hORNS are a Polish loudspeaker brand specialising in, you guessed it, horn loudspeakers. In this review, Stuart Smith takes a listen to their Symphony 13 loudspeakers costing €15,000.

Long time readers of Hifi Pig will know that I used Polish brand hORNS Mummy loudspeakers as our main reference speakers for several years, and in that time they saw of some serious competition and I never felt the need to change them out for anything else. Indeed, it took our purchasing the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo XDs at around €30K to oust the Mummys, a sub 10K loudspeaker. I’ve heard many other models from the company’s range at shows around the world, and again, I’ve always been very impressed. So when Łukasz Lewandowski, the owner of the brand, approached us at the Warsaw Show in November of 2019, I jumped at the chance of reviewing their Symphony 13.

 

Łukasz says that his loudspeakers are “connected with a love of music with a love of unusual sound and non-standard sound”. That’s quite a bold statement to my mind as, whilst none of the company’s speakers could be said to be standard designs, their sounds if you appreciate the presentation of horn loudspeakers, couldn’t be described as an “unusual sound”. I have always found that their speakers have sounded particularly natural-sounding and easy to get on with. I’ve always thought that hORNS loudspeakers represent good value for money too, coming in much cheaper than comparable brands.

BUILD AND DESIGN

The Symphony loudspeakers arrived early February but because of a recurring back problem and the following Covid 19 outbreak languished in their boxes for a good while before taking up residence in our main system which at that time consisted of a Lampizator Big 7 DAC being fed by an Auralic G1 streamer on the digital front end; later the Lampizator would be swapped out for Leema’s top – but more on that later.

The pallet arrived with two large boxes and two smaller boxes. The larger boxes contained the main bass reflex, front-ported cabinet with mid/horn compression driver mounted above. In the smaller box was the screw-on horns. Set up was a simple case of placing the cabinets in their initial position, attaching the horns with the supplied bolts (a simple job), and wiring up to the amp as you would any other loudspeaker – good quality WBT binding posts are used which will accept all the usual suspects of speaker cable terminations. I played a few tunes and fine-tuned their position, but to be fair they seem to be pretty unfussy about placement, something I’ve found with many front-ported designs.

Fit and finish are impeccable as far as I can see, with the main cabinet looking big, but not imposing in our listening room. You can order the speakers in any RAL colour you like to match your décor. The 13” bass/mid driver is protected with a removable fabric grille that uses magnets to attach itself; I left it on for the duration as taking it off seemed to have no effect on the sound and they looked a lot better with it in place.

The horn itself is 60cm across and is textured on the inside of the flare. It is fed by a 2” Titanium compression driver. One interesting feature of the horn is that it has a level control on the back so that you can adjust the volume of the high frequencies, a feature that I found very useful and I’m sure others will too. This level control allows you to fine-tune to your preference, your room, and to recordings. This is not a new concept and I’ve seen L-Pads used on many DIY designs, but I’ve never seen this done on any commercial horn loudspeakers that I’ve auditioned.

Quoted sensitivity is 95dB, which should be sensitive enough for any amp with a reasonable output and they are said to have a response of 35Hz to 20kHz. I put several amps through the speakers including a Class-D design, a big American Class A muscle amp, and a low output AB design; sadly my 2A3 amp is out of action at the moment and so I didn’t have the opportunity to see if that would work with them. The amp I feel gels best, of the ones I have tried, has been the 8W Class A Jean Hiraga amp.

The main cabinet of the Symphony 13 is 600x1380x560 [mm] and with a volume of 135 Litres. The speakers weigh in at 75Kg.

So, all in all, this is an incredibly positive start with every aspect of the build being top-notch and with some sensible considerations being included – which include the front-porting and the level control.

SOUND

I’ve lived with the Symphony speakers for a while now and they have had a lot of music put through them and for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them. As per the usual review routine, no critical listening was done for a good few days to allow the speakers to run-in sufficiently.

First, we had the Lampizator DAC in place, a brand that G-Point Audio, the UK distributor for hORNS also represents, and there is clearly a synergy between these two Polish brands – I got the feeling that the mid-band was the star of the show and the partnership was best suited to jazz and vocal-centric music. Playing techno and other similar genres, I felt that there just didn’t feel to be that impact I’d enjoyed with our Avantgarde DUO XD horns. T

Listening to Sound Pressure (Part 2) by Surgeon on the Tresor Vol 6 compilation I felt the Symphony’s lacked a little in sheer weight and heft that I’m used to with our Duo XDs – bass just seemed a little too back in the mix and a tad subdued. With that said, the treble detail was certainly there with the level control increased, though this is always going to be at the expense of overall balance to the sound. I suppose what I’m getting at is I thought with this kind of music the Symphonys were a little polite. Now that is not to say that others will not like this kind of presentation – I’m a self-confessed bass fanatic, as readers will be aware. Scramblers’ Nozzle track is fast, frenetic and a tad industrial and dirty in its feel and I’m used to it sounding like a kick to the chest (how it should be) but just didn’t have that feeling with the hORNS. Even cranking the volume up, I felt I was missing punch and involvement. This paragraph may well have you thinking that I didn’t enjoy the Symphony speakers, but that’s just not the case – I just don’t think they are suited to the kind of music that makes up a good proportion of my personal listening, and I am well aware that the majority of people buying/auditioning these speakers are not likely to be going to have the same taste which I have.

Let’s take a listen to something that is perhaps more akin to the style of music a person buying these speakers is likely to be interested in, and so to Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain. Now, I really don’t think you can beat horns played through good horns and the Symphonys don’t disappoint at all. Davis’ flugelhorn sounds utterly magnificent and there are scale and drama presented before me. Nothing forced and nothing over-exaggerated. Details of little hi-hat licks are wonderful and there is real insight into the recording, with a nice sound stage set out before me. It is laidback and untaxing to listen to – in fact it’s rather beautiful, even at quite low listening levels. The detail of Davis’ playing shines through, and the timbre of his chosen instrument is really very evident. The music ebbs and flows, in and out, with nothing ever feeling confused, even during the crescendos. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of the castanets, with the hORNS presenting them wonderfully and really drawing me into the recording. I love little things like this that you hear on some speakers – the Audiovector S3s we have, with their AMT tweeter, also seem to have this light and airy quality to them when playing this record, though perhaps not with the same scale as the Symphonys.

Emiliana Torrini’s Nothing Brings Me Down from her wonderful Fisherman’s Woman album again plays beautifully to the Symphonys’ strengths. This is a simple tune and she has a wonderful vocal presentation… and the hORNS let you hear this. Again, there is an effortless, mellifluous quality to the speakers’ presentation on this material and it is certainly on a par with the same record listened to on our Duo XDs. Again, I am drawn to the detail in the upper registers that, whilst being detailed and pinpoint accurate, never seems to overpower or get in the way of the vocal. I end up listening to the whole of the record and really enjoying every moment of it. I suppose one word I’m grasping for is “classy” when I’m trying to describe these speakers in this scenario – I’d certainly suggest they are a speaker for an audiophile into what could loosely be described as “audiophile music”. As an aside, and as I’ve just written that line from my notes, we popped to the shop and on the way were discussing these speakers (yeh, I know, what interesting and fulfilling lives we must lead) and Linette used pretty much exactly the same line “Great for audiophile music but not for techno”.

Bad Brains’ Sacred Love from the album Banned in D.C. is a rock tune that is hard, and at low volumes, the Symphonys feel a little lacking again in the guts department and so I crank up the volume to daft levels and get more of the bass kick I’m looking for, but this is at the expense of the top end being a little too much. Fear not! A quick adjustment of the level control for the horn and you can pull that in a touch, albeit at the expense of losing a little of that detail I really was enjoying.  I get the feeling of politeness from these speakers, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they have a lot of qualities that will appeal to many. One of the things I got from listening to the rest of this Bad Brains record was a sense of the vocal and lead guitar really taking centre stage. I got the same feeling on Body Count’s KKK Bitch, though the complicated and fast bass certainly there and you could follow it note for note…and the speakers are in themselves fast in this department – it just didn’t have the whack I so enjoy on this record on the Duos. On the vocal front, every single word that Ice T utters is easily understandable and easy to follow. The soaring guitar on the following track (C Note) is also a real pleasure with the distortion/overdrive on the guitar being very evident and with a wonderful tone to it – it’s as “natural” as I’ve heard on any speaker!

As I’m writing this up I’ve got Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter playing in the background and up comes Northern Sky – not a track I’d listened to whilst evaluating these speakers, but I’m certainly pleased I took the trouble to sit up, take notice and turn the volume up a little. Drake’s plaintiff vocal delivery is utterly wonderfully portrayed and it’s a real hairs on my arms pricking up and taking notice. The detail on the guitar and the cymbal hits at the start of the tune are as well done as I have heard on any loudspeaker we have had in the main review system. The upper notes on the piano also sound wonderfully portrayed and I end up playing the tune several times before moving on. The flute on the following track (Sunday) is likewise beautifully done!

CONCLUSION

If ever there was a piece of equipment that you should audition before you go out and buy them, then the Symphony 13s are it. But then who is going to go out and spend this kind of money without having an in-depth audition, preferably in their own system and in their own home. Knowing Greg at G-Point, I’m sure he will be happy to oblige your every whim. On some program (Jazz, female vocals, etc) they are an outstandingly detailed and emotive loudspeaker that, if I listened to just this kind of music, I’d welcome into a more permanent position in the listening room at the drop of the hat and at the expense of the Avantgarde Duo XDs (high praise indeed). However, I don’t listen to this kind of music all the time and a good proportion of what we listen to for pure enjoyment is a more bass reliant kind of program, and here I just don’t believe the hORNS cut the mustard for me and in my room – others may see this as the Symphonys actually being a more balanced and well-rounded loudspeaker and hence my urging any prospective buyers to get a proper listen with the kind of music they really enjoy!

In the grand scheme of things, they are a very good speaker (with the given caveats) that offer good value given the level of fit and finish you are getting!

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Very good indeed. Handsome loudspeakers that whilst being big are not over-domineering. Available in a wide range of REL and real wood veneer finishes.

Sound Quality: On female vocals, they are an exemplary loudspeaker. Likewise, in bringing top-end detail to the fore in a piece of music. Lacking in bass kick and oomph, though bass detail is well evident.

Value For Money: If you can live with what I see as the speakers’ foibles then they are good value. In comparison to our Duo XDs costing double the price of these, I’d possibly say the hORNS beat them in, particularly, the mid department.

Pros:

Beautifully well finished.

Exemplary mid-performance.

Detailed and engaging with lots of music.

Cons:

Lacking in bass oomph for me.

Price: €15,000

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

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