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Interior Views

Auditorium 23 was not founded, in the common sense of the word. Rather, it playfully came into being through our enjoyment of music in the early 80s. Soon this love of music led us to France, where we encountered people who'd gained a certain notoriety by following a path entirely different from the rest of the world: L'Audiophile. At a time when the power output of a transistor amplifier was as prestigious and coveted as horsepower is with sports cars, L'Audiophile boldly moved against the mainstream. They unearthed historical tube amplifiers with a mere 3-5 Watts output, connected them to sensitive horn speakers and had the audacity to present this to an amazed public. The results struck us: Here, we experienced a quality of music reproduction that modern components had so far denied us. The annual presentations which L'Audiophile held in small movie theatres are now legendary, their cult status secured.

We understood that this could be our only way. What we had experienced at L'Audiophile's shed a critical light on so-called technical progress and made us look back. On our journey into the past we learned a lot: It became evident just how much had been sacrificed on the altar of cost-efficient production, of analytical measuring and of blind trust in the alleged advantages of modern materials.

But to say so was considered heresy. Consequently our road in Germany was hard, and we polarized the field from the beginning. The first 300B amplifiers, efficient loudspeakers of Triangle, Roiene, Altec, Vitavox and WE, a mass record player with magnetic bearing of Laboratoire Verdier, Ken Shindo's tube amplifiers in Europe... all of these things came too soon for the German market when we set out in the early 80s.

Times have changed since then. The market share of Triode amps keeps growing, and tubes are back in production. Efficient speakers are being developed left and right, horn speakers are in vogue again. Mass record players with or without magnetic bearing are in, lightweight record players, on the other hand, are almost extinct. By looking forwards with eyes attuned to the past, many people have begun to collect historical hi-fi gear, and are amazed by the new worlds of sound they encounter. People start to re-evaluate things almost forgotten. Reissues by Macintosh, Marantz and Quad are being launched and lauded as if they'd never disappeared from the market.

However, a few companies like L'Audiophile with its authors Jean Hiraga and Philippe Viboud, and Uesugi, Eltus, Kondo, and Shindo in Japan didn't have to make this laborious, retroactive comeback: They hadn't veered off course in the first place, always using small output (Triode Watts) and large speakers like Onken, Altec, JBL, Siemens, and WE to enjoy music to the fullest.

Sadly, the chances to obtain good pairs of authentic old speaker units diminished with time, while the production quality of later models didn't maintain previous standards for cost reasons or the altered requirements of modern amps. Hence, speakers became the problem. Auditorium 23 concepts like Latour, Marsannay (best sound of the High End 95 in Stereophile) and Morgane each were unique designs created from our historical stock of Altec, Siemens, and Western Electric and thus limited. Thanks to Bernard Salabert and his company PHY-HP who developed a 21 cm full range and a 30 cm wide range, we can now construct speakers on a par with historical models, even surpass them at times. The H21LB15 proved the absolute equivalent of the legendary WE 755 wide range unit. "Not a single present-day speaker can compare to H21LB15 - the only competition comes from the best units of the 40s and 50s," wrote Jean Marie Piel in one of his editorials in DIAPASON.

With another master in his field, Ken Shindo, we made further forays into old knowledge, sharing his grasp of the use of energy. The magic didn't reside in comprehensive, allround dampening; it didn't lie in "deaf" wood kept from vibrating; neither was it found in sandfilled soundwalls nor in lead-mantled cabinets. We learned to appreciate a speaker cabinet as a supporting body of tone, similar to the corpus of a musical instrument.

Bearing this in mind, we developed speakers like Provence, Appassionata and Rondo. Appassionata was probably the first speaker made of special panels normally used for the sound floor of pianos, and ?Rondo? consequently acted upon the idea of the speaker cabinet as sound body. It made careful use of arising energy instead of eliminating it.

Often we would embark upon paths unknown, and each of these projects could have led us astray. Sometimes, they did, while being remunerative and rewarding in other ways. They gained us something invaluable, though: experience. No compendium in speaker building, no taken for granted parameters could have replaced the practical application of seemingly rogue ideas.

When people talk about "musical speakers" today, hinting at thin, resonating enclosures, they tend to neglect the fact that such a concept calls for congenial speaker units. Frankly, most units currently found on the market aren't up for the challenge. The construction of a heavy, rigid enclosure with Medite, chipboard or similar materials, layered with carpet sheeting or leadplate is much easier than that of a light, reverberating soundbody of carefully planned proportions, stabilized in exactly the right spots. And just that final touch of veneer to the surface might have tipped the balance again.

Our new approach to theories of speaker building was further engendered by working with original old Western Electric loudspeaker enclosures. Initially, we had purchased them in order to learn more about the characteristics of vintage speakers. While co-operating with L'Audiophile for some of our clients we had built "Voice of the Theatre" enclosures strictly according to guidelines in "L'Audiophile" magazine, issue #38. We found, however, that these rigidly constructed cabinets failed to generate the same musical credibility which emanated from the lighter, venerable originals of the "golden era."

Our first move to introduce PHY speakers in Germany was the development of a variety of enclosures for the kit market, using the PHY H21LB15 as the company's very first and (then) only unit. The first finished speaker concept turned out to be Provence, born in a vacation mood while staying with friends in the South of France. It was our first finished speaker realisation in open baffle manner, to be presented to the public at Frankfurt's HighEnd Show 1997. We still fondly recall the surprise on our visitors' faces whenever they stepped around to inspect the speakers from the back: Whatever they expected to find, it certainly wasn't this open, undamped box.

 

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Tone Imports is the North American Importer and Distributor for AcousticPlan, Auditorium 23, EMT, Leben Hi-Fi, LigoLab, Line Magnetic Audio, Sentec, and Shindo Labs