Tolerating extremes

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Tolerating extremes
One of the more fascinating speakers I have heard is the MBL Radialstrahler, an expensive full range loudspeaker that pushes air with pulsating "balloons" (flexible metallic spheres) driven by the same voice coils we normally associate with cone drivers. These metal balloons move the air in a 360˚ pattern unlike the hemispherical radiation of a conventional driver. The net result of this circular pulsation is to envelop the listener in sound from just about anywhere in the room. It's really quite a unique experience. I would encourage listeners to spend time in an MBL showroom if you get the chance. That said, I have never wanted to take a pair home. To my ears, they sound so far in the direction of bright and sterile as to outweigh the speaker's magic. Fortunately, tons of people disagree with me and there is a reverence for this speaker that it rightly deserves. I don't want to come across as bashing a fine product. I am not. My interests lie more in the observation of what limits we're willing to tolerate to get a benefit seemingly unavailable anywhere else. We don fur coats and enter frozen lockers to sip vodka in style. Like listeners ignoring Doppler distortion to bathe in the coherence a single driver offers, we are amazingly adaptive listeners. We can turn a blind eye to aesthetic oddities like speakers masquerading as insects and animals, or a deaf ear to narrow frequency bands stripped of their highs and lows if our foot starts tapping. We tolerate extremes both to enjoy the underlying fruits and to be dazzled by the sideshow. I never miss an exhibition of the new or the weird because often these technological outliers are bold enough to spark the innovation we can all enjoy.
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Paul McGowan

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