Horn loudspeakers and I have had a tortuous relationship. My first real contact with the breed came only relatively recently, a decade or so at the Munich High End Show. I remember venturing into one room to see a group of gentlemen of advanced years, huddled around an obscure, ancient valve amplifier connected to the most ridiculous looking pair of giant horn speakers ever made. Well you would need to be getting on a bit to tolerate that treble hardness, I mused, obviously being the only one in the room who felt like he’d had the top of his skull lopped off with a Japanese katana fighting sword after hearing a trumpet solo from some old obscure jazz LP!
My other contact with horns has been at gigs, and here I understand them more. After all, what better device to shift vast amounts of air and epic amounts of decibels out at a huge crowd? Forget old men with hearing aids listening to ragtime from behind lace curtains – serious PA stacks with multiple horn drivers and bass bins firing at you is more like it! But still, however dizzying fast and visceral the sound is, would you really want it in your own living room? Well, not being fourteen years old anymore, for me the answer is no.
Or would I? You see, not so long ago I chanced across the most amazing domestic loudspeaker I have ever heard. On several recent occasions, starting with a recent Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, I bumped into JBL’s Project Everest DD67000 – and in all honesty it’s hard to miss. Every serious loudspeaker company likes to call its flagship “the ultimate”, and JBL is no exception – so I was instantly turned off by the hype. But I ventured into a largish booth only to hear an absolutely stunning sound. The Everest DD67000s (silly name, I know) were just like horns in some ways – in good ways. Which is to say the speed was amazing; I always bang on about this, but must domestic speakers sound like damp sponges if you’ve just come back from a live concert or gig. Yet only real music sounds faster than these JBLs, and even then, barely.
Speed is all well and good, but what if you’re getting a hard, honky, coloured sound that is but a distant relation to the real thing. Not so these speakers, because I was next struck by how incredibly open they are. They were like walking into the Nevada desert, where there’s nothing to block your view – you could hear for miles and miles. I knew I was listening to a horn, but it didn’t sound like any other. And then there was the bass, which seamlessly crossed over from that treble/mid driver, in a way that I’ve never heard before. Almost every hybrid speaker shouts its compromises from the rooftops, but from this JBL all you get is one seamless, even and smooth wall of sound. Blisteringly fast, wonderfully powerful from top to bottom, shockingly open and transparent – how is this possible from a horn speaker? No offence gents, but JBL speakers have traditionally been great for punchy rock music, but your average Quad owning classical music fan with delicate sensibilities has traditionally steered well clear! The answer lies in the fact that it’s the company’s flagship speaker, and it has put a huge amount of time into finessing the design, and used the right materials to do the job.
Firstly, it sports two fifteen inch (380mm) bass drivers, or woofers as we used to call them. There is no substitute for cubic inches – and the same goes for speakers. Big, wide diameter bass cones move air better than anything else, and the Everest has two of them. Not only that, but the cone is a sandwich of foam and pulp, making it super rigid but very light. In the midband and treble, the Everest gets a pure beryllium compression driver; as every Breaking Bad fan should know, this is the lightest stable metal in the Periodic Table, and makes the aluminium or magnesium than most people use in their tweeters look as unwieldy as iron. The big JBL has a four inch (100mm) diaphragm to deal with the midrange and lower treble, then hands over to a one inch (25mm) version of the same that runs right up to 60kHz – both use the company’s proprietary Bi-Radial Horns.
You really must hear these before you die – or at least go deaf! It’s hard to describe the sensation, even for a seasoned hi-fi reviewer. Like drinking an ice-cold beer on a sweltering beach, you get a huge sense of relief. Suddenly music comes alive, it sounds so vivid, so immersive, so tactile. And yet there’s no harshness, despite the recording being thrown into such sharp relief. Dynamics are breathtaking but still the speaker doesn’t shout at you, while stereo soundstaging is as large as life itself. JBL has done a remarkable thing with the Everest DD67000s, it has civilised horns. Now, all I need is a spare $75,000 and a house big enough to fit them…