Dan McFarlow, USA

I've had the Oris horn for about 1 month now, and I can definitely say that it produces the most startlingly realistic music I've heard from a stereo - far above all other speakers I've personally spent time with. In exchange for a few small compromises, I believe these will give you the absolute best in music reproduction. With good recordings they sound wonderful, with really good recordings I forget its a stereo. Long dead performers materialize in front of me, and give me a private recital.

Its been a learning experience for me discovering what speakers are really capable of, and its changed my entire focus on trying to build a system which can play orchestral, opera, and chamber music to my satisfaction. One discovery is how good your equipment can perform when given half a chance. I have a cheap receiver that I had to use before my amp came together. This on the Oris can just SING. It has problems, an over brightness from the cheap electronics, but this receiver never sounded so good. Left on a desert island with just my records, VPI 'table, receiver and beloved Oris horn, I would be happy (excepting the small problem about AC ... ;) Of course really fine equipment just does things hard to believe.

I've owned both boxes and planars, and found the difficulty always was playing orchestral without distortion and breakup. Any high end speaker can do small group well - Jazz, Vocal or chamber. Play an orchestra, chorus and soloists all together, as in an opera, and you discover all the faults of your system. What I hear is that small errors and distortions accumulate, and magnify, becoming intolerable. Actually I gave up, and sold most of my equipment, including some OTL amps and my planars. A year later, after staring at my 4000 records that were getting no spin time, I thought I'd give horns a chance and bought the Oris, unseen and unheard. It was the best decision I could have made.

They are not perfect of course. They are not small (or put another way, you can say they make great conversation pieces! ;), and they have a small sweet spot. Not 'head in a vice', but just small. Actually this has some interesting results. Some people like to listen just a bit off axis. This position has less high frequency response. So if your equipment is bright, you can adjust the tonal balance by speaker placement. Also, depending on your room, you will have to work a bit to get good bass probably. An advantage here is you can tailor it. I happen to have corners, so Khorn bass bins are in order. These also are DIY, so you have to work to capture the magic.

If you listen to lots of Rock, I think a box/cone speaker is better - because its better to hide the details of the music from you! ;) Yes I'm biased, sorry - but I do enjoy what little Rock I listen to more on 'normal' speakers. Electronic type music sounds too electronic on these for my taste. I know other Oris owners who disagree with me however.

This is a long review. I wrote it not because I'm trying to convince others this speaker is great - its inexpensive enough I don't feel guilty of the purchase and have to justify it ;) - but especially to help me sort out my own thoughts on what is happening. I just don't believe what my ears are telling me. Follows is a detailed explanation of my thoughts.


I have little time to travel to the symphony and Opera. Can I truly bring this into my house? The musical experience is varied. I'm used to hearing it from the inside of a group - from the clarinet section. Here the strings are distant, percussion loud, horns very loud. But you FEEL the music, you are part of it, inside of it, and carried along. Front row center are generally the best seats, but how good they really are depends on the qualities of the hall. So my philosophy is that if I can bring a system to a level of performance so good, that the errors are on the order of errors that any hall would make, then I'm finished working on it, and can just listen. It needs to be fresh, true, lively, and as good as real music. It doesn't need a flat frequency response, or to be able to reproduce 20 Hz test tones.

My System so far:

  • Custom designed amp/pre-amp combination. - 6ER5 with custom RIAA, RelCap RTX coupled to 6ER5 RelCap RTX coupled to 27 line stage direct coupled to 6H30PI in parafeed Magnequest EXO-45, EXO-04 iron

This is evolving towards ...

  • WE417 C4S loaded phono DC direct coupled to 6GK5 Teflon TFT AC coupled to 27 line stage, with Elma stepped attenuator Line stage direct coupled to parafeed 6H30pi output stage for 1/2 W

Only one teflon cap in the signal path, four tubes, Vishay and Tantalum capacitors.

  • 4000 classical vinyl, especially orchestral, opera, lieder. Some jazz, a few audiophile type records a buddy brought over.
  • No digital source or material available.
  • VPI TNT Jr turntable
  • JMW 10' arm
  • 7000 AudioTechnia cart, Sowther step up.
  • 89259 Risch cables
  • Garth silver speaker cables
  • Oris PM4AER, aluminum diffusors, Cardas binding posts, silver wired inside.
  • Bert's Onken design, modified to fit U.S. units. Center brace removed, and 1/2" cement board epoxied inside to almost totally damp out vibration. Almost as good as lead sheet.
  • Parts Express 180W sub amp with built in 12 dB/octave crossover for low bass.

OK, I'll describe an ideal loudspeaker, assuming tubes (my preference), and compare this to the Oris horn

An ideal loudspeaker is ...

  • An easy load, at least 8 Ohms - The Oris/Lowther/AER is either 8, 12, or 16 Ohms. The PM4AER I have is 12 Ohms - which helps smooth the response out of my 8 Ohm tapped SET.
  • Has high efficiency, at least 100 dB or better - Efficiency starts at 104 dB, average 106 dB, with 108 dB on my PM4AER. Choose the driver/cone combination you can afford and you get different efficiency.
  • Has no room interaction - They are directional horns, so from 150 Hz up beam at the listener with little room interaction. I have a very live room, bare wood floors, wood paneling, lath/plaster ceiling, and they make magic. The sound directs towards my couch and gets dispersed. Horns really have the advantage here.
  • Has the ability to do all this from 0 to 120 dBm volume levels/peaks - No problems playing loud with this efficiency! It has no trouble at soft levels either. Micro dynamics are superb, as are macrodynamics. Brian reports that perhaps other speakers do better at macrodynamics, which I believe is correct. I have to play it at levels which make me uncomfortable to see this however, so its not really an issue.
  • A point source - Any single driver achieves this - no problem.
  • A single driver/no crossover - True from 150 Hz up. I haven't heard a traditional box Lowther, but I really like taking the burden of the low, low bass off the main driver. For a real tweak, modify your preamp/amp so as to naturally high-pass filter the Lowther amp from say 120 Hz up (hint - look at the value of your coupling caps and the input impedance of the next stage)
  • Tweakable, to correct for electronics and/or preferences - Its DIY, so tweak to your hearts content! Change wire, drivers, diffusers, colors, bass, etc. Generally however, there is so little there to the speaker that there isn't much to tweak. Diffuser, chassis wire, bass solution, that's mostly it.
  • Inexpensive - The PM4AER isn't cheap - but for high end speakers it sure is! My advice is to absolutely get the best driver you can afford. And when you can afford it, get the PM4AER. Its a tired statement, but these speakers are an amazing bargain. This system cost me about 3500$ + DIY work.
  • Easy to set up, use, and no break in required. - Unless you buy a prefinished version, these are typically DIY. The are easy to place in your room, I haven't found them sensitive to room position, but they do require careful alignment for best results. I've never been much of a placement addict - I usually put speakers where they seem to work well, and spend the rest of my time listening. Make sure these are symmetrical, within 1/4 inch!

The AER cone sounded good from the start - best speaker I've heard right out of the box. I understand that traditional Lowther cones start grainy, and take forever to break in. The AER is breaking in also, very slowly. The seems to break in pretty fast after two weeks or so, and now they are on a slow ramp, getting better and better over time.

To really get the unbelievable sound they are capable of, you must warm the entire system up for about 2 hours. I don't know if its the speaker, electronics or what but I've found this to be true. In a year, when they are really broken in, I'll see if this is still true. My previous speakers never seemed this sensitive to equipment warm-up.

  • Has lightning transient response - Unquestionable, at this efficiency. It rivals planars, magnetic and electrostatic, with no bite or harshness. It sounds like a ribbon tweeter, in terms of transient response, from 150 Hz up. It doesn't quite posses the silky response that the Magnepan 3.6 ribbon has, but it just sounds real.

I've touched the cone, with the speaker running full bore - it just isn't moving. A small thrumming is all you can feel - at 110 dB! At normal listening levels I can't feel the vibration.

  • Is able to handle all sane amplification, from say 1/2 W to 100 W - You could carefully put 100 W on it I suppose, but why? Just get a few good watts.
  • Has small size/looks good/WAF - Oops! Not small, but my wife does like how it looks. It scares my brother, but that's not a bad thing ;) At least you can paint it any color you wish. I picked a slightly brighter Burgundy, courtesy of Ford Motor company ;)
  • Has a huge sweet spot - ideally as big as the room - Ah! its main problem. It has a small sweet spot. But, when I pay for front row seats, I expect to sit in the front row! So a small sweet spot is not much an issue for me. I have them 10 ft away, 8 feet apart from each other. Sweet spot is about a 2 foot cube or something. Its a problem listening with my wife, but she doesn't mind when I nudge her out of the center position ;)

I haven't experimented much yet with placement. Too busy spinning plastic.

  • Has no listening fatigue - I often spend all day with them on the weekends - little fatigue. Sometimes I'll have a Ring Festival, with 16 hours of Wagner (I do have 5 different versions) More fun than the nosebleed seats at the opera.
  • Pinpoint, holographic imaging - Accurate depth, width and height

This comes from the point source item. No question - this is the best imaging I've ever heard. In my 12x20 room sound stage is as wide as it was recorded, oftentimes huge. On a test record I heard, with a tap dancer going 30 ft away from you to the back of the stage, it sounds exactly like a dancer in symphony hall going 30 ft away from you.

Height is just right for front row seats. In fact, these are the first speakers that get all the elements to really sound like you are in the front row. Detail, presence, everything. I have a lot of lieder, especially Fischer-Dieskau, and the man comes into my room to sing to me. Either the young, headstrong big boy from Berlin, or the refined, experienced but out of his prime elder Meistersinger.

Holographic imaging is very dependent on the right equip, tubes, vinyl. If your preamp/amp/source can do it, it will happen. This relates to the presence item below.

  • No distortion at any volume
  • No coloration
  • Flat frequency response
  • Flat phase response
  • No intermodulation, transient, or harmonic distortion

I haven't discovered any significant distortions, or colorations. They must be there, even at 108 dB efficiency there must be some, but they are either of such a low level nature, or are done in some kind of a pleasing way, that I just can't hear them. Sometimes I think I'll find one - Ah! there it is. But changing tubes, or a cable, will show it was somewhere else.

They do have their own character, nothing is perfectly neutral, but I don't really have the vocabulary to describe it. Perhaps a sweetness from the Alnico magnet, and a 'locked step' from the fantastically strong magnet. But that isn't really it either. I'll need to find a better speaker, which I don't think exists yet (though I haven't heard the Carfrae yet) , before I can say "Ah! that's what's 'wrong'" I now have a theory that most speakers distort so much, either from cone breakup, multiple driver distortion, crossover distortion, or whatever, that it makes you that much more sensitive to distortions from your electronics or source. I estimate that speakers distort, on average, around 15-25%. These drop down to 1% IMO. So crummy equipment can sound good with it. So, however these horns are distorting, it seems to happen in a pleasing way.

Now in low bass, at the crossover point, 150 Hz, you do get mismatch and some distortion. However, this is low enough that its too much of a problem. The Onken cabinet works very well, and for an ultimate get Khorn bass bins or planar bass. Bass is very difficult in general, I believe that one of the smart decisions with this design is to farm out the low bass elsewhere. But for the ultimate you must work on your bass. Tailor it to your room!

I have a lot of terrible sounding records, that are wonderful historical performances, or are just the only copy I could find. I came close to getting rid of a lot of these last year to make room, because some just sound so bad I couldn't stand it. Thank goodness I didn't! The Oris distorts so little, that now the problems in bad vinyl are easily tolerable.

An interesting thing, a friend sold me some Garth silver speaker cables - he didn't like them. He brought his equipment over for an audition with the Oris, but didn't bring his Cardas speaker cable, so of course we used the Garth. After everything was debugged and he did some listening, he exclaimed "Wow, this Garth cable sounds great with these speakers. They never sounded this good before."

This is a general trend I'm noticing with the Oris - most equipment works really well, the better, the better it sounds. Some people would say its forgiving of what's before it, but I don't think that's quite it. Some speakers are forgiving because they can hide faults. Magnepans are very mellow, very sweet, and so can hide bright equipment, for instance. For this example, silver can oftentimes sound too bright, too silvery. I think that if you put silver with many systems, it can accentuate faults that already exist in the speaker. With the Oris the silver sounds sweet, light, and very enjoyable.

  • Accurate timbre/harmonics - Every instrument sounds like it should, no more or less. If its in your source material, its relayed to sound. A pianos low registers have the throaty slam that I know they have. Chimes, triangles are holographic - they materialize before you. The brass section heralds you, the woodwinds croon you, and French horns recede off into the distance.I have all of Du Pre's recorded music on vinyl - yep, all of them. She wasn't the most technical musician, but probably the most emotional that ever existed, and possessed a beautifully toned cello. She's comes alive again, sitting 10 ft in front, achingly pulling every note out of that instrument.

I think she gave her cello to Yo-Yo Ma. Pity. He just doesn't have the emotional depth she did.

  • An 'acceptable' design, intellectually - This is a weird one. I like equipment that 'makes sense'. I do engineering for a living, and I've come to appreciate the Right Solution. There are always about a thousand ways to solve any problem, which one is best? I've found that it the simplest almost always is. Then make whatever corrections you must. If you have to correct your corrections, oops! it isn't simple enough.

OK, I've got to say that the genius that goes into the Oris just amazes me. Its a speaker, trimmed down to the essential, with a few corrections to solve the remaining problems. First, get rid of the crossover! its a huge problem. No crossover is a good crossover. Ah! now we have a single driver, great, no phase errors, driver mismatches, perfect. Get the best single drivers made - Lowther. But it has a frequency imbalance, OK, front and rear load it, from 150 Hz up to 2 kHz - no Lowther shout. Not enough high frequencies? Hey, we're front loaded now, make a big phase plug - ahhh, there they are, in perfect coherence. What about low bass? Don't try to solve that problem! Just do it elsewhere, in a bass cabinet, corner horn, or what have you.

What are you left with? A wire, that goes to a Lowther driver, wraps around a paper cone sitting in a 2.4 Tesla magnetic field. As bonus points, its 108 dB efficient, so you don't get the typical single driver IM distortion, or much of any distortion.

  • True detail - I've owned OTL amps - these are the king of detail. Also Planar speakers, again very detailed. These horns, plus the crummy receiver, have more detail than the two put together. This is not to knock other designs, but is a reference point for me. I now believe that no multiway speaker can compete with a good single driver speaker.

Of course, details appear you didn't know existed. Spit from wind players. Subtle hall effects, a catch in the throat. Do you want more detail from your SET amp? Here's how you can find it. Your amp is probably putting out tons of detail, they just get lost on the way to your ear.

  • Presence - This is where they really excel; this is their best strength. I believe Bert worked really hard to achieve this - these put you in the front row center - nothing else comes close. Single drivers have this quality to one degree or another. If you haven't heard a single driver speaker yet make a pair of Voigt pipes for 100$ USD and taste the magic.

I've not heard a speaker that puts out this much presence however. As I've said elsewhere, musicans materialize. What causes this? I don't know, perhaps a near perfection in the suble details, that are caught by the horn before they are allowed to escape. The mind is more drawn towards the musical details than before. Phrasing is more obvious. Listening to some Schumann trios, I hear emphasis and phrasing that isn't there with other fine loudspeakers. What happened to it?

  • Able to make music - These and 200$ worth of electronics will bring Pavarotti into your house for a private recital. These and some really good electronics will give you private music lessons.

Do you think I like them? I suppose you may not however, if you like upgrading your speaker every so often.