Yesterday Ron and I embarked on an audio adventure and drove to the Emerald City of Seattle to look at (and listen to) a pair of vintage Altec Lansing Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers that were custom built for Leopold Stokowski (April 18, 1882 – September 13, 1977), while he lived in New York and was conducting the American Symphony Orchestra.
Leopold Stokowski had moved from London to New York City in 1905. In addition to his conducting, Stokowski was very interested in the recording and reproduction of music, and experimented with it as early as 1933 with his assistant conductor, Alexander Smallens, using a 3-microphone placement, that Bob Fine would later perfect.
Stokowski became a member of the Audio Engineering Society, collaborated with Altec, and played music from recording sessions back over Altec Lansing Voice Of The Theatre loudspeakers, driven by low powered vacuum tube amplifiers. Altec built the great conductor a custom pair of Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers for listening to music at home in his New York Fifth Avenue apartment.
After a long career conducting in America, at age 90, Leopold Stokowski moved back to London in May of 1972 in order to further his recording career.
Upon arriving in Seattle, Ron and I met with a very nice gentleman and his wife, Jeff and Lynn, who had advertised their Altec Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers with the interesting history, as being for sale.
Jeff told us, “I bought these speakers in New York 40 years ago from a colleague of Leopold Stokowski’s at the American Symphony Orchestra. He told me that Stokowski gave them to him before he left New York permanently for London. He was a conducting student of Stokowski’s.”
So what makes up these custom Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers that Altec made for the great Maestro?
As Ron and I looked over these custom Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, the most obvious thing about them is that they are enclosed in huge custom wood cabinets, with burgundy grill cloth.
They’re built very solidly and professionally, with everything fitted perfectly together. These are vintage loudspeakers, and they’re quite old now, and have accumulated a few scuffs and scrapes over the years, but still they were in very nice condition.
The bass-horn cabinets look similar to the 825, are very well made, and house some pristine Altec 803 B bass drivers.
Interestingly enough, Keith Aschenbrenner, of Auditorium 23 fame, when he read my post about the upcoming Altec A5 VOTT project, suggested I keep an eye out for Altec 803 bass drivers, which are among his favorites, with their Alnico magnets and gorgeous vintage tone.
As you know, for the A5 project I had considered using the Altec 515E ceramic-magnet low-frequency drivers rather than the more traditional Alnico 515B, but in the end I opted for the Alnico 515B low-frequency driver with a nod to history for that vintage tone.
So here, in a bit of serendipity, I pulled off the back panel of the Maestro’s Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, and what do I see? Altec 803 bass drivers! Beautiful!
Up top are Altec 804A 16-Ohm compression drivers mated to Altec 511-B horns.
Here’s a back view …
Here’s the N-500-D crossover network …
Ron and I sat down for a quick listen to some Johnny Cash, and the VOTTs presented Cash’s music as rich, smooth, colorful, and engaging. It was a lovely presentation of the music, with that rich vintage tone.
It took just a few moments of listening for me to decide I liked these vintage Voice of the Theatres with their interesting history. I bought them on the spot!
Jeff and Lynn treated Ron and I to a nice lunch full of wonderful conversation (thank you!), and then Ron and I proceeded to pack up the Leopold Stokowski VOTTs for the long drive back home.
Upon arriving back at Jeff’s Place under the cover of darkness we unpacked the VOTTs from Ron’s van and put them in a small bedroom off my entryway. We were both tired after the long day of driving and moving big, heavy, loudspeakers, so we called it a night.
Many thanks to Ron for accompanying me on this VOTT Adventure, and for helping me so much in every way! You’re the best, Ron!
When I got up this morning I looked at these gigantic loudspeakers in my tiny spare bedroom and I laughed! They’re never going to work in there! No way!
I thought maybe I’d wheel them out into the main system, hook them up, and give them a listen, but then I remembered I promised you all that I would report on using VOTTs in both small and large rooms, so I set them up in the small bedroom and gave them a listen.
I got out Yazaki-san’s superb SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier that I wrote about in Positive Feedback Issue 78, and hooked it up using Western Electric WE16GA for speaker cables, a Sablon Audio Petite Corona AC power cord, and Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects. The source was my old MacBook feeding an Mhdt Paridisea+ vacuum tube USB DAC.
I streamed the excellent Jazz24 station out of Seattle, and sat down for a little listening.
I’ll tell you what, I have no doubt that these custom Leopold Stokowski Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers are going to sound fantastic in my larger living room, where my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers are sitting, but to my considerable surprise they sounded great in my tiny extra bedroom, which I didn’t expect.
So guess what? That’s good news, because it means you don’t have to scratch vintage VOTTs off your loudspeaker list because you have a small room, they work just fine in a small space. Remarkably fine, actually.
Stay tuned as I’ll have much more to tell you about the custom Leopold Stokowski Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers as I get some more listening time in on them.
Many thanks to Jeff, Lynn, and Ron, for helping my Voice of the Theatre dreams come true. I’m really enjoying myself right now, sitting here writing this for you, and listening to music over the vintage Stokowski VOTTs.
Thanks for stopping by!