The dry spell of SET-friendly speakers has quietly come to an end. A larger variety is available now than was perhaps even 5 years ago. The growing popularity of the micro-power genre has cast its allure far and wide. This prompted various responses. Think Von Schweikert's DB99 and DB100 models. Think Dennis Had of Cary Audio launching his own speaker line, Audio Note UK offering numerous Snell-based speakers, Ken Shindo's own Latour speakers, Steve Deckert's Decware Radial and full-range speakers. Think Ron Welborne and Oris horns. Think HighWater Sound representing Kondo and now Tron, then adding the Horning Hybrid speaker line. Think Avantgarde-USA signing Audiopax (since represented by Fidelis AV).

There's open collaborations like the one between Vinnie Rossie of RedWine Audio and Louis Chochos of Omega Loudspeaker Systems. There's Keith Aschenbrenner of Auditorium 23 who designs speakers around PHY drivers to augment low-power amps of his own or other designs. There's Nelson Pass' FirstWatt venture dedicated to high-efficiency speakers and the low-power amps suitable for them. There's an active DIY scene that experiments with open baffles, backloaded horns, quarter wave transmission lines and wide bandwidth drivers by Lowther, PHY, Fostex, Jordan and others. And that's the exotic fringe - the mainstream sector too offers contenders.

Creativity in the exotic sector is high and lo-po/hi-eff maniacs in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong as well as France, Italy and Germany could be doing things right now we remain in the dark about. This creativity is surely dancing to the fact that single-driver speakers require more woodworking savvy than electronic engineering chops if you're into going the distance by your lonesome. SETs are often based on public-domain circuits or fully mapped out kits that invite hands-on involvement to varying degrees of comfort level. Then add the fact that the inherent simplicity of most such circuits means the sonic impact of the replaceable output devices allows plenty of potent post-circuit tweaking by way of tube rolling.

Getting involved in the hobby beyond turnkey purchases is part of the appeal here. This includes having to hunt for speakers according to requirements that often aren't obvious. This can be considered an education and adventure and often also means you'll end up owning not a me-too seen-in-every-mag rig but something that reflects a high degree of individuality and perhaps even eccentricity. People who play in these fields trust their own ears, don't give a damn about peer approval or popular opinion, pursue their own agendas and, most of all, insist that fun and the indulgence of curiosity ought to be key attributes of any hobby worth sustaining.

These articles are not for those already doing it but for those who tend to be more mainstream-ish with their exposure but are still curious enough to want to broaden their horizons. Where to start and how to go about it? Parts 1 & 2 have covered some introductory boilerplate stuff. Part 3 now adds select speaker models that are known to be happy with SETs and then a few brand names in the SET field. The intent is not to be complete by any stretch. Think starter instead. Hopefully one or two of these makes and models are accessible in your market so you can get your feet wet sampling SETs the way they were meant to heard.

Here are speaker brands you should put on your list: Audio Note UK | Auditorium 23 | Avantgarde Acoustic (Uno thru Trio) | BD Design Oris Horn | Beauhorn | Bottlehead Corp. | Brentworth Sound Lab | Cabasse (certain models) | Cain & Cain (all models) | Carfrae Loudspeakers | Cary Audio Silver Oak | Classic Audio Reproductions | Coincident Speaker Technology | Decware | Deep Audio | DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 | Dunlavy SC-III | Edgarhorn | Final Laboratory | Galante Audio | Hammer Dynamics | Horning Hybrid | Klipsch LaScala | Kochel | Living Voice | Lowther America | Merlin Music Systems VMS without BAM | Nola Audio Viper | Odeon Speakers | Omega Loudspeaker Systems | Pi Speakers | Proac Response and Tablette monitors | Reference 3A (all models) | Rethm (all models) | Rl Acoustique Lamhorn | Reimer Speaker Systems | Royal Devices | Shun Mook Bella Voce | Silverline Audio (select models) | Shindo Latour | Soliloquy Model 5.0 | Sonus Faber (certain monitors) | Sound Dynamics RTS-3 | Spendor (select models) | TAD Professional | Talon Audio Firehawk | Tannoy Classic Line | Triangle Acoustique (most models) | Von Schweikert (DB99) | Zu Cable (all models).

Here are SET brands you should put on your list: Acoustic Masterpiece | Almarro | Antique Sound Lab | Art Audio | Audion | Audio Note | Audiopax | Berning | Bottlehead Corp. | Cary Audio | Cy Brenneman | Decware | DeHavilland HiFi | Diva Audio | DIY HiFi Supply | Don Allen | Fi | First Watt | Jeff Korneff | Kondo | KR Audio | Lamm Industries | Manley Labs | Mastersound | Ming-Da | Opera Audio | SAC Thailand | Shindo Labs | Song Audio | Sophia Electric | Tempo Electric | Tron | Unison Research | Wavelength Audio | Wavac | Welborne Labs | Wright Sound | Wytech Labs | Yamamoto Sound Craft | Zanden Audio.

To add further details to this picture, Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio offers the following: There are three factors in determining your speaker needs for SET amplifiers

  • 1/ Amplifier type and power rating
  • 2/ Room Size
  • 3/ Musical preference and listening level.

I make SET amps from 3 - 16 watts and each one has its own characteristics. In some ways, the idea of lower power is better not because of the first watt thing but because of the complexity of design. A 3-watt amplifier may sound much better than a 16-watt amplifier because of the latter's complexity. But due to items 2 and 3, micro power may not be a possible choice for you.

I characterize room size as follows:

  • Small under 150 square feet
  • Medium 150-500 square feet
  • Large 500-1500 square feet
  • Concert hall above 1500.

If you have a concert hall-sized room, go with Avantgarde Trios and bass horns if you want SETs. For small rooms on the other hand and depending on issue 3, you can use speakers like the DeVore Super 8 or even ProAc 2 or for more dynamics, Cain & Cain Abbys. Medium and large rooms really depend a lot more on issue 3.

Rock, Pop, Chamber, Folk and Jazz really do not require much power to recreate. Large orchestral and opera can at times tax a single-ended amplifier (or any amplifier for that matter). The sheer amount of complex interactions between the performers really requires either more power or more efficient speakers. This of course also depends on how loud you listen. I have been a drummer since I was 12 so I tend to listen louder than most people. Other customers and friends listen lower. I have a customer who fixes clocks. He has a set of Cardinals and JBL Paragons in his shop playing all day long at low levels. Even though the shop falls in to the "large" group, the Paragons' 100dB and the original Cardinals' 8 watts have no problem filling the entire store area.

So this is the way I would look at shopping for speakers. If you are getting both the amplifier and speakers at the same time, start with the speakers and go through my list from 3 to1 to determine what amp to buy.

Gordon's personal top 10 speaker amplifier combinations:

  • 1/ Cain & Cain Walla Walla Wall of Sound for medium room, long-wall speaker placement, Pop Music: 300B for real dynamics.
  • 2/ Cain & Cain Walla Walla Wall of Sound for medium room, long-wall speaker placement, Pop, Jazz, Rock: 45 for real intimacy.
  • 3/ DeVore Silverbacks for medium room, short-wall speaker placement: 300B amplifiers for Pop, Jazz, Rock and small orchestral.
  • 4/ Avantgarde Trios & BassHorns for large room, short-wall speaker placement: 45 amplifiers for just about any type of music.
  • 5/ Cain & Cain IM-Ben for medium to large room, short-wall placement: 300B for everything; 45, 50 or PX25 for Pop, Rock and Jazz.
  • 6/ DeVore Super 8 for small or medium size room: PX25, 50 or 300B amplifier for just about anything.
  • 7/ Avantgarde Uno for medium size room: 45 or PX25 for intimate music or 50 & 300B for large-scale listening.
  • 8/ Cain & Cain Abbys with Bailey subwoofer in small to medium size room: 50 or PX25 or really just about any amp.
  • 9/ Merlin VSM or Reference 3A L'integral in small room using anything from a PX25, 50 or 300B amplifier for Rock, Pop or Jazz.
  • 10/ Always fun? ProAc Tablettes with REL Strata III sub: 300B or 50 for small room or work area on most anything for background music.

Adding a subwoofer will add more watts to any amplifier as most of the music below 100Hz requires most of the power. If the amplifier does not have to produce below that, it will have much more power for the main speakers.