On the last day of March and first of April, the Park Hotel at Heathrow hosted a modest hi-fi show. Though small, it was a hi-fi show with a difference, notable for the absence of home cinema AV equipment, and an impressive roster of unusual and interesting stereo hi-fi dems. Most surprising was that no fewer than five of the 40-odd demonstrations were using horn-loaded loudspeakers, and I’ve picked one of the most interesting to review here. It’s called the Vivace, costs £2995 a pair and comes from a Canadian company called Gemme Audio, via Brighton-based Alium Audio.
For all their idiosyncrasies – and these are undeniable – I do like horn speakers. They’re usually imperfect, but that’s partly what makes them interesting. They also have something the French would call ‘je ne sais quoi’ that imbues them with a sense of realism not found in more conventional designs. Without exaggeration, one can even describe them as refreshing the parts of the brain that normal speakers fail to reach, even though that phrase’s ring of familiarity comes from a different context.
Horn speaker systems come in several varieties: single driver hornloaded; multi-driver/multi-horn; and multi-driver with direct radiating bass, sometimes actively driven. Each involves different compromises, and many are handicapped by their weird shape and considerable bulk.