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Steve F

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  1. First of all, if you’re going to insult me and say that my opinion is equal to a container of s***, then at least spell it correctly: crock, not croc. There, that’s better. Now I feel properly admonished. I agree completely with this, however. Completely, totally, 100%. You could also replace the term “hi-fi dealership’ and replace it with ‘loudspeaker manufacturer’ and it would be equally true. What a croc! A hi-fi dealership loudspeaker manufacturer is not an altruistic endeavor to enlighten the would-be customer. It is a business, …the dealers would "push" a product that sold well with the right amount of incentive, and incidentally, KLH, EPI, Advent and many others gave the dealers this incentive to keep favor with them. There is an important concept here that needs to be fleshed out—the vague implication in this passage that since KLH, EPI and Advent gave dealers incentives to “keep favor with them” that it somehow meant that KLH, EPI and Advent didn’t make worthy, credible products. That’s untrue—their products were quite worthy and credible. I’m not talking about personal taste, per se, but there is no question that they endeavored to design and build good speakers. Here’s the point: A company can and should be good at both engineering/design and sales/marketing. If the industry norm behavior at that time was offering spiffs and kickback and high commissions, then so be it. AR should have followed suit. Or suffer at retail. AR chose to suffer at retail. Did they do a lot of business anyway for a nice stretch of time? Sure! But they could have and should have done even more business, for a longer period of time. That’s my point. Now to the Sound Rooms. See above: A hi-fi dealership loudspeaker manufacturer is not an altruistic endeavor to enlighten the would-be customer. It is a business. Why do you think AR had these rooms, with their nice low-key, no-pressure, no sales atmosphere? To “enlighten the customer?” No. To impress the customer. To get the customer to think to themselves (and spread the word to others) that “AR was such a nice company, they have these really cool sound rooms, I heard these great speakers there, the people were so nice, they patiently and calmly answered so many questions, I felt really comfortable, etc, etc.” To what end? Altruism? No, so the customer would seek out and buy AR speakers—regardless of whether or not the customer got a good demo at a store. The AR Sound Room was a device to increase AR’s sales—not to enlighten would-be customers. Because, as Tom said, “A loudspeaker manufacturer is not an altruistic endeavor.” As far as not criticizing any individuals who have passed away, that’s an unusual way of looking at things, in my view. Are we not to evaluate and criticize a deceased past president who plunged us into recession or a coach who made the wrong call in a 1955 game or a general who blundered in a famous Civil War battle? Does the fact that the individual is no longer alive render them immune to criticism? Not in my book. My criticism of AR’s marketing stands, as my opinion, even though those AR individuals have passed away. And my criticism of AR’s marketing in no way diminishes my virtually boundless admiration for their product excellence and superb customer service. Steve F.
  2. I'll reiterate what I said in my post above. This applies to the rental program and is borne out by everyone's retail experiences stated above: "Remember, AR wouldn’t have needed those AR Sound Rooms [or rental programs] so people could hear “how they really sounded” if their basic marketing policies were decent enough so dealers supported them and demo'ed their speakers properly. Think about that for a moment." Good sales and marketing programs are just as necessary to overall business success as having a great product. They may have been "customer-centric," but the dealer was their 'customer' also. Astonishing that otherwise intelligent people like Villchur, Allison and Landeau could be so incompetent when it came to sales and marketing. With just a little effort, AR could have maintained its market dominance for several more years and could have provided Advent and EPI with some real retail showroom competition in the 1970's. Instead, AR surrendered the retail showroom front without a fight, and retreated to the safety of mail-order discount and military PX. AR couldn't duke it out with Advent on the Tweeter Etc showroom floor, partly because their (AR's) dealer policies were so ill-suited. Steve F.
  3. Correction (cut and paste error) "The dealer would send AR copies of ad invoices from Stereo Review—‘proof of advertising’—and AR would credit them the money in their co-op account" That should be "the local newspaper" or "the dealer's holiday catalog." The dealer needed to provide proof to the manufacturer that they had advertised the product, then the manufacturer would reimburse the dealer out of their co-op fund. Steve F.
  4. This is a topic I’ve written about on these pages at great length, several times in the past, so we’re essentially “re-taking previously conquered territory” here in this post. Still, an interesting subject. This magazine ad is not a consumer ad from Stereo Review or another enthusiast magazine. Rather, this is a trade ad from one of the industry trade magazines that retailers received, such as High Fidelity Trade News. It is an AR ad aimed at the hi-fi retailer, telling them to carry AR speakers. The interesting point of the ad is that AR is practically pleading with the dealer to give them a try, saying, in effect, “We’ve learned our lessons! Now we have co-op advertising and promotions. Really. Carry our brand. We promise you’ll make money selling AR, finally, not like before.” (Co-op advertising was a promotional allowance that the dealer accrued as a percentage of the business they did with that brand, that the manufacturer would pay them upon proof that they advertised the brand. Let’s say dealer A bought $10,000 worth of AR speakers and AR offered a 5% co-op allowance. That’s $500 that would accrue into that dealer’s ad fund for AR. After, say, 2 or 3 months, the dealer might have a few thousand dollars in their AR fund. The dealer would send AR copies of ad invoices from Stereo Review—‘proof of advertising’—and AR would credit them the money in their co-op account.) Every manufacturer did this. Except AR. They were so arrogant and aloof (thinking “we build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to the dealer’s door”) that they didn’t offer the usual ad allowances, spiffs, promos, etc. that are a normal part of good business. Every 18-year old college marketing freshman learns the 4 ‘P’s’ of marketing: Product Price Promotion Place AR did well on Product, but they obviously never went to college for the other three. As a result, they pretty much got their clock cleaned at retail by Advent, EPI and many others. Villchur, Allison, Landeau, et al. were not exactly marketing gurus. Their written ads were good—particularly Villchur’s—but their dealer policies were naïve and ineffective. Remember, AR wouldn’t have needed those AR Sound Rooms so people could hear “how they really sounded” if their basic marketing policies were decent enough so dealers supported them and demo'ed their speakers properly. Think about that for a moment. BTW, this trade ad was a flop. The dealers never supported the Classic line. By time the superb ADDs came out with far better dealer policies, the independent dealers (like Tweeter, Hi Fi Buys, United, etc.) were already very mistrustful of AR from years past and the terrific ADDs and Verticals never enjoyed the smashing retail success that they deserved. “Once bitten, twice shy.” AR is a textbook example of two things: 1. How to invent an industry-leading product that was vastly superior for a decade and still pack-leading in years 11-20, and 2. How to fail miserably at marketing those superior products Steve F.
  5. AR's reason for being

    As the owner of a company said on more than one occasion, "We're not here to save the world from bad sound!" Any idea for a commercial product in virtually any field is brought into reality for the purpose of making a profit. The company's founder can--and should--treat people well along the way: their employees, their customers, etc. No reason not to. In fact, inexcusable not to. Villchur was undoubtedly better than 95% in this regard--AR employees were treated very well, he instituted unique service policies such as providing free replacement packaging to customers if needed and paying freight both ways for warranty returns, full testing and re-certification of repaired units, etc. But this is all off-topic to my original post. My original post--if you re-read it--was that many audiophiles think that the owners of these various companies have as their primary concern the absolute, hobbyist-level obsession about the final sound quality as the audiophile customers themselves. I'm simply saying no. That is a concern, but not their primary concern. Don't over-think and over-defend this. I've been there and seen it. Steve F.
  6. AR's reason for being

    Although they may not realize it, the last two posters actually agree with everything I said. First, a clarification: selling 'sh*t' doesn't mean selling bad stuff or hypocritically looking the other way when you crank out mediocre gear. 'Sh*t' is just slang for 'stuff,' as in "We want to sell lots of stuff." The "stuff" is good, high-quality. The reason it's good is primarily because market forces and competition push you to make it good. That's the primary reason. The secondary reason--and it is there, no question--is that the designers/owners of the company have a passion for that kind of thing. As for the 'this tweeter vs. that,' 'air core vs. iron core,' '47Hz vs, 52Hz' comparison, those were simply to demonstrate that I was in the middle of the most detailed decisions made on speakers, from the vantage point of a manufacturer, over a span of several decades with some of the most well-known companies in the business. Obviously, the air core vs. iron core choke doesn't affect the bass response, but there was no representation that it did. It was simply an example of the minute level I was involved in. I was primarily in marketing and product development/Eng management (never in Sales for a speaker company, other than in-field Sales training for our dealers and company salespeople). I supervised, managed and made every manner of engineering/design/voicing decision there was to be made, after I conceived, planned and defined all the products, right down to the wall-mounting hardware. At one company, I spec'd the T-S parameters for the subwoofer drivers from our vender, and specified the internal cabinet volume and amp characteristics. Our design engineer said to me when the samples came in, "Well, ok, I guess I'll do the last 5%, but these are about the best system-matched elements I've ever seen for a family of powered subwoofers. You made my job real easy." Then I wrote every owner's manual, every ad that appeared in Stereo Review and every training manual. For well over 20 years. My first-hand, front-row view of the US speaker industry is an interesting one. I don't mean to imply that the founders of our favorite companies didn't care about performance or that they don't care about their customers. That's not what I said. But they also didn't do what they did for the altruistic reasons that so many audiophiles/hobbyists ascribe to them. That makes me smile. That's what I was saying. Steve F.
  7. AR's reason for being

    True, it could be said to varying degrees about most consumer products. The difference here is that unlike, say, toaster ovens or leather recliners, most audiophiles feel as if the owners/designers of audio products have a special, personal connection and regard for their customers. It's like the audiophile imbues the company with having their (the end user's) best interests and enjoyment deeply at heart, because it just matters to them (the company) so much, far beyond the regular 'we want a loyal customer' thing. I'm just reminding everyone that that's definitely not true. Yes, we took pride in the quality and performance of our products, we enjoyed it when Stereo Review gave us a great review, but it all related back to sales. There is no "special connection." We, as hobbyists, can feel emotional and very passionate--even defensive--about these products, but everyone needs to remember not to romanticize the companies' motives. They weren't operating as non-profit organizations, existing only to raise the aesthetic sensibilities of the audio world. Steve F.
  8. AR's reason for being

    It’s funny how “outsiders” view speaker companies from the 1950-1980 era: They tend to view them as altruistic entities, concerned mostly with satisfying the acoustic desires of music enthusiasts by producing speakers that faithfully and accurately replicated the sound of music, and employing state-of-the-art design and manufacturing tools to achieve that end. The Sound was all that mattered to these companies—delivering a great sound, performance and value to the music enthusiast while delighting the hard-core audiophile. Roy, Ed, Henry, Andy, Sandy, et al.—all that mattered to them was the deep satisfaction of producing great-sounding speakers. Nope. Sorry. AR, Advent, KLH, EPI, Polk, JBL, and so on and so forth were in existence to make money and provide a living for the people who worked there. They didn’t exist for your delight, enjoyment and bragging rights. The way those companies continued to exist was to sell more stuff. The way they could sell more stuff was by constantly improving their products and introducing innovative new products for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage over the other companies in their industry. So they could sell more stuff. Not for the satisfaction of developing the new engineering breakthrough. If you worked there, you could and did derive satisfaction within the company for a job well done, but the point was, as a VERY well-known boss I had once said, “to sell sh*t!!” I love this forum and discussing the whys and wherefores of the various models, why they came out with that model, when they upgraded that tweeter, why that crossover frequency changed, why/when the Teak finish option was dropped. This is a fascinating hobby like no other. But I worked inside the speaker business for a long, long time. I made the “this tweeter, not that one” decision. I argued with various bosses over, “Let’s take this baby to 45Hz, and not be satisfied with 52Hz.” I told Engineering to use the air-core choke not the iron-core choke. I negotiated with Stereo Review for the best ad rates for a package of 12 print ads in a calendar year, “and you better toss in an ad in the Buying Guide for free.” These companies did what they did in order to sell stuff and make money, first, last and in-between. That producing a quality product was probably the most effective way to gain a competitive edge over your competition was a favorable by-product of the process. But please remember—the 3’s deep bass advantage over other speakers was engineered into existence to sell more speakers and pay AR’s employees’ mortgages. Not to give you bragging rights. Steve F.
  9. Never heard the 12" at its best

    When your 9's were restored was there any internal bracing added. I was thinking of adding some criss cross bracing above the woofer chamber and right below the lower mid driver. Another thought I have had is lining the interior cabinet walls with some type of Dynamat material to reduce vibrations. No, no kind of bracing was added. The cabinets are totally stock. I think some kind of added bracing would help, especially since the 9's dual woofers generates a good deal of internal pressure. There just wasn't the awareness of cabinet stiffness/inertness in 1979 (nor the ability to measure it) as there would be later. And yes, even though the 9 was a TOTL, high-priced speaker, AR still wanted it to be affordable. When the dollars are going into the drivers and crossover, the manufacturer will economize on the cabinet. Happens all the time. As far as Dynamat, we've played around with it at various speaker companies I've been with. It works, but it's too expensive to use in a mass-market speaker. You also have to be careful about not reducing the interior volume of the cabinet. Steve F.
  10. Never heard the 12" at its best

    No, merely installing some front-to-back stick bracing is not what I’m talking about. Although judicious stick bracing can be very effective, I’m talking about the “next level” of cabinet inertness. That level can only be achieved by thicker cabinet walls (1-inch minimum for non-woofer panels, 2-inch minimum for woofer-bearing panels), asymmetric windowpane bracing (asymmetric to prevent coincident frequencies from being reinforced as they would be if the bracing was regularly-spaced), and any internal mid enclosures to have walls that are not parallel to the main cabinet interior walls (to prevent any reflections). Here’s a thought that’s crossed my mind (the mind I had before I lost it, that is!): I own AR9’s. Nicely restored (re-foamed and re-capped by the prior owner, an MIT engineering student). I love ‘em. I’ve thought of taking the guts and putting them in new custom-designed, custom-built cabinets. Maybe take that opportunity to use beefier bi-amp terminal connections, but leave everything else the way it is. I still know my industrial designer from my AT days and I’d have him design the cabinet. Panel thickness would be as described above (maybe only the lower woofer sections of the side panels need be 2-inches thick, the rest could be 1-inch), bracing as described, internal chamber for the 8-inch LMR as described. I’d take advantage of the chance to make the 9’s really attractive, with slightly curved sides and a smoked glass insert on top, similar in look to the Atlantic Technology AT-1, which was a truly sharp-looking floorstander in my view. Pic attached. Color TBD, but the AT-1’s dark gray with a very subtle metallic flake was quite nice, like a luxury car’s finish. I’m still in touch with a major vendor that I knew from my BA and AT days, so the whole thing is actually doable. It just may not be sane, and it certainly wouldn’t be cheap! My suspicion is that the bass would tighten up ever-so-slightly and the speakers would look incomparably better. When I hit Powerball, I’ll tell you how it goes. Steve F.
  11. Here’s an intriguing thought—I wonder how much “better”—deeper and/or tighter—Classic AR bass would have been if the Classic thru Vertical enclosures were thick-walled, heavily-braced affairs, like the Thiels and Legacy’s of the world? There have been some Thiel models with 3-inch (!) MDF front baffles and Legacy Audio is famous for its overbuilt, heavily-braced cabinets. Many other audiophile speaker companies follow suit (B&W has their Matrix, etc). It makes perfect sense, logically: The driver produces ‘x’ amount of energy. That energy can either be projected out into the room as clean audible energy or it can be partially absorbed and diffused by a lossy cabinet with flexing panels. Here’s a great analogy I used to use in my sales training days at BA and Atlantic Technology: Think of Carl Lewis, the great track runner. He’s in top shape, wearing the very best Nike running shoes. He runs the 100-yd dash on the indoor track. World’s record. Now take the same Carl Lewis, in the same top shape, wearing the same Nike running shoes. Have him run the 100-yd dash at the seashore, in the soft, wet sand. The indoor track is Enclosure #1. The soft, wet sand is Enclosure #2. Lewis (the woofer) is outputting the exact same amount of energy. Will the end results differ? Yes, obviously. Before everyone starts howling that the 3a’s enclosure had some bracing, ok, yes it did. Many AR speakers had some bracing. But it was minimal compared to a 1990’s audiophile speaker, one that benefitted from less cost restraints and also had the benefit of computer-aided vibration analysis, accelerometer testing and the like. My Connoisseur 50’s had 1-inch cabinet walls, but virtually every AR 12-inch speaker had only ¾-inch panels, and that was reduced still further where the woofer mounting area was routed out. (And the Connoisseur 50 had a Tonegen 12-inch polypropylene cone woofer with a FAR of around 24Hz--not 17-18Hz like the 3/3a--so the 50’s bass extension was actually inferior to the 3a’s, despite the 50’s greater cabinet volume.) The Classic AR 12-inch woofer has proven over time to be a remarkable driver. But I’d love to hear it in an enclosure that really enables it to perform to its maximum potential. We hear it now at the “97%” level. For us—the ultimate music/audiophiles—hearing it at “100%” would be sonic nirvana. Steve F.
  12. AR-3a vs. Original Large Advent

    We’re a bit off-topic now (AR-14 and NLA), but ok, I’ll bite. If it was a 1977 demo of the Advent and AR-11, it had to be the New Advent, not the original. The Original was discontinued in 1976 and a rep would be showing off the latest, and that would be the New. The New was smoother and a bit more refined than the Original, but it didn’t have quite the same deep bass extension. I remember distinctly doing an extended A-B at a Cambridge MA store between the OLA and the AR-14 in 1976. Except for the very deep bass, the 14 trounced the Advent, making it sound like a honky, over-midrangy mess. The NLA would have less of a deep-bass advantage over the 14 but would likely have been more competitive with it in the mids and highs. The 14 was a terrific speaker. Although 10-inch 2-ways have since fallen out of favor because of the extreme midrange beaming by the large woofer before it crosses over to the small tweeter (heck, even 8-inch 2-ways are almost non-existent these days, the norm being 6 ½-inch and 5 ¼-inch 2-ways), a very strong argument can be made that the AR-14 was the very best overall 10-inch 2-way speaker of all those great original New England 10-inch 2-ways: the KLH 6, the Original Large Advent, the New Large Advent and the AR-14. I’d take the 14 over any of them. Sorry—I don’t consider the AR-2 or AR-2x (either ‘old’ or ‘new’) to have been great 10-inch 2-ways. Good, but not great. The original 2 was also very significant historically, but with its somewhat ragged midrange FR, its necessity of horizontal-only use and its lack of extension above 12-13kHz, it can’t be called “great” by objective standards, once emotion is removed from the evaluation. Steve F.
  13. I like to think that my historical/chronological knowledge of AR from 1954-1980 (through the Verticals) is about as thorough and accurate as it gets. I like to think that, but it's not always true. The AR-3F, from what I've heard, was an early attempt by AR to make a 3a with a "flat" (hence 'F') response. I think it was just before the ADDs (10π, 11) and if it was an attempt based on the old non-ferro-fluid hard paper 3/4" dome, it would have been impossible. That tweeter could not handle the power, nor did it have the efficiency, to have sufficient output to be part of a 'flat' 3a-based system. The early 10 and 11 tweeters (which may not have been fluid-cooled) were nonetheless far more efficient and had greater power-handling than the 3a/LST tweeter, so the ADDs had essentially 'flat' response. Certainly once those tweeters were ferro-fluid-cooled, they simply cruised. This 3F may be a prototype of that speaker, never in production. Who knows where it came from. When AR left MA for CA in 1993, all the remaining Canton MA production references and lab prototypes ended up at a Waltham MA electronics surplus clearance house, for sale to the public. I could have bought Bx/Bxi/Spirit/Classic (the 1992 Classics, not what we call the 1954-74 Classics) etc. references and protos if I'd wanted. Perhaps this 3F is something like that--a one-off that somehow made it out into private hands. That's my guess. Steve F.
  14. AR-3a vs. Original Large Advent

    are way easier to maintain th[an] AR speakers. In retrospect, that is certainly true. Who knew in 1973 what a total pain it would be to still have a properly-functioning set of 3-way second-gen AR Classics 45 years later? OK, so woofer surround foam rot affects all speakers from that era, but that is pretty easily remedied. But the problems specific to ARs are really bothersome and some are just not correctable. For the 2ax (new), 5 and 3a, there is the tweeter issue: those three little blobs that constitute the tweeter ‘surround’ simply degrade and stiffen, reducing the tweeter’s output far below its already “reticent, too-polite” level. When brand new, the 2ax’s/3a’s on-axis tweeter level was 5-6 dB below the woofer level. AR’s own system curves show this. A 40-year-old tweeter with output reduced even farther below that level results in a speaker with barely-audible highs. The foam dampening button underneath the black ¾” paper dome has long since deteriorated into nothingness. Unfixable (although it’s of uncertain audible impact). One of our members apparently can re-build those original hard-paper black domes. But as of a year ago, there simply was no remedy to the degraded originals, if you wanted originals. The pots. Enough said. Even the off-white linen grilles are unusually prone to glue stains and darkening, and require an inordinately complicated cleaning/bleaching/drying procedure if you want to bring them back. Sure, it’s worth it. Properly-functioning 3a’s deliver a combination of great sound and amazing nostalgia that’s very tough to beat. But it’s not an undertaking for sissies or the unskilled. OLA’s on the other hand, seem to be pretty hardy beasts. Just re-do the woofer foam and you’re likely good to go. Steve F.
  15. Steve, do you feel the same about the AR90's 10 inch woofers compared to the other 12" models mentioned? No, not al all. I was talking about Classic-era ARs--3a, 2ax, 4x. As is typical, the dreaded "thread creep" takes the discussion way off course, into areas not even touched upon by the original poster. 90's and 9's are not part of this discussion and either one has bass superior to the 3a. In my highly-subjective experience, listening to my 2ax's and my Dad's 4x's--in the same room, hooked up to the 'A-B' speaker outputs of his amp--the two models had comparable bass at normal everyday listening levels. Clean, strong, detailed, musical. Not a huge difference in the subjective quality or reach of the bass. Not talking mid-treble, I'm taking bass. Let's stay on topic. My cousin's 3a's were from a different planet, bass-wise. The 2's and 4's were the same species from the same planet. Very similar. The 3a's were aliens from another world. The gap between the 2's and the 4's bass was very slight, but it was HUGE between them and the 3a's. Steve F.