Those of us believing that premium resolution and dynamic verisimilitude at least in the micro domain rely on high speaker sensitivities have long belabored the fact that none of the well-funded, established, big - well, majors in the drive unit manufacturing scene have picked up the slack. Lowthers for example are expensive, many of them in need of after-market modifications and when you inspect them closely, not as nicely made as you'd want for the money. AER, Feastrex, Jordan, PHY, Supravox - while the art of the hi-eff widebander is being kept alive in the hifi sector, it's by very small outfits. When a modern speaker designer wants to explore such drive unit options, he is often forced to go pro. Both WLM and ZU went Eminence, reputedly the largest loudspeaker drive unit manufacturer in the world.

You might feel that what's important to guitar wranglers or sound reinforcement guys is different than what's important to hifi nuts. If so, where are suitable hi-eff wideband drive units from Audio Technology, Eton, Morel, ScanSpeak and Co, i.e. the majors who supply the vast majority of hi-end speaker manufacturers? Ah, but the tides are turning. Seas of Norway has just announced their new Exotic range. Its first two drive units might hint at what to expect:
The X1-04 and X1-08 are two variations on the F8 driver and 96dB and 93dB respectively. With an Fs of 32Hz, possible bass response is on a very different page than your average Lowther while the whizzer cone of the Norwegians does recall the British archetype. There are paper/papyrus cones, Alnico 5 ring magnets, long-gap underhung voice coils, low-mass foam surrounds and "a totally new and proprietary spider design to dramatically improve the performance of this critical suspension part. By combining an extremely open weave with a new resin formulation, all noises normally created by the friction of the threads rubbing together are virtually eliminated. Additionally, the open weave is highly acoustically transparent, minimizing the reflections and resonances associated with conventional spider designs."

In short, one of the majors -- with all the funding, R&D resources, test facilities and specialized manufacturing kit this entails -- has finally entered the hi-eff widebander market to perhaps convince equivalent mainstream speaker manufacturers to try their hand at the genre. The only other way it can grow beyond the usual suspects is for small outfits to approach existing pro-driver manufacturers and commission hifi-adapted platform modifications. That's exactly what Alicja and Wojtek Unterschütz of Polish firm Acuhorn have done.
They spent the last four years codeveloping their 96 - 98dB efficient TSR200 driver (rating varies with speaker model based on adjusting certain T/S parameters of the driver) with the Czech driver manufacturer TVM Acoustics. Funding this process with their antique restoration business demanded a lot of gumption, passion and drive. A pending review of their bipole Rosso Superiore 175 model will report on what this husband-and-wife team has accomplished.

Meanwhile, CES 2008 will allow loudspeaker manufacturers to inspect what
Seas has accomplished with their new drive units. Hopefully, we'll see the first collaborations thereof later in the year with speaker models incorporating them. For a premium modern maker like Seas to get behind this thing could really give the entire sector a boost and possibly even persuade some of Seas' competitors to follow suit. Which won't take an iota away from the fact that the Norwegians got there first. To them and the Polish couple and everyone else who is laboring hard at advancing the art of the fullrange drive unit based on superior vintage precedents wedded to modern manufacturing know-how ... kudos and applause. This is a very exciting development!