I recently had the chance to visit Alon Wolf at Magico to listen to the Ultimate II horn speakers ($395,000 – that’s not a typo). You may recall this speaker because Jacob Heilbrunn listened to the same setup and commented briefly on them a few months ago. A few years ago, Robert Harley covered the Ultimate I in The Absolute Sound (the Ultimate II is a significantly revised and series-produceable version of the I, which was basically a one-off handmade effort).
Since I am blogging periodically about horns, this trip was particularly interesting. Magico has a reputation for building some of the finest conventional cone/box speakers currently available. When their top-of-the-line speaker is a horn, you sense further confirmation that horns are not your father’s loudspeaker technology. But are they really something special or is Alon Wolf a cynic who simply builds expensive stuff because a few fools will pay for it? Those practicing experience-free living will already know their answer. The rest of you will want to read on.
The idea behind the Ultimate II is pretty simple: build a technically correct, cost-no-object horn speaker that will fit into medium-sized or larger rooms. Sounds simple, but a few hours with Alon makes it clear that his version of “technically correct” isn’t a casual statement. Alon focuses on the science of loudspeakers and puts a lot of emphasis on thinking through the fundamental issues. He’s the kind of guy who took the mention of “first principles” seriously in science classes.
In any event, Alon points out a key problem with horns: you either have to build a very large midbass/lower midrange horn (because you can’t change the wavelengths of sounds) or your woofer has to extend up to rather high frequencies. The former allows you actually have a speaker that is mostly horn-loaded, which is the straightforward way to have sonic continuity across most of the spectrum. The latter allows you to build a less expensive system, but you have cone drivers handling a larger part of the spectrum with some inevitable discontinuity (or a discontinuity in a different place). Since the Ultimate II is a cost-no-object design, Magico has designed and built a necessarily large and very costly midbass horn that works down to 100hz (you’ll see this as the black horn at the top of the trapezoidally-shaped speaker in the pictures).
Alon makes another interesting point, “there are no inexpensive technically correct horns because horns have to be relatively big”. This is true even if you don’t go as far as he does toward a full-range horn system. Alon believes that it is essentially impossible to build a technically correct horn without such costly approaches, which is why his other speakers, even though costly, do not use horn loading.