Practicality vs Quality: Transistors vs Tubes, Dome Tweeters vs Horns
In the world of audio equipment, there are many examples of newer technologies displacing traditional designs - even when the old approaches arguably delivered superior sound quality.
Take transistors replacing vacuum tubes in amplifiers. Transistors, invented in the 1950s, offered the practical benefits of smaller size, cooler operation, and lower manufacturing costs compared to tube circuits. This allowed consumer stereo amplifiers to flourish.
But audiophiles will still swear by tube amps today. The reason? Tubes offer subtle advantages in sound quality - lower distortion, superior dynamics, and a rich, warm tone. The tube sound is hard to duplicate with solid-state components.
A similar analogy can be made with dome tweeters and horn-loaded compression drivers. Lightweight dome tweeters emerged as a more affordable, practical alternative to bulky horn assemblies in the 1950s and 60s. Domes could fit easily into bookshelf speakers and hi-fi systems.
However, horn tweeters have technical merits. Their sensitivity, transient response, and control over dispersion allow horn designs to produce incredibly dynamic, detailed high frequencies.
Well-designed horns can play loudly and cleanly.
So again, the newer dome technology won out based on affordability, practicality, and lower manufacturing costs. But horns never disappeared from high-end speakers where audiophiles still appreciate their virtues.
The lesson here is that newer is not always better in audio. The priorities of affordability and practicality shape designs for the mass market. But traditional approaches based on quality and performance continue to thrive among audio enthusiasts.
When it comes to your own system, consider whether sound quality is more important than affordability or convenience. There may be some "vintage" solutions that offer subtle but rewarding advantages over modern compromises.