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New loudspeakers for classical music

Klassik

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Classical music is well recorded and I find that it sounds when reproduced with an "unforgiving" system.
Klassik knows not about this statement. Klassik finds that recording quality varies about as much as classical music itself varies. Sure, if one buys a CD or SACD of something recorded in, say, the 2000s onward, one can make a pretty good assumption that it will be recorded pretty well. There will always be arguments about balancing and such, but recording quality is generally very good with classical music these days.

That said, Klassik knows many classical music enthusiasts who listen to very dated recordings from the 1950s, or even before that, where the quality can vary quite significantly. Klassik has some of these older recordings and some, such as the Mercury Living Presence ones, are beautiful, but others are very rough with copious tape hiss and distortion. Some opera fans, of which Klassik is not, like recordings of stars from the past, but not all those recordings are up to modern standards to say the least.

Even with modern recordings, some are close mic'ed and even in basic equipment one can hear all kinds of extraneous noises from instruments, performers, rustling sheets of music, air conditioning at the performance venue, and so forth. With certain instruments, especially ones of antiquity, such noises are just an unavoidable part of the listening experience. A more revealing system might make these issues even annoying to one who is annoyed by these noises.

The future of classical music recordings has to be addressed as well. Some people are going to continue listening to recordings just as they always have, whether it be on disc or through streaming, but those types of recordings are increasingly becoming an antiquated way of listening to classical music. Many modern (younger ;)...but not necessarily younger) listeners don't want to just listen to the same recordings of Beethoven symphonies and such and are enjoying the number of classical music recordings on YouTube and such where amateur musicians and orchestras of varying fame can upload their performances which may or may not have professional level recording engineers and equipment. Orchestra live streaming is now a thing as well. In many cases, these performances are not even CD quality, but they are good performances of music which may or may not be available in traditional album form.

So, yes, without even considering that the needs of, say, solo guitar classical music might be different from a Richard Strauss symphony or that organ music might be different from lieder, there are many ways that classical recordings differ and so classical listeners may need some flexibility/compromise in their systems to try to find something that works well with both very well recorded material and more amateurishly recorded material of both antiquity and of modern/future times.
 

tuga

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There were some suggestions I was surprised weren’t made; no love for Denso Ten or those Pearl Sibelius?

Perhaps because single-driver speakers aren't really suited to Classical.

If you are looking for a more "euphonic" presentation and uncommon brands then perhaps the Boenickes will suit your preference, also maybe try some Devores.
 

tuga

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Klassik knows not about this statement. Klassik finds that recording quality varies about as much as classical music itself varies. Sure, if one buys a CD or SACD of something recorded in, say, the 2000s onward, one can make a pretty good assumption that it will be recorded pretty well. There will always be arguments about balancing and such, but recording quality is generally very good with classical music these days.

That said, Klassik knows many classical music enthusiasts who listen to very dated recordings from the 1950s, or even before that, where the quality can vary quite significantly. Klassik has some of these older recordings and some, such as the Mercury Living Presence ones, are beautiful, but others are very rough with copious tape hiss and distortion. Some opera fans, of which Klassik is not, like recordings of stars from the past, but not all those recordings are up to modern standards to say the least.

Even with modern recordings, some are close mic'ed and even in basic equipment one can hear all kinds of extraneous noises from instruments, performers, rustling sheets of music, air conditioning at the performance venue, and so forth. With certain instruments, especially ones of antiquity, such noises are just an unavoidable part of the listening experience. A more revealing system might make these issues even annoying to one who is annoyed by these noises.

The future of classical music recordings has to be addressed as well. Some people are going to continue listening to recordings just as they always have, whether it be on disc or through streaming, but those types of recordings are increasingly becoming an antiquated way of listening to classical music. Many modern (younger ;)...but not necessarily younger) listeners don't want to just listen to the same recordings of Beethoven symphonies and such and are enjoying the number of classical music recordings on YouTube and such where amateur musicians and orchestras of varying fame can upload their performances which may or may not have professional level recording engineers and equipment. Orchestra live streaming is now a thing as well. In many cases, these performances are not even CD quality, but they are good performances of music which may or may not be available in traditional album form.

So, yes, without even considering that the needs of, say, solo guitar classical music might be different from a Richard Strauss symphony or that organ music might be different from lieder, there are many ways that classical recordings differ and so classical listeners may need some flexibility/compromise in their systems to try to find something that works well with both very well recorded material and more amateurishly recorded material of both antiquity and of modern/future times.

A large chunk of my Classical music library consists of pre-digital recordings, some of them mono, and I still find that they sound just as good.
The worst offenders are multi- and particularly near-mic'ed recordings from the early digital era.
 

tuga

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Also, I tend to avoid some labels like Harmonia Mundi because even though the overal sound quality is good the instruments are mic'ed too close and sound "bright" and just plain wrong.
 
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Le Baron

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That said, Klassik knows many classical music enthusiasts who listen to very dated recordings from the 1950s, or even before that, where the quality can vary quite significantly. Klassik has some of these older recordings and some, such as the Mercury Living Presence ones, are beautiful, but others are very rough with copious tape hiss and distortion. Some opera fans, of which Klassik is not, like recordings of stars from the past, but not all those recordings are up to modern standards to say the least.
I like those reproduction recordings. Except when the modern reissue sound 'engineer' meddles with the mixing and destroys the recording. I also find a lot of CDs from before 2000 to be very good. Many of the Phillips DUO Cds I have, quite a lot of which mix ADD and DDD, are excellent aurally and also well-manufactured objects. Quite a number from the late 90s onwards are shoddily-made discs.

However the SACD I bought of the Youth Orchestra playing Holst's The Planets (the same youth orchestra who played this at the Proms in 2016) is mind-blowingly good.
 
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Le Baron

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Also, I tend to avoid some labels like Harmonia Mundi because even though the overal sound quality is good the instruments are mic'ed too close and sound "bright" and just plain wrong.
On some classical recordings they've tried to recreate the experience of being at a concert hall and on others to mimic how small group (pop-type) music is recorded. Both are problematic for reproduction. Sometimes they mic various instruments more closely because they get buried.
 
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Sotosound

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OI thank everyone for their input.
I think that what I’ve drawn from this is that we ”classical” music listeners are indeed a small minority.
I appreciate all the suggestions about the thin wall BBC heritage designs and I’m sure the modern interpretations improve on the originals, but I largely left those behind in the 90’s. Maybe wrongly, but we all plough our own furrow!😊
I know I should pay more attention to the Tannoy range, but if I have a large loudspeaker, I probably will not change from what I’ve got. Same applies to AG models.
I found the Boenicke suggestion very interesting and I might try to hear some. There were some suggestions I was surprised weren’t made; no love for Denso Ten or those Pearl Sibelius?
Thanks for all the help and suggestions
Mark
Not all thin wall speakers are BBC heritage designs.

When I chose my own speakers, I just wanted a pair of speakers that floated my own personal emotional boat, and the ones that I chose happened to be thin-walled.

For me, the determining factor was that once I got them in my living room they saw off all contenders. I had no idea about their construction until their designer visited and suggested that taking my wife's figurines off the tops would improve the sound, and it did.

My speakers simply pull me into the music, which is a nice place to be and, after many years of selecting speakers based upon semi-technical criteria instead of their "coefficient of boat-floating", I'm now finally back in a world where the lead violinist (concertmaster) is Scheherazade, where I'm immersed in the aggressive self-loathing of "Creep" by Radiohead, and where Frank Sinatra is really standing on a darkened street in a town at night while a train rattles across a trestle or is stood outside in the autumn as a sudden gust of wind whips up the leaves on the ground before they gently fall back down again.

Had the Dynaudio, Spendor, or Proac speakers that I also borrowed performed this emotional transportation better, however, then I would have chosen them instead.

I also worry that by identifying as a "classical" music listener and as being in a minority you might be closing off options and constraining your choices unnecessarily.

In the end, your ears and brain and heart will determine what's best for you, not construction or brand or reviews or anyone else's suggestions. So perhaps throwing out any preconceptions and just listening to a wide range of products, including some that your head would rule out, might be the way to go, subject to what is physically doable.

Given sufficient available time, this could be so much fun.
 
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Lawrence001

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Perhaps because single-driver speakers aren't really suited to Classical.

If you are looking for a more "euphonic" presentation and uncommon brands then perhaps the Boenickes will suit your preference, also maybe try some Devores.
The OP has said that he likes his single drivers with classical and has tried multi driver speakers and didn't like them, so it's a matter of personal preference,- there's no wrong or right (unless one subscribes to the "measurements are more important than enjoyment" school of thought).

Hence my post about everyone recommending dynamic multi driver speakers with typical reflex cabinets probably not being of much use to him. If I knew much about single driver/horns I may well have recommended the speakers the OP referred to.
 

montesquieu

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I went through a single driver folded horn phase for a while (I got my first set of Tannoy DCs back in the 80s but in the mid-late 00s experimented with horns and had quite a few years with Quad ESLs, before returning to Tannoys for good).

Single drivers can be very nice with small ensemble music and with solo singers, however the missing top and bottom that's inevitable with single drivers is a big loss with larger scale orchestral or choral music or with 'big piano', while the very lightweight cones generally used to raise sensitivity of the drivers tend to break up quite fast and get shouty when you turn the wick up. IMO, for anything other than very small scale classical they are a bit of a dead end, interesting though they are and however well they do certain things.

The best single drivers I've heard were the Heco Einklang https://www.heco-audio.de/en/detail/index/sArticle/2997414 these had better top to bottom balance than any other single driver speaker I've heard, factory or DIY (there's no crossover as such but I believe there is some electronics in the box aimed at flattening the response). Worth seeking out an audition perhaps (Deco Audio had a set at one point). But ultimately they have the same limitation.

I would say again that if you like what single drivers do - which is probably related to the absense of the unease associated with phase-related crossover distortion, and the benefit of the whole point source thing - then a dual concentric is the way to go. A possible alternative would be Quad ESLs (not the orignal 57 but any of the later ones - 63, 989, 2905 etc) though that would seem to exceed the requested size.

BTW @rabski not all Tannoys are ugly, I think mine are rather nice! And the smaller ones aren't really any more or less ugly than any other small floorstander or standmount.

j53cS6l.jpg
 

rabski

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BTW @rabski not all Tannoys are ugly, I think mine are rather nice! And the smaller ones aren't really any more or less ugly than any other small floorstander or standmount.
I'll give you that Tom. The massive ones that Simon (Mears) built and showed at Scalford one year were beautiful examples of woodwork as well. I still can't quite gel with the 'radiogram' looks of the sides though.

To be fair, very little audio equipment is aesthetically ideal, as functionality dicates otherwise. The attempts to change that always seem to end up as 'bling city' and are even worse. I'll personally take 'plain and clean' any day, but as half my system has large glowing glass bottles poking out of the top, I'm hardly in a position to talk ;)
 
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hearhere

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BTW @rabski not all Tannoys are ugly, I think mine are rather nice! And the smaller ones aren't really any more or less ugly than any other small floorstander or standmount.
I had a single similar looking Tannoy (bought by my dad in mono days) but it was fitted with the 12" dual concentric driver. An expensive speaker when bought new - £60-0-0d I seem to remember. Good in its day, but a far cry from modern speakers. I ditched those quaint 50s style angled legs that added to their look of antiquity! Corner speakers disappeared when stereo became the norm as positioning became much important and plonking 2 corner speakers in 2 corners was rarely successful, although perfectly good for mono where an “omni-directional” sound was generally preferred over point source. Happy days!
 

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Very interesting thread - the magic formula for speakers to excel in classical music is one I have often thought about.

I listen to a lot of classical music, but then I also listen to a lot of rock / pop etc and tonal accuracy throughout is something I pay attention to, whether it's a lute or a Les Paul. I guess the magic 'extra' something I need for classical music is when I'm listening to a large orchestra playing a symphony - Bruckner / Mahler or the like ... When you have such a mass of instruments being played very loud, it takes a special speaker to really make sense of it all, and to present a huge soundstage where you can follow the individual instruments with clear definition, air and separation etc

When I was listening to vinyl (only streaming now) my old Tannoy HPD's absolutely excelled with cavernous soundstage, the sound of an orchestra was absolutely thrilling. They were also great for chamber music. However they never gave me the attack and tonal accuracy that I wanted from rock and other kinds of music. I now have a pair of Sonus Fabers which I have been very happy with for a couple of years - I won't change these until I eventually move house and hopefully have a bigger listening space.

Incidentally, I heard the Heco Einklang recently at the excellent Audio Counsel and was very impressed - fabulous VFM. In some ways I thought them superior to their more expensive brother in the range.
 

CnoEvil

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I posted this on the Sonus Faber thread - but I think it's worth repeating on a thread that is looking at how best to reproduce Classical Music from a HiFi system.

I didn't write it - though wish I had - but have shamelessly plagiarised it from someone else, as it beautifully sums up what I think, only better than I have ever managed to:

For me, "warmth" is one of the central characteristics of live acoustic instruments and voices. It's what is generally lacking in reproduced sound.

I'll try to explain what I mean.

For me there sort of two notions of warmth. There's a richness in terms of a filled out, round tone, vs a thin, squeezed, hard tone. And there is warmth in the sense of timbre. Woody resonances sound 'warm.' The resonating body of my acoustic guitar is "warm." One of the things that a speaker has to do is make materials sound like the materials they are, so wood sounds like wood, not like some electronic or plastic recreation.

Human voices are "warm" because they are come from human flesh vs plastic or metal. But in many sound systems, singers sound to me as if made of non-human timbre - there is an electronic, artificial timbre, not "real human flesh and blood warmth."

There's also warmth in terms of harmonic complexity.

I was streaming an internet radio station devoted to acoustic guitar pieces through my iMac 5K computer yesterday. The iMac speakers are suprisingly decent given what the design enforces on them. But though one could identify all the types of guitars being played - acoustic steel string there, classical here, 12 string there - none actually sounded as guitar sound timbrally. All were blanched of tonal character, stripped of complexity, like little plastic toy guitars.

I picked up my own acoustic guitar and played along. The difference in sonic richness was really something. A single string played in my real guitar sound richer and more complex than an entire guitar through my iMac speakers. Even a steel string had a feeling of "warmth" compared to the crappy reproduction, insofar as it sounded of such a rainbow of tone, so round. When I play my real guitar, my mind sees warm colors of wood, golden string harmonics mixed with silver. Most guitar recordings played through speaker systems sound detailed, but tonally grayed out. (As was the case when I listened to some super transparent, pricey speakers at a pal's place recently).

So "warmth" to me is that organic, real richness, harmonic complexity - the real person vs robot thing.

Finally, going back to the first version of warmth: the size of the sound. I find a common aspect of reproduced sound to be a diminution of the richness and size of an instrument. Everything sounds squeezed, stripped, compressed. If you hear a real sax played in front of you, or trombone or trumpet, it's stunning how the sound is so BIG and blooms and fills the room. By comparison, most recorded instruments sound like you are watching them from the event horizon of a black hole, as they are being squeezed tiny. A single acoustic guitar string pluck, a single bowed string on a violin or cello, is so much thicker, has so much more body and roundness, than in most reproduced sound.

And that's a sense of warmth that I like as well. (Warmth being in that case a sense of feeling the sound, of the instrument moving air).

So some rare speakers for me manage to convey the sparkling harmonics and woody body of an acoustic guitar similar to what I hear in real life. Some portray a particularly rich, physical sense of body (e.g. Devore "O" series speakers being a nice example).

Given warmth is such a feature of real sound to me, it's something I've strived for my system to display, or impart. I have some Thiel 2.7 speakers (if anyone thinks all Thiels are bright, or thin, these would dispel that in a moment), and I've used Conrad Johnson Premier 12 tube amps for decades, as they impart an organic richness and roundness to the speakers. And of course paying attention to speaker positioning and room acoustics has helped me avoid artifacts I find artificial, and dial in that timbral warmth.

When I was at my friend's house listening to some super clear and detailed speakers he has at the moment (will leave them unnamed for now), I was unmoved as NOTHING sounded organic and warm. I'd compare the sound of the vocalist on the recording to the real voices of people speaking in the room, and the difference was stark: even 'natural jazz vocal recordings' sounded electronic, processed, steely around the edges, hard, made of the wrong stuff, compared to the wet, damped, fleshy timbre of real speaking voices.

But...at home when I replayed some of the same vocal tracks, as well as some of the same trumpet, sax pieces, THERE was that organic warmth I was missing at my friend's place! Big, rich, round, not hard, with the right tonal color, not dark, not bright...just naturally warm. I compared it to my wife's voice as she spoke and, unlike the other system, the sound from the speakers was beautifully continuous with the sound of a real voice. It sounded warm and organic. It was tremendously satisfying.

Sorry for blabbing on, but this whole "warmth" and "tone" thing is something I'm a bit obsessed with, so there ya go.

BTW, as I must have mentioned, I auditioned the Magico A3s. At least in my audition, they didn't quite do that warmth thing I crave. Though they were stupendous in many respects - that clarity and resolution, without brightness, and a super sophistication in rendering the distinctive details between instruments. I wondered what I'd think of them if I put them on my CJ amps, and tweaked them at home.
 
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montesquieu

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I had a single similar looking Tannoy (bought by my dad in mono days) but it was fitted with the 12" dual concentric driver. An expensive speaker when bought new - £60-0-0d I seem to remember. Good in its day, but a far cry from modern speakers. I ditched those quaint 50s style angled legs that added to their look of antiquity! Corner speakers disappeared when stereo became the norm as positioning became much important and plonking 2 corner speakers in 2 corners was rarely successful, although perfectly good for mono where an “omni-directional” sound was generally preferred over point source. Happy days!

Mine are custom designs by Paul Coupe of RFC Audio, they look like original 1959 Tannoy Canterburys (though probably closer in size to Yorks) but use in 12in HPDs from about 1971. The cabinet itself is designed and built using modern acoustic modelling tools and built to modern standards of bracing and damping, with a very high quality custom-built crossover.

Anyone who believes Tannoys honk, are woolly, muddy or cuddly or don't do rock solid bass have to hear these - vintage Tannoys sound 'lovely but a bit old-fashioned' for two reasons, first of all most crossovers have drifted pretty badly and in any case aren't really constructed to modern standards in terms of wiring, connectors etc; and the old cabinets for the most part left a lot to be desired in terms of stiffness or even in terms of the volume/venting being calculated to match the capabilities of the driver.

G R Fountain, Tannoy's founder, famously said 'we aren't in the furnuture business' and for much of the period up till relatively recently, Tannoy cabinets were little more than an afterthought. Third party makers like Lockwood, common in recording studios in the 60s and 70s, were scarcely any better than the factory speakers (though they can be improved a lot by a bit of bracing and stiffening). In a decent cab, such as Simon Mears's ones mentioned by Rabski, or Paul's designs - he has several at different sizes - you really hear what these dual concentric drive units were capable of.

Just to add, like most corner speakers they don't necessarily sound their best in corners, sounding better used like a nomal pair of speakers out a bit from the corners, though the big flat front baffle and the side placement of the tuning vents mean you don't have to worry about the detail of placement as side relections or distance from the back wall make little different to the overall sound.
 

Blzebub

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Just to add, like most corner speakers they don't necessarily sound their best in corners, sounding better used like a nomal pair of speakers out a bit from the corners, though the big flat front baffle and the side placement of the tuning vents mean you don't have to worry about the detail of placement as side relections or distance from the back wall make little different to the overall sound.
Are you sure? Bass is omnidirectional, and so I fail to understand how these particular loudspeakers can possibly be immune from room acoustics/bass modes.
 

hearhere

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Tannoy cabinets were little more than an afterthought. Third party makers like Lockwood, common in recording studios in the 60s and 70s, were scarcely any better than the factory speakers (though they can be improved a lot by a bit of bracing and stiffening).
Interesting. While my dad was listening to his single Canterbury, I was reading Gilbert Briggs' books about speaker design. At the time, Wharfedale's top model was the huge Airedale - a 6 sided enclosure that could be corner placed or against a wall. In his "Cabinet Handbook" of 1962, he said of the Airdale "Although difficult or probably impossible to make at home, we are including drawings as they may be helpful to readers in more remote corner of the earth" Whether this Yorkshireman was referring to the Home Counties I don't know, but this was a challenge I accepted. The cabinets, as well as needing all those odd cutting angles, had a sand-filled panel above the 15" bass driver, quarry tiles fixed to the largest side panels and a mid-height bracing shelf, all to increase rigidity and reduce resonance. Although Tannoy may not have been so enlightened, Wharfedale certainly was! I went on to build a second speaker when I converted to stereo, changed upwards-firing to downwards-firing 8" mid and 3" top drivers (with conical deflectors) and later to new KEF drivers (B130, B110 and T33) all forward facing. I used these speakers, keeping them upgraded as best I could for 20 years or so and sold them eventually in favour of KEF's top-of-the-range Reference 107s. Those home-built Wharfedales were sold for a good price to a new owner who upgraded the XO and was apparently delighted with their sound. I'd be very interested to see how these dinasaurs would sound in my present system compared with my current speakers. Peter

Wharfedale Airdales B.jpg Wharfedale Airdales Back.jpg
 

montesquieu

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Yes I had a pair of these Wharfedales for a while, bought out of curiosity around the same time as I was running a pair of Tannoy GRFs (custom mid-horn design) with 15in Monitor Golds and custom crossovers. They weren't bad TBH and all the up-firing stuff certainly gave an interesting airy feel to the treble, but performance was well short of the Tannoys on just about every measure. Would have been interesting to hear them with your modifications. Mostly they lived in the study and I later replaced them with a pair of Quad ESL 63s.
 

montesquieu

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Are you sure? Bass is omnidirectional, and so I fail to understand how these particular loudspeakers can possibly be immune from room acoustics/bass modes.

Very large front baffles have a lot of useful benefits but one of the main ones is a reduction in problems with side reflections, while I also understand they have a useful impact on the frequency at which bass becomes perceived as omnidirectional. (Don't ask me the maths though).

With regards to base nodes, Paul measured the room before he decided on the tuning and pitched the frequency just above any likely room node - it is possible to calculate these things though I don't ask me what he actually calculated (it's a reasonable room about 5m x 6m playing down the long side).

As for the positioning of the vents, a rear vent can cause a lot of issues with rear wall placement, the side vents mean that's not an issue.

I had huge issues trying to get some top of the range AN-E's to work in the same room because of reflections and issues with the rear wall placement, I suffer none of this with the big Tannoys.
 

hearhere

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Yes I had a pair of these Wharfedales for a while, bought out of curiosity around the same time as I was running a pair of Tannoy GRFs (custom mid-horn design) with 15in Monitor Golds and custom crossovers. They weren't bad TBH and all the up-firing stuff certainly gave an interesting airy feel to the treble, but performance was well short of the Tannoys on just about every measure. Would have been interesting to hear them with your modifications. Mostly they lived in the study and I later replaced them with a pair of Quad ESL 63s.
Good to hear from a fellow ex-Airedale owner! Yes the "airy" feeling from the upwards-facing mid and top was of course the intention in mono days. I didn't like the slotted top panel in the Wharfedale-built version (I was sharing a flat at the time and the prospect of a cup of coffee or glass of wine being spilt on the top wasof serious concern) So I pointed the original Wharfedale 8" and 3" drivers downwards with conical deflectors made from aluminium. Probably far from ideal but at least the sound came out of the front and the drivers were pretected from spillages! The biggest improvement was fitting the much more modern KEF drivers that all faced forward. Embedding the small tweeter into the existing d=sand-filled panel was a challenge, but not impossible. I wish I had digital photos of these old speakers - I'll look out some transparencies one day and digitise them! They often appeared in various magazines as they unintentionally got used as props!
 

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