Finally, around mid-June, the long awaited Altec Lansing Voice of the Theatre Gary Fischer Speakers rebuilds with Allnic Audio’s KS Park designed Constant Impedance Network crossovers arrived in Kelowna!
Huge, heavy and shipped directly from Altec rebuild specialist Gary Fischer in Pennsylvania – a pair of massive, skid mounted boxes landed on the driveway. We managed to get them inside, barely containing our anticipation to see what these modern miracles of vintage re-vivification looked and sounded like. After uncrating, they spent a week or so in the garage, running gently on an old CD player and receiver to “warm ‘em up” and get the drivers more broken in. With that kind of set up – hardly ideal – they sounded “okay”, and I hoped that what I was hearing was the promise of real magnificence… The time finally came to get them down the mountain at the side of the house and into the listening room for the real test of all the money, work and waiting.
Yes, from the rear they are indeed just slightly “industrial”! Note Mr. Park’s crossover, the “magic box” attached to the back.
“Gettin’ into it, to get ‘em into it!
WHAT INSTIGATED ALL THIS?
About eight months ago, I was investigating new speakers for potential purchase, and in a regular call with KS Park, he suggested an alternative… He said that he was developing a constant impedance network for vintage speakers such as the fabled Altec’s A5, JBL Hartsfield, and some of the vintage Tannoy speaker designs. He believed that with the addition of his network we could make a speaker as good as, if not better than, anything I might be considering in my price bracket AND maybe even save some money. The perfect combo! And with my faith in KS Park’s abilities, that was it… dice rolled; and we were off!
I was so intrigued with his suggestion and confidence I listed a Canuck Audio Mart want ad for a pair of ALTEC Voice of the Theaters, A5s. Viewing my ad, friend Jac Zylstra contacted Gary Fischer Speakers. https://www.facebook.com/Gary-Fischer-Speakers-527272434113503/https://www.garyfischerspeakers.com Gary has a business refurbishing vintage Altec speaker systems. With Jac’s prompt, Gary contacted me and suggested he could build a pair a pair of Altec A5s to meet my price point. With this, the plan was to buy KS Park’s constant impedance network (CIN) to send to Gary to install as the crossovers once he completed the cabinets and refurbished the selected drivers and horns.
This turned out to be quite a job, as we started with a vintage cabinet that turned out to be not so correct nor presentable. Gary then said he could build a new, replica cabinet that would be sonically superior, a better solution than to try to refurbish a mouse turd infested box built in the late ‘50s. I agreed. We sourced a pair of Altec 1005B horns in California that would be bolted onto the 32 pound 288-16G compression drivers. This combination was to be the high frequency units. Collectively, we chose a pair of 416B 15” woofers over my original desire for a pair of 515Bs. Gary and KS advised that he newer 416s would outperform the more vintage 515Bs. Gary installed new Great Plain Audio 416 voice coils and cones to bring the big drivers up to new spec.
I also decided with Gary to “go for broke” and install a super-tweeter on each speaker.The unit of choice was the JBL 077.
The boxes Gary ended up designing and building are, actually, things of beauty, if you can call the utilitarian Voice of the Theatre beautiful – why not?! We went quite crazy with these boxes by over structuring the cabinets to reduce unwanted resonances. He added motorized, remotely controlled actuators capable of lifting the speakers about 5 1/2 inches to allow for sliding a wheeled dolly underneath for ease of movement. Once moved into place, we could power up the actuators, lift the speakers, remove the dolly, and then lower the speakers onto the tip toes attached to the bottom of the actuator pillars. Doing so gave us flexibility in the movement of these awkward cabinets and secondly offered a different way of changing height and horn angle bettering the sonic performance. Actuators in action
During the build we ran into some passionate disagreement about the choice of the horn. With Gary’s investigations, and speaking to previous Altec technicians, the 1005B horn we had selected appeared to be, potentially, a poor choice for nearfield listening. We bought another horn, the Altec Manta Ray, which was designed for home use, with wide and near field listening. After some heated conversation with KS Park, it was decided we would stick with the 1005B horns that had been the original choice.Keep in mind that these horns, built in the ‘50s, we’re designed for stadium and theater sound applications, meaning that they are able to project upper frequencies a long, long way and are not really intended to be listened to within eight or 9 feet. At the time of the discussion (argument!), Mr. Park assured Gary and me that the CIN he had devised would mitigate any nearfield listening issues and there was no need for our fears about his choice of horn sounding aggressive and inappropriate for this application. Needless to say, Gary was skeptical, and I was unsure but hopeful that KS Park’s audio mastery and ability would not let us down. And guess what – the 1005B horn is absolutely amazing on these speakers and lives in my room!!
WHAT DID WE GET?
The Altecs are popular with the do-it-yourself crowd, but I am glad to report that the Allnic CIN crossover works as advertised. It has silenced any and all critique. In the week past, I’ve entertained several friends and customers with audition of these forgotten jewels. Amazement and flat out giddiness were the reactions of a few, others broke out laughing and clapping in joy. Myself, I found a new, old style of speaker design to love and recommend. These are so good it’s impossible to keep your head down whilst trying to read… my eyes keep straying upward to see whatever is producing that last sound.
I am fortunate enough to have a room that is large enough to accommodate the sound pressure levels the Voice of the Theaters can deliver – let alone the physical dimensions of the speakers. My room is 39 by 17 by 9 feet. The speakers sounded fantastic on their own, but with the distance from the front wall and corners at which I have to place them, the addition of a pair of REL subwoofers really brought them home. What surprises me is that they sound amazing with every kind of music, not only my preferred techno, but also with electronic rock, acoustic jazz and folk, as well as dense orchestration. Using a 6 watt per channel pair of Allnic’s A-311M monoblocks using ancient PX25 power tubes, an Allnic tube front end, and Allnic ZL cabling (those are Allnic ZL-5000 speaker cables attached to the crossover’s 5-way binding posts), I’m able to achieve unrestrained, uncluttered, dynamic and life-size playback. It is truly scary!There is also a small rotating knob on the crossover. In this case, it’s an 11 step attenuator for varying the gain on the compression driver to enable custom matching between it and the fixed gain woofer. The first position is minus 2 db. The resistor at the top is for the crossover point to the super tweeter. The AC line into the IEC at the bottom rear of the speakers is for the actuators.
In conversation with Gary after the speakers had left his premises, he said he felt sadness, profound sadness. Over the past 12 years, he told me, and of the 50 pairs of these vintage Altecs he had refurbished, he had not ever experienced the Altec’s true abilities. The impact of Mr. Park’s CIN crossover had revived his desire to build speakers as a search for the holy Grail. He reported that his customers and audio associates were literally staggered by the sonic capabilities of these A5s with Allnic’s CIN crossovers strapped to their backs.
In today’s climate, it’s very cool to make what is old new again. Given that the pursuit of this hobby is performance driven, and becoming cognizant of knowledge that the weakest link is the choke-point of sonic nirvana, it makes sense to look at all the potential ways to improve. To date, I’ve not experienced a speaker system that was literally dropped into a room with so little set-up ado and yet had such sonic, and emotional, results. I predict that there will be many grins and much joy from Kang Su Park’s “CIN-fully” wonderful magic boxes Mr. Park reports that in South Korea more than 40 customers have also rolled the dice for his CIN crossovers in a variety of vintage speakers including Vitavox, JBL, Altec and Tannoy – all with jaw-dropping results.
This is a turning point. I’m going to explore further possibilities, trying KS Park’s magic boxes with a variety of speakers. Mr. Park replicated the JBL Hartsfield in Korea using original Hartsfield JBL drivers and a cloned cabinet.He showed at a major Seoul audio exposition. His room was packed morning to night, with visitors amazed at the sound from a speaker system costing in some cases less than 1/6th of others at the show. Nobody wanted to leave the Allnic room; he stole the show.
With the results of this project, I’ve invested in two other vintage speaker systems from the ‘70s, a pair of JBL Olympus and Altec 9848s. I’m anxious to apply KS Park’s CIN crossovers to these two systems. I’m hoping to duplicate the end result of the A5 project that Gary Fischer and KS Park produced for me.And, in fact, many have been in contact with me already for future possibilities for enhancing their vintage speaker systems. Don Corby, our Allnic dealer in southern Ontario, has a large 4 -way JBL system, and he has already enlisted Mr. Park to manufacture a pair of 4-way CIN magic boxes for him. The end result should be pretty stellar. If he gets even a fraction of what I have experienced, the improvement will be a home run.
In my room, right now, the speakers are reproducing music as in a live environment, be it intimate club, classical concert hall or massive stadium – whatever the recording engineer was after. One friend who visited had to be prodded and yelled at to revive him from his trance after a listening session! I know it’s cliched, but I find myself playing my music as if for the first time, discovering nuances of both detail and presentation I have never, really, never, experienced with any other speakers I have owned. This project was truly significant. I could not be more thrilled, and encourage all of you to find and correct the weakest link in your chain and discover new, beautiful horizons.
Oh, and not to forget… a few words about the Allnic ZL cables they just purchased, from a couple of John Ketcham’s clients in the US:
It is a direct conduit between speaker and amp. Made my system more resolving and more natural at the same time with noticeable lowering of the noise floor… Exposed more information… More resolving.
It’s freakishly insane. Like, I am dumbfounded. I hear everything, basically. I didn’t think my system could disappear more. But it just did. The noise floor dropped a bunch. Deeper tighter bass extension. I’m kinda flabbergasted.
Good listening, friends!!!