November 8, 2010

10 most significant speakers

It's always a little controversial choosing which speakers make the list. Here are my picks based on influence and their contribution to speaker development. Some might squeeze their way in for their novelty appeal. They are included in no special order.

1. Geddlee Summa

The Summa is now well known in many mainstream circles. You probably won't read traditional reviews or see them in flashy hifi magazine ads. Dr Earl Geddes has made it his life's work to find a way to get high end sound out of a high efficiency high end with compression drivers. The Summa is his ultimate statement speaker which breaks with convention in using pro drivers. It has a 15" midrange driver and a compression driver loaded into a waveguide of the same size. Earl isn't the only one to take this kind of approach, but I believe at the moment he is taking the most refined approach to it that I've seen.

By the way, it comes in a much prettier glossy red apparently.

Gedlee Summa website >

The Summa appears to follow on from the JBL 4430

These were designed with a similar approach, particularly in terms of the polar response. This was one of JBL's most successful studio monitors. More info on the Lansing Heritage website >

2. Danley Synergy horn

While directed at the pro market, Danley's Synergy horn is an inventive and very clever design with home audio applications. Like most things that Tom Danley comes out with, most people will be scratching their heads trying to figure out what is going on inside on of his boxes. Danley's designs are unique and take some time to grasp.

What you see here is a compression driver mounted into a conical waveguide. This is combined with the four midrange drivers mounted onto the same waveguide. The clever part of this design is that all five drivers are time aligned without using DSP or active crossovers. They also match polar response. So you have the ideal point source driver without the compromises associated with coaxial drivers. This is a pro audio speaker with very high efficiency and yet it also has the kind of accuracy that audiophiles seek. The waveguide loads the mid top drivers down to 300 Hz with 100 db efficiency up to 1kHz where the sensitivity will be around 108 db.

3. Magico Mini

Definitely an eye-candy speaker. It should come as no surprise that Alon Wolf is an industrial designer. Many other speakers have since copied the construction and style. You probably don't want to know the price.

4. B&O beolab 5

And the sci fi novelty award goes to ...

This speaker takes a very different approach to some of the others. It is a 3 way design with omni directional dispersion and an automatic room EQ system. Dome tweeter and mid are loaded into acoustic lenses and a 15" woofer covers the bass. It's an active powered speaker that only needs a front end.

While omni might seem like the wrong way to go, it does have clear advantages. Firstly, the dispersion is consistent. The sound stage and sweet spot are very large. A speaker such as this can make the sound work for more than just one small listening chair. It's a more social speaker, perhaps less intended for the audiophile who sits in their "man cave" in their solitary listening chair.

5. Linkwitz Orion

You've probably heard of the Linkwitz Riley crossover, but you might not know that one of it's creators has designed a very unconventional state of the art dipole speaker. He sells speaker kits called the Orion.

His website is a wealth of information, not only about the design process but also many aspects of audio reproduction. The Orion is a 3 way active design with analogue filters. It has a 1" Seas dome tweeter, a Seas magnesium 8" midrange and a pair of Peerless XLS 10" subwoofer drivers for the bass.

While there are many who love the sound of ESL and other dipole panel speakers, dynamic driver dipoles overcome many of the problems. Higher efficiency and higher output can be achieved, and the amplification requirements are not so difficult.

6. Rogers/BBC LS3/5a

This was a BBC design, but it was the Rogers version that stands out in the 70s.

Rober Greene describes it as a speaker that "redefined the possible for small speakers." *1

7. Tannoy Monitor Gold

The Tannoy Monitor Gold is a driver that is still highly sought after. Second hand units fetch a price that few will pay for a new driver.

It is a coaxial driver that is well designed for hifi use. Typical pro coax drivers fall well short. You may notice at the back of a magnet there is a dome. This is in fact a compression driver dome. You will then see five tubes shown in section that allow the dome to load into the dual conical profiles. The cone itself then becomes a waveguide and both act as a single point source driver.

8. Quad ESL 57

No list would be complete without the Quad. Despite obvious limitations in output, extension and a tendency to beam in the top end, it seems to find it's way into in any of these lists due to it's midrange transparency.

9. Klipschorn floorstanding speaker

This speaker has been in continuous production for over 60 years! It is a design to be placed in a corner and has very high efficiency. Klipsch are probably the best known of all horn designs.

10. B&W Nautilus

It was tempting to include the Wilson Audio Watt Puppy, which is a highly influential speakaer with some simlar features. However, this speaker strikes me as more innovative. While the Watt Puppy seems to use stock drivers, B&W not only make their own but the drivers themselves are innovative. Diamond tweeters have entered their range and the midrange driver is a unique design. The Watt Puppy uses a midbass driver for the midrange, where a dedicated midrange driver is less of a compromise. The cabinet features a matrix bracing system and a unique style which blends form and function in a very creative way. It's a very well rounded and impressive design.

*1 Greene >


  1. The Linkwitz speaker mentioned here and pictured is really called the "Orion". "Phoenix" was an older version of his DIY dipole design that was a rebirth of his Audio Artistry dipoles. Hence, the "Phoenix".

  2. Thanks for pointing that out. I've known for years that it's called the Orion, so it's surprising I made the mistake more than once! Fixed now.

  3. I still have the LS3/5As I bought new in 1978, though they get little use these days besides demos for curious audiophiles. I lived with K-horns for a year, then they went away. Significant speakers in the US would have to include the AR3a and the Dahlquist DQ-10 I think. I worked for B&O at one time. I didn't want to like them but the Beolab 5 speakers consistently made superb music.

  4. The picture you have used for this thread for the LS3/5a is not actually a proper bonified LS3/5a.
    All real LS3/5a's uses Bextrene Kef B110 drive units which have a tiny dustcap, and did so for its entire UK production. This is an important distinction.
    This looks like a modern substitute with a poly cone and large dustcap.
    Also true even power response omni directional dispersion is hugely desirable and is possibly the best dispersion characteristic (real convincingly realistic) for a small domestically friendly loudspeaker, mancave or no. However such a speaker should be a small point source and critical listening should be at close range, unlike the otherwise decent B&O and its like.
    The Quads are great, ATC should get at least one mention too.
    What about Spendor BC1 and Yamaha NS1000.


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