A lot of people love the sound of horns. I am not one of them.
I do love some of the qualities they present: high efficiency, terrific dynamic range, dynamic contrasts and great transient speed.
I do not love their tonal characteristics. Cup your hands around your mouth and speak – this is what horns do to the tonal balance of music.
So the question for me comes down to a matter of compromises – what am I willing to compromise to gain something else?
I’ll tell you a story. The first time I ever heard a horn was a pair of the very expensive Avante Garde loudspeakers driven with a state of the art amplification system and powered by a Power Plant. Couldn’t ask for a better setup. The first thing we played was a solo piano piece – which I believe was Robert Silverman on the John Atkinson Stereophile recordings (excellent work).
The piano sounded as if it were live and in the room. On one instance Silverman hit a single note and almost startled me out of my seat – so real and full of speed and transient quickness was the sound. I simply had never heard anything like it. I was stunned.
The next track was a female vocalist. I was equally stunned because this sounded so unnatural as to be unnerving.
How is it we can go from perfection to head shaking in a matter of only a few moments?
Clearly the benefits of the horn were many but distortions in tonal balance were so off the charts that I simply could not live with it.
The question then is what level of compromise are you willing to accept to get something amazing? I, for one, can’t get over the tonal aspects to gain the speed and dynamics. In the same way, I could never live with electrostats because their lack of dynamics – in trade for transient speed – isn’t worth the price asked of me.
Considering there are no perfect anythings – where will you draw the line?