Horns vs Ribbons vs Dyanamic

Something I've been interested in: could you shed some light on the pros and cons, as well as technical info, of different types of speakers? These are the kinds I know about, are there others?

Electrostatic (????)

Horns - can be shrill if not done properly
dynamic high output

ribbons - can be silky smooth with no coloration
if done right - they sing

planar - quick fast detailed, large projection
only trade off - some lack low bass and pinpoint imaging

electrostatic - a form of planar speaker

I'll let the techs give you a more detailed analysis

ps - don't get overwhelmed by what parts drivers are used
listen to a lot of speakers on a lot of different material
especially acoustic music

seamless intergration, disappearing cabinets, pinpoint imaging, dynamics, etc these will all be evident in the best speakers

critical things - what size is your room, is it reflective or deadening, type of music, amount to spend, electronics (particularly amp and pre amp)
just buy speakers you like the sound of, and don't fret over the design or style....of course you already know this.
Audiotomb made a good start,

Horns - tendency to honk/shrillness but sound good with trumpet and are very easy to drive with low power amps.

Ribbons - tweeters are often unreliable, long ribbons behave like planars....lots of reverberation/ambience

Planar - lots of ambience and radiation in all directions means room placement is critical. They also beam (some designs used curved surfaces but this is a problem of any large radiating surface) and are hard to drive. These are almost never used in pro audio - so that tells you a lot.

Dynamic (box speakers) - the most popular form of speaker both in consumer and pro audio and for very good reasons. Accuracy, sound quality, reliability and price are generally unmatched by all other competing designs, which is why there are so many of them.

Electrostatic (????) - same as planar
A lot depends on your amp.
Planers and other panels suck up the wattage.
Maggies like 200 plus watts, while horns are usually happy with 2 watts...
That may change your outlook?
There are good examples of all these designs, past...and present day. Each has some advantage over the others in some small part of sound reproduction...and dis-advantages.

Some speaker systems are hybrid designs, these types try to incorporate the advantages of two or more of these designs into one package...there are also some fine examples of these designs.

I've owned, at one time or another...all of the above.

For heaven sake, I would've thought by now everyone had this straight: "PLANAR" includes BOTH electrostatic (like MartinLogan) AND planar-magnetic (like Maggies -- or MAGNA-PLANAR, the company name? hello!) The two have VASTLY different amplifier requirements and CANNOT be lumped together!!

As for the original inquiry, Mr. Ledhed is just a little confused -- and he's not alone judging from the other posts. If you don't count plasma tranducers, there are really only two categories: dynamic and electrostatic (BTW, Maggies and ribbons and Apogees are DYNAMIC -- they're just rolled out flat!) As for horns, horns are NOT a transducer, they are a form of ENCLOSURE and belong in a separate category including bass reflex, line array, infinite baffle, etc.

A SPEAKER, is a combination of a driver WITH an enclosure or particular mounting arrangement. So, you can legitimately ask about the sound of different kinds of drivers -- a rather small category, or just as legitimately ask about the sound of different kinds of speakers, a much larger category. But you can't mix the two categories together in making such an inquiry.
"These are almost never used in pro audio - so that tells you a lot." Like what?

B&W's get used in the pro audio a lot, even with their flaccid, bloated bass. Berenger get's used a lot in pro audio, but sends shivers up the spines of many here.
Ah thanks Nsgarch. I didn't realize these things! Several questions:

1. I have seen pictures of so-called "horn drivers" that are outside of an enclosure; what does this mean?

2. What makes dynamic transducers different from electrostatic ones, and what are plasma?

3. I always thought of dynamic speakers as those that had traditional, cone-shaped drivers. If planar speakers like Magnepans are dynamic, I must not truly understand what dynamic speakers are. What are they?
"These are almost never used in pro audio - so that tells you a lot." Like what?

B&W's get used in the pro audio a lot, even with their flaccid, bloated bass. Berenger get's used a lot in pro audio, but sends shivers up the spines of many here.

I was thinking of things like

1) they are very difficult to set up and adjust to produce a reliable sound field in a room (often sound best placed well out into the middle of a room - impractical in many real world situations and they are often way too big to place on a meter bridge or in a smaller sized studio as near fields)
2) they don't handle large dynamic range or high sound pressure levels as well as other designs.
3) they have limited frequency range (especially in the bass)
4) they have tended to be less reliable ( high voltages required to operate )

I agree that if you can accept the above limitation then they can sound great (Quad's being a famous example) but pro audio is not very tolerant I guess. Pros need reliable work horses rather than a finicky thoroughbred...
Dynamic drivers = a driver where a coil -that carries the audio signal- moves in a magnetic field -due to the alternating current of the audio signal- a diaphram. In a 'traditional' cone spraker the diaphram is usually conically shaped and made of paper, metal, ceramic, plastic or some combination of these materials.

Plannar drivers are large sheets of usually mylar that have a conductive surface which carries the audio signal, and is placed betwwen two field arrays of magnets - the alternating current moved the membrane back and forth creating sound very similar to the dynamic driver above.

Electrostatics: a membrane with a conductive coating/layer that carried the audio signal mounted in between two High Voltage screenes one positivly charged, the other negativly charged and the AC of the audio signal causes the membrane to move etc... The voltage on the screen varries by design and manufacturer, the old AcuStats were in the 5Kv range, Beveridge 2 and 3 were in the 1.5Kv range.

As has been stated above, Horns usually refer to an enclosure. Some of the most common are, Altec Voice of the Theatre, Klipsch (old) and Avant Garde (new). There are drivers called 'Compression drivers' that were designed to be used in a Horn enclosure; however they are just dynamic drivers designed to work in a Horn enclosure.

As to the efficiency, Horns are the highest Klipsch and Altec VoT can be run to LOUD levels by a walkman/discman, Electrostatics are at the other end, with a max SPL of some in the 88dB range.

Sound - well that is why they make vanilla. Some have staunch adherents that decry anything else, and then there are people who have speaker systems that have elements of all three.

The inefficient units tend to be harder on amps, and some can have wide impedance ranges.

Plasma speakers are a different breed all together. Plasma speakers are designed to displace air to make sound by generating a gass stream (usually from a point source - read omnidirectional radiation pattern) into the listening environment. They are not widely manufactured or sold, and there are some hair-raising stories told about some of the more infamous units - some thing about ozone build up and a fire, but I digress.

As has been stated above, Horn enclosures are usually designed to take advantage of the strength of, or to correct a weekness in a driver design. The use of Voit Pipes and folded horns arround full-range drivers is one example.

Having said all of this, for my system, I chose spealers that could be driven well by my amp and revealed more that others but were within my range ($$). I have lived with ESLs, Beveridges (2SW), Maggies, Altec, Klipschs and have settled on some old ProAcs, Shahanians, Celestions and JM labs, all Dynamic units in the end.

Happy listening
planar - quick fast detailed, large projection
only trade off - some lack low bass and pinpoint imaging

electrostatic - a form of planar speaker

Electrostatic speakers do not sound the same as Planar speakers, for example I have Innersound Eros speakers but they are not in my sytem now, when I went to demo other speakers I heard a Magnepan 3.6 wich sounded like a bed sheet was over it compared to the Innersounds.
Now dont get me wrong I am not saying that is a bad thing just that Planar speakers are not as clear as Electrostat's
also Electrostat speakers do have good imaging but in a very narrow many times undesirably small sweetspot. Just wanting point out that these two technologies are not the same as has been implied a couple times here, they both have strengths and weakness....nothing is perfect.
My ribbons are wonderful. No "reverberation" or "ambience", just pinpoint sound staging, beautiful tone and very realistic music. Certain ribbons provide very ample and articulate bass, but you have to pay for it by buying very large ribbons.

Once I heard Apogees and ribbons I could never go back. I'm own my second pair now after selling my first pair quite a while ago during a divorce.
No "reverberation" or "ambience", just pinpoint sound staging, beautiful tone and very realistic music.

Well I am not sure what design you have. There always seem to be exceptions. You must have the rare type of ribbon with a backing that reduces the raditaion pattern. Most ribbons tend to send signals in a dipole pattern which increases the ambience or reverberation from sounds filling the room (compared to most dynamic box speakers that radiate only in a forward direction except in bass frequencies).

This goes to show that generalizations ony go so far...
I'm a bit partial at the moment to ribbons. I very recently received a new pair of full-range speakers that include ribbon tweeter and ribbon midrange. My first real in-depth or analytical experience with ribbons.

There is a substantial improvement in the mid and higher frequencies. The amount of musical information is just so much more than what I'm used to hearing thru dome tweeters and dynamic midrange drivers. Horns, strigs, and vocals just sound far more natural, full, and complete. A tremendous refinement that is irreplaceable. There also appears to be little to no loss of dynamics. In fact, the two most difficult types of music to reproduce (opera and choral) now sound so clear and dynamic without any apparent leveling off or breakup.

As explained to me the dynamic drivers and domes are supposed to be somewhat sufficient for certain jazz and rock where dynamics are ever present. But the fact that a dynamic driver is in essence a piston, it simply cannot handle certain notes that are sustained over longer periods of time (like an opera singer's voice). According to my source that is what causes the dynamic driver to start breaking up.

But now that I've been on the on greener side of the fence, and with horns, strings, and vocals in all kinds of music, I think my source may give dynamic tweeters/midrange drivers too much credit. Right now it's hard for me to phathom how anybody could label a speaker with a domed/dynamic tweeter as SOTA because this just might be an oxymoron.

At CES 2008 we must have evaluated about 70 pairs of speakers using a certain test cd. All of the dome tweeters failed, some miserably. The only two speakers that did not fail and in fact soared to new heights had ribbon tweeter.

I realize there's more to such comparisons but it's not likely the above conclusion or results were coincidental.

while my current speakers dont have cone or dynamic midrange and tweeters (VMPS) I think Stehno fell and hit his head, to say that no cone, dome, dynamic mid or tweeter can be called SOTA is at best foolish.
What type of speakers are you using now with ribbon mid and tweeter?
There is a substantial improvement in the mid and higher frequencies.

Yes that is the typical manifestation from the additional ambience or reverberation. The room is excited more in the mid range and treble than regular box speakers. (Basically an anechoic calibrated ribbon will have about 3 to 6 db boost in the mid and high frequencies when placed in a room and compared to a box speaker.) The fact that many popular selling box speakers are tweaked upwards in the treble and bass response (helps sell) means that the planar or ribbon will be a revelation (hear things you never heard before) to most people not used to a proper balanced mid range.... you can blame most popular box speaker manufacturers for this....big bass and treble sizzle sells but at the expense of the mid range!!
In my experience, Horns can make a dramatic first impression, but become annoying over time. I have often mentioned that they reproduce dixieland jazz with frightening realism. Those trumpets sound so real.

But I prefer speakers where violins don't sound like trumpets.
Very interesting responses.

Bill, the new speakers are Legacy Focus HD. Not the best speaker in the world but they certainly seem to hold their own and are a tremendous value for their price.

Chadnliz, I don't recall being quite as dogmatic as you're pretending me to be. Perhaps you should re-read my previous post.

Shadorne, don't be so elementary. (I don't believe I'm having to respond this way).

Moreover, I could respond to both of your comments based solely on its face or I could simply say to you both, I don't expect somebody at your level of understanding to comprehend what I said.


"Electrostatics are at the other end, with a max SPL of some in the 88dB range. "

More than a little misleading, in my opinion. My Sound Labs have no problem hitting 102+ dB peaks (measured by SPL meter). Hell, even the ESL57s don't start to show strain well into the mid-90s. I can't imagine what 'stat tops out at 88 dB.
I am somewhat incredulous with regard to dome tweeters being failures according to your test what ever it was. I have a pair of Dynaudio Esotars and listen with delight to the Morel MTD 33s in my TSMs. My thinking is that like the vast majority of young women there is something to like.( yes some are just not attractive at all )I grew up on horns still enjoy tem for those got to hear it lOUD moments. Love IRS Vs with a couple of ribbons in them like over 100 use psuedo transmission lines and plain ported boxes. Even bass reflex.
First of all, there are exceptions to any generality put forward about this or that type of loudspeakers. And often it is these exceptions to the rule that are the most exciting.

Horn systems: These typically use a horn-loaded high frequency compression driver, but sometimes it's conventional cone(s) or dome(s) loaded by a horn. More rare is the horn-loaded low frequency driver - these call for very large enclosures. The back-loaded horn is a subspecies normally used with a full-range driver. Horn systems excel at dynamic contrast, one of the things that differentiates the live music experience from the reproduced experience. Poorly designed horn systems tend to sound harsh in the midrange and/or treble region, but well designed horns do not. Good horn systems are capable of very natural-sounding tonal balance (this is a fairly complex subject that I can go into if you'd like). Horn systems are likely to work well with low-powered specialty tube amps, and therein lies much of their appeal.

Planar speakers (including ribbons and electrostatics): These are typically large or at least tall systems that sometimes use a conventional woofer for the bottom few octaves. Much of the challenge in that case is getting a good blend between woofer and dipole planar driver. Some planars are "fullrange" - that is, no conventional woofer is needed. In my opinion these sound better, but for a given dollar amount they won't play as loud or as deep. One advantage of planar-type drivers over conventional cones and domes is a better power-to-weight ratio, which translates into better inner detail and resolution. Electrostat and ribbon devotees argue over which has the higher resolution; I'm in the electrostat camp. Often (but not always) planars have smaller sweet spots than other types. Dipole planars tend to give a nice sense of spaciousness along with negligible levels of coloration. Now some planar drivers are used as monopoles - that is, they radiate in one direction only. In practice monopole planars are usually comparable to a very good dome tweeter except they have a narrower radiation pattern (which may or may not be desirable depending on the application). A good planar delivers excellent timbre (tonal and textural quality) of voices and instruments, but is often low in efficiency and demanding of amplification and space within the listening room.

Direct-radiator dynamic speakers using cones and domes make up probably 90% of what's on the market if not more. There's an enormous variety of direct-radiator dynamic speakers out there, so generalities are dangerous to make. But in general, dynamic speakers will give you the deepest bass in the smallest box, and the best-imaging speakers are usually direct-radiator dynamics. To be specific, the best imaging I've yet heard was from a fullrange single-driver speaker; it didn't use a separate woofer and tweeter. To my ears most direct-radiator dynamic speakers have compromised tonal balance, but their cost-effectiveness and popularity are evidence that I'm in the minority here.

If your highest priority is for the excitement and liveliness of a live performance, in my opinion that's probably best served by a good horn system. If you are looking for openness with minimal coloration and don't mind trading off some liveliness to get there, then a good planar will probably best serve you. If you're looking for deep bass extension and/or holographic imaging then perhaps a direct radiator dynamic is what you need.

Once again, these are generalities - and it is often the exceptions that are the most exciting.

Hi Dr Mechams says, "I grew up on horns still enjoy tem for those got to hear it lOUD moments."

Crank it up dude!
I have found that from around 65hz, and below...cones are king, over all others... (size and cost being the main factor here).

Other than that, I can't think of a single area of sound reproduction where a cone has the edge over ribbon/planer/E-stat types...at least not for general home use.

Horns?....great fun!

Shadorne, don't be so elementary. (I don't believe I'm having to respond this way)...I don't expect somebody at your level of understanding to comprehend what I said.

I see that "elementary" was either too much for you or simply beneath you.

Either way, I think your attitude towards others reflects most poorly upon yourself.
What about line arrays? Like horns (and sealed versus ported boxes for coned woofers), the line array is a unique driver implementation approach. I've never heard horns or arrays and would value the informed comments of those who've compared arrays to the "dynamic drivers in a box", horns and planars/stats.
stehno...no offense, but test discs by their very nature, only serve the purpose of the test disc manufacturer. i've never met a sound engineer, record producer, or a loudspeaker designer who put'any' stock in test or burn discs. trying 70 pairs of speakers with any test disc may be a sign to relax a bit and just enjoy 'tunes' on your system. take care...its only rock and roll
They all tend to push air. I think there was somthing called the Heil AMT which tended to sqeeze the air like a watermelon seed between you thumb and forfinger?
Jaybo, our so-called 'test' cd was a Natalie Merchant cd. But after 70 or so rounds you can bet it started to sound like a real test cd.

Shadorne, I thought your response was flippant and presumptuous and it seemed to clearly indicate that you did not give me the benefit of any doubt whatsoever with regard to anything I said or where I might possibly be coming from.

Moreover, your response seemed to be a quick attempt to negate my entire post and I had no desire or intention to justify my position to you.

Lastly, I don't recall ever responding in a smug manner to 'others' as I did here to you. So it's really just my attitude toward you and hopefully isolated to just this thread.

Stehno wrote,
"At CES 2008 we must have evaluated about 70 pairs of speakers using a certain test cd."

For god's sake your in the future! What does gas cost next year?
CES 2008...What does gas cost next year?

Stehno, No problem. Peace.

If you don't mind checking a newspaper, can you share with us the the three highest year on year growth stocks on the NYSE of 2008?
Line arrays affect sound dispersion patterns. They roll off less at distance and have less side radiation so that side wall reflections aren't as critical. In fact, any driver that is larger than the soundwave it's producing has the same effect. So, planars can be similar to line arrays in that way.

Line arrays are usually dynamic, efficient and spreading the load between drivers increases power handling. The downside is a chorus of drivers and the cost, paticularly done well. A dozen 4" drivers does not quite match a single 12' driver's characteristics and vice versa.

Acoustic suspension (sealed) and bass reflex (ported) both have their pro's and cons. Bass reflex is more efficient but more likely to have a resonant frequency. Should I mention transmission line?

Check it out, I managed to get through that without saying "better". I'm so PC.
Come on give up on the honking horns the only horn I heard honk was a Ford model a car horn. Even my 1896 edison doesnt honk....Horns can offer wonderful performance surpasing any other design type in my opinion.Ribbons can now be hi-eff many new improved ribbons I havent had much trouble with relability and if fail most can be cheaply repaired unlike most dynamic hifrequincy drivers ribbons are fast detailed a over all quality transducer if built right lots of cheap ones about need to spend a bit to get good ribbons.Planar can be interesting but might as well go ribbon or electrostatic.Electrostatics are fast detailed can produce large soundstage but can have limited dynamic range unless massive costly and drivin by powerful amps.Dynamic drivers are all over the place medium eff -low eff cheap- costly what have you dynamics are in most systems many ribbon systems use dynamic woofers as do horn electroststics etc. Good loudspeakers can be built with any of these designs but for me large horn systems sound the most real true to source and musical.But with all things audio YMMV except with horns honking heck its a loudspeaker not a goose...
Johnk:....Horns can offer wonderful performance surpasing any other design type in my opinion.

Would you feel this way about reproducing specifically strings and piano music as well? Thanks.
Yes, Aktchi, modern properly designed & set up horns can have superb tonal & timbral accuracy - to my ears, everything sounds more real and present than speakers using cones & domes, 'stats, etc.
99.9% of ALL prerecorded music was(and is)made to sound like....prerecorded music. it was never even intended to emulate 'live' music. the horn vs driver vs planar arguments are this hobby's version of 'spock vs kirk vs bones'....sad but true......just don't operate heavy machinery or drive after listening to any 'one' cd on 70 different speakers.
Jaybo, who ever told you that ALL prerecorded music was(and is) made to sound like... prerecorded music and was never intended to emulate live music?

Please be specific and provide references.
Damn it Jaybo, we're only audiogoners here not trekkies! We go where no audiophile has gone before. Horns and planars just do not compare to warp drivers!
no engineer or producer, other than one for audiophile label, ever thought about anything except making a record 'feel' like a hit!(no matter what the catagory) the 'feel' or 'mood' is the thing.....on a car radio, your computer, or home stereo. its no more a substitute for a live event than a magazine is for sex.....no one ever filmed a 'musical' with the goal of emulating the experience of live theater......its a completely different thing.

The single driver dynamic speaker that you mentioned had great imaging, did this happen to be an Ohm speaker?
Hey Aktchi, just go listen to a good pair of horns. You maybe pleasantly surprised.
Hi Ledhed,

Sorry this reply is so late - I just now checked this thread again.

The single-driver speaker with great imaging was the Supravox 215-2000 EXC, and 8" field-coil-magnet driver from France. Unlike most fullrange drivers, it has no wizzer cone - which I think helps. The directional characteristics (minimial sidewall interaction from the lower treble on up) are also conducive to good imaging. Just put it in a good box with well rounded edges on the front baffle and you've got truly world-class imaging for one. Nope, I don't sell 'em.

I haven't heard any of the current generation Ohm speakers, sorry - but I think they would image well and give a much wider than normal sweet spot.

If your top priority is excellent imaging for one, the Supravox is the best I've heard so far. If you want good soundstaging for listeners over a wide area, there are better choices out there.

When judging a speaker's off-center soundstaging capabilities, keep this in mind: The ear localizes sound by two mechanisms, arrival time and intensity. For the off-center listener the nearer speaker obviously wins arrival time. In my opinion what you want is a speaker with radiation characteristics such that ideally the farther speaker wins intensity, or at least the near speaker doesn't totally dominate intensity (which unfortunately is the case with most speakers set up "normally"). The Ohms have a uniform enough pattern over a wide area that the nearer speaker only wins intensity by a little bit.