High end sound - does any specfic approach give up the goods more than another?

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I've played around with several approaches to trying to optimize my home stereo system, starting with the ubiquitous several drivers in a single box along with a passive crossover. I'm currently experimenting with a full range speaker supplemented by some woofers in a ported box, each driven by their own amp fed by an active crossover. I'm probably going to end up enclosing the full rangers in a sealed box (currently they're on a small open baffle).
I realize that there are a number of different designs that seem to offer sonic nirvana: full range horns, open baffles with lots of active EQ, ESLs, etc. In your opinion, which approach seems to "give up the goods" to a really high end, realistic sound with a moderate investment of money, time, engineering expertise, and sweat? Does any one approach or combination of elements give consistently better results than others? Any hints you can give to building a system that creates such realistic reproduction of the live event that jaws drop and looks of disbelief ensue?
If it were only so simple

No one type of system is going to do "everything". That is an honest statement.

You mentioned "realism" but that definition is still not enough. For me the critical elements are: 1) a dynamic sound - hard to define, but you know it when you hear it, 2) a low and clean bass - not necessarily super low, but good enough for music, and 3) a clarity and smoothness in the mid-range so that voices sound like voices. This is not a complete list and it is certainly not prioitized.

The sad truth is that you won't be able to get all these things, and certainly not at both modest levels and at louder levels. So it is a tall order. You need to prioritize what is most important.

Personally, I would listen to some very high efficiency horn loaded systems (real horns, not back loaded ones) and also listen to various panel speakers (electrostats, and magnaplanars, etc).

The horns will have the clean bass and great dynamics (even at louder levels). If you think that horns have good mids, then carefully listen to some vocals and then compare them to the panel speakers. The panel speakers will have the mids that are clear and magical (if you think they are dynamic and have good bass, then turn up the volume 20 dB...). Additionally, each will have their own set of headaches when they interact with the room.

These are general comments and I have not mentioned any specific brands or models. At this point (after more lsitening), you need to prioritize and re-think about what is most important to you in terms of their strengths and waeknesses. No single type will do it all.

Now how many people will now jump in say that "their speaker" does everything and does it well?
Yeow, that's quite a list of desires. Reproducing something that's not on the recording(the live event) will not be easy. Once you get a speaker that does that on one recording(which won't really happen) it automatically won't do it for every other recording. The recording process is just different for every recording.

To me the thing is almost "why try to reproduce the original?" We can have so much better. Most people I know prefer studio albums. I like live performances, but I've never heard one recorded that sounds like I'm at the concert. I don't think I'd really want it to--we can have better. What was it Stravinsky said? "How can we continue to prefer reality to ideal stereophony?" Milton Babbitt likened the live performance to reading a novel on a large movie screen at a theater instead of holding it in your hand at home and describes it as uncomfortable and the audience is left "unable to repeat something they have missed". Check out Dr. Toole's book on Sound Reproduction. Cool insight to be found there. That's why I try to reproduce the recording more than anything else. Plus I watch movies and listen to albums produced entirely in a studio. In fact, that's 95 percent of what I listen to.

Hope that helps,

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Any hints you can give to building a system that creates such realistic reproduction of the live event that jaws drop and looks of disbelief ensue?

Very big horns in a very big room with tube amps. I have personally picked up the jaws up off the floor and returned them to their owners.
But in a typical domestic setting? Good luck! Mere mortals will not be dropping jaws but tearing out hair.

You want something that is not too tricky to build and is mucho fun to listen to? Try a 1" compression driver and a 12" woofer in a medium-large box. Passive crossover. Search for the "Econowave" project or similar.
I would strongly suggest you involve your self in EnABL and series crossover design for passive crossover multi-way systems. Check out what Planet 10 has to offer for full range pre EnABL'd drivers.

planet_10 hifi

And peruse the listening and applications thread here. You won't be disappointed and the only way to get close is, as Pano points out, massive horn systems or massive ribbon based systems. EnABL is easier and a LOT cheaper, since you can diy all of your drivers.

EnABL - Listening impressions & techniques - diyAudio
Panomaniac - that last recipe sounds a lot like what I currently have and am moving away from. My Klipsch KG 5.5s have a Tractrix horn loaded compression driver for the top end and 2 10" woofers in a fairly large bass reflex design with a passive crossover. To me, the upper mids and low treble is a bit strident and with what I imagine many would describe as a "horn coloration". I think the box needs some improved bracing, as to me the bass is a little "woofy" and indistinct. Its definitely a step up from many speakers on the market, but currently I feel the speakers are the weak link in my system. I had initially considered ordering some of the titanium drivers for the horns from Bob Crites (stock they use something else - phenolic maybe) but got interested in full range and open baffle based on my reading here and elsewhere.
Well, we are starting to get some where.

You described what you did not like about your Klipsch KGs. What did you like about them? What did you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the the fullrangers and the OBs ( I find those two types as very different sounding from one another)?
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It's a matter of taste and tastes change. The open baffle thing is a lot of fun and can sound great if you get the crossover right. (hint, they are not the same as box crossovers). Same deal with horns. Get the right drivers and spend some time refining the crossovers. High efficiency does seem harder to get right than low.

Most horn harshness is due to bad crossovers, IMO. Not easy, but worth the effort. Klipsch has a reputation for strong bass and harsh mids, so perhaps you need to look elsewhere. One of the best 1"+12" I've heard in recent years is the Rhythm Prism from AudioKinesis. Rhythm Prism Not harsh at all and very lively and dynamic. Not diy, unfortunately, but a direction to look in. Duke did spend a lot of time on the woofer low pass.

Other than that, all the close to jaw dropping live stuff I've heard in the past 4 years has come from 18" drivers on open baffle. Not a dainty speaker, tho.
BudP, Planet10 has some cool stuff. I currently have a pair of Tang Band 1808s I've been playing with - my eye was drawn to the FrugelHorn flat paks, unfortunately those are of course designed for the 4.5" Fostex drivers. If someone had a similar inexpensive flat pak of a speaker that would work well with my drivers I'd like to take a look. I'm probably going to just have a woodworking friend build some simple sealed boxes for them and put them on top of my Klipschs and use those for bass reinforcement.

As I also play in a band, I'm tempted to someday try to find some pro audio subs that go low (maybe some Danley subs) and replace the Klipschs with that sometime - then I could use those both for the stereo and for playing out occasionally (most small venues don't need the subs).

To let you know the scale - this system is in a rather largish unfinished basement (my man-cave), and I listen to various stuff including some occasional heavy blues-rock, but I love modern jazz and classical as well.
It is interesting about some of these types. I also find OBs fun to listen to, but turn them up 15- 20 dB and they are not as much fun. Same thing with the panel speakers. They can have an absolute magic (esp in the mids and highs). But when you turn them up 15-20) dB, then the magic is gone.

I'll confess my own bias about realistic sound (my priorities are the clean reproduction of dynamics), horns have it hands down IMO. There are plenty of horn cabinets (and the Klipsch KGs are a start, but certainly not the last word). It would be fun to listen to them all and even more fun to upgrade the more interesting ones. If only there were the time ....

However, I always keep some panel speakers around the house because of that clarity in the mids and highs really is magic.
Thanks for all the input. Panomaniac - I've been using an Ashley (pro) active crossover to try to avoid some of the passive crossover issues, so currently my 40 wpc tube amp is hooked directly to the Tang Bands. I probably should try it with a wider open baffle and a Zobel network before on give up on that approach. From what you just said, maybe I should reconsider a very big open baffle with a big 15 or 18" pro woofer below it!
Panomaniac - that last recipe sounds a lot like what I currently have and am moving away from. My Klipsch KG 5.5s

I think it would be a mistake to equate the Econowave type speakers with tractrix horns systems like in a Klipsh system. The waveguides in the Econowaves sound nothing like tractrix horns to my ears. I think you might be stunned by what you hear in a good waveguide system ala Geddes (or related types such as Econowave or Pi). Years ago I had K-Horns and know the ear-bleeding midrange that they can do, have been through electrostats, linear phase dome 3-ways, then full-range ribbons, and now am using Econowave diy speakers. The waveguide speakers sound to me more like the ribbons than like any of the others, but actually clearer, and I've never felt anything but pleased by the ewaves' midrange sound. The bass on an ewave is what you make it (if you are making your own box incorporating your own woofer). Or do like many others and build an E-Wave by incorporating the bass from existing speakers that you like the low end of (usually found on the surplus market).
Big OB is fun, but not practical I'm afraid. The space they need might be as much as big piles of horns. (The baffle itself is shallow, but considering the space behind for 'breathing'.... "

Using 15" or 18" pro woofers is a good move to release the load of the wideranger above. You don't need very big baffles with them. And I found 3 or 4 of them spreading around the room perform better than ordanary stereo pair.


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I'm running a full ranger on OB with a 15" woofer for bottom support. I can play loud enough to break my lease without distortion. Dyanmics are very much there, as is the primary requirement - vocals. If you've already got some time and money invested in drivers and baffles then I would suggest not giving up so soon.
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Thanks for all the input. Panomaniac -
You're quite welcome. I like big sound, too. :D

It sounds like you have the space, so you might want to try a really big OB. Like two 18s per side and a 10" mid. No kidding. John Busch had one at LSAF and it put a lot of silly grins on the boys who stopped by the listen. The ladies liked it too. John was wowing them with "roller rink music" I.E. big pipe organ silliness. It did well on small scale and vocal stuff too. He has improved the all passive crossover since then.

Worth your consideration.
Most of the compression heard on panel speakers ( ESL, Ribbons etc ) are from poor or inadequate amplification..

Like anything else in lfe , horse's for courses , size your system for it's intended purpose and the rest will come , regardless of what topology you decide on .

Since you are DIY, try a hybrid ribbon using your current electronic x-over and bi-amping setup.....

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