Two of my favorite people are Bill and Loretta Legall of MillerSound. Bill is one of the best when it comes to repairing and refoaming loudspeakers and is a knowledgeable and unassuming guy in general. One day I brought a pair of drivers for Bill to do his magic on when he excitedly told me that I had to hear a speaker he had acquired. But first, the story…
Bill and Loretta were driving around one day and cut into a neighborhood to escape some heavy traffic. In front of a house intended for the trash man was a pair of speakers. They looked rough and forlorn, but like seeing a bird with a broken wing or a wet, disheveled cat in the cold, Bill had to take them in.
Testing showed that, while the woofer foam had rotted out, the drivers were functional. But the rough cabinets were a problem, until Loretta remembered some matching veneer she had stashed away. Well, the woofers were re-foamed, the cabinets sanded and re-veneered, the crossover tested and capacitors replaced and a few other tweaks applied and it was time to listen to the new-old speaker.
“Kevin, you have to hear this, you won’t believe it”. So I entered Bill’s listening room to behold a speaker seemingly out of a time warp, a mint pair of Acoustic Research AR3A’s. And Bill wasn’t kidding, I didn’t believe it. Rich, beautiful music from a pair of speakers manufactured between 1967 and 1975 and rescued from the scrap heap. I realized immediately that this was a speaker that, like the Quad 57, Spendor BC-1, BBC LS3/5A and their ilk, ones’ knowledge of vintage speakers was incomplete without. So I asked Bill to look around for a pair for me (and I would look for myself).
A few days later, I got a call. “Hey Kevin, your AR3A’s are in” Bill had done it again, and I made arrangements to come by after work. When I got there, craftsman Bill had not only re-foamed the woofers, but refinished the cabinets and cleaned up the badges and, while they were not quite the thing of beauty that Bill’s pair are, they looked great!
Acoustic Research pioneered the use of the Acoustic Suspension loudspeaker which traded efficiency for deep bass from a small box and, in its day, the AR3 series was the biggest selling and arguably most successful speaker of its kind. The ascent of the Acoustic Suspension loudspeaker was helped by the ascent of the high power amplifier (a development necessary due to the lower efficiency of the newer design), which, depending on your point of view, led to a bright new future or consigned audio to a modern hell of inefficient speakers and high-powered solid state amplifiers. But that’s another story for another time…
So I have chosen the AR3A’s as my first speaker musing on Audiolog because a) I wanted to tell you a story about Bill and b) they are a classic and historic speaker that augured big changes in the audio marketplace in their day. There’s a pair on permanent display at the Smithsonian and not for nothing!
How do the AR3A’s stand up today? Well, certainly it’s a different kind of sound than we are used to. The treble is not exactly extended and the speakers do not have the level of detail we expect these days. The imaging doesn’t “do tricks” and there is a bit of residual roughness. You can hear the cabinets (not as bad as it sounds, they used ply rather than MDF back then). But there is plenty of bass compared to the typical bookshelf today and a generally warm, rounded sound that is simply more that the sum of its parts. You can hear what’s wrong, but the enveloping sound on classical is like a bath in warm Caribbean waters and the punchy sound on Rock and Roll gives you the feeling that this is how the musicians expected it to sound.
It feels almost wrong to pick the sound apart since it obviously wasn’t designed to cater to prevailing expectations, so I won’t. In my view, it was designed as a holistic unity and is unique to itself, I doubt anyone would design a speaker that sounds like this today and much is the pity. There is more than one way to skin the musical cat, and this is the current path less chosen.
But a music lover who is not a “hi end audiophile” could buy these, refurbish them and live happily ever after. Many did, back between 1967 and 1975…