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Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I’ve owned planars and electrostatic loudspeakers, but no true ribbons. Still, I’m not sure I feel like I’m missing out on anything. I had interest in Apogee full range ribbon speakers several years ago and have the room for them, but too large and hard to drive properly, so I abandoned that idea!!

By the way, in this post, Paul says we don’t need loudness or dynamics out of our tweeters and I sure disagree with that!!

Fundamental differences

A planar ribbon is fundamentally different than an electrostat and, because of that, they sound quite different too.

In both types of drivers, we start with the same sort of plastic substrates like Mylar or Kapton, but there the two radically depart. To make a ribbon driver we need to layer on a thin sheet of copper in the form of a coil, then add tension to this diaphragm and suspend it between powerful magnets. For the electrostat, we coat the substrate with a microscopically thin layer of conductive material (like graphite), add tension, and then sandwich between two sheets of perforated metal.

In both designs, our goal is to move, in cadence with an electrical signal representing music, as thin and lightweight a sheet of plastic as possible. Between the two designs, the electrostat wins the race for low mass and thin but, as with everything in engineering, it comes with both the good and the bad: faster transients at the expense of dynamics and loudness.

Fundamental differences between design approaches exist to explore the extremes of what is possible. From those explorations are born whole categories of product types.

Some of our very best choices are made when we pick and choose between what works and what doesn’t. I remember one of the first high-end systems I ever fell in love with. It featured Jantzen electrostatic panels for the tweeters—perfect because at tweeter frequencies we don’t need dynamics or loudness. When it came to the midrange, ribbons were used and, for the bass, dynamic drivers. The owner of that system had taken advantage of three fundamentally different designs to build upon their strengths without suffering their downsides.

The point is giving yourself permission to mix and match the best of what works even if they are fundamentally different.


Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

What makes a reference track?

In yesterday’s post, I offered an extended list of my reference tracks.

Some of you may have noticed that not all tracks are great recordings. What gives?


Whether you’re setting up your stereo system, designing new products, or simply enjoying music, the key to great reproduction is diversity. A proper system should be able to handle a wide variety of tracks without shedding volumes of dander. If you can only enjoy perfect recordings then you might have to rethink some of your equipment or setup choices.

The very best systems show off great tracks and handle without upset the tough ones.

Depending on your goals, diversity can also work against you.

I remember well one of my first introductions into the dark secrets of the Hi Fi industry. While on the road and working with a well known dealer, I watched how he used a very specific tracklist of demo material to sell a certain brand of loudspeakers—a very famous UK brand with a particularly bright tweeter. The idea was that speaker, when paired with the right music, stood out from the pack because of how live the highs sounded—every other model sounded dull by comparison. Lots of people went home with that brand only to discover they had to change the rest of their system to deal with the aggressive tweeter (but that’s another story).

The point of all this is simple. The beauty of a diverse playlist is to offer a broad range of challenges for the system. Too much focus on one quality of recording and you may find yourself home with an equipment choice that only plays nice on a small not-so-diverse list of music.


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