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Evidence-based Speaker Designs

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This is the variable thats a little contentious to my mind. IIRC the Toole data suggests that people prefer a more spacious and enveloping sound generally, but this will vary as you rightly say depending on the speakers directivity and of course the room absorption/reflectivity characteristics. I will check, but I think he personally has stated no particular preference for a certain characteristic , just that the off axis should be smooth.
My memory is that omnidirectional or otherwise very wide speakers won a number of comparisons that were conducted - possibly including one of Toole's? I have it in my head that he had Mirages at one point - although not all of them. Linkwitz some years ago laid out a challenge of identifying the ideal speaker radiation pattern at an AES conference I believe - sadly I don't know if anyone took him up on that publicly, and most of the cites I'm aware of come from before then.

Edit: whoops, looks like we commented at the same time.

From Floyd previously in this thread:

If you read my book and/or papers it will be found that most people listening for recreation have a preference for wide dispersion, as a way to attenuate the basic limitations of conventional stereo.
That would make sense to me - although it would raise some questions about why Harman, which has some not-insignificant Toole influence, seems to consistently make designs with fairly subdued dispersion.
 
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^ JBL "Lansing heritage" is for PA audio, where horns have been widely used. Instead, Harman's consumer hifi speakerrs Revel and earlier also Infinity have wide disperion, only some waveguides for tweeters. JBL consumer line has some horn-tweeter speakers. Lexicon has even omini speakers!
 

Ilkless

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With speakers, things seem even more complex, since you have the added variable of directivity fully in play. For a given power response, what's the "correct" ratio of direct to indirect sound? The one that matches the recording studio? The one that people like the most? And does that vary between people significantly¹?

IMO we have some good ideas about what makes a bad speaker (or headphone), and an evidence-based process of design will veer away from these, but I think there remains some interesting (albeit radically in minority) ground in the space that all of the bad options have fenced in to figure out what is best and how widely applicable it is :)
This is my view too. We have some bounds on optimal design, grounded in more fundamental research into acoustics and auditory perception, as pointed out earlier in this thread. We shouldn't just read preference ratings at face value. Not everything is settled, but it is far from arbitrary. I just seek to point out designs that fall within this "space".
 

Kal Rubinson

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JBL consumer line has some horn-tweeter speakers. Lexicon has even omini speakers!
While those speakers can, probably, be use as omnidirectional, the purpose of the multiple driver arrays is to shape the dispersion for a single listening position to minimize room effects and, even, to switch and accommodate different listening positions if desired.
 

Ron Texas

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^ JBL "Lansing heritage" is for PA audio, where horns have been widely used. Instead, Harman's consumer hifi speakerrs Revel and earlier also Infinity have wide disperion, only some waveguides for tweeters. JBL consumer line has some horn-tweeter speakers. Lexicon has even omini speakers!
Did these ever go into production, or did they walk off in the night to join the Dalek?
 

Ron Texas

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"After a quarter century of measuring the performance of audio components for this magazine, I'm not so sure that we have a firm handle on what makes audio products sound different from one another. Even when it comes to measuring loudspeakers, it can be difficult to characterize their performance in an objective manner. " -John Atkinson

Full article: https://www.stereophile.com/content/tale-two-speakers
 
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^Atkinson showed only spl/f room responses of two 2-way bookshelf speakers. Well that is the no1 criteria for me too, but how about xo type/group delay, distortion, direct/reflected ratio etc. Discussion in this thread has focused on response and directivity profile.

After having played with dsp-xo with several multiway speakers, I was astonished what impact xo topology has. LR4 gives smoothest directivity in most cases, but still I prefer LR2 or elliptical if individual responses and distortion allow it - and for most 3/4 way speakers it can be done with dsp. LR4 is what Revel and many others use, Magicos are close to Bessel elliptic (passive).

Dsp/xo boxes and modern classD/NCore amplifier modules are getting more popular also for monitoring. Room eq by measurements, even fully automatic is getting more popular too with these. To my personal pleasure, they make diy projects easier for the mathematically challenged dumba**es like me!

Most recent are directivity control by dsp speakers like Beolab 90, KiiThree, Dutch&Dutch and the Lexicon hourglass that I linked earlier. These will remain a curiosity, this is my quess. Only a minute fraction of people understand what it is about and how to get the benefit realized.

I am very happy to see many well designed 500-1000€/pair bookshelf speakers as well as 1000-5000€ monitors available, and that is because of evidence based speaker design! Even most cheap floorstanders are basically OK. "High-end" speakers with alternative design criteria like DeVore, multi-way horns etc. are just marginal curiosity puff, but press/media gives them too much attention.
 
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Damn, I really wanted to make some brief comments and I’ve written another frickin chapter of a book. Anyhow, thanks much for everyones posts, and if I’m taking up too much bandwidth here I apologize. Here’s my comment:
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The subject of this thread is evidence based speaker design. My question is, what evidence?

I take it on reputation that the Harmon studies are well done, and they have identified characteristics of speaker design that can be objectively measured that correlate with reported listener preferences. For brevity let’s call them “accurate” speakers.

There are two levels of “evidence” here. One is the evidence of psychoacoustic testing, and the other is the measurements.

On a practical level, a speaker designer could take the social science aspect as done, and then use measurements to help design the speakers in accordance with those standards.

If you are a speaker manufacturer, then this could very well be the gold standard for audio performance. But I’m sure no speaker manufacturers can ignore the other factors of perceived value in speakers!

I think it is unlikely that visual aspects of audio gear designs can be dismissed as important elements in perceived value. We can consider those elements as having objective value, if the results are repeatable, in an individual or group study.

Especially for speakers, which are the sound source, I would be very surprised if visual/design elements didn’t have consistent effects on perceived quality.

While I doubt the effect is as significant as smell to taste, our ears, proprioceptors, and visual sensors are tightly coupled. These senses are all integrated in the brain through a complex, evolved, culturally informed processing system that gives us the end experience of “listening to music.”

In particular, I find speaker designs where the cabinet “disappears” to be unsatisfying. I do think this is in part because I favor rock music, meant to be loud, but I don’t like to listen loud. The cabinet resonance provides psychoacoustic cues that help create the illusion of high energy content.

I also think one of the biggest problems in music, and getting worse with the almost exclusive use of digitally generated sounds in pop music is that most music is multi-tracked and therefore must be integrated into a whole by the mixer. This is the crafting of an illusion that these sounds really were made together.

Sounds in space affect each other, (as do electric signals in analog gear). A big part of this is the reverberations, and artificial ambiance is often used to “glue” or “mix” the sound together. There are complex effects at play.

Digital audio has some problems as a recording medium, and these are especially exasperated with the current practice of digital mixing. Essentially (and um, this is just my own pet theory, so take it as informed speculation) sounds do not “mix” in a digital mixer. They are simply superimposed. You can completely remove a sound from a straight digital mix by inverting the phase and adding it back in.

This is just not how sound behaves in the real world. Digital recording also has very high dynamic range it can represent, so when signals from different sources are mixed straight, they mix poorly because the summer behavior does not mimic how acoustic and mechanical energy sums in the physical world. The result is that the relative levels are uncorrelated, and the sounds repeatedly mask each other. (This is another place where visual cues have an effect on auditory perception. If you can watch people playing, what I think of as the perceptual dynamic range is increased, increasing the ability to perceive the quieter sound under the load).

Mixers apply a lot of processing, and often distortion, to overcome this limitation and integrate the sound.

My pet theory is that this process happens in the speaker as well. But the higher the resolution of the speaker, the more ability it has to only present the signal and add nothing else, the less able it is to integrate the sound.

On mixes that are not well integrated, sonically, musically, this leads to an “uncanny” or “canned” quality. Fake.

This is less of a concern with more acoustically based recordings, captured in a real space, as this integration is done by the musician, playing in the room. While it’s tricky, a good recording can capture this, and good speakers can present this information in a way that makes you feel like “you’re there!”

Mr Toole outlined an ideal music reproduction environment, where studio producer types work on neutral, standardized monitors, crafting a signal, a work product, that is then presented to the listener on neutral speakers, so the actual work product alone is passed to the listener to experience.

While I really get this ideal, I think it way over simplified and does represent how the cultural production and consumption of audio products really works.

While there has been a move towards some standardization on the high end sound-for-picture world, the music world is following its own twisted path, and has escaped the construct he outlines completely.

One of the thing that surprises me about these studies of listener preferences in the lab is the behavior of so many folks in the “real world” as I experience them (anecdotally). The actual listening environments people choose and create for themselves seem wildly departed from any type of accurate playback. Bass and/or treble is cranked. Speakers are placed asymmetrically, and the sub is cranking out wherever space can be found.

The overwhelming trend is away from stereo reproduction. Car systems are crazy complex multi speaker environments. A lot of the little blue tooth speakers emanate sound from multiple drivers at a single site, projecting outward. I’m fascinated that some of these systems can sound pretty good, but I have no idea how the stereo signal is handled.

A lot of younger folks like to crank music in their cars, and in the case of hip hip, the music is mixed to rely on a specific, very loud, playback environment to be fully expressed.

I’m the one that goes around dialing back people’s systems to a semblance of accurate reproduction!

I don’t know, could just be me:)

Anyhow, research on any these effects could also be evidence! I’m not sure that would be fruitful or interesting. It kind of comes down to the intended target market, price point, tech trends, cultural trends.

Toole did make a comment that consumers are unhappy when speakers deviate from these aspects of accurate reproduction, so maybe Hartman has done this kind of research.

But core of my skepticism on this subject is that my personal preferences deviates from “accurate” speakers for fun listening. In the other hand, relatively accurate speakers are a must for audio work.

I mentioned the Genelecs we use at our studio in my other comment. Not only are these good speakers to work on (with the sub) they also do have a kind of pleasant sound. We’ve gotten far more comments about how good things were sounding on these monitors than others, and we’ve tried a lot. I’m pretty confident these would win the approval of many non-pro listeners. They fill up the room relatively evenly, and have a wide sweet spot, which is less important for the engineer, but more important for a person doing critical listening around the room. But I can’t bear them to listen to for fun. I would rather listen to a little blue tooth speaker, even with the limitations!

I’m highly confident that there is an objective reality to my subjective experience. For me that counts as evidence. I just can’t be imagining this. This pattern has held consistent for about the last 15 years. But I could very well be totally unique here, and am at best a market of one:)

I don’t consider this issue with speakers as being in the same category as the audio attributes of other audio gear, like DACs or amplifiers.

My subjective experience is that different amps have significant differences in audio quality. But I am convinced this is more in the realm of “imagination” than reality. For one thing, my perceptions will change. I think this amp sounds better...wait! On these other speakers my crap amplifier sounds great. Or I’ve thought I was listening to one amp, grumbling to my self about its deficiencies, and I find out someone had switched the cables to the amp right below it in the rack.

As far as I am concerned, it has been proven that well made amps sound undistinguishable under blinded conditions, carefully level matched operating under clipping levels.

One of the weird things about “placebo” though it is not just a figment of the imagination. If someone compares their lamp cord speaker cable with their newly purchased gazillion dollar per foot speaker cable, and they hear big improvements, they really do hear them.

Blind testing can tease out whether there is actually an audio element to this perception.

I remain open minded, and am actively looking for good speakers. If anybody has some suggestions for good sounding, good measuring speakers that don’t cost big dollars, I’m all ears, hah hah:)

I would like to find some speakers I love for home listening. Right now I have a handful that I like, so in that sense, life is good. My current faves are ADS L1290, but it requires a fair amount of detailed EQing to set them up how I like.

This is definitely a downside to the vintage speakers I know, they do have annoying resonances. But if the overall sound is pleasing, then EQ can do wonders.

I also have a listening space where I’ve been trying out bookshelves on stands. There a handful of speakers that i have won extensive stays here: ADS L400, B&W DM12, Advent Baby II.

I like these of bookshelves a lot, but they are all idiosyncratic, need helping EQ, and fussing about with placement. They are fun speakers though. I find myself wishing I could combine some of their attributes.

These were all entry mid-fi speakers back in the day, so as an experiment I decided to try out a modern iteration of the market category, and picked up a pair of KEF Q150, mainly because they had a bunch of hype, and were marked down. (Maybe that should have been a clue.)

In any case, I was flabbergasted. These are simply unlistenable. I’ve heard cheap computer-media speakers that were much more enjoyable to listen to.

My main gripe was a kind “harsh” quality in the highs, and an overly resonant bass sound, I assume from the attempt to squeeze more bass from the port. And a lack of focus, for lack of a better term. It was hard to put my finger on, I could hear everything, but it just seemed kind of lifeless or dull. Lacking immediacy.

They did have a pretty uniform frequency response compared to my vintage standbys, and project a significant amount of sound into the space.

I’m not sure if these measure well. But I did expect much more based on the reputation of KEF, and rave reviews online, Amazon, Reddit, etc, and was hoping for some magic with the concentric drivers.

I know these are not really high fi speakers, but I just wanted to get a feel for what people are liking in this category. I need to find a better prospect for further research.

I wonder if anyone else has noticed this issue with newer/older designs?
 
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A comment about Genelec - I live 200km from the factory and I have visited it and it's sauna too! The recently passed founder Ilpo Martikainen had a clearly defined "mission" and solid technical background when they started, and they have stayed true to these. Low diffraction cabinets, integrated custom amplifiers and now GLM and SAM helping, not to forget support and service.

Here in Finland many hifi-listeners have bought Genelecs and are happier now (not all ofcourse). Small monitors and subs are also very popular for AV/HT installations both domestic and at schools, restaurants, congress halls etc.

 
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I wonder if anyone else has noticed this issue with newer/older designs?
I just wanted to add that I've had basically the opposite experience. I've owned Magnepan 1.7s since 2014, although the 1.7 are a newish iteration, at the core they're a pretty old design. And I like them. I especially like the ambience created by the dipole pattern, and the other characteristics that give them a "big sound".

But a few months ago I bought a pair of Vanatoo T0. These are just little, modern monitors designed for accuracy first, like many others. Almost immediately I noticed that, well, even though they didn't have that dipole ambience they... sounded better than my Magnepans on many tracks. Especially in the mid bass and treble. I had been lazy when I moved most recently, and had yet to bother running the 1.7s through Audyssey XT32. Once I did this, it was quite apparent there were issues in the bass that the room EQ did tame. I'm sure I could do an even better job with REW and it's on my list when I have some time, but even then, the Vanatoos still sounded better on some tracks. And looking at measurements of the 1.6, even though I'm sure(I hope?) the 1.7s are better, I'm not really sure how much EQ can help.

The other thing is, while I enjoy the "big sound" of Magnepans, I've been increasingly wondering how much of this might be psychological. After all, you see these huge panels in front of you, compared to tiny monitors, they MUST sound "bigger", right? They probably do... but still I wonder. Would I still prefer them in a DBT? I'm not certain, anymore.

Then I read Dr. Toole's comments on how he thinks people are trying to compensate for the spatially deprived nature of stereo with these effects, and that certain types of multi-channel upmixing can produce a similar if not even better spatial illusion and I wondered: Maybe it would be an even better experience to combine an Auro3D-capable receiver with reasonably priced, accurate monitors in a 7.2.4 arrangement. I have yet to go ahead and implement this, but it should be an interesting and relatively affordable experiment compared to going all-in on a $10-$20K pair chasing stereo improvements. And if I don't like it, it's pretty easy to sell reasonably priced monitors and try something different :D
 

svart-hvitt

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I just wanted to add that I've had basically the opposite experience. I've owned Magnepan 1.7s since 2014, although the 1.7 are a newish iteration, at the core they're a pretty old design. And I like them. I especially like the ambience created by the dipole pattern, and the other characteristics that give them a "big sound".

But a few months ago I bought a pair of Vanatoo T0. These are just little, modern monitors designed for accuracy first, like many others. Almost immediately I noticed that, well, even though they didn't have that dipole ambience they... sounded better than my Magnepans on many tracks. Especially in the mid bass and treble. I had been lazy when I moved most recently, and had yet to bother running the 1.7s through Audyssey XT32. Once I did this, it was quite apparent there were issues in the bass that the room EQ did tame. I'm sure I could do an even better job with REW and it's on my list when I have some time, but even then, the Vanatoos still sounded better on some tracks. And looking at measurements of the 1.6, even though I'm sure(I hope?) the 1.7s are better, I'm not really sure how much EQ can help.

The other thing is, while I enjoy the "big sound" of Magnepans, I've been increasingly wondering how much of this might be psychological. After all, you see these huge panels in front of you, compared to tiny monitors, they MUST sound "bigger", right? They probably do... but still I wonder. Would I still prefer them in a DBT? I'm not certain, anymore.

Then I read Dr. Toole's comments on how he thinks people are trying to compensate for the spatially deprived nature of stereo with these effects, and that certain types of multi-channel upmixing can produce a similar if not even better spatial illusion and I wondered: Maybe it would be an even better experience to combine an Auro3D-capable receiver with reasonably priced, accurate monitors in a 7.2.4 arrangement. I have yet to go ahead and implement this, but it should be an interesting and relatively affordable experiment compared to going all-in on a $10-$20K pair chasing stereo improvements. And if I don't like it, it's pretty easy to sell reasonably priced monitors and try something different :D
I had the plesasure of listening to a 7.1.4 setup on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

On good material (we listened to music produced by Morten Lindberg), multichannel including ceiling speakers make an immersive experience that cannot be compared to stereo. Two different games or levels. Anyone who has the space for it should go multichannel if they can afford it.

The 7.1.4 setup I listened to was about €40k, in a room measuring about 6x10 meters.
 
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I think there has to be an effect where bigger speakers sound bigger (in sighted listening). It gives me an idea for an experiment, if I could figure a way to put a small monitor into a bigger cabinet appearing box that was acoustically transparent.

Plop people down in front of them, give them an AB switch, and ask which “sounds bigger” heh heh.

I think the Genelecs have a lot to recommend them. They are a little “easy to please” as studio monitors, so sometimes things come out a little dull, but nothing like the shocks some monitors have led to when the work is listened to elsewhere.

But they are pristine and clear without sounding hyped, the perception of cabinet sound is minimal but not absent, and a wide sweet spot. They would blow away many home systems. The integration with their sub is incredible. I just feel like something is missing.

I’m afraid I’m off the deep end!
 

Kal Rubinson

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On good material (we listened to music produced by Morten Lindberg), multichannel including ceiling speakers make an immersive experience that cannot be compared to stereo. Two different games or levels. Anyone who has the space for it should go multichannel if they can afford it.
I do agree but, with the exception of some of Morten's recordings, there may not ever be enough repertoire to justify the expense. Upmixing is not nearly as effective.
 

svart-hvitt

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I do agree but, with the exception of some of Morten's recordings, there may not ever be enough repertoire to justify the expense. Upmixing is not nearly as effective.
Watch a movie ;)

On a serious note: Lack of material is a major issue. Still, the choir in a grand church recording I heard was probably the best sound ever for me. And the calibration took a little over 30 minutes, I was told. So this is very user-friendly too. A shame there is so little focus on immersive material.
 

Fitzcaraldo215

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Watch a movie ;)

On a serious note: Lack of material is a major issue. Still, the choir in a grand church recording I heard was probably the best sound ever for me. And the calibration took a little over 30 minutes, I was told. So this is very user-friendly too. A shame there is so little focus on immersive material.
I do agree but, with the exception of some of Morten's recordings, there may not ever be enough repertoire to justify the expense. Upmixing is not nearly as effective.
Words of deep wisdom from Kal.

In the mean time, I do not find the existence of discretly-recorded multichannel at all to be a hoax, even with a 5.1 system. Yes, there is a serious lack in pop, jazz, etc. But, classical is another matter. I have about 5,000 discs at my disposal - SACD, BD-A, BD-V and downloads - all in discete multichannel. The pleasure is deeply felt whenever I try a different, stereo disc. It has no comparison, just in 5.1. It is not close, in my view.

Some of you are no doubt waiting, still stereo-centric, amid the Atmos, Auro, etc. confusion. I have not ventured because, in music recordings, there are really very trivial additions to the 3D repertoire. As Kal suggests, it might be a long wait. Meanwhile, I can derive greater enjoyment in discrete-multichannel vs. stereo reproduction. I venture to say it it quite substantial.
 

DDF

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Maybe a bit OT so apologies in advance. I have a modest but relatively uncoloured and properly set up 5.1 system and I find even upmixing (Yamaha) strongly more enjoyable and accurate enough compared to stereo (I type this during intermission at the symphony). To me the added spatial impression more than compensates for the lower resolution of modest gear. I do find the cost and selection of classical discs in discrete 5.1 discouraging and it has me leaning heavily on upmixing. If anyone can share a source for reasonably priced discs, please do
 
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Ron Texas

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I do agree but, with the exception of some of Morten's recordings, there may not ever be enough repertoire to justify the expense. Upmixing is not nearly as effective.
I guess that's the crux of it. Some technically superior concepts don't make it in the market place. Things change, so you never know what's next. Look what happened to Polaroid and Kodak. Ironically, the former invented instant photography and the latter digital.
 

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Higher distortion than what?

What's the problem in your view with a sensitivity mismatch?

The beamwidth can be matched quite easily (and is in every competent design).

Could you explain your last point please? What horn profiles (or do you mean all horn profiles)? "Smaller" relative to what? Causes phase anomalies how?
A quick reply to this.
You asked initially what weaknesses would occur by combining a horn with with i.e. cardioid/dipole.
I mentioned higher distortion would be one. A horn has lower distortion due to the loading and this obviously lost with something else than a horn.

Lowering the sensitivity would imply lowering the dynamics as well. You could potentially also get higher distortion.

If you have a horn with for example 80x50 degrees beamwidth, this is not easily matched with something else than a horn. If you're going to match a directivity to a horn, you are often forced to change the coverage angle of the horn itself; and which isn't necessarily what you want in the design. Take notice that a newer JBL waveguides like the one used in M2 has a directivity of 120x110 in order to match it to the woofer.

Not sure I understand your question about horn profiles or I've forgotten the initial point :)

Serious phase anomalies occur when the drivers are crossed with a distance more than 1/4 wavelength. But you also have the issue with superposition, which is another topic and best to leave it that. Sorry for not getting more into details.
 

andreasmaaan

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Not sure I understand your question about horn profiles or I've forgotten the initial point :)
Thanks for the detailed reply.

This question ("What horn profiles (or do you mean all horn profiles?") was a response to your statement: "...with a smaller horn the crossover causes phase anomalies and superposition in a sensitive area which is very audible IMO."

Could you clarify what you mean by "superposition" here? I would have thought superposition were a necessary/desirable attribute of any functioning crossover ;)

I mentioned higher distortion would be one. A horn has lower distortion due to the loading and this obviously lost with something else than a horn.
Lowering the sensitivity would imply lowering the dynamics as well. You could potentially also get higher distortion.
Of course both these statements are correct. But your original statement was that it was the sensitivity mismatch that was the problem. But actually you seem to be saying that the issue is that direct-radiating drivers lack sufficient sensitivity - correct?

If you have a horn with for example 80x50 degrees beamwidth, this is not easily matched with something else than a horn. If you're going to match a directivity to a horn, you are often forced to change the coverage angle of the horn itself; and which isn't necessarily what you want in the design. Take notice that a newer JBL waveguides like the one used in M2 has a directivity of 120x110 in order to match it to the woofer.
Completely agree. Axisymmetric CD horns tend to suffer from various other problems, while CD horns with differing horizontal and vertical coverage angles of course tend to suffer from the problem you describe.

Serious phase anomalies occur when the drivers are crossed with a distance more than 1/4 wavelength.
To clarify again here, are we talking about active or passive speakers? Also, you originally stated that the problem occurred in your view with "smaller" (which I took to mean shorter) horns. The problem you're referring to here would seem to be more likely to occur with longer horns, unless I'm misunderstanding your point?

But you also have the issue with superposition, which is another topic and best to leave it that. Sorry for not getting more into details.
Oh, come on ;)

And PS, reading between the lines of your posts, what you seem to be suggesting is that this design approach is inferior compared to other much larger systems. In terms of performance/form factor ratio, I don’t see any suggestion in your statements that you believe the systems we are discussing are inferior. If I’m reading you correctly, then of course you have no disagreement from me.
 
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