cabinet. It was also the first speaker I had used that came with dedicated stands. They even shipped them with plastic containers of lead to fill the stands with. The stands were then spiked to the floor and the speakers were bolted to the stands with cones between the stands and the speakers. These along with some speakers from B&W were some of the earliest and most successful versions of a rigid and dead speaker cabinets.

The Celestion 700SEs were also the most expensive speakers I had ever bought. At first I loved them, for the unbelievable way they disappeared; the way instruments and sometimes even voices came from beyond the side boundaries of the speakers; and the way they floated an image for what seemed like forever behind the speakers. As time went on there were several things missing though, scale, macro-dynamics, and most of all they just weren’t very emotionally involving.

I am willing to admit that speakers of this design concept are less colored, that they are measurably better in terms of driver design, and of course the cabinets are deader, eliminating what are regarded as unwanted vibrations. What I have not experienced though, is that more accurate speakers always sound more like live music.

One reason for this is that to my ear they seem to have to work a whole lot harder to get the music out into the room. A second reason for this is that speakers of this design school seem to impose homogeneously controlled sound upon the music. I think this is one reason that digital music seems to sound nearly as good as analogue over many of these speakers.

So in reaction to this sound I tried several Klipsch speakers with SET amps, and these combos had most of what the Celestions lacked, but they had their own set of shortcoming that might be even worse. This experience did however lead to me falling in love with the sound of SETs.

I kept on listening to speakers that used the modern approach to speaker cabinets, and admittedly some of them were pretty darn good. The first speaker to really steal my heart since the Quad 57 wasn’t of the dead school of design, it was the Audio Note AN E speakers. In my review of the Audio Note AN-E SEs I wrote, “I spent a lot of time trying to find a speaker with the strengths of the QUADs and Klipsch, but without their shortcomings. I got off course for a few years and wandered into the land of soundstage and pinpoint imaging, but my love of music brought me back to the original pursuit. It was in that pursuit that the Audio Note E speakers entered my life.”

The Audio Notes were the first speakers that really let me hear the complete glory of my beloved Western Electric 300Bs. As most of you know I now own Teresonic Ingenium XRs with Lowther DX 4 Silver single drivers. They use a tuned cabinet that is not at all dead, but they certainly let music come to life.

Now, this isn’t an article to say that speakers with deaden, stiff cabinets aren’t as good as those with livelier, tuned cabinets. In fact, at the last two audio shows I have gone to, I have been blown away by the Wilson Sophia 3 and the Sasha W/P. It seems to me that some of the designers of this school of cabinet design have been hearing some of the weaknesses, and their newer speakers seem to be coming to life more and more with each new model. It also seems like the engineers at companies like Teresonic have addressed many of the weaknesses of the livelier cabinet design.

What I really want to say is that I could easily live the rest of my life with a pair of Wilson Sophia 3 or a pair of old Quad 57, but because I love the sound of my Wavac EC 300B with vintage WE tubes, I choose to live with the Teresonics. My real point is that these three different cabinets or lack of cabinet designs all sound fantastic. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned speakers designs like the Acapella Triolon Excalibur, because they are so far out of my price range. Let’s just say there is more than one speaker cabinet design for a Beatnik to keep on boppn’ to.

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