High End 2014: Silbatone and the wall of sound


By Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis

In the big F129 room, a special treat was awaiting visitors. So special that, chances are, you will never get to listen to it or its like ever again.

Because this system is not for sale. Nor has it been for the last 70 years or so. A pair of Western Electric 13A low-frequency horns with modified 555 drivers and a vented back-cover that provides a mechanical crossover below 200hz. A second pair of mid-high frequency horns also from WE, the 12A, completed the speaker system.

All these date back from the mid 1920’s when permanent magnets were not strong enough to create the necessary magnetic field for speakers, thus electromagnetic field coils were used. Sensitivity is around 110dB/1meter, so less than a single Watt is required for rock concert like SPLs.

And rock concert it was.

The president of Silbatone, Manho Ho of South Korea, first gave a demo with male and female voices (Buble’ and Krall), and pointed out that horns are advantaged with vocal music. Then, he went on and played Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love”. Yes, that’s right, a 1926 field coil horn system rocking the house with Zeppelin. A true, heard-nowhere-else-at-the-show, wall of sound.

Beer in hand, Mr. Ho explained that field coils have no distortion, while modern permanent-magnet speakers show distortion ranging from 10 to 20%. The performance was powered by Silbatone electronics including L101 preamp, RP300B final and DA-105 native DSD DAC (Foobar software). Thomas Schick provided a turntable with plinth made by slate and Silvercore of Germany provided the mains conditioner.

This room alone was worth the ticket to Munich.









About Panagiotis Karavitis 212 Articles
Doctor and Editor @ Part-Time Audiophile Publisher @ Audiohub.gr


  1. The guy with the beer doing the explanations isn’t Man Ho but M.J. Chung, founder and owner of Silbatone. And one of the most passionate WE collectors all over the world.
    And as much as I agree with you on the unbelieveable qualities of 12a/13a with acoustic music – I am sorry, but Led Zep doesn’t cut it here. Even with this sub with four Altec 515s.

    • My bad Holger, got the name all wrong.

      The sub was not playing both times I visited the room, maybe it was during another session?

      And I enjoyed the Zep performance very, very much.

    • Led Zep sounded better than expected since this is not a headbanger speaker system. Of course, we played the acoustic version of “Whole Lotta Love” from the long-lost LP, “Zep at the Concertgebouw” ;op

  2. Distortion of the WE 555 is >1% at 60hz, which is a worst case scenario, at the lower edge of the passband. Not many speakers are so low distortion and few compression drivers play that low in frequency. The 10-20% is borne out by meaurements of typical cone speakers, especially at LF.

    Both the 12A and 13A ran full range, with no crossover and there isn’t much difference between the two in response to the ear. The presumptive reason for the open back 555 was a somewhat lower response in the 13A, but I wouldn’t call that a “mechanical crossover.”

    All in all, a completely impractical home hi-fi speaker, but worth a shot if you’re single!

    • LMAO. Tony, why do you say that? What significant other wouldn’t want a pair of MONSTROUSLY HUGE horns sitting in the middle of their living space? And by living space, I mean back yard, because they’ll never fit in anything smaller than a movie theater. But other than that, it’d be totally awesome and you know it!

  3. “Beer in hand, Mr. Ho explained that field coils have no distortion, while modern permanent-magnet speakers show distortion ranging from 10 to 20%.”

    Let me think… ‘no distortion’, … ok that beer must’ve been one of several that day. Cheers!

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