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  1. #1
    Lurker Hyfi's Avatar
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    Not quite sold on the single driver SET setup

    Today I had the pleasure of listening to some expensive Chinese gear driving an expensive Canadian folded horn Fostek speaker.

    The speaker was made by Gemme, and it was an older line Concerti 108 with a Fostex FE108 Sigma driver. Very solid and heavy cabinet with a large square opening in the front and nice stabilizer footers.

    6moons review and pics of manufacturing
    6moons audio reviews: Gemme Audio Concerti 108


    I had them driven by a Bravo 2.3 6C33 Integrated 15wpc SET amp.
    6moons audio reviews: JAS Audio Bravo 3.2


    We used an Astin CDP from England and a few of my disks. If a setup can't properly play back Marcus Miller M2 then it isn't acceptable. Did it sound good? The amp was lush and pleasing and had good pace but the sound was just off. With the Gemmes, there was bass but is was bloated, boomy, indistinct, and hollow while the top end was somewhat ok. It had good midrange but not at all what I was expecting from all the dime store advertisements as of late.

    I was expecting to be blown away and ready to chuck my gear for one of these setups but I'm not so sure. I was hoping to hear some Omegas but Steve was out of what he had and waiting for more. When I go back to pick up my Hafler pre I'm going to listen to some Raysonic integrateds with some JAS Oriors.



    I als listened to Steves own SQ-H10 10" driver and horn speakers at 94db sensitivity. Nice full sound but still not blowing me away.
    Quest For Sound - High End Audio


    I'm home tonight listening to my Clearfields with the Stratos and the VAC in passive and it sounds way better than anything I heard today. Even better when I put the Counterpoint back in play.

    Maybe for a small room and low levels the single-set setup would be nice but I'm not so sure it's for me. I will give it another chance when it comes up.
    Hyfi
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  2. #2
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    The back loaded horn is just one of several configurations of the single driver full range speaker. Horns like the pair Hyfi heard can be very polarizing. Folks tend to love them or hate them.

    I enjoy my Frugal Horn MkIII in my bedroom secondary system and they use the larger more efficient Fostex FE126En. But without bass augmentation they sound thin. When I add a pair of OB bass augmentors the sound becomes fully fleshed out. I've never heard a conventional sub even like the well regarded Rel integrate with BL horns like OB bass augmentors.

    The main ingredient lacking in BLH I've heard is bass weight, not so much low end extension which is also limited, but the fast bass transients. The Frugals as well the Stereophile rated Hornshoppe Horns differ from the Gemme in that the terminus throat of the folded horn is at the rear rather than the front. A rear terminus allows corner loading which yields better bass response. Triangle speaker sized diffusers can also be used with rear terminus horns when corners are not available. To build a pair though is almost as much effort as building a speaker.

    Many followers of full range speaker/SET consider horns the worst of the lot and certainly the most finicky to dial in. There are probably more advocates of transmission line single driver speakers and bass reflex designs. My goal is to build and enjoy all of them. Having built four horns, I've learned a great deal about them.

    Hornfest 2012 will be kicking off in my area shortly and it's always an education to spend time with those fun loving cultist horn worshipers. There are guys there who replaced their expensive SET amps with F1's for what they call "high current horn grip" and improved bass. SET amps are not quite so universally loved with BLH as with other FR speakers.

    Full range speakers are not for everyone or for every type of music. I covet resolution of detail at low levels as one needs with small group jazz and acoustical music. I crave to hear the "wood" of the instruments in intimate settings. I don't get this with high powered ss amps playing low efficiency speakers no matter the price tag.

    I copied "these "advantages of full range speakers" from another source and don't recall where but feel they sum it up well:

    1- Midrange is king and that's where they shine. Coherency ( especially nearfield ) is about as good as it gets.

    2- One channel of amplification per driver adds dynamics and allows the amp to better "see" the simpler load and increases depth of the sound.

    3- Crossovers are evil especially in mid-range where the ear is most sensitive to phase mix ups.

    4-Imaging is ideal.

    The downside for FR speakers is they don't handle loud complex music as well as multi-driver speakers. I'm in luck here as that's not what I listen to or care about.

    I've never heard the Omegas but another forum member here bought a pair only to sell them as he preferred his Tekton Fostex OB4.5.

    As much as I've enjoyed the Tektons ( both pair ), Zu's, and Frugal Horns the OB/SET full rangers are way out front IMO. I sold the Zu's to allow more experimentation with OBs.

    I'm not sure if the $500 8 inch Tang Band FR drivers I use in OB/H-frames would qualify as Chinese dimestore gear but at least I know I bought sound over bling.

  3. #3
    RGA
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    The problem is likely to be the speakers - small single driver loudspeakers simply don't have bass or dynamics and you can do all sorts of quasi-transmission line internals all you want but for music like Marcus Miller you just don't get the ability to pressurize the instrument in the room. I have not really heard it from any single driver speaker - the closest was the Ingenium from Teresonic which uses an 8 inch Lowther DX4 driver in a speaker that is over 6 feet tall. And while that speaker has solid bass - the dynamics still don't compete with multi-way speakers like the AN E that were a few doors down the hall for about half the price. Teresonic Ingenium Silver loudspeaker with Lowther DX4 driver Review - Equipment Reviews - Dagogo

    Trade-offs.

    From the picture I don't see how those single driver speakers would offer even remotely the sound of the Ingenium which as terrific as it is already has shortcomings in the frequency extremes and dynamics area. Still I found it acceptable as I did with the Zu Audio Essence (though they use a ribbon as a sort of super tweeter) but the speaker is also largeish at over 4 feet.

    Still there is a reason that people run bigger loudspeakers - multi-way and that is simply because one driver can't cover full frequency range with the full dynamic envelope and do that at higher volume levels.

    The only single drivers I've really liked have been the ones using 8 inchers or more in largish cabinets (and in Zu's case they still use a second driver). And as much as I like the AN's they're physically large standmounts - the AN E is a floorstander size that happens to go on 10 inch stands - but it's still big and even then you have to use corner gain to really get fullrange. Applies to panel speakers - big is better.

  4. #4
    Lurker Hyfi's Avatar
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    I did not have a big choice in single driver speakers that day. I merely asked to hear a nice SET amp with single drivers to get an idea of what Poultry has been raving about as well as the future downsizing search.

    They had no Flea-Watt amps except a 4wpc 300B, so I chose the 15wpc JAS. When they could not find the pair of Omegas they thought were there, they hooked up the real efficient SQ10s that Steve Monte designs himself.

    They were effortless but lacked the midrange I am used to. Before I listened to the Gemmes, he hooked up a recent bookshelf model of KEF with a 6"driver and the uniQ tweeter. Oddly enogh, with the amp I was using, the $800 KEFs sounded better than the $4800 SQs and the $4000 Gemmes.

    My problem is that if a $2500 15wpc could not properly drive a single fostek or the 10 plus horn 94db speakers, how is a $300 2wpc unit going to handle it?

    I used to hate going to the gear stores because I would always come home wanting and thinking my setup was sub-par. Now when I get home I smile and think to myself "my system sounds so much better than all of what I just listened to".

    I keep forgetting that regardless of the name on the speaker, I have Von Shweikert speakers and my 17 y/o VAC and Counterpoint kick the life out of lots of newer gear. They are just big units and at downsize time, I will go with some type of all tube integrated.

    If midrange is what you say is the single/SET highlight, I already have it. And since I like the Bass Guitar, any system I own will need to be able to reproduce it.

    When I got home, my setup was using the Stratos amp and I was still happier than anything I heard that day. Yesterday I swapped in the Counterpoint and the mids opened up more, while the forwardness of the Stratos bass and a small drop in overall volume. But, the bass it tight, distinct, and fast without being bone thumping. I flip on the sub if I want more.

    Anyway, the jury is not out yet and I will continue to listen with an open mind but I listen to more than acoustic and background light jazz and need a system that not only excels at low volume but can also properly rock out at 90db without lacking something. Right now, I already have all that but in a footprint larger than I will be able to carry to a smaller house when the time comes.

    I think my VAC is still one of the better pre-amps out there, even at 17 and no upgrades.
    Hyfi
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  5. #5
    RGA
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    Several things at play with all audio gear - we get used to the sound our system makes - for all the people who say their reference is live - recordings are not live - the live venue is not their room's venue and reproduced audio isn't the same.

    So we get used to the way our system presents things. Ideally perfect reproduced sound comes from a point in space - the single driver (from a small point (not a large line array or panel) is the purist theoretical way to achieve that. There is no crossover no unnecessary garbage getting in the way no sonic signature matching of two very dissimilar drivers etc etc and another etc.

    Long ago they realized the fact that while there is the theory the practice is that a 4 inch woofer can't possibly hope to reproduce music at loud levels and certainly not with any real bass or treble. Sure you can put in a 10 foot high 5 foot deep box but now you have a MASSIVE speaker that doesn't fit in the normal home. It's simply much simpler to have 7 drivers each doing one small part of the frequency spectrum and them put in a bunch of crossovers. And for Rock music they simply DESTROY single drivers and every sanely sized planar and electrostat. I don't understand why people WILL NOT accept these facts.

    The single driver (done right) has a purity within the frequency spectrum it covers that is not matched by other designs - they just never are matched. A good SET (and not all of them are good) have transient timbral acuity that (without distortion generating negative feedback (that isn't seen on the scope) is easily far and away superior. But they sacrifice power in a huge way.

    I have heard Von Sweikert's top of the line mega priced loudspeaker and in no way shape or form does that speaker remotely - not even in the same league, get the cohesion of a single driver or the better two ways that a Single Driver offers.

    Having said that - if you know me - you know I value dynamics and fuller range presentation and in no way does a any single driver that I have ever heard even remotely - not even in the same league at all get the bass, loudness, "scale" that the big VonSweikert speakers (and many other larger multi-way speakers) possess.

    For me personally I choose the Big VS speakers or something like the Usher 10 Be over a small 4 inch single driver in some sort of folded horn.

    The reason this hobby is so fascinating to me is that after awhile you can hear something about the technology being used that has some sort of weakness. The best speakers IMO hide their weaknesses better - the weakness doesn't deter you from the presentation. High Negative feedback I constantly hear as a shallowness on notes. Most reviewers seem to like the word "glassy" or "thin" or sometimes "analytical" (which simply means bright, edgy) and ultimately fatiguing and unlistenable.

    There was a fellow on the AN Kits site at audioasylum who had single driver speakers and basically said something along the lines that the AN E is like a single driver but with bass, treble and dynamics. D'uh - I've said that for 6-7 years. For a single driver to approach the bass and treble and dynamics of the AN E it STARTS with The Silbatone Aporia Full range and the Teresonic Ingenium - neither of which has the bass depth or the dynamics. And this is only a two way standmount. The AN E does not have the bass or volume capability that the top of the line Von Sweikerts, Sony's flagship, Usher's big speakers possess. The AN E in corners may get the bass to compete with many of them but not at high volume levels.

    But my argument has always been how much are YOU willing to trade and WHERE will you trade it? The AN E still doesn't have the cohesive purity in the midrange of the best Single drivers - you give that yo for bass/treble/dynamics/volume. I make that trade because I listen to a wide array of music and rock is part of that.

    Do I then want to trade even more of that cohesiveness away for a 5-6 way box.I may get more treble and even more bass. Maybe some people will opt for that but I continuously hear the drivers operating in their own isolated spheres. It's not coherent and the illusion falls apart. With subs they tend to sound weighted to whatever part of the room they're placed in and the illusion crumbles.

    I was impressed by the Zu audio Essence - but I need to go back with harder hitting music just to be sure. ~30hz is plenty and 101db sensitive is easy and they use the big 8 inch driver. But it still ain't going to compete with the SCM 150 from ATC that the store also carries. I am very interested to try that speaker on the SET.

    ATC is one of the only companies that places a premium importance on loudspeaker matching as a pair. Audio Note is the other - and lately KEF has followed suit. But it is more interesting than an all Tube/SET dealer is using the ATC speakers which typically are driven with high power SS. And ATC has sounded edgy with SS at times which is puzzling due the soft dome drivers they use. So me thinks they're showing up the high negative feedback sound.

  6. #6
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    Hyfi,

    The Gemme's Fostex FE108E sigma cone is only 3.5 inches. With it's efficiency rating of 90dbs I don't know if it would work with any of my SET flea amps. I have the larger Fostex FE126En with an efficiency rating of 93dbs in my Frugal Horns. My 2.5 watt SET has just enough headroom with the Frugals at modest levels in my bedroom system.

    Were the Gemme Horns pulled out into the room and were you listening in nearfield?

    The Zu's at 98+dbs will play loud and full as hell with only a hand full of watts but they're very large and unwieldy. Zu's are excellent rock speakers with those 10 inch tricked out guitar drivers. What they lack in detail they make up for in killer sound staging - low volume jazz combo's not so much but Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" guitar riffs at high SPLs, oh yeah, they can bring it!

    If you like to rock out at 90dbs I'm not sure how many "small foot print" full range single driver/SET combinations, if any, will float your boat.

  7. #7
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    Ideally perfect reproduced sound comes from a point in space - the single driver (from a small point (not a large line array or panel) is the purist theoretical way to achieve that.
    I've never heard a single live, unamplified instrument or concert that sounded as if it emanated from a point in space. Everything I've ever heard comes from an acoustic space ranging from a couple of feet wide (solo guitar) to over a hundred (symphony).

    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    There is no crossover no unnecessary garbage getting in the way no sonic signature matching of two very dissimilar drivers etc etc and another etc.
    Now that does relate to my experience which is why I prefer that approach. A single pebble in the pond.

  8. #8
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    One major reason I'm sold on FR/SET is I don't have to endure listener fatigue.

    It seems that there is an explanation for this as push pull tube amps and sold state amps produce 3rd order and odd order harmonics which can be harsh to the ears. SET amps OTOH produce 2nd order and even order harmonics which are rich and complimentary.
    Last edited by Poultrygeist; 04-09-2012 at 12:51 PM.

  9. #9
    Lurker Hyfi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poultrygeist View Post
    Hyfi,

    The Gemme's Fostex FE108E sigma cone is only 3.5 inches. With it's efficiency rating of 90dbs I don't know if it would work with any of my SET flea amps. I have the larger Fostex FE126En with an efficiency rating of 93dbs in my Frugal Horns. My 2.5 watt SET has just enough headroom with the Frugals at modest levels in my bedroom system.

    Were the Gemme Horns pulled out into the room and were you listening in nearfield?

    The Zu's at 98+dbs will play loud and full as hell with only a hand full of watts but they're very large and unwieldy. Zu's are excellent rock speakers with those 10 inch tricked out guitar drivers. What they lack in detail they make up for in killer sound staging - low volume jazz combo's not so much but Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" guitar riffs at high SPLs, oh yeah, they can bring it!

    If you like to rock out at 90dbs I'm not sure how many "small foot print" full range single driver/SET combinations, if any, will float your boat.
    The Gemmes were pulled out and I moved around the room myself. Odd you say no fatigue and I felt fatigued in a half hour.

    Like I said, I'm gonna have them hook the same amp up to the same companies more efficient stand mount speaker as well as listen to a Raysonic push-pull with them.

    I know now that flea-watt amps won't be for me but the 15wpc SET sounded good, just not matched with the right speakers.
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  10. #10
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poultrygeist View Post
    One major reason I'm sold on FR/SET is I don't have to endure listener fatigue
    There's a lot more behind the causes of listener fatigue than simply the power amplifier topology.

    I find that cabling and power conditioning / RFI rejection play a large role when the quality of amplification stages (all of them from source to amp) meet a certain level of quality.

  11. #11
    RGA
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat View Post
    I've never heard a single live, unamplified instrument or concert that sounded as if it emanated from a point in space. Everything I've ever heard comes from an acoustic space ranging from a couple of feet wide (solo guitar) to over a hundred (symphony).


    Now that does relate to my experience which is why I prefer that approach. A single pebble in the pond.
    The latter is the former it starts from a single point and radiates out - UHF magazine describes it well in their book which I don't have with me. The single driver point in space as the originator which ideally is a very small speaker with one driver. If you stood 50 feet from the guitar then your perception would not be that it is 2 feet wide - that perception only exists if you were playing the instrument or very close to it. The live comparison is an odd one to me since the room acoustics of the recording is different than the home which would be of varying sizes. Further many live symphonies have all of the instruments in a pit - there is no stage awareness to such an even they're lumped together - the spatial cues will also be hugely dependent on your seat. Amplified events are a non starter for spatial cues since it comes out of loudspeakers place on the stage which differs from concert to concert. (symphonies differ from venue to venue as well).

    It is far simpler to make instrumental comparisons - there really is no point in worrying about symphony perception of staging if you do not know exactly where all of the instruments were at the time of the recording. Unless there is a seating plan that comes with the CD that states that Joe the Violinist was 18 feet to the left of center and the oboe is in the middle and the French horn over on the right and there were three french horns and one bassoon in the back 4 feet then it winds up being - whichever is biggest will be deemed best by the listener - when biggest may in fact be completely wrong.

    That's why I prefer getting the instrument sound down first. Doesn't matter where it is if the instrument itself doesn't sound real. Transients, Decay, tone, timbre, dynamics, and the sound pressure to make it have that live visceral sensation. I liked Soundhounds demo of a speaker I was listening to. There is a high 6 foot partition in the middle of the room. A woman who could not see over the partition popped her head around and was stunned that it was not someone actually playing a piano. That is what it ought to be able to do. Granted the recording needs to be up to it but a lot are.

  12. #12
    RGA
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hyfi View Post
    The Gemmes were pulled out and I moved around the room myself. Odd you say no fatigue and I felt fatigued in a half hour.

    Like I said, I'm gonna have them hook the same amp up to the same companies more efficient stand mount speaker as well as listen to a Raysonic push-pull with them.

    I know now that flea-watt amps won't be for me but the 15wpc SET sounded good, just not matched with the right speakers.
    They have Raysonic here in HK and I was listening to it driving the LS3/5a/AB1 sub combo from Rogers. It was pretty good - better with Rogers' own tube amp though.

    If the set-up was causing fatigue something is seriously wrong. The little driver being pushed beyond what it could do - noise as mentioned in the chain.

    SET and fatigue is an oxymoron - so something is seriously wrong somewhere. Try and listen to a big beasty speaker.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    The single driver point in space as the originator which ideally is a very small speaker with one driver. If you stood 50 feet from the guitar then your perception would not be that it is 2 feet wide - that perception only exists if you were playing the instrument or very close to it.
    I understand the theory - just find it never works in practice. I recently heard the new "full range point source" KEF Blade in SF and found that it's apparent image size is unrealistically small to these ears.. Unless you're listening from the lobby.

    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    Further many live symphonies have all of the instruments in a pit
    Many? I've never been to one. You're thinking of theatrical performances where the stage is dominated by actors or singers. That is not the reference I use for music.

    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    Amplified events are a non starter for spatial cues since it comes out of loudspeakers place on the stage which differs from concert to concert.
    Which is why such recordings are useless to evaluate a system's soundstaging capability.

    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    there really is no point in worrying about symphony perception of staging if you do not know exactly where all of the instruments were at the time of the recording.
    Worry? Just listen! With good systems playing good recordings, you can hear where the sections are located. And something of the hall acoustic.

  14. #14
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    ...
    Further many live symphonies have all of the instruments in a pit - there is no stage awareness to such an even they're lumped together ....
    Not at all -- you're thinking of opera, not orchestral performance.

    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    ...
    It is far simpler to make instrumental comparisons - there really is no point in worrying about symphony perception of staging if you do not know exactly where all of the instruments were at the time of the recording. Unless there is a seating plan that comes with the CD that states that Joe the Violinist was 18 feet to the left of center and the oboe is in the middle and the French horn over on the right and there were three french horns and one bassoon in the back 4 feet then it winds up being - whichever is biggest will be deemed best by the listener - when biggest may in fact be completely wrong.
    ....
    It is conventional for a symphony orchestra to have all the violins on the listeners' left, etc.; see the diagram. Most often the producer/recording engineer tries to place the instruments acoustically in those locations from a imaging perspective.

    If your speakers are delivering an amorphous, non-directional blob of sound then you can definitely "worry".


  15. #15
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poultrygeist View Post
    One major reason I'm sold on FR/SET is I don't have to endure listener fatigue.

    It seems that there is an explanation for this as push pull tube amps and sold state amps produce 3rd order and odd order harmonics which can be hash to the ears. SET amps OTOH produce 2nd order and even order harmonics which are rich and complimentary.
    Grungy sound is fatiguing; symptoms are etch, grain, shrill highs, spacial vagueness, vague instrument timbres. Likely you agree. And it's likely that poor s/s components have lots of high order harmonic and intermodular distortion that create the grunge.

    However the solution isn't necessarily to bathe the sound in 2nd order distortion, either instead of, or to hide, the high order distortion. The real solution is to get minimize the offending distortion, and good s/s does this quite well while not adversely affection resolution and transparency.

  16. #16
    Lurker Hyfi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post

    Awesome, that explains why this recording sounds just like that.



    ah there, my pic wasn't showing.
    Last edited by Hyfi; 04-09-2012 at 03:51 PM.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    If your speakers are delivering an amorphous, non-directional blob of sound then you can definitely "worry".
    Amen.

    [/QUOTE]

    While string location is pretty standard, I find that woodwind and brass location varies a bit. Sometimes the woodwinds are lined up more centrally behind the violas, English and French horns behind them. Trumpets, trombones and tuba back right. Tuned percussion more centrally located.

    Naturally, it all depends upon the symphony size. One time the ASO performed the Carmina Burana, the risers for the chorus changed instrumental positions a bit. It was the first time I've seen string basses to the left. Nevertheless, that is something you can clearly hear.

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    I was first chair trombone in my college symphony orchestra but our brass section was flip-flopped with the percussion section.

  19. #19
    RGA
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    I have no idea why I was thinking of theater/opera but point noted.

    I've rarely come across any speaker even of the $150 variety that could not place the instrument families in the proper place - my B&W 302s which were $225US could do that.

    What is more bothersome to me are the speakers that do a "better" job of it but only if your head is placed just so - if I move my head and the stage collapses it takes me out of the event. Something that certain designs do often is require a head in the vice experience.

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    I don't know of an audio dealer that carries SET amps here in SF. At the 2010 and 2011 CAS shows, my favorite rooms used SET amps: Audio note, Teresonic, and Sonist. No listener fatigue whatsoever!

  21. #21
    Lurker Hyfi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tube fan View Post
    I don't know of an audio dealer that carries SET amps here in SF. At the 2010 and 2011 CAS shows, my favorite rooms used SET amps: Audio note, Teresonic, and Sonist. No listener fatigue whatsoever!
    I don't think the fatigue was from the amp as that was very nice, it was the Gemmes that I did not like.
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    Don't know if the Fostexs were broken in but they'll sound like sh*t otherwise. It takes hundreds of hours before the banana pulp cones starts to loosen up. I've known guys who said their HS Horns were still getting better even after 6 months of everyday use.

    A common break in method for Fostex speakers is to cover them with a heavy army blanket for a week or so while they play non stop FM static.

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