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In the Forum: Playback Listening
In the Thread: The elusive “absolute tone”.
Post Subject: Re: Elusive “absolute tone”.Posted by morricab on: 8/3/2005
I have found that the Apogee loudspeakers ribbon drivers can quite successfully reproduce correct tone. The reason why is this: They have very little coloration from the driver materials themselves (no nasty resonances as the resonance is at only a few Hz), They are very linear (very low harmonic distortion), and are in an open baffle (so they do not excite cabinet resonances). The planar magnetic bass driver in Apogees is slightly more colored but it gets the fundamentals (since it handles up to around 500 Hz) pretty correct. If driven within its limits (depends on the size of the Apogee) the distortion is extremely low, again no box coloration, and very low noise from the driver itself. One can get some idea of how colored a speaker will sound if on looks at the on and off axis response, the harmonic distortion, and the waterfall plot of a speaker. An ugly waterfall plot nearly always guarantees a colored sound as all that stored energy is being released.
I think ribbons are capable of the purest tone and this also is the case in recording technology. The most realistic tone I have ever heard on a recordings comes from ones that I know were made with ribbon microphones. Normal condenser mics (ie. electrostatic) are good but they tend to wash the intensity of the tonal color a bit. Ribbons preserve this intense natural color better and preserve very subtle dynamic contrasts.
I have heard some of the big Tannoy drivers and I have to say that in my opinion they do not completely preserve correct tone (especially not in a large underdamped cabinet). I have heard one horn system that I thought capable, the Martion Orgon. IMO there is not really a conventional paper or plastic cone that is color free enough to do the trick. With vintage drivers, I think you are still getting a coloration, albeit a more naturally consonant coloration. The modern drivers have stripped this away but they are still doing something fundamentally wrong because I agree with you that, while they sound good, they are missing the "absolute" tone. I don't know what your experience with large pure ribbon drivers is but my experience is that they preserve this sweetness of tone that one hears live, without artificial "enhancement" that I think is happening a bit with some vintage drivers in poorly designed cabinets and without artificial "subtraction" that seems to be afflicting many modern drivers.
Lest you think I speak without knowledge about correct tone, I live with my girlfriend who is a professional violinist (aspiring soloist). I hear her practice daily and hear concerts regularly. I know now what correct tone is (largely through her training me as well) and seek it out in my gear choices. It is interesting to me that you mention certain violins because my girlfriend has been fortunate enough to in the last three years have 3 exceptional instruments with which to do her work. They were (in chronological order) a Guarneri del Gesu, a Guadagnini, and currently a 1716 Stradivarius. Having heard these instruments regularly has made this aspect of sound reproduction more important to me now than it once was. I can easily hear now where my audiophile friend's systems are off (sometimes way off) in this regard. Correct tone seems to have been abandoned in recent years as it has become trendy to say "if it sounds good to you its fine" audio relativism. Many of these types of people have no idea what correct tone even is let alone how to seek it out in audio gear.
Since hearing these wonderful instruments and numerous concerts I have found the concept of correct or "absolute" tone to be a major criteria in my listening experience. I have also found as you that the majority of gear simply doesn't get it right. As you know, Apogees while having many strengths, are far from perfect (mainly sensitivity and load issues). They do, however, get tone and low level resolution more correct than nearly every other speaker I have heard. Dynamically, they have some limitations compared to horns (but not compared to most box speakers or other planars for that matter).
It is now possible to devise ribbons with very high sensitivity using rare earth magnets (>95db). I think this could be the ultimate listening solution because it gets close to "absolute" color, dynamics, and low level information (due to the fact that a good ribbon is relatively un "noisy" as a driver).
I notice you didn't mention either ribbon or electrostatic technology in your post, yet the best types of microphones are using these principles (with ribbon being the best for tone preservation). In theory (and a few examples in practice) these technologies should be the best at the other end of the chain. I think, especially with ribbons, there is the possibility to combine high sensitivity, wide dynamic range, and correct tone using this technology.
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