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 Tooting your horn

By Paul McGowan From PS Audio

he idea of using a horn as an amplifier goes as far back as one can imagine.

Thousands of years ago some bright person likely cupped their hand behind their ear and noticed it increased their ability to hear. This gathering of sound and narrowing it down, as a funnel might help direct the flow of water, is the opposite of an amplifier yet it was likely the basis for what followed.

Perhaps those same folks also noticed that if you cupped both hands around your mouth, you could direct the sound of your voice as well as amplify it.

The leap from these simple observations to the emergence of the musical horn was likely a huge slice of time, but just imagine the magnitude of that leap from hand cupped shouting to the blare of a trumpet.

The principle behind the horn is as simple as it is ingenious. Sound waves from a source, like the buzzing of one’s lips into a mouthpiece, a human voice, or a phonograph needle enter the narrow end of the horn. As they travel through the gradually widening tube, the waves expand and their intensity increases, resulting in a louder sound emerging from the wide end where they encounter the horn’s bell. This is where the magic happens. As the walls of the horn quickly flare outward, the sound waves expand, their energy distributed over a larger area. This final expansion reduces the resistance to the sound’s propagation, allowing the waves to travel more efficiently into the air.

By the time the sound waves emerge from the bell of the horn, they have been transformed. What began as a humble buzz is now a commanding presence that can fill a concert hall, reach the back row of an outdoor venue, or call an army to war.

Move forward a bunch of years and instead of a set of buzzing lips into a mouthpiece we place an electro mechanical tweeter. This tweeter doesn’t have to play very loudly because it will soon be mechanicaly amplified by our friend the horn.

Horns have been a necessary innovation for amplification long before we figured out how to sow seeds and reap the rewards of a steady food supply.

While we don’t need them anymore in our stereo systems, they certainly haven’t gone away. 

Just ask any musician.

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