The Scenario A friend had recently returned from a trip to asia where among other things, he picked up 4 Aurum Cantus speakers. These are a little nicer than the earlier ones as there's a bit more on the low end. Amazing what a slightly large mid-woofer will do, huh? Some technical data on the AC's: 8 ohm, 88dB sensitivity, ribbon tweeter, 6.5" carbon/kevlar cone, 2400 Hz crossover, recommended power 50-150. A group of 5, including myself had gathered to listen to the speakers over the Memorial Day weekend. Associated Equipment Yamaha AX 592 integrated amplifier Gyro SE - Spider Edition, Rega RB300 arm, I don't recall the cartridge. Marantz CD-67SE CD player Speaker wire: 12 gauge Sound King, Dunlavy Z6 speaker wire Home made A/B switching box connected to the preamp with a short run of 10 gauge pure silver speaker wire. 4 speaker stands, one set weighted with sand, the other pair not. Brandenburg Concertos conducted by Karl Richter (vinyl), a rare find as far as I know. Sigur Ros's "Nyja Lagif", recorded live at the Icelandic Operal House, June 12, 1999. Associated Goodies Brooklyn Brown Dark Ale, Brooklyn India Pale Ale, Brooklyn Pennant Pale Ale '55 (Jack Briggs might like the last one, being a NewCastle man) Pizza from Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn All beef hot dogs in natural casings, burgers, etc. Chrysler Crossfire (one of the listeners is a car dealer) Setup Speakers were placed on stands in fairly close proximity to each other in a stereo pair configuration. The outer set was place on the weighted stands and connected to the switchbox with the Dunlavy wires. The inner set was on the unweighted stands connected with SoundKing wire. The switchbox could be controlled from the seating position and generated an audible click when going from A to B. The Objective One person at a time would listen to the setup, being able to switch between A and B to their hearts content. The others would be a distance away, on the deck, drinking beer, eating food, and taking the Crossfire out for a spin (this is a ballsy, fun to drive, responsive car...go Chrysler!). Listening sessions were limited to 15 minutes and the listener would write their impressions down. I did not participate in the individual listening sessions. After all had listened individually, we sat down as a group, where we enjoyed the pizza, and listened to the selections in their entirety. At this point, all there commented from time to time and discussed their collective impressions when switching selections. Individual Results Significant audible differences were reported between A (Dunlavy, heavy stands) and B (Soundking, unweighted stands). Little consistency was noted. Comments regarding the A setup ranged from: more controlled bottom end, transparent, precise localization of instruments, greater delineation, spatial, clear, outstanding ability with vocals, etc. Comments regarding setup B ranged from: poor soundstage, muddy, a tendency towards horn like quality, a veil over the presentation, instruments tended to wander, etc. Collective Results The group consensus was that A presented a more honest presentation of the artist's intentions with greater ability to resolve microdynamics, coupled with extended dynamic range and enhanced tibre. Further B was stated to have a slight tinny sound apparent during certain passages of the Concertos. It was felt this had to do with the poor SoundKing wire in conjunction with the unweighted speaker stands that allowed inadequate coupling to the floor. Participants agreed that the speakers improved greatly with break-in. The Rub Although B was connected to the switch box, internally, the box was wired so that A was compared with A. What did we learn? 1) People will hear differences even when there are none. 2) Individually, people will report these differences in a largely inconsistent manner. 3) Collectively, when allowed to talk among themselves, people tend to form a consensus. This consensus may have nothing to do with what they heard individually. What should we take away from this? First of all, the Cantus' are a fine speaker and if you're considering ribbon drivers, they certainly are worthy of an audition. It's my understanding that they can be bought on the web and at one time were being sold by Levinson in what I think is his now defunct RedRose enterprise. Of course, he 'specially' modified them. Extended listening typically allows one to hear further into the music. As we become familiar with a piece, we may turn our focus to other things as we 'filter out' material. This extended concentration may be interpreted in a variety of ways and even though some may interpret this as say a speaker breaking in, in reality its an individual phenomenon. Hearing is a lossy process. This means the brain tosses away information. Depending upon one's focus and relative individual emphasis, a different subset of information is processed within the brain. Further, the power of a group is not to be underestimated when we form our own individual opinions on something. While most will say something like I'm not taken in by advertising, it's really more insidious than that. Whenever you read reviews of something, and let's focus on speakers, from a site that specializes in only subjective interpretations that can influence our initial and subsequent impressions. The context of the reviews gets repeated and spread on various forums throughout the web. We read it and it becomes supremely difficult to not fall in line. After all, everyone else is saying the same thing and they can't be wrong, can they? As illustrated above in the Aurum Cantus session, the answer is most certainly yes. Therefore simply because hundreds or thousands may say the same thing, it is not necessarily a validation of the phenomenon. Consider sites such as Enjoythemusic, 6moons, Positive whatever, etc. that review unusual speakers. I find it difficult to place much stock in many of their assessments especially when one reads what the 'manufacturer' states. Were they to take a more comprehensive approach which included measurements (not specifications) I'd likely alter my position. Given that the software and hardware to do such measurements is not expensive nor difficult, I certainly tend to raise a flag. Given that many of the 'manufacturers' when contacted cannot provide even simple phase/impedance measurements when asked or will state that they have arrived at a particular configuration because they've 'voiced' their speakers I read as basically bullshit. Too often glowing passes are given for speakers that are technically deficient albeit visually appealing. Ragged frequency responses, resonances due to improper cabinet bracing, woods that belong more in guitars rather than speakers, are cast aside in favor of 'it's a very musical transducer and mated to the proper electronics will bring out the best'. Therefore, an individual's focus is directed upon that as opposed to an accurate presentation which certainly by comparison will sound different.