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.