We at GoodSound! have a well-deserved reputation for appreciating high-value products. To be one, an audio component doesn’t necessarily have to be inexpensive, but it does have to offer performance far beyond what a reasonable listener should expect from a product at its price. Examples that come to mind are Aperion’s Verus Grand line of speakers and Anthem’s MRX A/V receivers. But unlike those stellar products, the latest grand bargain that’s come to our attention isn’t a manufactured product at all.
Members of the do-it-yourself loudspeaker community have long followed the happenings at Humble Homemade Hifi, a site that must be considered to be at the center of the amateur speaker-design universe. The man behind the site, erstwhile architect and present entrepreneur Tony Gee, has been sharing his insights about speaker engineering and his many speaker designs since the turn of the century. There have been many of the latter: 63 are listed on the site’s history page, and detailed cabinet and crossover plans are available for most of them on Gee’s download page.
What’s so impressive about Humble Homemade Hifi is that all of Gee’s designs are well thought out, and skillfully designed to maximize performance. It’s true, too, that Gee has a design to meet every conceivable budget, from speakers that can be made for a few hundred dollars a pair all the way up to diamond-tweetered, ceramic-woofered megadesigns whose parts alone cost thousands of dollars, and would command tens of thousands to buy fully assembled. Again, access to Gee’s engineering and design details for all these speakers is absolutely free. HHH will tell you exactly what to buy and how to put it all together. Gee did everything but sell the parts himself, what with his days being taken up with designing buildings and such.
It turns out that when someone earns a reputation for designing speakers that sound and look great, people want fully assembled examples. In fact, Gee received so many such requests, and commissions to design bespoke speakers from scratch, that despite the economy and the risks associated with walking away from an established, successful career, early in 2011 he archived his free HHH designs and, to market the fruits of his design efforts, established TG-Acoustics.
The company’s first product is a bridge between the do-it-yourself spirit of HHH and the professional design and production effort that is TGA. The L’Orfeo speaker kit is not inexpensive at some $2960 USD -- for which the lucky buyer receives matched, high-end drivers, wiring, completed crossovers assembled from boutique parts, binding posts, and ports -- but it ranks very high on the value scale, even if buyers are responsible for building and finishing their own speaker cabinets.
The L’Orfeo is a two-way design. For its midrange-woofer, Gee has specified a model from Danish manufacturer Scan-Speak’s Illuminator series, which tend to be found in speakers that other manufacturers call "statement" or "reference." The L’Orfeo’s tweeter, a Mundorf Air Motion Transformer, is of a particularly high-end pedigree and is used in stratospherically priced speakers like the $54,000/pair Mythos Olon. Yup, these are killer tweeters. But as impressive as the drivers are, the crossover is out of this world.
Gee has an interesting way of explaining his crossover-design theory. In summary, it can be said that he believes in high-quality ingredients used in harmony with each other. For the L’Orfeo, the result is some huge crossovers using parts that are simply not seen outside very-high-end speakers: Jantzen waxed copper-coil inductors, Mundorf capacitors and resistors, etc. Factor in the L’Orfeo’s price of $2960 and what it might cost to have beautifully finished, professionally made cabinets, and the crossover alone makes the L’Orfeo a potential stone-cold bargain.
So how does this marvelous design sound? According to Gee, "This loudspeaker lets you look really deep into the recording, but does it so smoothly that it just seems natural. Nothing is emphasized at all; the overall balance is very coherent." He backs this claim with measurement plots that seem to support his design expertise. No one I know has heard the L’Orfeo in person, but based on Gee’s history and loyal following -- not to mention the fact that he has enough satisfied customers on the bespoke-design side of the shop to justify abandoning a lucrative career -- I’m willing to bet that the L’Orfeo is a keeper.
Alas, even though it seems to be a great bargain, this speaker is a little beyond my budget at the moment. But I haven’t lost hope -- Tony Gee is preparing a lower-cost design that he hopes to release soon. Meanwhile, he’s moving into a larger space to try to keep up with orders. Thank you for your service to the DIY world, Mr. Gee. You deserve and have earned your success.
. . . Colin Smith