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:
This is evolving towards ...
Only one teflon cap in the signal path, four tubes, Vishay and Tantalum capacitors.
OK, I'll describe an ideal loudspeaker, assuming tubes (my preference), and compare this to the Oris horn
An ideal loudspeaker is ...
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.
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.
I haven't experimented much yet with placement. Too busy spinning plastic.
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.
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.
I think she gave her cello to Yo-Yo Ma. Pity. He just doesn't have the emotional depth she did.
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.
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.
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?
Do you think I like them? I suppose you may not however, if you like upgrading your speaker every so often.