Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Munich High End 2012 - Silbatone and the Western Electric 15a

First, a very well deserved thank you to Silbatone for bringing such high quality, early HiFi art to a trade show... and especially here at the twilight of the HiFi era.... Sincere thanks for sharing....

Second, the observation has to be made that there is indeed something special with these very early, compression driven, large, wide range horns.  They do communicate something that our brains associate with being more enjoyable, more believable, and I will even say more *correct* than what the current 'state of the art' is offering... this is really undeniable fact... (even to someone like me - a classically trained engineer from a top US university who loves to measure and quantify things) ... I say undeniable because here at the largest HiFi trade show in western culture, thousands and thousands of people sat in awe... not in awe of the size, as there were large line arrays and other giant horn rigs just down the hall.. but in awe of the sound... these people were a diverse group - manufacturers, experienced hobbyists, novice hobbyists, spouses, children, etc... and they experienced it.. it was very real...

heading back to my engineering side, I do want to know what we are not measuring that will help give insight into this.. of course I do... it could be a myriad of things... I still lean toward energy preservation... it certainly is not frequency response... and certainly not the distortion information that my computer spits out... it could also be the majority of the midrange coming from one driver... similar to what full range guys hear in a tiny room at low level... maybe... but to hear the music we played... full scale.. it really is a  different game.. ... .. there was not a single room there that was even approaching the scale of this display... and I mean sonic scale... yes, big soundstage, but that is not what I mean... what I mean is dynamic swing and a feeling that is a much closer approximation of REAL... the same something that made these two items the most often requested albums of the event:

(please try these at home.. loud, large, and clean... they should make you feel like there is great hope for humanity.. like there is beauty and love and power in the human soul... )

and lastly, I do want to comment on the actual setup from the perspective of the listener who already listens to WE and other large horn systems.. yes, there were many things we did not adjust... just due to time and due to not needing to... (what?).. yes, as our fearless leader said when I was adding my vote to bring the speakers closer together again: "Jackson, you always want one hundred points.  Eighty points is good enough." .. what he means is that this exhibition is not for the already committed horn and WE listeners, it is to show the general public.. it is a just that, an exhibition... and believe me, in this era of web readers who are now 'experts' in a year, this guy was listening to his own WE 15a system in 1987... what were you listening to then?

so, in rapid fire order, the issues from the '100 point guy'...

*brand new cartridge.. but when AJ personally delivers a 'special' cartridge, what do you do?
*brand new digital - I cut the factory tape on the boxes
*we lost power on Saturday.. we ran *everything* through a HORNBACH (Home Depot) 14 gauge extension cord!
*one side wall of solid glass, floor to ceiling, all concrete everything else... oh, except the tile ceiling...
*the amp we were to use landed with no tubes (did we find them in Korea?) ... so wrong amp...
*simple and lighter weight field coil supplies
*no time to adjust tilt of the 15A (so the tonal balance was not quite right)
*no time to adjust the felt lining (but the velvet Guiness towel was fly)
*an unknown bass cabinet and design (phenomenal work, JC! I thought it was awesome even if some crossover work may have made it even better)
*we knowingly gave the best room position to our friends at GIP... the 15's were way too wide...
*heck, we did not even know what turntables were coming until they rolled through the front door (both tables were super cool... maybe I will invite some guest bloggers to talk about them.. they are worth several posts each)

and really, as was said over the course of the show, this is the "number four" WE system... the 15a is awesome... yep, no doubt. but it is lacking in detail retrieval compared to the best.. the thin plywood does get a little too active for my tastes... this speaker has much more radiating area than the largest Magnepan... so the wood sounds a little artificially 'warm'.. but that allows you to play many more recordings, which could swing my vote... it is also a little light in absolute power response as frequency climbs... laws of physics are still laws of physics...

and yet we still had a line of waiting people that extended out of the door from morning until close... anywhere from fifty to one hundred people in the room at all times.... *nobody* had near that attendance... the other big horn rig had five or six people at a time.. maybe...

so you have to step back... see the long view...  be open to ideas... say thank you to Silbatone for sharing.. and see if you can learn something... I know I did...




  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jeffrey.
    Can you please elaborate on your phrase " energy preservation ".

    I am intrigued by your speculation on the merits of " the majority of the midrange coming from one driver". Some time ago I used a Supravox 8" field coil driver on a 4 x 5 foot open baffle. It easily went down to 75Hz.
    Is there something about covering the 80 to 2 or 3Khz without crossover, and to not use mid bass drivers into the midrange?

  2. Hello Mats!

    Energy preservation is quite simply an extension of what we have been following for quite some time - high efficiency.. but it is moving from one guideline/theory of many into law.. a law that must still combine with others... such as: all of the midrange must come from either one driver or extremely similar drivers..

    I was just trying to note that this is now something that has enough data points to more firmly resist toppling..

    systems beyond 60% efficiency are rare... and while not always sounding wonderful, certainly tend to sound "alive"....

    maybe it is time to prioritize that giant low mid field coil compression driver..

  3. Jeffrey,

    Not everyone was as enamored of the sound as you were.


    Tastes not withstanding I can't imagine they were this bad or does he just not like energy preservation :)

    One of these days I'll have to get to a show where I can hear them!

  4. Beau,

    There were three speakers in rotation in that room. Mr Audiobeat did not specify which one he heard...maybe not the 15A at all.

    He probably didn't stick around to figure it out. Whatever it was, it was scary enough to shuffle his punk booty out the door fast. Hahaha.

    Yeah, we were playing loud. Sabbath. ZZ Top. This year's theme was big horns and 70s rock. We didn't plan it that way, we went with popular demand.

    We had the power. The SCALE. DFC, bitchez.

  5. Joe,

    Thanks for the clarification. Guess 70s rock doesn't appeal to some Englishman :) My tastes of that period lean more to Eagles, Molly Hatchet and the Allman Brothers as thats what we listened to on the radio in Louisiana.

    Now on to more important matters. With all that good German beer available, who was drinking the Becks :)

  6. Becks was popular there, much to my surprise. But then so were solid state electronics and plastic mini speakers.

    My theory is that Bavarians like to drink a LOT of beer so they prefer low ABV lager, whereas I like to get maximum buzz off of 2 or 3 strong and heavy beers, so I'll take triple IPA or something with some octane in it.

    This does not explain why Becks when Munich is the fount of many delicious lagers. We also had Franziskaner Weissbier, which is the juice of the gods--an excellent breakfast beer!

    On the whole, the German/Euro crowd were totally rocked out and loved 70s rock. Once you start digging deep in the Southern crates and start pulling out Charlie Daniels and whatnot, might lose a few of them.

    Remember these people think Jackson is FRENCH, when you and I would nail him as a Delta cracker in 5 seconds.

    I think the reviewer mentioned above was freaked out because our system was louder than anything he ever heard. GIPs were also super loud sometimes. The crowd was screaming for LOUD because this stuff could really do it well.

  7. Joe (or anyone else)

    Any time you are in Brooklyn and I'm around I'll take you down the street and we can sample some of the high ABV beers, as well as some of the others. Hopefully they will have the toasted porter that I love back!

  8. That Franziskaner Weissbier is top stuff. Brings back memories of going to the M'era Luna goth/industrial music festival up in Hildesheim, where we shifted a crate of the stuff in our apartment whilst getting ready for the festival...
    If I see it in any of the local UK supermarkets I always have to grab a couple of bottles now.


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