WARNING NOTICE: I am a classic Tannoy addict, or maybe I should say I am a dual concentric high impedance/high effeciency alnico magnet addict. There are only two companies making these type of drivers, Tannoy and Sunlight Engineering. I have in depth experience with the classic Tannoy drivers that have been made over the last two decades and they all have the same genre of sound and the latest driver is the best of the lot, and it is used in only two of the PRESTIGE models that are made for the Japanese market. Though I was involved in the creation of the new Tannoy CHURCHILL model I have never heard it, nor have I heard any of the other Tannoy consumer models, so my comments here are limited to the concresence of the Tannoy hiearchy: The Tannoy Westminster Royal.
I AM A CRY BABY
I cant help it. I cry when I am deeply moved. That wasnt always true, but Dr. Dan Casriel, the leader of my group therapy worked for years to get me to give up by armor, and soon I was a slobbering fool. I cry in movies, when I hug my god children, at the sight of beautiful sunset, after great sex, after a gourmet meal, when smoking a fine cigar, when I see a beautiful motorcycle, and of course when listening to music in my home. Over time I have become a connoisseur of tears; I know the subtle gradations of my own tears, and they are the best tool for judging the quality of the movement I am experiencing.
The reason I share this with you is because it is the best way for me to explain my love of horn loudspeakers, like the Tannoy Westminster Royals...they stimulate the highest quality tears...of joy.
Of course, once I get beyond my intense emotional response to these speakers, I can appreciate them on a completely different level...they may be, in their hot rodded form, the only pair of speakers in America capable of revealing the true nature of worthy directly heated electronics.
THE TANNOY WESTMINSTER ROYALS COMES HOME BECAUSE THE SUMMER EDITION OF STEREO SOUND LIGHTS MY FIRES
I am gazing at the latest issue of Stereo Sound as the commuter train leaves Grand Central Station taking me back to Stamford. As I leave the steaming turmoil of the Big Apple I stare at a familiar face...it is a Japanese audiomaniac standing next to his Westminster Royals in his (like mine) very small living room. Up until this point I have been listening to my super hotrodded Tannoys in a 55x55X30 room at Ambient Recording Studio, which is 90,000 cubic feet of aural space. I have never heard these behemoths in any home environment, and certainly not mine because I believed it would be impossible to get these generators of enormous sound waves to operate in a small room. Oddly, these speakers were designed specifically for the Japanese market, which means small living rooms. And one of the most frequently asked email question is: Dr. Gizmo can I get horns to work in my home, and I have been answering mostly...NOT.
It was the end of August, my custom car making season was coming to an end, and I could feel my gizmological DNA twitching, wanting a new challenge, and as I gazed at my Japanese audiomaniac bro I made the decision...I was going to move my Tannoy horns into my home...as a service to the readers of PF and members of the Triode Guild.
This urge was happening sychronistically with my renewed interest in push/pull 300 B amplifiers. Sun Audios amplifiers proved to me that, when done right, there were special virtues here. The fall harvest season was here and it was time to get way deeper and downer into the new directly heated triode harvest, and nothing is a better harvester than a refined horn speaker.
Weighing over 500 pounds each, required me to hire a moving truck with a hydraulic gate, and it took four men to move them into my home.
After years of listening to them in a cathedral sized space and moving them to my living room was a major adjustment. Because I wanted to use them to evaluate amplifiers and tubes, I would have to go back to doing something that I had not done in a very long time...listen with a passive crossovers. Thirty days after they first arrived three years ago, as you will discover, they were being used with a tube crossover, so I didnt have a clue, or remember their stock sound. I didnt even know where the stock crossovers were, but I remembered that I had ordered all the parts to make hot rod crossovers and found the parts and immediately heated up my soldering iron.
The other thing I realized is that because of the acoustic demands of their previous home I had been exploring the dynamic limits of horns with my own master tapes of a concert grand piano, and had the space to do that, which meant four amplifiers energized these speakers when they were in the recording studio. In my home I would only be using amplifiers in the milliwatt region..... the juiciest spot. The reason I mention this is very important: many triode aficionados make incorrect judgments of directly heated triodes because they are not evaluated properly...in the way that Japanese audiomaniacs do. To full appreciate 300B and their cousins you must listen to them while they are on their juice roller coaster...under one watt.
WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A COWBOY OR A JAPANESE AUDIOMANIAC
Every man needs a hero, according to Joseph Campbell; a model we can use to guide us in our development. So after my first trip to Japan in the early 1980s, I gave up my dream of being a cowboy and chose a much better model, but at age 43 I was almost completely formed as a red blooded American gizmologist. I had to accept that my challenge was to integrate the best of my heroes, with an American twist....like my tweaking imperative with the Tannoys, which is an activity that rarely takes place in Japan because these speakers are, literally, a sacred religious object, and are not ever tampered with.
But I am a red blooded American hotrodder, and as you know the only machines worth the effort of hot rodding are the truly great ones.
I love the Tannoy clan because, without a doubt, they have the artistic capability of creating some of the worlds most beautiful audio art. My passionate raving about Tannoy resulted in me being given both the honorary title of The Bruce of Clan Mc Tannoy and a totally cool custom made Scotch kilt. I believe that Alex Garner, Tannoys Chief of Loudspeaker Design is a member of an elite group of speaker designers that numbers no more than about six or seven in the whole world. The 15 inch Tannoy Alcomax driver, which he designed, is almost as high as you can get in terms of engineering and quality, and literally no one in America has ever experienced it...or experienced it in a horn.
It truly pisses me off that Alexs genius is not more widely known in America, and I consider this a management failure in Scotland. Wake up Scotland......we are living in a world of celebrities, and Alex is your superstar! So let me make this analogy: Elvis is to rock and roll, as Alex Garner is to super high quality speaker drivers...and horns.
To continue my Tannoy drama. Tannoy is a big company with many markets to serve, including the industrial, car and pro market, and they create a protected line of speakers designed just for the Japanese market, which isnt sold in America. In other words, there is lots of politics in their distribution network which is inevitable with a large company, like Tannoy. I have tried to convince Tannoy to make their Japanese speakers available in America. But they refuse.
But I did have one success. I am taking credit for convincing Tannoy to make the new Churchill based on my experience with my tweaked professional 15 inch monitors , but, after many promises of letting me audition them, it never happened and I was hurt and pissed off. But, in the end that doesnt really matter, because I understand that The Churchills are beginning to be appreciated. But let me remind you of one of the fundamental rules in the audio arts...the better the speaker the more demanding it is of amplifiers...and the best Tannoys, like your new Porsche Carerra, must be tuned properly for maximum performance, and used with tube amplifiers.
And, I am going on record that I have never had a chance to listen to the normal line of Tannoy speakers, so I have absolutely no opinion of them.
What follows is an account of my transformation into a hybrid Japanese/American audiomaniac, a process made possible by standing on the top of the Tannoy mountain..The Westminster Royals. (Of course I should really say...made possible by Alex Garner)
Of course this doesnt mean that my Sunlight Engineering 308s are not everything I claimed they are..but these drivers alone cost $9,000, and I have not used them in horn cabinets...and nothing is like a horn...
A Royal Design
Water which is too pure has no fish
TANNOY SCHOOL BEFORE PLAY
Because Tannoy Dual Concentric drivers and the type of horn loudspeakers they manufacturer are completely unique I suggest that you study this compilation of information so that you will get the relationship between electro-mechanical engineering and the opportunity for musical ecstasy. At first Tannoys are confusing...they dont look like or sound like normal multi-driver loudspeakers....but it is time to change your frame of reference.
Horn loudspeakers are as old as the audio hills, because they were the first type of loudspeaker. Just look at Edisons first phonographs. Horns are very efficient at moving air because a little bit of air movement at the throat results in lots of air movement at the mouth, which is why in the early days of the talking movies, theaters used horn loudspeakers to thrill their audience. In the good old days when a really powerful amplifier (tubes of course) was three watts, and the average amplifier was more like a watt and a half, horn loudspeakers were able to, because of their efficiency, fill a room with concert level volume.
The original masters of horn designs were no engineering slouches and pre WW II Western Electric and RCA horn speakers are still considered works of art.
Again, think of this creative challenge: Take two or three different type of drivers, whose diaphragms are made of different materials (so their harmonics are different) and then attach them to different horns, all of which have their own unique coloration, and try to blend them together! Talk about a lifelong creative challenge, and a great way to spend your evenings.
Over the three decades I listened to many modern American horn systems but it was apparent that there was a major timing discombobulation between the woofer, midrange and tweeter. The sound of the woofer because of the long horn throat was in garage. The honky midrange was in the kitchen and the tweeter was in your face. Not cool, but very dynamic. Being that all of the driver diaphragms are great distances apart there is negative time coherence and the aural matrix is completely confused. The goal is to have a completely cohesive wave front...and that aint easy with multi-driver horns. Anyone familiar with Americas only horn loudspeaker, Klipschorns knows what I mean.
The Japanese masters of horn design especially love Tannoy concentric drivers because their tweeters is in exact alignment with their woofers, thereby solving this timing discombobulation problem. This is the best explanation of why so many independent Japanese horn loudspeaker craftsmen pay absurd prices for Tannoy drivers of all ages, shapes and sizes. Tannoys have been the catalyst for the development of many other concentric type of loudspeaker designs which are created for the Japanese market. This Tannoy cult in Japan set the ground work for the Royals development.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST HORN ARK
Through a Steve Spielberg, Raiders of the Lost Ark, type drama the Tannoyites of Scotland decided to created the Westminster series of folded horns. In 1974, after Tannoy was sold to Harmon International ( it is now owned by TGI) they started to move the factory from England to Scotland and discovered ( in a secret tomb in the basement, guarded by ghosts in kilts?) a heretofore undiscovered stash of Guy R. Fountains secret drawings for a new generation of horn speakers that he designed just before he died. The designers at Tannoy having discovered the treasure of the Guy R. Fountains lost mine, decided to take his dream and make it a reality. This made eminent sense being that their already well developed Japanese market was populated by hornaphilics. So began the development of two compound horn speakers, the Westminster and Westminster Royals, as the Tannoyites ultimate statement.
The way we discriminate and have strong opinions about cables, and brands of tubes, the Japanese are very much concerned about the sound quality of speakers magnet materials. There was a major rebellion in Japan about 15 years ago when JBL started to use a more modern magnet iron, which they claimed had better technical performance, NOT. JBL lost its credibility because these NEW AND IMPROVED magnets were less musical, and the prices of older JBLs, with the older Alnico magnets shot up. Tannoy respectful of this magnet iron sensitivity created magnets just for the Westminsters. Their Alcomax 3 magnets are a gourmet blend of cobalt, aluminum, selenium and ferrous iron, and cooked up according to a recipe the Japanese love. When are we crude Americans going to catch up and start becoming more magnet sensitive? Should audio clubs create local magnet sensitivity workshops?
The Japanese doyens of horns don't like the sound of the technically superior plastic cones.(Dave Wilson also uses paper midrange drivers). For Japanese audiomaniacs paper reigns supreme, and our sensitive brothers have definite opinions about which type of paper cone materials sound best. The special paper formula used in the Royals is a Tannoy trade secret. I have heard rumors that the paper pulp is enhanced with pulverized Bank of England bonds.
You will also note the unusual flare of the large paper cone. This rate of flare; the shape of the cone is extremely important for both the operation of the tweeter and the seamless transition between the tweeter and woofer. Again, the Tannoy info package you just ordered spends a great deal of time discussing the subject of radiation patterns.
MONKEY COFFIN MAKERS NEED NOT APPLY
The Royals rear folded horn, which is eleven feet long. This is the not the work of robotic monkey coffin makers. Obviously the reason this house-sized loudspeaker costs as much as a small house is because of the cost of the constructing a very complex folded horn. This is a piece of precision cabinetry. The various sections of the folded horn also acts as cabinet braces providing the rigidity needed for such a large work of art. The rear horn is designed to start acoustically coupling at 300 Hz, in effect giving a three way system that is really a two way system. The woofer is a direct radiator above 300 Hz, and then below that point the woofer and the rear horn couple and operate together. Unlike the Klipschorn, this is not a corner horn system that uses the walls of the room. Of course all of this complexity of cabinet design is intended to achieve absolutely effortless low end dynamics, which for the hornophile is addictive....everything else sounds constipated after you adjust to the horn dynamics.
Those who like to ponder speaker design will appreciate that the folded horn has the job of reproducing the lowest frequencies, a job normally assigned to a separate subwoofer. The benefit is that there is no discontinuity between the midrange, the bass and sub-bass, because one driver is producing this entire range. I can not emphasize to strong the benefit of having a completely homogenous harmonic quality and cohesive wave front. This design characteristic sets the Westminster Royals apart from all other types of speakers.
Coming from a normal speaker frame of reference, when first experiencing the Royals there is a shaking, rattling and rolling of ones frame of reference for music reproduction. My friend Steve Sullivan turned pale. If you were raised on the typical American diet of multi-driver loudspeakers then it is very difficult to imagine how a two way loudspeaker consisting of a concentric tweeter and fifteen inch paper woofer can produce such a refined sound. Quite frankly I too am amazed, because it challenges every traditional notion I have about state of the art loudspeakers, but I trust my ears.
The horn is, in effect, creating a woofer that is about fifteen square feet and that gives it a great advantage in moving the air mass of your entire room. Totally effortless dynamics results, which are completely unknown to ported or sealed speaker enclosures. Period end of story. No debate.
A loudspeaker is a musical instrument, in that it has its own harmonic personality. This simply means that no loudspeaker can perfectly convert an electrical signal into mechanical motion. Besides that, the acoustical definition of a perfect speaker is one that is simultaneously infinitely large and infinitely small, which sounds to me like, it spite of its truth, the jargon of a speaker designer tripping on LSD.
It is no simple minded task to go from a theoretical horn design to one which integrates into a real world loudspeaker. No matter how skillful the computer modeling, thousands of man hours are required to perfect and tune the entire system so that its organic balance is correct. This is no different than crafting a violin. For those who think organic only applies to California Tofu, let me assert that this is the quality that separates the men from the boys in loudspeaker design. At last count there were ten million, or some such large number of companies, making monkey coffins. Just buy a computer and some drivers and you are in business. The art of creating an organic, and by that I mean a balanced, integrated system that creates music so real you can cut it with a knife and eat it, is rare indeed. Over the last three decades I have been on a steady organic diet of British loudspeakers; Quads and Tannoys. Two companies that have been practicing their craft for decades. Gentle dudes, we are talking about the art of loudspeaker design, and mastering that takes a lifetime. Tannoy has been making concentric loudspeakers for over forty five years.
There is a good reason that there arent more American companies making horn loudspeakers; there is nothing more difficult to get right. The acoustical balance act between tweeter, woofer, cabinet, crossover and horn requires rare creative acrobatics. Shall I say it again: A horn speaker is a totem of culture, and to make on right you need tradition supporting your efforts.
Being that we are living in an imperfect world, we must consider the contribution that the speaker cabinet makes to the ultimate quality of the Royal. Here again Japanese audio folklore is instructive, even if it is hard for you to believe....just like silver atoms sound better than copper atoms.
The Royals cabinet is a beautiful piece of hand crafted furniture. It is made of exquisite veneers of walnut and solid walnut. There is almost 250 pounds of wood in each cabinet, and the high quality of the wood has a direct bearing on the reputation of this speaker.
Lets put this all in perspective. The Royals are the last
speaker you will ever buy. You will listen to them for the rest of your
life, so what is the big deal having to waiting at least a year for them
to reach their prime? You wax your Indian motorcycle every week, so why
wouldnt you wax your speakers once a month? Tannoy supplies a jar of Scotch
speaker wax with each speaker.
Fundamentally the marksman aims at himself
If any of you are regular subscribers to Stereo Sound ($30 per issue and worth every pound) or MJ, you can skip this section.
As you know from my previous writings, in the early 1980s while I was in Japan to receive an award for having perfected the Futterman OTL amplifier I discovered that to the ultra-serious Japanese audiomaniac Tannoy was not a loudspeaker, but a religion. These audiomaniacs were much more sophisticated and refined than their spam slinging brothers in America or truffle munching brothers in Europe and were sucking up every vintage Tannoy in the world in the same way they had sucked up every piece of vintage American tube gear, especially Western Electric, Marantz and Mc Intosh gear. The Japanese were so gah gah over Tannoy that Tannoy responded and manufactured a special group of loudspeaker just for this market, i.e. refined....and called The Prestige Series.
I heard Tannoy loudspeakers many years before this trip, in the late 1960s, at Music Masters in NYC, but it wasnt until I heard them with single-ended triodes did I discover, for the first time, something much better than sex. Decades ago America was not ready to embrace what the Japanese knew well...high efficiency concentric loudspeakers are the Juliets for the Romeos of refined tube amplifiers. After a meeting with one of Japans leading audio critics where he played me his Tannoy horns, I made a vow that someday...I too would be worshipping in front of the dual concentric alnico alter.
And, of course for decades the Japanese audiomaniacs have been using, in their homes, professional studio monitors. Both JBL and Tannoy have always dominated the professional monitor markets and during this trip I found it very peculiar, indeed, to see these gigantic studio monitors in very small Japanese listening rooms. But there was method behind this musical madness. These professional monitors, like the Tannoy System 15 DMT II , are ultra high in efficiency (around 97 db) which means that ultra-refined low powered single-ended triodes are not stressed. When used with high efficiency loudspeakers, tube amplifiers always sound more refined because they are operating at their lowest distortion level and most importantly because the output tubes are under-stressed, they will have longer life, and if you are paying $800 for Western Electric 300Bs that matters.
Yet, there is another compelling artistic imperative working here which is rooted in the Japanese culture and it is all about musical dynamics. Over the last few decades musical dynamics have become the poor step child in the American audio arts. Dynamic contrast is implicit in Japanese art. It is apparent in their painting, sculpture, language and music, and they express it in their audio arts, which explains why studio monitors are so popular for home use. Professional studio monitors are much more dynamic than consumer speaker, and that explains why the Japanese use them in their home...in the same way they use horn loudspeakers. So when you open a Japanese consumer magazine like STEREO SOUND you see both consumer and professional loudspeakers advertised. (Note: Tannoy will not sell its professional speakers in a consumer store in America, though you can buy them if you shop in the right places...pro dealers)
Six years ago, I fulfilled my Tannoy vow that I had made decades earlier. The single-ended triode aesthetic of Japan was finally flowing in America largely due to Cary Audio and AudioNote introducing single-ended triodes here. It was obvious that both American and European audiomaniacs were finally reaching the artistic maturity to appreciate what the Japanese had been worshipping for years...tubes and Tannoys. While there were more and more refined single-ended triode amps available in America, there were simply no refined high efficiency loudspeakers, so I called TGI, which is the Tannoy North American distributor, and convinced them to send me a pair of the Tannoy 15 inch Dual Concentric professional monitors....the ones that Japanese audiomaniacs use in their homes. TGI was so busy with keeping up the demand for Tannoys, in the professional market, they were not paying attention to the current American triode renaissance. Are you aware of how many men are building sophisticated digital recording studios in their homes or closets?
By the early 1990s the passion for Tannoy in Japan was so intense that the company was manufacturing some extremely way awesome dual concentric coolosity... two amazing compound folded horns...do I smell smoke billowing from your audio loins? Or let me put it to you in Zen terms.....what more does a religious man need than his Tannoys and his triodes?
Soon after the 15 inch professional monitor arrived I was smelling, and eating Tannoy. I was dreaming Tannoy. I thought about the Tannoys in the shower, and during sex with Cindy Crawford I fantasized about my Tannoys to keep me excited. I no longer needed to go to my favorite monastery for meditation and prayer...I just listened to the Voice of God through my Tannoys.
DO YOU KNOW THE FEELING OF HAVING SEX WITH A TRANSPARENT GREEN WOMEN WITH TEN BREASTS FROM MARS?
The above question explains my essential problem: explaining to you the world of the Japanese audiomaniac. We American audiomaniacs have absolutely no experiential frame of reference for this world of crazed music lovers. This is exactly like trying to explain what it is like to have sex with a Martian super-model. We all know what sex is like; we share that context, but sex with transparent green women is so completely different than sex with female humans that unless you have had at least one experience of doing it with a green transparent women you cant understand what I am talking about. Trust me.
On the other hand A Ninja Mutant Teenage Japanese audiomaniac can skateboard down to his local hi fi emporiums and listen to hundreds of different types of horn speakers. This teenage solder slinger knows the sound of acoustic suspension speakers, mini-monitors, electrostatics, and he is keenly aware of the unique qualities of horn loudspeakers. Even our most seasoned sophisticated American audiomaniacs have not yet heard a typical refined Japanese horn system, and this is why there is so much confusion over this single-ended triode trauma tripping over the tiny minded.
If you are into cosmic consciousness then you already understand that the beginnings and ends of revolutions are inevitable. For years, I, like so many others, were saying that the single ended triode thing was inevitable, but at that point I digressed from this group of triodians, because I asserted that the single-ended triode thing was coming down because the audio winds are now blowing from the east; the Japanese audiomaniac spirit has invaded our shores, in the same way that Harley-Davidson is invading theirs.
This revolution has not yet reached its maturity here because the wholosity of the Japanese audiomaniac culture has not yet appeared in its full power: the power to embrace great diversity, eccentricity, strong personal expressions and unfettered experimentation. Are you listening to a four way horn system with a special triode amplifier custom designed specifically for each driver? Does your turntable have three arms with different cartridges? Do you like to listen to your local radio station on a perfectly restored 1930s radio? Do you collect extinct triodes because they are objet dart?
Do you consider yourself a spiritual mature coach potato? Let me suggest that the definition for a spiritually mature man, within the Japanese culture, is a man who has found a profound form of self-expression; a concrete method of affirming the worlds beauty by endowing it with his own form of beauty. The creation of the Japanese audiomaniacs audio system is high art and appreciated as such. Their approach to the creation of an audio system is the same as their approach to pottery, calligraphy, flower arrangement or the martial arts. The dialectics of classicism and innovation in the Japanese arts have been refined over centuries. This refinement is certainly expressed in their audio systems.
At the concresence of the Japanese audiomaniac culture is the man who, within the audio classics, creates his own very personal vision of musical wonder. The greater the distance from brand new just off the production line the better. The closer each pieces comes to be custom made and personally reflective the more it is adulated. We Fast Food Freddies are completely befuddled by this cultures worshipping pre-1965 American audio art that we consider defunct. What is wrong with these crazies that they get woodies over Western Electric and Mc Intosh?
Fascination with nostalgia audio is one of the most interesting aspect of this community. Perhaps this context will help you understand it. It is one that is close to my heart because for a number of years my full time occupation was working to bring back into production the classic 1940s Indian Motorcycle. One model we are making is an exacting copy of the 1941 Model 441/Straight Four. As you know nothing feels better than riding in the beauty of America countryside on an antique motorcycle. It is an entirely different experience than riding a hyper-tech crotch rocket. For an increasingly large number of men riding an old Harley-Davidson or Indian is ultimate expression of the ecstasy of motorcycling. If you had a choice would you rather be driving around in a perfectly restored 1953 Corvette or a brand new Dodge Caravan?
When you call your friend up and shout with joy, I just received delivery on my 1946 Indian Chief, be reminded that your Japanese brother is about to tell his buddy with the same pride, I just received delivery of my 1946 Western Electric amp. Both will be powerfully magical forms of transportation.
Yet, there is another aspect of nostalgia audio that eludes our understanding. According to the Japanese audiomaniac there are classics in the audio arts; works that have a timeless quality of beauty, even if it is within a very narrow area. For example, amongst others, certain European moving coil cartridges from the 1970s, that we thought were extinct , are still made just for the Japanese market. We all know that Mc Intosh re-introduced their MC-275 for the Japanese. The list of classics worshipped is very long. What could be more enjoyable than sipping a fine cup of Jim Beam and listening to Frank Sinatra on my Marantz 7C? It is this capacity to enjoy an expanded and more imaginative relationship to audio gizmos that sets this culture apart. True enough, creating a state of the art system at the edge is way cool, but there is much much more. We are talking about creating and enjoying multiple audio systems with completely different personalities.
Have you forgotten how many men are employed in the consumer electronics industry in Japan? Often the case is that the man who is designing $49 boom boxes, is hand crafting a sublime one watt single-ended triode, using an output tube that went out of production in 1933. We are talking about massive technical sophistication on the part of our brother crazies. This technical confidence permits the audiomaniac to ponder each pieces with great intensity. Here we have serious consideration of circuit topologies by people who love to read and eat schematics. Here we have coffee houses devoted to audiomania. (How many American audio editors can read a schematic?) Here we have magazines that are almost exclusively schematics for the home builder. Here we have serious questioning on transformer design and the choice of laminates. That is the point: there is so much high audio art worthy of serious consideration. Here audio transformates into meditation. This is the direction America is going.
If you every have the good fortune to experience an authentic Geisha dinner you would immediately grasp the artistic intensity of the Japanese way of expression. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a culture that loves minute details? Obviously, the beauty of an amplifier is directly related to the beauty of the wiring....just check out the wiring of some of these DIY amplifiers and see if you cant see the connection between the elegance of the wiring and the Japanese art of flower arranging?
A perfect example of what I am talking about is illustrated by a quote from a fax I received from the now eternal Nobu Shishido, one of Japans master of audiomania, who you will be hearing about in greater detail later on:
We have been experimenting on what a amp can be as a form of art, sound-wise,
design-wise, and construction-wise. We no longer see an amp as just a
tool to produce sound but see it as a work of art in its entirety. You
can say its a sculpture which also produces sound, if you like; an experimental
proposal to the culture of future world of audio. The way it differs from
just sculpture is that this sculpture has to be constructed in a way to
improve sound also. So its a delicate combination of art and technology....
My fellow techno shamans I am suggesting after four decades of xenophobia, we are finally gaining the ego strength of maturity to be inspired by our Japanese audiomaniac brothers who have created a luxurious Garden of Audio Eden so rich and diverse that only a hemorrhoid suffering mealy minded mendicant would not want to frolic in it. American men maybe ready to move from shopping for musical ecstasy in the home to creating it.
I'M JUST A MUSIC CRAZED SUSHI SALESMEN
My job is to convince you to embrace the Japanese audiomaniac point of view: create your own individual audio system as a form of artification, of self-expression; get more involved in the process of creating your unique musical context. It is my job to fan your fires; the incandescent fire of unceasing exploration of the audio arts. Even at the risk of being tedious I will say it over and over again; we should pay much closer attention to our Japanese brothers. We have much to learn from them and grock their poop.
It should not surprise you that Europes leading audio manufacturers make special, and by that I mean refined, products for the Japanese market. The European multi-century tradition of trading with the Orient has sensitized them to this aesthetically refined culture. As a corollary the Japanese demand the objet dart of European industry.
While this may horrify the audio Calvinists in America and compel Harry Pearson to turn up his fire and brimstone of eternal Hell and Damnation, Japanese audio critics play an active role in developing serious audio gear. This cooperation between critic and manufacture is openly acknowledged and fully supported because their group ideas about art and culture are quite different from ours. Before your Puritanical dander starts a white tornado, lets put things in perspective about the Japanese audio critics power and role.
What if your readership is composed of very sophisticated, technically trained men, who have fully developed networks of audio experts and craftsmen, who are capable of their own independent and authoritative evaluation. And what if all of this is going on within an audio culture that applauds diversity, eccentricity, creativity and exploration? How many American audio critics are trained electrical engineers, or professional audio designers? You will also note that Japanese magazines will do group reviews where five or six critics work together to appraise a new product or system, and in the process share ideas, disagree and debate. Japan is a culture that values this type of group interaction, while America is still the land of the lonely morally righteous gunslinger coming into town to single handily clean out the bad guys.
This is obviously a different audio culture than ours. The reason I mention this is that the Tannoy cult of Japan, including their most esteemed audio critics have been creatively involved with the development of the Westminster series of horns. Only a fool would ignore the wisdom and refinement of these critics. It would be inappropriate to introduce such an important product without getting the advice and consent of the Japanese Tannoy cult. To do otherwise would be inviting marketing suicide.
For the sophisticated consumer there is enormous benefit in this type of community process, and the Royals are concrete evidence of this. A consortium of Scotch Tannoyite audiomaniacs and Japanese audiomaniacs inspired each other and brought their art to a higher level. The quality of the Royals is a reflection of the collective passion and intelligence of this group.
Again, the audio value system here places personal creativity at the top of the value scale. The thing to admire is commitment, passion and the artification process, not whether the audio gizmo you own got four stars from in a review. The audio hit parade has little appeal to these men. Quite the opposite is true: creating your own version of a classic like a 300 B amp single ended amp is what is artful and worthy of prestige.
I also subscribe to the common Japanese audiomaniac point of view about audio haute couture home design and decoration, which is brazenly chauvinistic-a home exists for only one purpose: to fully support ones audio system. All other design consideration must be subjugated to this, including the trashing of antiques, chintz and any feminine froo froo that gets in the way of a good stereo image. Those who read Japanese audio magazines like Stereo Sound and MJ are familiar with this form of haute audio home decoration. There should be no concession given while searching for musical ecstasy in the home, except a great listening chair or couch.
Of course you are aware that many Japanese audiomaniacs build custom HORN houses, which are built so the throat of their bass horn is incorporated into the concrete foundation of their home. In this way the horn can fold up the side of the house and the mouth of the horn can open in the wall of the living room. It is the only way you can create an ultra accurate bass horn, which needs to be at least 20 feet long. This makes great sense because if your bass horn weighs more than ten tons it will not resonate in the audio band. I heard rumors that a new magazine is about to appear in Japan called House, Horn and Garden.
The typical audiomaniac home has gigantic efficient speakers with multi-custom made micro triode amps in small rooms played at very moderate levels. This is one hundred eight degrees to the American orthodoxy. Though some of these horn speakers have the capability of filling an arena with sound, they are not used for their sound pressure capability but for their effortless low distortion dynamics at low listening levels, and by that I mean no dynamic distortion in the music. This cultures pride in subtly and refinement naturally flows into its values in audio systems. Though a simple generalization is a dis-service to their audio cosmology, let me assert that natural triode harmonics and effortless dynamics are of the highest priority.
In the same way the Communist revolution became obsolete,
our thirty year old acoustic suspension/inefficient speaker revolution
has become obsolete. The Party that came to power on the 200 watt amplifier
to tame a 82 db efficient, 1 ohm speaker platform is, like the Communists
loosing their grip, and why should we gripe about that?
THE ART OF CREATING HYPER-DIMENSIONS OF MUSICAL REALITY
Teachers open the door, but you must enter yourself
-- Chinese proverb
Only tweaker genes fit me perfectly
There is no acoustic suspension, box speaker, transmission line, electrostatic, magnetic planar, or gas plasma loudspeaker that can do what a coherently integrated horn speaker can do. I have been through them all. I have tweaked them and eaten them all. Gentlemen, I deeply believe that at the end of the road, the last place we arrive before we get ready to march through the Big Golden Audio Gates are horn loudspeakers.
Which is why after experiencing the Royals the possibility
of reaching the outermost limits of music hyper-space emerged and
my tweaker genes started to throb with hot blood. They wanted action and
they wanted it now. And when gizmological fires burn in my loins nothing
will put out the flames.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN?
Tweak is the protein of the tweaker. Everything can be improved, and that is especially true of audio gear, motorcycles and our attitudes towards searching for musical ecstasy.
So when I reveal to you that not long after the $30K Royals
arrived I ripped them open and was deep into tweaking them, you may be
reach for your air sickness bag. But this has been typical behavior for
me since I was three, which is why I was given the nickname Gizmo. For
example . In 1985 I bought a brand new Harley-Davidson Electro Glide,
and before the mufflers had a chance to warm up the whole bike was disassembled
in my garage.
IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS I WILL SHOW YOU MINE
After living with the Tannoy DT15 monitors for a year I was not exactly flying blind in knowing what to do with the Royals, and the first thing that came to my mind is to get to the crossover networks and get them outside of the loudspeakers so I could tweak them.
There are two different crossovers in the Royals. The one that is mounted in the front is for the tweeter and it gives you the ability to adjust the top octave up and down, and to shelve the entire tweeter response (1000 Hz up) from -2db to plus 3 db. All very interesting, but the idea of all of those connections....well it just didnt make sense to me. And what about the tweaker fires burning in my loins to replace all of the wire with solid silver Alpha Core foil wire?
Off came the back of the speakers, off came the front face plate and in about an hour all of the crossover networks and their Van Hul silver multi-stranded wire were now outside the cabinet, where they belong.
Let me now explain about some of the trick aspects of the Tannoy crossover/filters. The woofer has a tunable notch filter at about 250hz where the rear folded horn and the front radiating woofer coalesce. This tunable notch filter permits you to alter the tonal character of the horn. The Japanese keepers of the Tannoy flame spent many moons tweaking this filter, which is made up of a large polypropylene capacitor, an inductor and resistor....perfect candidates for tweaking.
I immediately ordered foil inductors made with either copper or SILVER
from AlphaCore and replaced the existing inductors. These are superior
quality inductors, and the replacement took less time than it takes to
make fresh pop corn, and the increase in clarity was dramatic. I highly
recommend you to replace all of the OEM inductors in your loudspeaker
with foil inductors. It is a totally risk free tweak. Think about
this- your loudspeaker inductors probably has more signal carrying wire
than any other part of your system, including your interconnect cables.
Next I removed all of the sand cast resistors in the tweeter
networks and replaced them with expensive non-inductive high wattage metal
oxide resistors. Of course all the connections are now wired with silver.
The Tannoy tweeter has an tiny little transformer which is in series with
tweeter which smoothes out the impedance of the tweeter so that the operation
of that magnificent Alcomax magnet brew is optimal. I removed it.
DR. GIZMOS 3 YEAR HIGH SAND DIET HOW I GAIN HUNDREDS OF POUNDS AND FELT GREAT
Once you study the mechanical design of the Royals cabinets you notice that there are empty spaces which are part of the folded horn design. These space become micro echo chambers which some find very desirable, but my job is exploring uncharted territories, so I called my friends in Egypt and ordered a boat load of Pharoahic sand so I could fill all of the empty space, and I began a three year adventure in tuning the Royals cabinet. At the end of this long process I had used all of the basic tools of speaker tweaking: sand, additional bracing, long bolts, acoustic foam, felt, lead sheet, and Mortite.
The effect of the added weight was to clarify the lower registers, and make all of the percussive sounds more solid, and made the midrange much clearer. And one of the most important consideration in speaker cabinets of these dimension and heft is their ability store energy. That is the dark side of these horns, and if cabinet resonances, especially at low-frequency, which are plentiful, are not properly dampened, then the aural matrix becomes very muddy.
But let me make this clear...there is a price to pay for the benefits of a horn..a big cabinet, even one that has been optimally tuned like my Westminster, definitely has a signature, and you must accept it, if you want to enjoy it. There is no free lunch.
Slowly, but surely over the past three years I have clarified and the voiced of these speakers, and that process has been totally depended on advances in electronics and tubes that have occurred over this time, which has been significant. Each advance in the amplification forced me to refine the tune of the speakers...which is a process that continues.
It also takes about six months for the cabinets to age and
settle, like a fine piano. This fine wood cabinet also demands oiling
and waxing and ritual bowing.
THE KEY TO UNLOCKING THE ROYAL MYSTERY
THE MARCHAND TUBE CROSSOVER or How to Create Headphone-Type Clarity in Your Loudspeaker
On the Triode Guild web site is an updated article about the Marchand Tube crossover that has become an essential appendage to the Royals.
Any student of the literature is aware that the optimal way to operate a loudspeaker is with one dedicated amplifier directly connected to each driver with all the filtration at the front (high impedance point) in front of the amplifiers. Once you remove all of the capacitors, inductors and resistors between the driver and amplifier you have taken your system to its ultimate level of performance, and I dare anyone to argue with that ancient wisdom. Period end of story. The result is lower distortion, better transient response, harmonic purity, and an immediacy that is impossible with passive crossovers. The price you pay is higher electricity bills, having to own multiple sets of complimentary amplifiers, and the cost of the Marchand crossover.
From a purely emotional point of view, because that is all
that matters, the use of a multi-amp system, where all of the amps are
connected directly to the drivers, creates a large scale Stax Headphone
type immediacy that is usually the unique domain (on the small scale)
of electrostatic headphones. Layer upon layer of experiential haze is
removed when you remove your passive crossovers. And that liberates a
horn to do what only it can do..breathe with the music.
CAN ART BE ANALYZED?
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.
-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery
This question summarizes the basic creative conundrum of the art critic, who in the great tradition of Western Narcissism analyze their own emotional and sensual responses to a completely subjective experience. In the art world the harder an art critic tries to analyze a work of art the more pompous, hysterical, and linguistically tongue tied they become. Many art critics love using a language that is so convoluted and arcane that only hysterical history of art students can understand them , which is why art critics are so popular with cartoonists.
The impulse of art is integration, so how can analysis which is dis-integrating, be satisfying or effective?
T. S. Elliot, in East Cocker, admits that as soon as he gets the hang of how to use words they loose their meaning.
Looking over the panorama of twenty five years of audio art criticism we discover that nothing has changed much. The same language is still used for the good, the bad and the fabulous. It appears that there is an eternal droning mantra of judgment. Language is feeble in describing mystery and the audio critic has a thankless task. I tried not to use the language of futility to describe the how I am transported to hyperdimensions of musicality with the Royals. No language can describe the pure physicality of their musical voice; their power to evoke deep musically longings. What can I say after I say, I tremble in the tremendum of creation when listening to them?
The essential question we must answer, which is the most personal, intimate, most profound and completely private, is Am I in a state of musical ecstasy in my home?
If this is our guiding question then we are being a passionate commitment to the immersion in subtle gradation of musical tonality . It follows then our choices in loudspeakers, like a beautifully released arrow from our bow, will guide us to the bullseye; to the proper choice of loudspeakers.
For me, the Royals have created the possibilities of hyper-dimension of musical inbeing. With them I am embarking on an adventure deep into the heart of music, and it may be years before I return to normalcy, but I shall send letters by messenger.
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