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AudiocRavings, by Wayne Myers:
2 - Can't Tell an MP3 from a FLAC? You Might Need A Better Tweeter



It's Easy - Under The Right Conditions

Recently I was at Dennis Young's place - Tesseract - listening to various tunes via Tidal Streaming over his Vapor Audio Sundog (Black) speakers, with their gloriously clean high end, courtesy of RAAL tweeters. The Sundogs were delivering such a pristine, crystal-clear treble, that was the first thing I noticed when I sat down, even though I was seated off to the side, several feet from the prime Listening Position (LP).

While we were listening, out of curiosity we switched among the three grades of audio available: Normal, High, and HIFI - you have to stop and restart playback to get the audio grade to switch after changing your selection, and we did this each time.


Hybrid Electrostatic Speaker, a two-way design, all high-frequency (HF) content
is handled by the electrostatic panel. Very low mass, very low distortion.





Ribbon Tweeter. Very low mass, low distortion, smooth HF response.



The Normal and High settings were certainly not bad sounding, but the high frequencies were simply not as clean as with the HIFI setting, which is lossless (FLAC). With the two lossy sound grades, the highs sounded slightly messy, or hashy, compared to the HIFI, which was completely free of such effects. I could hear the difference very clearly. I will let Dennis give you his own impressions. With cymbals, bells, and sharp percussive sounds with lots of high frequencies, it was easy to hear the difference. And on a saxophone track, I could readily hear the difference in the highest harmonics of that instrument's rich tones.


Here is a view of part of Tidal's streaming service GUI,
showing the lossless HIFI option is active.




Good, Better, Best Tweeter Types

There are those who claim that you cannot hear the difference, or cannot hear it easily, or that the difference is so small that it does not really matter - there are many possible ways to put it. I suggest that if you can not hear the difference easily, that you just might need speakers with better tweeters. Here are a few impressions about tweeters in general. These are roughly listed from Good (bottom of the list) to Better to Best (top of the list).
  • Plasma - Best, and - you guessed it - VERY expensive
  • Electrostatic - Best
  • Planar Magnetic - Best
  • Ribbon (including Horn-Loaded) - Best
  • Folded-Motion (including Horn-Loaded) - Better
  • Horn-Loaded Compression - Better
  • Cone - Good
  • Silk Dome - Good
  • Metal Dome - Good

Note that there are exceptions to the order of this list. I have heard Metal Dome tweeters that sounded fantastically transparent, for instance. But as a rule, these impressions hold true probably 80% to 90% of the time.


The Transparent Tweeter

I believe that the main tweeter design detractors from transparency are (in no particular order):
  • Distortion
  • Stored Energy
  • Rough Frequency Response

Dispersion and Crossover Integration can also be factors. There can be numerous contributors beyond the tweeter type itself, so they are outside the bounds of this discussion.

...and in general, the better tweeter types avoid these types of problems by way of:
  • Bigger Surface area - less motion, lower distortion
  • Lower Mass - faster response, less stored energy, lower distortion
  • Higher Efficiency - less motion, lower distortion


Next Time You Buy Speakers

My advice: When you are deciding on a new speaker, make the tweeter type a high priority on your list of selection criteria. Then when there is a discussion about subtle effects like the difference between FLACs and MP3s, or between lossless and lossy tracks, you might just be able to chime in with, "I can sure hear the difference." Your ears will love you for it.

Welcome to AudiocRavings, my blog of audio-related thoughts, musings, ideas, discoveries, suggestions, rants, and ramblings. With luck, a portion will be somewhat useful to someone somewhere somehow.

Wayne Myers
 

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Thank you Wayne.

I have heard personally all of the tweeters you describe except for plasma and I can say that in many ways I tend to agree with your findings. As you so clearly mention there are exceptions to many rules and I think I best leave it at that. For those out there wishing to give this a try I think Wayne has put it out clearly and efficiently so you all should go for it go for it.
 

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I have never heard of ribbon tweeters that were horn loaded... I am going to look into how they fare compared to a typical horn.
 

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Interesting discussion. My EV Sentry 500's have a unique horn loaded 2in "super dome" tweeter that can handle 25watts, I wonder what the difference is compared to an "normal" dome?
 

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Waaay back in the early 70's, I had a pair of ESS Heil AMT-1 Towers. The "AMT" stands for Air Motion Transformer, which was the midrange/tweeter drive unit. It was based on a folded accordion membrane suspended between huge magnetic structure. The claim-to-fame was that the sound was literally squeezed through the device akin to a jet engine vs. a conventional prop motor (i.e. a traditional cone driver). Those speakers had some of the clearest and most enjoyable highs I can remember. Effortless presentation is a descriptor that comes to mind. But I'd rate them a few notches down from the Maggie's I regularly auditioned at a friend's place, because the ESS design mated the AMT with a conventional cone driver for the bass.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Waaay back in the early 70's, I had a pair of ESS Heil AMT-1 Towers. The "AMT" stands for Air Motion Transformer, which was the midrange/tweeter drive unit. It was based on a folded accordion membrane suspended between huge magnetic structure. The claim-to-fame was that the sound was literally squeezed through the device akin to a jet engine vs. a conventional prop motor (i.e. a traditional cone driver). Those speakers had some of the clearest and most enjoyable highs I can remember. Effortless presentation is a descriptor that comes to mind. But I'd rate them a few notches down from the Maggie's I regularly auditioned at a friend's place, because the ESS design mated the AMT with a conventional cone driver for the bass.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Yep, AMT is the fifth one on my list. It goes under a number of similar hames, but folded motion is as good a descriptor as any. I agree, it is one of my favorite tweeter types. Actually, from that point up on my list, all are favorites.
 

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Like Lumen, I have heard all of these tweeters except for the plasma as I mentioned above but I can say that properly implemented all of these tweeters can sound very good to excellent. I also agree with lumen that the ribbon tweeter in the magnepans just blends so perfectly that long-term listening is a joy, if these speakers weren't so hard to drive.
 

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Recently I was at Dennis Young's place - Tesseract - listening to various tunes via Tidal Streaming over his Vapor Audio Sundog (Black) speakers, with their gloriously clean high end, courtesy of RAAL tweeters. The Sundogs were delivering such a pristine, crystal-clear treble, that was the first thing I noticed when I sat down, even though I was seated off to the side, several feet from the prime Listening Position (LP).

While we were listening, out of curiosity we switched among the three grades of audio available: Normal, High, and HIFI - you have to stop and restart playback to get the audio grade to switch after changing your selection, and we did this each time.
I am revisiting this right now, with Ozric Tentacles Butterfly Garden and Far Memory, which contain a lot of high quality HF content. I can definitely pick between the two extremes, Normal and HiFi. The High and HiFi settings become more difficult to differentiate, I am not confident I could call them out, blinded.


The Normal and High settings were certainly not bad sounding, but the high frequencies were simply not as clean as with the HIFI setting, which is lossless (FLAC). With the two lossy sound grades, the highs sounded slightly messy, or hashy, compared to the HIFI, which was completely free of such effects. I could hear the difference very clearly. I will let Dennis give you his own impressions. With cymbals, bells, and sharp percussive sounds with lots of high frequencies, it was easy to hear the difference. And on a saxophone track, I could readily hear the difference in the highest harmonics of that instrument's rich tones.
I feel the terms, messy and hashy, are perfect descriptors. That happens with the extreme highs, harmonics of the fundamentals especially. A slight white noise added to that range would be another way to describe it.
 
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