The vanishing trick

February 25, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

Loudspeakers are quite the enigma.

On the one hand, one of our key purchasing decisions is based on their size and looks.

On the other hand, we want them to disappear.

And to make things even more interesting, we know that when it comes to speakers, bigger is better.

When we are giving a tour to someone, it’s always fascinating how the aspen speakers are presented.

“Wow, they are beautiful.”

This exclamation is typically followed by the touching and petting of them.

“Have a seat,” I say, “and let me show you how they disappear.”

And rarely does anyone ever question this instruction, odd as it might seem.

The job of the most visually dominant pieces in the room is to vanish.

That’s quite the trick.

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53 comments on “The vanishing trick”

  1. “While I was walking up the stairs,
    I saw a man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today…
    I wish he’d bloody go away”

    Just another good reason to close your eyes when you’re in the sweet-spot 😉

    1. In the recent past, someone made a comment that keeping your eyes open while listening is even better than keeping them closed. So, I tried it out and damn, on many of my recordings the person who made this comment was correct! I’ve made it a habit now to keep my eyes open when I listen, yet not every recording gives me this pleasure. Some recordings necessitate closing my eyes. I’m not going to try to figure out why this sensation is recording dependent to my ears. What do you think FR? You’ve been in the business for many years and you listen almost every day. Got any ideas as to why this is happening in my listening room?

      1. For me Neil, I always keep my eyes wide open, as with my small intimate quasi near-field 90sf listening room and 2-way .5cf stand monitors, the 2-channel disappearing magic happens Equally in daylight or darkness-eyes open or closed. Of course, this 3D soundstage presentation Is genre/recording dependent! 😉

      2. Hey Neil,
        I’m not sure about the selectivity of open or closed, that’s a very personal (subjective) thing.
        For me, when I listen to Rock ‘n Roll my eyes are generally open, however, when listening to unplugged (acoustic) music with a
        good 3D soundstage I don’t want the visual reference of where
        the loudspeakers are interfering with the wonderful soundstage
        & therefore I find it advantageous to close my eyes to let my ears
        have preferential input, since one’s vision is usually one’s primary input.

  2. Bigger is better? Don’t think so. Right size of speakers for the room size, that why most manufacturers make speakers in ranges of varying size.

    Don’t forget colour. That was the make or break factor in our choice.

      1. Fair enu’ff. Martin. I’ll hafta
        Look up their sizes.
        What were the salient differences in their sound ? Doesn’t the 96 have a WG/horn tweeter?

        As far as size or “right size”—- I’ve always found that adding up radiating surfaces, it’s better to go a little bigger. I’ve owned enough 5”/1” 2-ways. 7-8” and then we start to move enough air. And we can move enough air with less cone/motor excursion. Adjust the volume/ gain.

        1. Hi cvd,
          The tweeters are the same in both models, it’s all about
          the bass & being mindful of not loading up the room with
          low wavelengths that, at the realistic volume levels that
          I listen to, will boom da room which is 13′ x 18′.

          The O/93’s are quoted by the manufacturer to go down
          to 28-30Hz whereas the O/96’s are quoted as going
          down to 23-25 Hz.
          I’m amazed at some of the low notes that can & do
          pressurise my listening room that come from my O/93’s.

  3. Manufacturers also make a range of speaker sizes to meet different budgets.
    Fingers crossed that the choice for room size and budget are in alignment. 🙂

    Colour options seem a more recent and welcome addition.
    Previously it has been about varying shades of brown.
    A dynamic look engenders thoughts of a dynamic sound.

  4. “This exclamation is typically followed by the touching and petting of them.”
    This is an interesting behavioural trait I think we can all relate to.
    It’s just about acceptable with speakers.
    Less so with humans. 😉

  5. „Bigger is better“!??? This might be true for horn loudspeakers, planar speakers and subwoofers. But never ever for passive multi-way dynamic loudspeakers with multiple drivers each having its specific pattern of dispersion. These multiple drivers produce a most complex and non-identical sound fields resulting in inherent problems in the crossover region. Simply comparing the degree of „high fidelity“ of those complex designs with a good pair of headphones and everybody will hear the „difference“. Not to mention the requirements for the minimum size of the listening room and for the listening distance. And sadly too: many recording engineers believe: the more microphones the better the sound.

    1. Seems like the bigger the Magnaplanar models are the more realistic the sound becomes… That is, if you have a really big listening space. Wendell Dillard has been traveling around the country to some of his best dealers and they are gobsmacked by the sound produced by his latest model. They are supposedly really large.

      1. I also heard about a year ago that Wendell was touring with a spectacular set is smaller towers. But i have heard nothing further. They were supposed to be as good as the 30s. I wait and wait

  6. I was always most interested in the smallest speakers offering full range performance (without gap) together with subs. Quite some time ago this was the Wilson Watt/Puppy (which I didn’t own) and probably its successors are still the smallest full range developable high end speakers, due to their visually most disappearing low height. For me this would still be a strong visual buying factor for them.

    Another fascinating smaller big speaker was the Shahinian Diapason.

  7. ‘Disappearing speakers’ doesn’t strike me as a unique quality, but rather one most audio people demand or expect. I’ve got big speakers (~6 ft x ~1.5ft x ~ 1.5ft) in a small room. They disappear sonically – are hypersensitive to placement – and throw a reasonable sound stage depending on what the ‘imagined’ row seating is.

    The comment I’ve heard most is ‘wow they must play loud’….
    Speaker petting is a fetish… and probably not a good one.

    Like the old saying ….Size matters, but how it’s used is more important…

      1. Missed on the depth…
        They are 69.875 in x18in x12 in (at the deepest part) the depth is not symmetrical across the width. So I estimated the depth wrong when posting this am 😀

  8. A magician’s vanishing act typically relies on restricting the audience’s view from the sides of the stage. In audio, from the listening chair the listener sees mostly the narrow fronts of modern speakers. From other vantage points in the room the speakers’ deep sides are more visible and their visual mass can be more imposing. There are exceptions, like the Harbeths, which are wider than deep. So they look more massive viewed from the front than from the sides.

    My house has a view of the downtown L.A. skyline on the horizon. From my vantage point (looking SE) the tall buildings look skinny and spaced far apart. From most other directions, the scale of the buildings looks very different: they look wider and shorter, densely grouped and overlapping. From any direction the buildings don’t visually disappear, no matter how you look at them. Nor do you want them to. Fortunately they are far enough away to disappear acoustically. I’m not fond of a holographic urban soundstage.

    1. [I’m not fond of a holographic urban soundstage.]

      LOL, Joseph…don’t believe I’d enjoy that either! Living in SE La., we must contend with atmospheric sound stages from periodic low altitude flyovers of Sikorsky S-76 / S-92 and Bell 412 Helicopters (oilfield activities). My CDP “pause” button can get a work out! 😉

      Paul, I’d bet the FR30/FR20 disappear 100% of the time…eyes wide open or shut/lights on or off! Part of mind-blowing 2-channel magic experiences happens when “what you See” (nice system setup) vs “what you Hear” (live musical performances) does not match or add up! When music playback consistently places one in the recorded performing venue…IMO, You’ve Arrived!! Ted

  9. The link below should take you to an image of my stereo system. I have never heard anyone describe the dark grey monolithic looking speakers as beautiful. Nor do they think much of how the beast of a power amp in between the two speakers looks. Both the speakers and the amp follow the basic edict of the Bauhaus School that form follows function.

    Then I start to play music through them and no one seems to care how they look. You can call that magic if you like.

    1. Your system looks beautiful Tony, really beautiful. When it comes to system setup, looks can be deceiving though.
      If you say that no one ever complains about the look after listening, then I absolutely believe you. Like Ted replied in your comment and another comment above, ‘you have arrived’ and ‘You-Are-There’. They obviously mean the same thing.

      1. Thank you both. I wish I could invite all of you over to hear the system play music, however, my wife would have something to say about that and it would be “NO”.

        1. When I was married, we had company over all the time. Many of these folk were engineers and their wives in my department and our closest friends. Music, great wine, cheese and fruit with crusty bread followed by an excellent dinner prepared by yours truly. A good time was had by all.

        2. What if we tempt her with tickets to an all inclusive wine filled spa day with exotic tropical hyrdopath misting cave walk, full massage, manni & peddi, hair and facial mud makeover, full buffet brunch, hot tub seated viewing of The Notebook & Sleepless in Seattle, a essential oil sauna champagne tasting, a new model shoes exhibit followed by a seven course personal chef cocktail dinner and dessert concluding with a chippendales show…?
          Might we get a couple albums in then? We’ll leave our shoes outside and take our empties home with us….?

          1. None of that would work with her ( not her style ). What would work is if you could get me to have my knee surgery which with a knee that now works I would finish the three house projects I started and then get rid of a least half of my pack rat crap. Then she might think about saying yes. Let’s just say that currently I am pretty far down on her A list. 😮

    2. That’s a magnificent system in a beautiful room Tony! I find these days that I glance at the room before I take in the system and it queues me to the anticipated sound of the system. Judging from your picture, most surfaces are solid with a floor rug. That makes me think that your system will have a lively sound. I’ll bet it’s really engaging, in a good way.

      Many years ago, I briefly had a pair of the original Advent speakers. Tried to like them, but they were dead-sounding. I demo’ed them for a buyer in my garage and they sounded so much better there. I’d had them in a dead space before. The room is so important.

    3. Beautiful setup. The big room, high ceilings and simplicity of the decor help make it all work. Even the red graphic on the painting lifts the eye above the speakers. If I were to walk in a room like that, the first thing I would say is: “Fire it up. I want to hear it!”

  10. With Magepans there’s not so much the touching or petting… but there is always the frontal approach with the accompanying slow motion vertical full ‘head to toe’ examination followed by the curious peering around to the back in search of what isn’t there. This is almost always followed by the “These are SPEAKERS?” And yet another suspicious quick – almost sneak attack glance around one edge as if there might hide’n’seek participant hiding behind the 6 footers. And then you wait the five to eight seconds for the obligatory but slightly disbelieving “Hmm!”

    1. Or, assistance given to the listener in picking their lower jaw up off the floor and convincing them, “There Is No surround-sound-system” in or outside the music room! 😉

  11. Speakers vanishing, completely, is one of the outcomes of evolving a playback chain to a high enough integrity. This was a falling off the chair moment for me over 35 years ago – and it happened with second hand, nothing special bookshelf speakers; what triggered the turnaround was that the last piece of the jigsaw was in place, I managed to get the last weakness in the rig tamed enough – but not enough to stop the illusion slowly fading, as another weakness asserted itself. Which could be reset by doing a power cycling.

    Which started the journey of the last decades – speakers are *not* the answer; the absence of weaknesses, is.

    Top notch vanishing means that it is literally impossible to pinpoint where the speakers are: blindfold someone, let him walk around the room – stop him bumping into the rig! – and he will be unable to locate either speaker.

    1. Huh???What???When???Why???

      When a “Synergistic Balance” of Components+Speakers+Cabling+Listening Room has been reached, the On-Going and Never Ending WEAKNESS in any system will be either the Recording Or Your Ears!!! 😉

      1. “Synergistic Balance” is just another way of saying, that the combo of everything has very few, or no significant weaknesses – in most cases this is a matter of luck, or throwing enough money at it over a long period of time. One can take a very rapid shortcut at getting there, by knowing what’s going on, and taking the best possible steps at each stage – also, lots of money is saved.

        Every new vehicle you buy these days is a “Synergistic Balance” of its parts – it works well, straight off the showroom floor. Because it’s engineered as a package, to get maximum bang for the buck. If you decided to ‘make’ your own car, by buying engine, transmission, suspension, body, etc, from separate car makers spare parts shops, and cobbling it all together, and try to get the resulting Frankenstein monster to operate well under all conditions, what do you think your chances are? But that’s how the audio game is played out …

          1. And the reason is, that the executives directed their engineers to change how their vehicles behaved. To appeal to a bigger market, most likely. They were fully in control of the situation, it wasn’t because they didn’t understand how to build good handling cars.

            The balance was still there – but was altered to suit other objectives.

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