Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CES 2011 - the big Western Electric system....

time to write up the big system before I forget...

Papa joe brought me in to help with setup as he knew they had a big system they wanted to share and a "small" room at CES. Silbatone thinks of CES as just a Munich warmup, so we were not really expecting to get it just right.. more of a test drive... but we knew if everything fell into place, we could have incredible sound. I tell people all the time that horns are the ultimate, but that it could take years, yes, *years*, to get them sounding just right... with all of the resolution and dynamic ability, big horns are walking a tight rope... and this system was not any different... details to follow, but we had a monumental task of getting it going in a day or two...

so now the gear...

up on the top were the WE 597a's... yep, real ones... single WE oil cap bringing it in...

the midrange horn was also genuine WE... the 24... the 24 is a strange horn... it has a very good profile... good length.. mouth size.. pattern... it looks like a multi-cell, but it is not... it has dividing vanes.. but they are not breaking the horn into discrete sections like the 26, a true multi-cell... it sounded absolutely stunning on many recordings.. occasionally when it got really loud (and these guys definitely cranked - one morning my ears were ringing!)... think dynamic peaks on basically low level music... you could hear some distortion.. it was the vanes vibrating.. you could feel them... most of the time, with moderate SPL's, you would never notice.. from what I heard on Sunday morning with Art Pepper, I would say that it is the best vintage horn I have yet heard....

the driver on the mids is from GIP... it is a reproduction 594A.. this particular one has had the steel doubled as well as the field coil.. pole piece is permendur.. no word on whether it is a solid 3" pole piece of permendur (or hollowed like pipe)... I know everyone is permendur crazy, but I am not... dave and I have our reasons, but I will say that this driver did not scream or shout.. instead it did a pretty good job of telling you what was in front of it...

now the double loaded horn with wings... man, that driver was impressive.. I am not a huge fan of moving from a super lightweight metal compression driver diaphragm straight to a paper cone, much less an 18" one, but I did not hear any of the nasties that normally drive me from the room on direct radiators... I tend to like direct radiators at the back of a long, straight horn... the horn load seems to damp out the paper distortions.. they just cannot make it out of the horn.. so this short front horn really did a good job of blending well to the 24 horn... great work, Silbatone... I would not have believed it had I not heard it myself...

now the rear loading.. this is where we clearly had some issues with the speaker... there was plenty of path length... good mouth size... we should have had indredible bass.. and Joe says they did in Korea... I live with bass horns every day (a little more than eight foot straight horns)... and we just were not getting the bottom we should have... midbass was fast, detailed, weighty... very, very good... and the drivers were working.. my only guess is that when the cabinets were disassembled to be veneered and "prettied up", they never got the compression chamber sealed up properly.. when we frantically took the horns apart on friday morning, that is what appeared to have happened... but we just had no time... plus, as Joe said, we had no choice in room placement.. the speakers had to go right *there*... and there only... so, we were hurting down low...

electronics... well, another one of those not quite right situations... the LCR (go slagle nickel chokes!) sounded very good... maybe a touch lean, but I am pointing to the van den hul cartridge as the LCR is selling quickly in Korea after a few "shootouts"... the dcs digital had more midbass... but the phono was passing music through... much more natural that the digital, even with the midbass leanness... so the phono gets an "A"...

the DA100 amp... it was completed only a day or two before it had to ship... so not only was it brand new, but it had slightly different transformers in it than the unit that Silbatone was using back home... ouch.. and it sounded like transformer ringing to my ears... the midrange was very clean... the bass control was great as well... but the highs... well, it just needed the new iron... back in Korea, they say it sounds like the voice of god... I believe them... so no idea why we had problems... shipping? just needed playing time? no idea.....

so what did we do? well, ever hear a western electric 300b? they sound pretty damn amazing from 300 up, right? so, bi-amping was the call... I tried the line level crossover one night around 3am... but everyone else had crashed and it seemed to have some issues.. it was thrown into one of the six (size of my volvo wagon) crates as an afterthought for CES, but I think it would have helped had they finished it up and tweaked it... so we bi-amped through the original western electric speaker level crossover...

and with that configuration, we had great music... saturday and sunday was fabulous.. just one blip on saturday with some noise from an interconnect, but we had music..

I think at least thirty people have asked me what I thought about this system.. so here it is... most people took a look and did not listen... they laughed and walked off.. that is ok.. I am used to that happening in my show rooms... some stood at the back and made up their minds that it was not good... that was a mistake.. people think you have to get far away from a horn... I do not find that to be the case.. this room was the perfect example... in the back, the sheetrock walls were vibrating.. you could hear how the power of the speaker was literally shaking the walls... it made the rear standing positions muddy and garbled... even the back row sitting was not so hot in my opinion.. I liked the front row... especially off to the right.. when you get out of the middle chair, you switch from listening for soundstage artifacts and settle more into the music... and that is what this system did well.. played music.. the real strength of a system like this gets far past your checklist.. top end extension? nope.. bottom end extension? nope... coltrane placed back two feet and three feet to the right of the speaker? I did not check... when the orchestra cranks up for the crescendo does the system scale right along with the instruments? yep, sure did... how do we measure dynamic power? liveliness? I think that is what we have lost in most modern hifi.... it is easy to quantify soundstaging and frequency response.. even amateurs can quantify that.. but subtle dynamic cues are tough.. until you relax.. tap your foot.. enjoy... we had kids in their twenties crying.. and gentlemen in their 80's crying.. so I quantify that as a win.. even if I know there is a LOT more potential in there...

sorry for the ramble..



  1. "most people took a look and did not listen... they laughed and walked off" I guess you have to consider the audience. That is too bad. I've always wanted to hear a WE system. I also like to sit in the horn. Last week I had my horns setup almost like headphones LOL.

    Looks like fun. I imagine it is hard to sleep when WE needs to be tweaked.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  2. that sort of ramble is always welcome ;)


  3. WTF is that evil looking doll? I would have run away if I saw that damn thing...right up there with clowns you know.


  4. Hi Jeffrey

    I was there and spent many hours in this room.
    It was intense and unforgettable intants of live music !!
    Thanks a lot !

    Irving Coulin (French Polynesia)

  5. hi jeffrey
    what song is this on this youtube clip

  6. Answer found at 4:53 from songs that scare me

  7. I second the doll comments above.
    A beautiful looking (and no doubt sounding system) but the doll... the DOLL!! (the horror...the horror)

  8. I'd love to hear some WE horns, period!


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