Jan 142018
 

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 …”.

Vintage Altec A5 Voice Of The Theatre loudspeakers.

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).

My Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre project loudspeakers in their new home, the video room.

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.

Harbeth Super HL5.

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.

Stokowski Altec A7’s

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.

Mhdt Havana USB DAC

I have an older MacBook that I use to stream Jazz24 to my Mhdt Havana USB DAC (above) and the result is impressive.

Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player.

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!

 Posted by at 3:09 pm

  9 Responses to ““I said it must be Sunday ’cause ev’rybody’s tellin’ the truth …””

  1. Hi Jeff, interesting take and points on the Altec and I especially liked the comparisons to Harbeth. I’m an imaging and detail freak and listen to relatively moderate to low volumes … I love speakers like my Omega Super 7 single drivers and also Voxativ’s line. How would you say the Altec would compare in as far as imaging and detail of single driver speakers like those mentioned?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Hans,

      I’m not sure that you would like the Altec’s with your focus on imaging and detail. The Altec’s tend to sound more like live music (a bit more diffuse and natural sounding) than audiophile loudspeakers that emphasize the reproduction of recording artifacts.

      However, having said that, I do have friends who place a lot of value on resolution, imaging, and the sense of space in recordings, and have decided they love the Altec’s in spite of them sounding more like live music rather than loudspeakers with an audiophile-style balance that emphasizes recording artifacts in the music.

      If you decide to try the vintage Altec’s be sure to let me know how you like them.

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  2. Jeff, Any chance of my getting my speakers back? Naw, just kidding. Glad you’re still enjoying them
    and I love the Omegas. You write a terrific blog which I dip into from time to time. Keep up the good work
    and congrats on your retirement. More time to do the stuff you love. You’re a lucky guy. Regards to Ron.

    • Hi Jeff!

      Nice to hear from you! Ron and I sure did enjoy our adventure to the Emerald City to meet with you, pick up the Altec’s, and of course Ron loves the R2R tapes! 🙂

      I love these vintage Altec loudspeakers, they’re really something special. I’d have even more of them if I could figure out how to fit them into my house!

      The Stokowski A7’s are completely unique in that they are essentially a pair of early A7’s wrapped in a big set of custom cabinets to make them “pretty” enough for home listening. It’s also possible they predate the release of the A7’s in 1966, but it is hard to say. In any event they may be one of the first examples of a set of pro-style Altec A7-like loudspeakers optimized for the home listening environment.

      Such fun!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  3. Hi Jeff
    Good read . I enjoy music for music’s sake as you do . You know with all this hipe about hi res music lately , how they are changing old song’s to hi res , I think the first commercial studio was recording hi res music about the year 2000 , so all music before that can not become hi res music no matter what you do with it. Also not many people are recording that way anyway. All you need to go to is PCM 192/92 KHz 24 bit to give the best results .
    Just a a question about subwoofers I was thinking of trying some with my westminsters as I have been reading great things latley ( and Jim Smith has a pair ) . How they add more of what you have been talking about above
    not just bass , they seem to make the music so much more real . Have you had a pair before and if so what do you think about them.
    cheers Lance

    • Howdy Lance,

      I’m not really a digital guy, so my opinion about digital is worth what it costs (nothing!). I haven’t heard any hi-rez digital that I’ve liked when listening to the uber digital systems I’ve heard at hifi shows. They all sounded strangely unnatural and synthetic to me. I did think a few of the lower-rez digital systems sounded pretty nice, but not nice enough that I would be willing to lay much money down on the table for them.

      With the lower rez digital the vintage Altec’s sound surprisingly musical, and I have no idea why, but it’s a happy anomaly for sure.

      Subs. Can. Sound. Good. But. I’m. Not. Really. Into. Them.

      For Westminster’s you don’t really need subs for most listening as they already have low bass extension up the ying-yang, 18 Hz (-6dB). Jim’s Canterbury’s don’t go as low as the West’s, so he chose to add subs to fill out the low bass more.

      My perception of subs is that they add only a little from a musical standpoint (see my responses to Claude and Andre), and only rarely have I thought they make music sound more real. What they mostly add is in the sonic realm of recording artifacts, creating a richer, fuller, and greater sense of recorded space/acoustic, which can be enchanting, but isn’t particularly relevant from a musical perspective. Nothing wrong with that if you value that, though.

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  4. hello Jeff good news for a small roms ! I’m thinking of a VOTT A5 but I’m perplexed about the extension at the top and the decidedly old original crossower, and with connections too small for my loudpseaker cables, your corssover project which price range would have?
    Andre

    • Hi Andre,

      The A5 or A7 VOTT are great choices (as are any of the vintage home Altec’s like the Corona, Flamenco, etc.).

      I don’t think you need to be overly concerned about the high-frequency extension of the vintage Altec’s (or the LF for that matter), that’s really a red herring that will distract you from their superb musical performance.

      The vintage Altec crossovers are another matter, as they may very well need some attention given the age of their capacitors. A quick listen to the pair that come with the vintage Altec’s you get will tell you a lot about what you need to do.

      Pete Riggle (Pete Riggle Audio Engineering) has written a very informative article about frequency extension of his A7’s that you can read HERE.

      Essentially, if you replace the stock vintage Altec A7 crossovers with crossovers built to the Hiraga design (along with an added L-pad for dialing in the HF response), you’ll get an approximate in-room response of 42 Hz to 12 kHz like Pete did. While that might seem lacking compared to the often cited 20 Hz to 20 kHz range that audiophiles think they need, it really isn’t. With my A5’s I see significant response down into the 30’s with rapidly diminishing response down into the 20’s.

      Listening to Pete’s A7-500’s with an added super-tweeter, I thought they sounded more musical by quite a lot when the super-tweeter was switched out of the circuit. Pete likes it both ways, and you might too, but I’d pass on the super-tweeter for my Altec’s.

      The bass response. Let me reiterate what I mentioned to Claude about bass response:

      In the past I have written quite a lot about the frequency extension of various instruments into both the bass and treble, and what I think that really means from a musical perspective to the listener.

      For example, pipe organs can extend down into the infrasonic range below 20Hz where you don’t hear them so much as feel them as the frequencies wash over your body. Unless you’re a big pipe organ fan, there’s not much else that happens in the infrasonic range from a musical perspective. So for most people it’s not worth spending too much time worrying about the low 20s.

      For a speaker that descends to about 40 Hz where the mid-bass is intact, my experience is that when compared to speakers that extend to 20Hz or below, what one hears less of is mostly not music, but rather a diminished “hall sound” of the recording venue that is anchored in the infrasonic region that is due to the air column of the room moving at very low frequencies, or “breathing”.

      With a speaker that reaches down to 40 Hz you can hear every meaningful note of every instrument except for the very lowest notes of the pipe organ, harp, contrabassoon, bass, and piano.

      A speaker that extends down to 40 Hz (like Pete’s A7’s) allows the listener to hear the full range of the human voice — the bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano — and it also means you can hear the full range of woodwinds like the piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon and most of the contrabassoon.

      It would also cover the full range of brass instruments like the trumpet, French horn, tenor and bass trombone and the tuba. Kettle drums are covered in their entirety as well. Strings are covered pretty well too: the guitar, violin, viola and cello completely, with harp and bass mostly.

      With a loudspeaker that does not descend below 40 Hz the piano eludes us in its lowest registers from the 1st to the 4th keys (27.5 – 36.7Hz). But you can still hear the other 84 of the piano’s 88 keys.

      Just last week I was visiting Pete Riggle who has been experimenting with super tweeters on his A7-500’s, and who also has a very large custom bass horn built into the building where he has his listening room, with a mouth that is … I don’t remember exactly … but perhaps 15 feet wide (you can see it at the link above).

      When Pete built his big bass horn into the ceiling of the building where his listening room is, the idea was to supplement the low-bass (20-40 Hz) of his various horn loudspeakers, and he designed it so he could switch it in and out during listening sessions.

      We had fun switching it in and out with his A7’s, and I really liked what I heard from it, the enhanced sense of recorded space, the additional overall richness, but I also thought Pete’s A7’s sounded very nice without the sub bass horn engaged, and they certainly didn’t sound like the music was robbed of its foundation without the sub being engaged.

      About your cables. You can easily adapt your cables to the crossovers with an adapter built out of a short piece of wire and some binding posts, or you could remove their terminations and just use bare wire ends, depending on your cables.

      Price range is quite variable. The crossovers Pete builds are affordable and nice sounding, but you’ll need to get a quote from him on the pricing as it is dependent upon the choices made for the crossover.

      I don’t have pricing for the custom Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers we are going to build for the Stokowski Altec’s yet, but they are considerably more ambitious than the crossovers that Pete helped me build for my A5’s.

      I suspect the parts cost will be similar to the Duelund CAST copper crossovers we did for my Westminster’s, which have around $12.5K USD of Duelund CAST copper parts in them. The price goes up rapidly if you choose pure silver Duelund CAST capacitors.

      So there are options for crossovers, but stick with the Hiraga circuit (with the addition of an L-pad) if you build your own (or have them built for you), as they are a very nice design that gets the best out of the Altec’s.

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  5. While it is never my intent to offend, sometimes comments that are out of sync with the intent of a post become a distraction or even a detraction from the greater good of the intent of the message a post is trying to convey.

    That has happened with this post, and as a result I have deleted a string of comments including my responses to them.

    In this case my post was trying to convey the fun of owning and listening to music with vintage Altec loudspeakers, which are true hifi gems of the distant past, and which are both a delight to listen to music with and to own.

    I believe that vintage Altec loudspeakers can provide a delightful and satisfying alternative to contemporary loudspeakers, and that quite a few hifi enthusiasts and music lovers will even prefer them to many contemporary loudspeakers because of the superb musicality they are capable of.

    I feel fortunate that between myself and my friends that we have a common interest in vintage hifi, and I hope that I can convey to you the excitement and fun of listening to music with it, restoring it when needed, modifying it for the fun of it, or just tinkering with it in general.

    I hope too that I can encourage you to experience some of the great hifi gear of the past, and the joy of listening to music with it, and the immense satisfaction that can come from owning it.

    Is this a great hobby or what! 🙂

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