Big Altec energy vs. the classic British sound

I had never considered British BBC speakers to be related to Altecs, but like some of the other folks here I followed that path. I had Spendor SP-100 speakers for over 15 years and still have very fond memories of their sound. But for me the Altec 32/802 married to a Jensen P15LL was more satisfying. Even though the Altec/Jensens didn't do deep bass and there were some cabinet colorations, they were so involving and so coherent that I always ended up preferring them. I wouldn't say that about all Altecs though. I have a strong dislike for speakers with a 511 or 811 horn.
 
Still have Quad ESL's (had 'em for over 30 years now) and still love them. What they do, they do better than anything, IMHO.

Have Altec 2-ways (803A + 802D/H808 tar-filled horns + Iconic cabinets) and love those too. Bigger, easier sound, but more of a show.
I always thought that my OB/755A sounded similar to the original Quad ESL but with better dynamics.
Years ago I had the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of 755A's in JE OB's with my ESL's. Very different sound. Both quite good, but eventually I sold the 755A's. I still have the Quads.
 

je2a3

Senior Member
I had never considered British BBC speakers to be related to Altecs, but like some of the other folks here I followed that path.
Years ago I had the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of 755A's in JE OB's with my ESL's. Very different sound. Both quite good, but eventually I sold the 755A's. I still have the Quads.
Nice to read a different point of view! 👍🏻 😊
 

tomlinmgt

Moderator
As a drummer who has been in and out of working bands for most of my life, I've spent more time around real instruments than I have hifi (three and a half decades compared to one). And for me, the sonic energy that my 19's produce makes my body respond not unlike it does with real instruments in the room (well, the typical instruments in any genre that has a drum set, at least). So it's the tactile and visceral reaction I experience, coupled with an absolute effortless authority and scale of sound that defines the uniquely Altec experience. Now, understand that I'm a sound stage junkie and my 19's are not world class in that regard (compared to something like a good dipole design), but everything else is so damn good, it's easy to dismiss their minor handicap in that regard. Of course, those in the know will tell you the duplex Altec cures this...and I do have a pair of 604-8g's and model 17 cabinets (in need of restoration) waiting for some attention. But as far as comparisons to the British sound...you can't spend much time in the hobby and not notice how iconic that sector if hifi is. And if you're serious about the hobby, you'll seek it out to see why so much fuss surrounds it. I've tried to find something British that pushes enough of my buttons to make me pull the trigger...but nothing I've heard elicits the sort of physiological and emotional reaction I get from my 19's (with a pair of properly implemented subs). Big dual concentric Tannoys come close...damn close....and maybe if I had a pair in my room to tinker with I'd change my tune. But none of it, so far, gets the old juices flowing like Altecs. And the juices fuel the junkie.
 
I find that we often compare BBC-style speakers with 5" or 8" midbass drivers with two-way Altecs with 12" or 16" drivers. Altecs produce shocking dynamics with little power. Much more so than a Harbeth Super HL5Plus.

It may be more fair to draw a comparison with the Larger (12" - 15") BBC Monitors. The Graham LS5/5 or LS5/8 may be a more appropriate target. The Graham will need much more power (~10dB difference in sensitivity) and is not thermally capable of the same peaks as Altec.

The speakers were designed for different uses: the BBC monitors were almost all designed for portable/external use or for studio use, mostly free standing. Altecs trace their history to speakers intended to fill a theater (or Grateful Dead concert) with lifelike sound. It is a stuggle for many of us to successfully incorporate Altecs into the domestic environment.
 

DC

Active Member
I too was thinking that an interesting Altec 17/19 comparison would be to the Graham LS5/8 or Harbeth M40s. (I've heard the Harbeths do amazing things, but I don't have much experience with vintage Altecs.)
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I think the Harbeth Monitor 40.2 with adequate power behind it would be a more fair comparison, yes.

Many of us are also dealing with living situations that rule out the larger Altecs, so its kind of a moot point. The best balance I've heard of the different approaches was perhaps a pair of nice Tannoy concentrics in custom, very robust, cabinets that a friend of mine had put together in Michigan. They had that visceral bass impact and great imaging in enclosures that were large but not so large that they wouldn't work in most rooms, even if they'd dominate a smaller one. I don't know the exact efficiency of them but they got to ear-splitting volume on a pair of McIntosh tube monoblocks. The visceral impact of them made me rethink some things in my own setup, and actually are one thing that led me spend some time here with these smallish but more impactful than my SHL-5 JBL L-82s.
 

tomlinmgt

Moderator
I think the Harbeth Monitor 40.2 with adequate power behind it would be a more fair comparison, yes.

Many of us are also dealing with living situations that rule out the larger Altecs, so its kind of a moot point. The best balance I've heard of the different approaches was perhaps a pair of nice Tannoy concentrics in custom, very robust, cabinets that a friend of mine had put together in Michigan. They had that visceral bass impact and great imaging in enclosures that were large but not so large that they wouldn't work in most rooms, even if they'd dominate a smaller one. I don't know the exact efficiency of them but they got to ear-splitting volume on a pair of McIntosh tube monoblocks. The visceral impact of them made me rethink some things in my own setup, and actually are one thing that led me spend some time here with these smallish but more impactful than my SHL-5 JBL L-82s.
Not only the bass impact, but would you agree that a compression driver and the way it delivers mid and HF energy through some method of horn loading makes a unique contribution to the visceral impact, as well? That's been my experience, and I find myself drawn to designs that use large format compression drivers because of it. Not sure how big the diaphragms are in the big Tannoys, but I know the magnet structure is beefy as hell. Point being, that's another significant distinctiom between Altec and what's generally categorized as the British sound...a horn loaded compression driver compared against a dome tweeter. Two different animals with different sonic characteristics. As has been cited in this conversation, for something British to get on the same playing field as Altec with 15" LF driver/compression driver, one really has to get aplles to apples with the driver complement, and for that there's really only Tannoy. Seems to me classic British monitors and all their iterations just aren't physically capable of wrestling with physics like a big Tannoy dual concentric design.
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Not only the bass impact, but would you agree that a compression driver and the way it delivers mid and HF energy through some method of horn loading makes a unique contribution to the visceral impact, as well? That's been my experience, and I find myself drawn to designs that use large format compression drivers because of it. Not sure how big the diaphragms are in the big Tannoys, but I know the magnet structure is beefy as hell. Point being, that's another significant distinctiom between Altec and what's generally categorized as the British sound...a horn loaded compression driver compared against a dome tweeter. Two different animals with different sonic characteristics. As has been cited in this conversation, for something British to get on the same playing field as Altec with 15" LF driver/compression driver, one really has to get aplles to apples with the driver complement, and for that there's really only Tannoy. Seems to me classic British monitors and all their iterations just aren't physically capable of wrestling with physics like a big Tannoy dual concentric design.
I don’t know that I’d say only a compression driver could do that. They certainly have their own presentation. But I’ve heard some larger format speakers in recording studios that have that across the board impact ... they did it by being directly amped, no passive crossovers, is my guess. Of note, while not being horn loaded, they were HUGE. Built into the walls, dual 15” woofers. Actually a pair of custom studio monitors were the best speakers I’ve ever heard. Amplification for those were multiple big solid state amps. Chord, I think? It was over a decade ago. I don’t know what the drivers were.
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
Two words; effortless realism.
Quite a few speakers have come through my doors, but not a single one has held a candle to my 604’s.

Some mindless rambling:
It’s all about the right pairing (system synergy). I’ve had my Rogers ls3/5a’s sound quite spectacular with a solid state Mcintosh unit, yet not on the same level as the 604 (not really fair when you are a 15” driver though...). Boleros and maderas with a good push/pull will walk over the ls3/5a’s, but then again those are still larger drivers. Maybe a 755c would be a fairer fight?
I am curious as to what a harbeth 40.2 would sound like and put it up against my 604’s with a helper woofer (think matching three way). But at over 12k, I’ll likely not see that comparison for a while.
In addition to using a 40.1 or .2 for a fairer comparison, I’ve also thought of a 15” Tannoy. I actually almost bought a set locally (FSM model) but didn’t for two reasons; 1st - the seller was moving them on and kept his Altecs. 2nd - I listened to them on and although they sounded pretty amazing, the top end seemed a bit rolled off or more polite? And in my estimation would not unseat my 604E’s.
I’d still like to have a set for a side by side comparison or just to tinker with.
 

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
I don’t know that I’d say only a compression driver could do that. They certainly have their own presentation. But I’ve heard some larger format speakers in recording studios that have that across the board impact ... they did it by being directly amped, no passive crossovers, is my guess. Of note, while not being horn loaded, they were HUGE. Built into the walls, dual 15” woofers. Actually a pair of custom studio monitors were the best speakers I’ve ever heard. Amplification for those were multiple big solid state amps. Chord, I think? It was over a decade ago. I don’t know what the drivers were.
I'm certainly not gonna argue the value of directly amping speakers, with no passive crossovers. :)
 

240sx4u

Technically It's LexusGuy
Intrerestingly, I haven't ever heard a pair of altec anythings save for one occasion where @JohnVF was there. Was that what those things were?

I generally like British speakers. I've had more than just one pair over the years among other things. I ended up with a Waveguide (horn)/Compression driver and large woofer arrangement so I think I know what you guys are getting at. So while my path is slightly varied, I think it's more similar than different.

@tomlinmgt did you end up throwing in the towel on the apogees(?) that you had? Those are the only "panel" speaker I have ever heard that I liked. And I have had a few.
 

tomlinmgt

Moderator
@240sx4u Not exactly...and they were Acoustats, for the record. I monkeyed with them and got them pretty well balanced out (after replacing the mid/hi panel I burned through with a heat gun)...but ultimately sold them to my solid state tech (and a damn good one at that) and audio buddy Kevin who tweaked on em a little more and got them to singing pretty sweetly with some big ass MOSFET he hot rodded (a TransNova Hafler, IIRC).

So you finished the build with the AE TD-15's??? Got a link to the build?

Sorry for the thread derail @writethis
 

240sx4u

Technically It's LexusGuy
@240sx4u Not exactly...and they were Acoustats, for the record. I monkeyed with them and got them pretty well balanced out (after replacing the mid/hi panel I burned through with a heat gun)...but ultimately sold them to my solid state tech (and a damn good one at that) and audio buddy Kevin who tweaked on em a little more and got them to singing pretty sweetly with some big ass MOSFET he hot rodded (a TransNova Hafler, IIRC).

So you finished the build with the AE TD-15's??? Got a link to the build?

Sorry for the thread derail @writethis

I never did any sort of build thread whatsoever. I forgot I was working on those when we met. I kinda faded offline after that. I will start a different post when I have an opportunity.
 
I never did any sort of build thread whatsoever. I forgot I was working on those when we met. I kinda faded offline after that. I will start a different post when I have an opportunity.
I would be interested in some details as well. I haven’t heard AE drivers but have heard good things about them. There are some similarities with Altec.
 

Kpatch

Junior Member
I have a lot of experience with British monitors but no so much with the Altecs. I started with KEFs (still have a pair of 104.2s in the basement awaiting some TLC) and I was able to A/B the 104.2s against the Altec Model 15s and to my ears the 104.2s were far better.

The KEFs were eventually replaced my Proacs, the Proacs replaced by Harbeths, the Harbeths replaced by Spendors. I still have a boxed pair of near mint C7ES3s to go to market when this COVID curse is over.

I’m not a horn guy, tried to be, wanted to be, but they didn’t take. However active speakers now interest me greatly and will undoubtedly serve to thin the Spendor herd - but not replace all of them.
 

Kyle

Junior Member
Not only the bass impact, but would you agree that a compression driver and the way it delivers mid and HF energy through some method of horn loading makes a unique contribution to the visceral impact, as well? That's been my experience, and I find myself drawn to designs that use large format compression drivers because of it. Not sure how big the diaphragms are in the big Tannoys, but I know the magnet structure is beefy as hell. Point being, that's another significant distinctiom between Altec and what's generally categorized as the British sound...a horn loaded compression driver compared against a dome tweeter. Two different animals with different sonic characteristics. As has been cited in this conversation, for something British to get on the same playing field as Altec with 15" LF driver/compression driver, one really has to get aplles to apples with the driver complement, and for that there's really only Tannoy. Seems to me classic British monitors and all their iterations just aren't physically capable of wrestling with physics like a big Tannoy dual concentric design.
Some of the big Vitavox speakers are comparable to Altec and Klipsch. Great compression drivers and nice wood horns. They're relatively rare in North America but they have the big presentation and effortless impact being discussed.
 

tomlinmgt

Moderator
Some of the big Vitavox speakers are comparable to Altec and Klipsch. Great compression drivers and nice wood horns. They're relatively rare in North America but they have the big presentation and effortless impact being discussed.
I'd not heard of Vitavox, but some brief poking around showed me some very cool stuff! They have a corner horn that's way cool and it appears to still be available after many years of having been in production. Why am I just now hearing about this manufacturer? Did they never have a distributor in the US?

 
I'd not heard of Vitavox, but some brief poking around showed me some very cool stuff! They have a corner horn that's way cool and it appears to still be available after many years of having been in production. Why am I just now hearing about this manufacturer? Did they never have a distributor in the US?

I think they licensed the corner horn cabinet from klipsch, also provided klipsch with drivers briefly.

The new drivers are very expensive, used in the top of the line living voice speakers.
 
System synergy is what I strive for. I like both the Altec and british sound, but I don't find them too similar in my world. I find that my KEF 103/3's sound great mated to my Acurus P10/A100. The Altec Model 15's sound pretty terrific with the Marantz 2245, and I just love the sound of my Monitor Audio Silver 9i mated with the C34V/2205 combo in my main system. I wish I didn't like the Monitor Audio so much, as I would actually like to mate the 2205 with something that would handle all its power, but I rarely listen to music that loud so it suffices.
 
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