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High Efficient Floorstanding Loudspeaker Roundup 2017 AXPONA



  • Product Name: Mother of Burl, The Natural Sound 1, Rival, Destination 3-Way Horn Speaker, 4367
  • Manufacturer: Burwell and Sons, Natural Sound, Volti Audio, Destination Audio, JBL
  • Review Date: May 06, 2017 00:00
  • MSRP: $87,500/pr Mother of Burl; $45,000/pr The Natural Sound 1; $7,900 and up/pr Rival; $95,000/pr Destination 3-Way Horn Speaker $15,000/pr; JBL 4367 $15,000/pr
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool

Brand Model Price (pair) Design Midrange Woofer Tweeter Weight
Burwell and Sons ‘Mother of Burl’ $87,500 3-way    
Horn-loaded Altec 802D compression      driver Altec 803 15” woofer JBL 075 Ring Radiator 125 lbs
Natural Sound   
The Natural Sound 1 $45,000 2-way - 15” field coil woofer 1” field coil tweeter 150 lbs
Volti Audio Rival $7,900 (base price) 3-way 2” compression driver + tractrix horn 15” high-sensitivity woofer 1” compression driver, horn-loaded 125 lbs
Destination Audio Destination 3-Way Horn Speaker $95,000 3-way Modified JBL compression driver in Bi-Radial horn Two custom 16” woofers per speaker using AlNiCo magnets JBL 2404 ultra high frequency compression driver 540 lbs
JBL 4367 $15,000 2-way - 15” differential drive woofer 1” horn-loaded compression tweeter 123 lbs

Our last article covering the AXPONA audio show focused on tower speakers that could be set up in an upscale living room without raising too many eyebrows. The speakers in this segment of our coverage are different. These are, for the most part, behemoths that use horns to control directivity of the sound. They are highly sensitive speakers, and by that we don’t mean their feelings are easily hurt. High sensitivity speakers are designs that get a whole lot more out of the wattage put into them than typical cone and dome speakers. For example, a typical tower speaker might be able to produce an 88 dB loud sound at one meter when fed 2.83V (1 watt at 8 ohms, 2 watts at 4 ohms). The speakers in this article are many times more efficient, where sensitivity values around the upper 90 dB range would not be uncommon. With this, even a 5 watt amplifier would be enough to make these speakers uncomfortably loud for many people. There is a principle in speaker design called Hoffman’s Iron Law which, paraphrased, states you can have two of the following characteristics but not all three: bass extension, high sensitivity, or a small size. It is very clear which one of those traits the following speakers have chosen to forego.

Burwell and Sons ‘Mother of Burl’ 3-way Speaker MSRP: $87,500 / pair


Burwell and Sons is a speaker company on a mission to resurrect classic speakeBurwell_singleC.jpgr components from the past and use them in vintage styled loudspeakers with some modern touches. They use authentic drivers from time-honored Altec and JBL speakers and place them in cabinets of their own design with impeccable woodwork. This is not an easy or inexpensive task. To source these components in good condition and construct the cabinet with such pristine craftsmanship is very challenging. Their website reports that it takes 240 hours to build each set of their speakers. Such dedication is indicative of the passion that Burwell holds for the hi-fi speakers of yesteryear. Each speaker set is also unique in some way and is thus given its own individual name; the set we heard at AXPONA was named ‘Mother of Burl’. ‘Mother of Burl’ is a three-way design, which is a departure from the rest of their aptly-named ‘Homage’ series speakers. An Altec 803 15” horn occupies the larger cabinet section, while Altec 802D compression drivers are used for the mids. Partially hidden in the bass cabinet is a JBL 075 ring radiator tweeter. The cabinet design serves as a tribute to the Altec A7 ‘Voice of the Theater’ speaker which set the standard for cinema sound back in the 1950’s and continued to be used in some cinemas for many decades afterward. The good news is these cabinets do not seem to be quite as large as the original ‘Voice of the Theater’ cabinet, and they use an exquisite burl veneer. The rock tune we were listening to in the Burwell room sounded terrific, and the drum solo sounded alive on the ‘Mother of Burl’ speakers. They may be a tribute to a classic speaker, but I can say that modern music sounds as spectacular on the ‘Mother of Burl’ speakers as the golden oldies.


The Natural Sound 1 MSRP: $45,000 / pair


With respect to some of the other ‘vintage-styled’ speakers in this section of our AXPONA coverageNatural_singleC.jpg, the Natural Sound 1 loudspeakers is both a bit more modern and also a bit more vintage in that it emulates a loudspeaker technology that is considerably older than other designs in this article. The simple and clean cabinetry with its beveled edges and woofer grille flush with the cabinet give the Natural Sound 1 speakers a more modern air than the other speakers listed here, yet still undeniably old-school in its basic design. However, the Natural Sound 1 really pays its tribute to the old school when we looked under the hood. The Natural Sound 1 uses field coil drivers, which is a loudspeaker transducer type rarely used nowadays. In field coil drivers, a copper coil with a direct current charge takes the place of the permanent magnet used in conventional drivers. Of course, these drivers have to be given DC voltage and so have to be plugged into a power source with a rectifier converting the AC source voltage. The early cinema and PA systems of the 1920’s and 30’s all used field coil drivers since the kind of permanent magnets used in modern drivers did not exist back then. Field coil drivers still have a small but devoted following who claim the sound is superior to that of permanent magnet speakers because it can follow the input signal with greater precision. Without getting into the debate of the supposed advantages of field coil drivers, I will simply say that I thought the Natural Sound 1 speakers sounded very good in my time listening to them. I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to hear them not to pass up the chance to hear this unique blend of old and new speaker design.

Volti Audio Rival  MSRP: $7,900 (base price) / pair


Volti Audio have carved out a niche for themselves in recent for high-sensitivity, vintage-styled designs with Volti_singleC.jpgsuperlative cabinetry and finishes. I have always enjoyed the Volti Audio rooms at past AXPONA shows, and this year was no exception, although there was a difference in this years offering. In terms of pricing, Volti’s speakers are middle of the road compared to other speakers at AXPONA, but that still leaves them out of reach for most people. For a change though, the new model they brought this year, the Rival, is not a five-figure speaker. At a $7,900 base price, their pricing is starting to get into the realm of mortal men. Real wood veneer options can hike that price up by over $3k, but that is still an affordable and very audiophile grade speaker. As with these other large, high-sensitivity speakers, dynamics were effortless. Greg Volti was playing some classic rock during my stay in the Volti room, and the percussion as reproduced on the Rivals was as startling as the real thing. These speakers have the dynamic range of live-sound speakers, but without the shouty character. So, in other words, they are a extraordinarily high-powered, high-fidelity loudspeaker. With a 100 dB sensitivity rating, go ahead and put a 5 watt amplifier on them, because it will still have headroom to spare for most people’s tastes. Many of the heavy-duty systems at AXPONA are only fantasy systems for most people, but the Rivals are a speaker set that is priced to be a reality for people of an average income and bills to pay. Well done, Volti Audio!

Destination 3-Way Horn Speakers MSRP: $95,000 / pair


By far the largest of the speakers in this segment of our coverage, not toDestination_single2R.jpg mention the heaviest, the Destination 3-Way Horn Speaker is also, not surprisingly, the most sensitive at an astonishing 105 dB specification. Theoretically a 2-watt amplifier could cause permanent hearing damage within 5 minutes with these speakers! But a speaker system like this isn’t at all about sheer loudness. The advantage of overkill construction like this is, at nominal sound pressure levels, the drivers are well within their most optimum parameters of operation, which means this system will be extremely linear at normal loudness levels. The dynamic peaks will also not be truncated or compressed at all, so you get the full impact of the recording. Distortion should be almost entirely absent in a design like this. In fact, the Destination 3-Way Horn Speakers were being powered by the 1.8 watt Destination Audio tube amplifiers, and were cruising along with more than enough headroom. The speaker design resembles some of the classic speaker components of the past, with a Klipsch Jubilee-esque low-frequency horn (the cabinet part of the speaker) and a Bi-Radial horn of the type conceived by Don Keele Jr. in 1980 and used on a number of subsequent, highly-regarded JBL speakers. Even though such large speakers were crammed inside such a small hotel room, they still sounded great. Although, I would imagine they could do quite a bit better in a larger room. The Destination 3-Way Horn Speakers are very expensive, but considering a set are handmade using old-world techniques taking 6 months to produce, and uses customized drivers, it should be regarded as a lifetime investment, and as such, look to be priced appropriately.

JBL 4367  MSRP: $15,000 / pair


While technically speaking the JBL 4367 is an extremely modern speaker, it does aesthetically resemble wide-baffle vintaJBL_singleC.jpgge designs of the 60’s and 70’s and it does use horn technology, so we will let it pass. Besides that, what it IS doing is too darn cool not to mention. The 4367 is a return to the JBL’s past 2-way designs of the 1950’s and 60’s, using a 12” or 15” woofer mated with a large-format compression driver and horn. The drivers and horn are utterly modern though. Much of the technology is inherited from JBL’s highly-lauded M2 Reference Monitor System, but you can read all about the technology packed into the 4367 speakers in our preview article from last year, or, if you really want to geek out, check out JBL’s white paper. When I was there, they were playing some tracks by Sting, and it sounded as if we were at the mixing console with him in the recording booth. The imaging, dynamics, and detail left nothing to be desired. I was tempted to pull the hotel’s fire alarm and wait till the room cleared and then cart these speakers off into the trunk of my car right then and there, but when I saw that they weighed 135 lbs each, I decided against entering this life of crime. I wonder if JBL will accept a body organ in payment for a set of 4367 speakers? Does anyone know how much a lung is worth? I can probably get by with just one…


In this article we looked at just a few of the big, beefy, high-sensitivity speakers at AXPONA. These were by no means the only ones there; they are just a few that we managed to spend some time with that impressed us. If you have the money and also the floorspace for these speakers, you can be rewarded with the endless dynamics and exquisite sound from these types of systems. In our next article, we ramp things up even more and take a look at some of the more exotic and idiosyncratic speaker systems that we saw at AXPONA 2017.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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