Beauhorn B2/2 Horn Loudspeaker System Reviewed

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Sorry to use 'horns' and 'bull' in the same sentence with the former not connected to the latter's skull, but horns are to me as a red rag to a bull. Veteran readers know that the only horn speakers that do not induce migraines in KK are Chave-era Lowthers, original Klipsch models (e.g. La Scala, Belle and the K'horn) and certain vintage masterpieces from Decca, Voigt, Tannoy et al. I could even spend many hours with a JBL Paragon. But modern horns? To me, they're simply part of a nasty and, indeed, underground political movement that exists only to further the cause of single-ended triodes.

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Because horns are pretty much the only speakers able to work adequately with amplifiers delivering less than 10W/ch, they are a natural salvation for those who bought into the single-ended triode craze. As S.E.T.s have even greater problems than a mere dearth of power, including incredibly soggy frequency extremes, horns also suited the S.E.T. purveyors' purposes by compensating with a bass cut-off at one end and screaming treble at the other. By sheer accident, some S.E.T./horn packages even sound listenable.

Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, I still dream about Loth-X and Wavac valve amps, while designers including Tim de Paravicini, Be Yamamura and a few others have worked with either or both S.E.T. and horn technologies without acting like the 'useful idiots' of the power-brokers behind the conspiracy. (If you think Kessler is paranoid, then you're in denial about behind-the-scenes 'persuasion' in the audio industry...even when the stakes are as low as selling horns and valves. Coercion isn't the sole preserve of vast corporations with money and lawyers. )

Why this long preamble? Because I firmly believe that the chaps behind Beauhorn are too genteel and downright 'British' to be part of any great scheme, maybe even na�ve. They simply, genuinely and deeply believe in what they're doing. If not, then how could they produce something as ridiculous-looking as the Beauhorn B2.2 and deliver it with a straight face?

Make no mistake: in an industry littered with absurd-looking products, the Beauhorn is a monumental - emphasis on the 'mental' - achievement. It drew peals of laughter from everyone who saw the pair in my room. Except for a friend's wife, who gave me a withering look, like an antidote to Viagra, and turned on her heels and left. It has been likened in every UK show report or review, since the birth of the B2 in 2001, to the BBC2 logo. And it's not just grotesque: the Beauhorn's size is enough to cause concern, with a footprint of 13in wide and 30in deep, and standing an imposing 47in tall. Finished in a cheesy metallic gold paint, reminiscent of a car re-spray at a local chop shop, it looks home-made and, well, psychotic. Beauhorn will apply other colours to it, but the words 'polish' and 'turd' spring to mind.

And there's not a lot to the speaker, truth be told. Made from 19mm MDF, the enclosure houses nothing inside bar a minimum of bracing. Those of you who swear buy the audio tyre-kicking trick of rapping a cabinet will reel back in horror: it's like tapping on Dracula's bed, minus the Transylvanian earth to damp it. Then again, it doesn't need anything inside, because this is, as with the majority of horns, a single-drive unit system. No crossover, no convoluted internal transmission path, just a rear-loaded horn firing out at the bottom.

Replacing the Fostex 168 Sigma of the still-available Beauhorn B2 is an ATD driver from Italy; all-new itself, the ATD is enjoying its first-ever commercial appearance in this UK speaker. It measures 5in in diameter, with a 3.5in cone mounted on a pleated, doped fabric surround; the cone's material is paper pulp with 'added exotic wood fibres'. The driver features a 1in voice coil, made from oxygen-free copper on Kapton former, and it has a ceramic, shielded magnet. This is fed to a single set of Gold Scorpion terminals. (If there's one good thing about single-driver horns, it's that they preclude worries about bi-wiring.) No grille spoils the view of the ATD, but Beauhorn protects it with a couple of clever bent-wire barriers that will prevent the entry of elbows in not fingers.

Also part of the '2.2' brief is a new plinth that can also be added to the plain vanilla B2. The VibraPlinth is an isolation platform that flies in the face of those who believe that speakers should be bolted to the floor to withstand Force 10 gales. Damned if I understand what's going on in it, a box that appears to be mounted on some elastic material guaranteed NOT to present a rigid platform. The Beauhorn Boys' eyes lit up when I likened it to Max Townshend's rocking platforms and they agreed that Max's philosophy, rather than that of the fixed-to-terra-firma brigade, was similar to their own.

While the listening tests confirmed that the anticipated results of a wiggly platform were not forthcoming - no image smearing, no bass overhang - the VibraPlinth is a disconcerting device to use. Y'see, it allows the speakers to rock left-and-right, and I have visions of someone leaning on a B2.2 and pushing it over. Yes, it was confirmed that the speaker can lean too far if you push on it. Be warned.

Read more about the B2/2 loudspeakers on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Beauhorn B2/2 Horn Loudspeaker System

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Set-up is a problem-free state of affairs: you simply aim the speakers to fire past the listening seat, crossing behind the listener, as opposed to, say, certain Sonus Fabers that 'cross' in front of the listener, or Wilsons that fire directly at the hot seat. That's it. I connected the B2.2s to the EAR-Yoshino 859 integrated S.E.T. amp, fed by the Marantz CD-12/DA-12 CD source and the SME 10 turntable with SME Series V arm and Koetsu Urushi cartridge through the EAR-Yoshino 324 phono stage. Speaker wires included ABcable Rubino and the latest 'mm' technology Transparent wire, while interconnects were from Transparent and AudioQuest (yes, the new ones with the batteries attached to them - which I will cover soon against my own free will).

However much taste, conditioning, intelligence or - yes - paranoia may want you to recoil from the Beauhorn B2.2s, they are simply irresistible. If these were not the days of political correctness, I could whip up a saucy analogy about Kat Slater, but I won't alienate our three female readers with a display of sexism. Suffice it to say, I knew instantly that my listening partners would have to be blindfolded to avoid prejudice. So neither Peter Roberts nor Jim Creed were told what they'd be hearing, let alone seeing.

To my surprise and delight, they both guessed (and these were separate sessions, without the two consulting each other) that they were listening to electrostatics! And it wasn't just the dearth of deep bass. Yes, the Beauhorns sound so 'light' that even a non-bass addict such as I was driven to comment about the truncated, one-note nature of the bottom octave. But it was the clarity, detail, openness and 'crispness' that suggested ESLs.

Openness? From a box that resonates with a hollowness better in keeping with something badged Slingerland? It's just part of a whole series of mini-events and characteristics that defy belief. I don't know the people from Beauhorn well enough to know if they're practical jokers, cynics, crackpots or simply contrary by nature, but it's as if they set out to prove that the sun sets in the east. A small driver, a crappy enclosure - about the only thing the B2.2 appears to do 'right' by current thinking (or one school of it) is to mount its driver on a baffle too small to damage the dispersion. And yet this thing sounds at times like a massive dipole with a planar radiator! I was reminded of Glenn Croft's ability to take the most mundane ingredients, only to create a cost-effective valve masterpiece.

If you do audition these speakers, blindfolds are advised because prejudice is something hard to avoid. Room darkened, and sonic images floated in front of me, completely in denial of any boundaries such as the extremities of the speakers: there were distinct sounds past the sides of the Beauhorns, stage depth only slightly shy of the Quad ESL-57 and image height nearly on a par with Wilson's WATT Puppy System 7. But it was almost like one of those optical illusion illustrations, the ones where you have to stare and stare until a shape pops into view.

What happens is this: the sound, especially the spatial presentation, is so unlike anything you may have heard before, , that you have to re-orient yourself. For one thing, the system is bass-shy, nearly to LS3/5a levels, and the bass you do have is lumpy and one-note. But it doesn't matter because the 2.2 forces you to listen to the zone that matters: the midband. Voices have a naturalness that I've only heard bettered by the LS3/5a and the original Quads, and the wasn't even a hint of sibilance. Ella, Aretha, Eva Cassidy and Peggy Lee, each had all of the correct textures, the sounds of breathing, and presented in a clearly defined space. It was chilling in its veracity.

And there were two characteristics which even I will admit are the norm for horns, but not necessarily for other formats: a sense of 'ease' due to the high sensitivity and lack of hunger, and particularly good 'attack' on transients. Diana Ross' 'Muscles' is an old favourite for transients at all frequencies, and the 2.2s dealt with the material with aplomb, bar the bass smacks. It was then and only then that my ardour would cool; Kodo drums are not recommended. (Again, though, I speak with eyes closed.)

If you want to understand the Beauhorn B2.2, go see the film . It will teach you about the meaninglessness and shallowness of appearance, about not judging a book by its cover or any other clich� you can muster regarding looks versus substance. But still it breaks my heart that the Beauhorn is so goddam hideous because, at 3984 with the stands, it deserves a huge audience. It is so enjoyable a speaker that you forget all about flaws such as the lack of deep bass. And yet I fear that the only homes it will find are those where the customer has a separate 'hi-fi room' or utter disregard toward aesthetic concerns. Or no wife.

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• Learn about subwoofer pairing options for the B2/2.

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