I am sitting here pondering my Altec A5 & A7 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, and am reminded of the lyrics from Phoebe Snow’s song It Must Be Sunday, “I said it must be Sunday ’cause ev’rybody’s tellin’ the truth …”.
Here’s some useful Altec truths that don’t get talked about enough.
Truth #1 – Vintage Altec’s work well even in small rooms: Vintage Altec loudspeakers like the A5 & A7 Voice of the Theatre’s, the Flamenco, the Laguna, the Corona, and others, work as splendidly well in large rooms (above) as they do in small rooms (below).
They can sound magnificent sitting well out into a large room, like Pete’s listening room, below, or remarkably good shoved right up against the front wall, as above.
I think most of you know that I really like my Harbeth loudspeakers, the Super HL5’s. They are proper little music makers that are nicely crafted with music lovers in mind.
When I put my Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers into the same small room, the A5’s absolutely smoked my Super HL5’s both musically and sonically.
It was no contest, and I was surprised by the result.
That’s not a dig at the Harbeth’s, it just speaks to how incredibly “right” the engineers at Altec got their designs back in the day, being flexible enough to accommodate differing room sizes, from large movie theaters, auditoriums, or smaller recording studios, or home listening rooms.
Altec crossovers were designed to be flexible, and have adjustability designed into them so you can optimize them for a given room.
Hearing my A7’s and A5’s in small rooms was an ear opener and paradigm changer for me.
Not just for me either, for when Pete Riggle heard my massive A7’s in my little tiny entryway room he went out and bought a pair A7’s for himself.
You would think that the bass would be overwhelming in a small room, yet the truth is that a small room constrains the bass so that it doesn’t get out of control, and it ends up sounding just right.
You don’t have to make excuses for the your big Altec’s sitting up agains the wall in small rooms, they’re brilliant that way.
Whether a big house or a smaller apartment, the Altec’s will work brilliantly, assuming you can get them through the door!
Truth #2 – Vintage Altec’s sound better and play music better: Smaller excellent loudspeakers like my Harbeth’s can’t immerse you into the “real sound” of music the way the vintage Altec’s can, which surround the listener in a huge reverberant sound field that is really incredible to hear and feel.
Whether it’s overall tone, presence, truth of timbre, reproduction of beat, melodies or rhythms, and certainly dynamics, the Altec’s have my Harbeth’s beat by a country mile, or just about any other smaller modern loudspeaker as well.
Truth #3 – Vintage Altec’s are very flattering to digital sources: I am continually surprised by how good digital sources can sound with vintage Altec loudspeakers, and they don’t have to be fancy digital sources to sound great.
Pete Riggle has a digital source in his listening room to accompany his analog gear and vintage Altec A7’s. He’s got an iMac feeding digits to a Musical Fidelity DAC which he paid a couple of hundred dollars for used, and it sounds very, very, good.
I have an older MacBook that I use to stream Jazz24 to my Mhdt Havana USB DAC (above) and the result is impressive.
My OPPO UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player sounds better than it has any right to playing movies back through my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, and in fact my Apple iPad sounds impressive as heck playing back Netflix, Amazon Prime, or YouTube videos. An iPad!
Why are vintage Altec loudspeakers so flattering to digital sources? I really don’t know, but they are.
Truth # 4 – Vintage Altec’s have near-eternal life: The vintage Altec’s were built to such a rugged standard that they basically don’t wear out.
Vintage Altec’s were designed to play for many decades in movie theaters and auditoriums with little to no maintenance, and they last a very, very, long time. I expect my Altec’s will outlive me, and they’re nearly as old as I am. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were reliably playing music at a century old.
Ok, if they’re really old you might have to put some new diaphragms in the compression drivers, which happen to be “field serviceable” by the owner.
Or if you happen to have some drivers that need some TLC, like when the cat used the woofer as a scratching post, you can get help from Great Plains Audio, which was born out of Altec Lansing in the same way that Altec Lansing was born out of Western Electric way back when.
The only parts of the Altec’s that you’ll probably consider replacing is their crossovers. As I found with my A5’s, the stock Altec crossovers needed a little help to blend into my listening room like I wanted them too.
My Stokowski A7’s actually sound pretty good with the stock crossovers, but as you know, we’re going to build some incredible crossovers for them in the upcoming Duelund-Altec crossover project that is upcoming. Stay tuned.
Truth # 5 – Vintage Altec’s aren’t that expensive: Another truth about vintage Altec loudspeakers is that they’re not that expensive.
Take for example my aforementioned Harbeth Super HL5 and Altec A5 loudspeakers. A new pair of Super HL5’s run about $6500 USD, and you have to buy stands for them.
The pair of Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers that I commissioned Gary Fischer to restore cost about $6500 too. There’s no question in my mind that there A5’s are the better value.
Gary Fisher also offers restored A7’s for about $3000 USD, which for a reference point is about what good bookshelf loudspeakers go for. If you’re patient you can find a pair of A7’s for less than $2K USD, like Pete did.
Or you can buy beautiful examples of vintage home Altec’s in near pristine condition for $5K USD or less. Sometimes a lot less.
You can also spend a lot for rarer, more complex, or even larger vintage Altec loudspeakers if you desire. Something for everyone!
“I said it must be Sunday ‘Cause ev’rybody’s tellin’ the truth”
That’s the truth on Sunday, January 14th, 2018.
As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!