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Compelling AR "Hindsight" Questions:

Instead of the 3-way AR-5 with its excellent, expensive midrange and tweeter, should AR have made a good 3-way bookshelf unit using the AR-3a 12-inch woofer and an AR-2ax-type midrange and dome tweeter—at the AR-5 price point—to better compete with (or outgun) the Large Advent? It would use the AR-3a-size cabinet, but it would not include the expensive midrange-dome driver or solid-wood grill molding. It would look like a slightly larger AR-2ax box. As we all know, the AR-5 was (except for deep bass) technically superior to the Advent, but it failed in the market place because of its lack of low-end "punch" and its relatively high price. The AR-3a was definitely (and technically) superior to the Advent in deep bass, but it cost nearly twice as much. Therefore, would a watered-down 3-way, using the heavy AR-3a woofer, been the answer? Another angle: perhaps a 2-way design with a redesigned, Advent-like 10-inch woofer and a new mid-tweeter, capable of a lower crossover? By the time of the AR-14, these things were seriously contemplated, but it was too far down the road to try to catch the Advent's sales advantage. The AR-14's bass fell squarely between the AR-3a and the AR-5.

Another angle: should AR have designed the AR-5 with the AR-2ax's cone midrange and dome tweeter, but a more-potent, lower-resonance 10-inch woofer that would be equal to the Advent 10-inch woofer? This woofer would have the same low-resonance response of the Advent, but it would lack the extremely low distortion, potent output of the bigger AR-3a 12-inch woofer. Each of these designs might have cost less than the original AR-5, but looking back, hindsight is 20-20. Would any of these designs been the answer in 1968?

Thoughts... comments?

—Tom Tyson

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The reasoning that the 8-inchers went high enough so as not to warrant a three-way would be true if it wasn’t false.

Actually, the 8-inch woofers in those two-ways did go high enough. It’s the mid in the 2ax that didn’t go low enough. First-gen 2’ax’s had a W to M x-o of 2000Hz. Ridiculously high, nowhere near low enough to take advantage of a true 3-way’s potential advantage.

Ditto the 2nd-gen 2ax: 1400Hz, higher than the 4x and 2nd-gen 2x, both of which were 1200Hz.

The 2ax was no so much a true 3-way as it was a 2-way with a super tweeter. Looked at in that light, a similarly-designed 6 might have been pretty successful. Certainly far more than the 2x. Was there a need for or room for a 3-way 6 (8” 2ax) at $110ea in the Classic line-up?

Maybe, maybe not. It was a marketing angle, not a technical one. The 6 had virtually identical LF response to the 2ax/5, at least in the 6’s very early iterations. Would a “3-way” 6 at $110 have given AR a better counter to the Large Advent at $102-116 ea.?

Conversely, if AR had made a beefier, lower-res version of their 10” woofer that could more closely compete with the Advent’s close-to-3a-level bass response, put it in the 2x and 2ax (at retail pricing of, say, $115 and 140 ea.), would that have pulled AR’s fat from the fire in the 1969-1975 timeframe, when Advent totally annihilated AR at retail during the very height of the stereo boom market?

I’m not convinced that there was any combination of drivers—existing or potential—that AR could have concocted at that juncture in audio history that would have prevented their slide. It was caused by two things:

1. Unprofitable sales/marketing policies. AR sold to every mail-order discounter there was, and the corner independent audio shop—Advent’s bread and butter—could not make the money on AR that they did on Advent.

2. AR’s insistence on pursuing wide HF dispersion at the expense of adequate axial HF output. Those were the days before ferro-fluid cooled tweeters even existed, so AR’s fragile little ¾” domes had to be “padded down” for lower output, because they’d burn out at higher drive levels. At retail demos—far louder than domestic drive levels—ARs always sounded dull. The Advents sounded better every time in a retail A-B.

No combination of 2-way or 3-way 8” or 10” speakers would’ve corrected either of these two conditions. AR's demise was cast in stone. ARs to the average college kid: Dull and expensive. To the Believer: Natural and accurate. Guess who won?

Steve F.

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No combination of 2-way or 3-way 8” or 10” speakers would’ve corrected either of these two conditions. AR's demise was cast in stone. ARs to the average college kid: Dull and expensive. To the Believer: Natural and accurate. Guess who won?

Steve F.

In retrospect, Edgar Villchur's timing in selling AR was either brilliant, clairvoyant or both. Villchur was a classical and jazz listener through and through, both genres where the classic ARs' mellow sound excelled. Even years after he had left AR, he continued to reiterate his preference for live vs recorded tests using chamber music, long after the commercial speaker market had refocused its performance standards to reproducing the live sounds of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

I've also often wondered how much of AR's commercial success during the Villchur years resulted not from the speakers themselves but from AR's decision not to use its rights under Fair Trade to prevent their products from being discounted by retailers and from its seemingly suicidally generous product support policies.

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Well, I went with the AR-5's when my friends were buying JBL Century 100s. I grew up listening to recordings coming out of sound rooms with limited dynamic range. I still have a preference for acoustic music. Synthesized music doesn't really cut for me but I don't expect it will be going away anytime soon.

I'm obviously still attached to the classic AR's. It was all about the players in those days. If you could make money following your dream that's great, if not, so be it.

Roger

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>No combination of 2-way or 3-way 8” or 10” speakers would’ve corrected either of these two conditions. AR's demise was cast in stone. ARs to the average college kid: Dull and expensive. To the Believer: Natural and accurate. Guess who won? [steveF]<

This was true by the late-1970s, but from the mid-1960s until then, AR had a huge lead in sales numbers over Advent, the competitor in question. In the late 1960s, AR had an opportunity to fend off an upstart like Advent (they had kept KLH at bay from the late 1950s until KLH's last breath) had they designed a speaker to compete directly with the Large Advent, but AR did not do it. Nevertheless, market share data US domestic loudspeaker market comparing Acoustic Research and the much-vaunted, sometime self-proclaimed market share at Advent, shows AR's big advantage until 1974:

AR in 1970: 20.00%

Advent in 1970: 3.90%

AR in 1971: 14.30%

Advent in 1971: 3.30%

AR in 1972: 12.20%

Advent in 1972: 7.60%

AR in 1973: 12.50%

Advent in 1973: 9.30%

AR in 1974: 8.10%

Advent in 1974: 8.50%

AR in 1975: 6.50%

Advent in 1975: 8.00%

AR in 1976: 6.30%

Advent in 1976: 6.50%

>... the 8-inch woofers in those two-ways did go high enough. It’s the mid in the 2ax that didn’t go low enough. First-gen 2’ax’s had a W to M x-o of 2000Hz. Ridiculously high, nowhere near low enough to take advantage of a true 3-way’s potential advantage.[steveF]<

Actually, the AR-2ax midrange driver was fairly flat down to close to 1 kHz, with steep roll off below, so it could have been crossed over at a slightly lower frequency than was done in the AR-2ax. Part of the reason was the cost of the crossover, and the fact that the AR 10-inch woofer was fairly good up well above 1 kHz.

>The 2ax was no so much a true 3-way as it was a 2-way with a super tweeter. Looked at in that light, a similarly-designed 6 might have been pretty successful. Certainly far more than the 2x. Was there a need for or room for a 3-way 6 (8” 2ax) at $110ea in the Classic line-up? [steveF]<

This is probably more true of the original AR-3 with its dome midrange, which was crossed over to the super tweeter at 7500 Hz. During development of the AR-3, Villchur found that the 2-inch dome could almost cover all of the octaves in the treble, but it lacked the needed wide dispersion in the highest frequencies, thus the addition of the "super tweeter."

>Conversely, if AR had made a beefier, lower-res version of their 10” woofer that could more closely compete with the Advent’s close-to-3a-level bass response, put it in the 2x and 2ax (at retail pricing of, say, $115 and 140 ea.), would that have pulled AR’s fat from the fire in the 1969-1975 timeframe, when Advent totally annihilated AR at retail during the very height of the stereo boom market? I’m not convinced that there was any combination of drivers—existing or potential—that AR could have concocted at that juncture in audio history that would have prevented their slide. It was caused by two things:

1. Unprofitable sales/marketing policies. AR sold to every mail-order discounter there was, and the corner independent audio shop—Advent’s bread and butter—could not make the money on AR that they did on Advent.

2. AR’s insistence on pursuing wide HF dispersion at the expense of adequate axial HF output. Those were the days before ferro-fluid cooled tweeters even existed, so AR’s fragile little ¾” domes had to be “padded down” for lower output, because they’d burn out at higher drive levels. At retail demos—far louder than domestic drive levels—ARs always sounded dull. The Advents sounded better every time in a retail A-B.[steveF]<

Well... this isn't exactly true. The Large Advent clearly outsold the AR-3a, AR-5 and AR-2ax combined for a few years—and that was an surely outstanding result—but AR's other sales easily dominated Advent in the overall market-share numbers, according to Institure of High Fidelity Manufacturers and Stereo Review numbers. This, however, is where AR went astray: the company had an opportunity (and clearly the resources) to nip this surging Advent advantage early on, but it didn't happen, as AR was going through a major management change around this time. It wasn't until 1974 that Advent caught and passed AR in market share, and this only lasted for a few years before both began to decline as other competitors took up the slack. By this time it was too late, and AR went on to tower speakers and other designs to keep the numbers up. Advent fell into the "also ran" category with its mediocre products after Henry Kloss left the company.

As for mail-order business, yes, this cut the retailer off at the knees, and there was huge push-back in later years for retailers to again take on AR products. Nevertheless, AR was run by customer-centric executives in the early days of the company, and they could care less about dealer sentiment as long as their products were superior to other brands in performance, and people literally beat a path to their door. Witness the height of the mail-order boom for AR: it was in 1965 and 1966, the year that AR sold 32.20% of all loudspeakers in the US. No other "heavily marketed," "dealer-oriented" speaker company came even close to AR, and AR maintained good profitability throughout this time.

Finally, the reason that the AR domes had lower output was simply the lack of sensitivity, or efficiency, of the dome drivers. This was true of all of AR's phenolic-dome and paper-dome tweeters. It wasn't that the drivers were padded down; yet, AR was unwilling to give up the superior dispersion (and superior acoustic-power response) in favor of "flatter" or "brighter" on-axis response.

—Tom Tyson

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The Advent-AR market share numbers are a red herring. AR had far more models than Advent, so for Advent to even come close to AR in market share with only their 2 models vs. AR's 8 or 9 is not a rationale comparison. The only really relevant thing said here is that the Advent outsold the 3a-5-2ax combined.

AR selling to mail-order outfits is like a weak car manufacturer inflating their sales by selling to rental companies. That's what car companies do when they can't win customers at retail in head-to-head competition. AR couldn't win retail customers at the Tweeter Etc/Tech Hi Fi/Pacific Stereo level against Advent (or EPI, for that matter) for precisely the reasons I stated: Dull and unprofitable.

I'm talking about the 1970's market, when stereo exploded into the college-age buyer, not the staid, conservative late-50's/early 60's market when polite white-collar GE engineers living in suburbia bought their 2a's and Fisher receivers in very modest numbers. I'm talking about 1971-75, when millions of baby-boomer college kids were buying everything in sight: Advents, Pioneer/Kenwood/Sherwood/Sansui receivers, Dual turntables, etc in droves. Compared to a decade earlier, the stereo market had exploded. Exploded.

And AR missed out, because their products were dull-sounding at retail and unprofitable to sell.

Let's not delve into revisionist history.

Steve F.

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The Advent-AR market share numbers are a red herring. AR had far more models than Advent, so for Advent to even come close to AR in market share with only their 2 models vs. AR's 8 or 9 is not a rationale comparison. The only really relevant thing said here is that the Advent outsold the 3a-5-2ax combined.

AR selling to mail-order outfits is like a weak car manufacturer inflating their sales by selling to rental companies. That's what car companies do when they can't win customers at retail in head-to-head competition. AR couldn't win retail customers at the Tweeter Etc/Tech Hi Fi/Pacific Stereo level against Advent (or EPI, for that matter) for precisely the reasons I stated: Dull and unprofitable.

I'm talking about the 1970's market, when stereo exploded into the college-age buyer, not the staid, conservative late-50's/early 60's market when polite white-collar GE engineers living in suburbia bought their 2a's and Fisher receivers in very modest numbers. I'm talking about 1971-75, when millions of baby-boomer college kids were buying everything in sight: Advents, Pioneer/Kenwood/Sherwood/Sansui receivers, Dual turntables, etc in droves. Compared to a decade earlier, the stereo market had exploded. Exploded.

And AR missed out, because their products were dull-sounding at retail and unprofitable to sell.

Let's not delve into revisionist history.

Steve F.

The numbers don't lie, and there's nothing misleading about the fact that AR outsold Advent more than 5:1 in some of the crucial, formative hi-fi years! If anything, your description is somewhat revisionist! AR eventually survived while Advent declined into bankruptcy; with the sole exception of the Large Advent, nothing will be remembered about Advent Corporation, while AR's legacy will live on as an integral chapter in high-fidelity history with many, many contributions.

Advent rode a "one-trick pony" with their The Advent Loudspeaker; and as we said, it did exceedingly well for a few years, easily outselling many of AR's speakers combined for a period of two or three years during the mid-1970s. The only reason the speaker was created was to help fund the cash-strapped company's effort to develop the Videobeam TV system. Full credit must be given to Henry Kloss. Nevertheless, Acoustic Research should have—and could have—countered the success of that speaker had it not been caught up in a management change just about that time. AR took its eye off the ball, clearly, and much of this responsibility falls on Abe Hoffman, Roy Allison and Gerald Landau of the original AR management group in the late 1960s. By 1972, the latter managers were gone, and Teledyne had placed its own managers (after the 5-year grace period demanded by Villchur) in place; these new Teledyne marketing individuals (taken collectively when they started), seemed to know very little about the loudspeaker industry; but to their credit, they quickly they pulled it together by 1976 or so with the new ADD line. Teledyne/AR invested heavily in the restructuring of the company and its products, whereas companies like Advent began steep declines and eventually perished.

Also, as I said, I don't think Roy Allison and others read the importance of the Advent when it was introduced, and by the time something tried to be done about it (the AR-8 initially), it was too little too late (finally, the AR-14). AR kept its numbers up with the introduction of the AR-6, AR-7, electronics, turntables and so forth. By the way, The Smaller Advent Loudspeaker was a relatively low-volume, poor-selling (on the scale of things) speaker for the company. It was so power-hungry and inefficient, most customers disliked it because it would run into distortion quickly with the type of low-powered receiver that was typically mated to the speaker by most hapless hi-fi salesmen of the era. To get the low-frequency extension with the Small Advent (it had the same low-resonance bass as the Large Advent), Kloss had to give up more than 2 dB of efficiency and make the speaker a 4-ohm model to take advantage of high-current amplifiers. Of course, most low-end receivers couldn't even drive the things without shutting down! I have a pair, and they are almost as difficult to drive as a pair of 1960 AR-3s! In any event, this speaker gained a bad reputation, and it hurt sales further. It never sounded as good as the Large Advent.

After that and Henry Kloss' departure from the company, Advent fell to abject mediocrity, and its speakers were no better than the middling, average run-of-the-mill products that saturated the market place during the late 1970s. Advent's poor management and product development skills continued to languish, and the company went into bankruptcy in 1981. It might have been a liquidation bankruptcy at that, the worse type. The "pieces" were picked up by IJR some years later. Acoustic Research never once entered bankruptcy, so whose company was better managed? AR—what's left of it—is still in business today after sixty-one years.

—Tom Tyson

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Tom,

You're arguing things about which I don't disagree at all:

- AR was the undisputed market leader from the mid-50's to late 60's.

- Advent had only one really successful product, the OLA.

- Advent does not have anywhere near the historical legacy and importance in the loudspeaker industry as does AR

- 40 years after the fact, far more enthusiasts are interested in AR than Advent

- Advent disintegrated into bankruptcy in the '80's while AR staged a significant AR-9/Verticals-fueled comeback, so AR had the "last laugh"

Agree with all these, and always have.

But....from 1971-1975--the height of the college-age baby boomer stereo buying frenzy--Advent ate AR's lunch at retail.

Because AR was dull and unprofitable.

AR should have easily slapped down the upstart Advent's nuisance challenge. Instead, they let the newcomer steal their initiative because of AR's slow, boneheaded marketing.

In baseball, they call this LOB.

Steve F.

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I suspect this whole discussion of market share as if it was even a goal during the years prior to 1972 is "revisionist history."

AR during the Villchur years is a textbook example of a hobby company, albeit one that grew like kudzu. Villchur made the speakers he wanted, made them the way he wanted to make them, sold them to any retailer who wanted to carry them, made no move to use his Fair Trade rights to control the way retailers priced them, and once they were in customers' hands supported them in a way that no one else did. He ran AR as if his employees were all relatives and his grandmother would scold him if he didn't treat them like family. I suspect, based on things he and Roy Allison have said, that he sold the company after he realized that he was on his way to becoming some kind of industry magnate and decided that he had to get the hell out before that happened. Or maybe he saw the direction music was headed and didn't want to have to adjust to that. So he got his key people five year packages and left the building, and when Teledyne started pushing on Roy Allison and the team to turn out stuff that would sell to cash-strapped college rock and rollers, they turned out the AR-8 and the vinyl covered AR-7 before they followed Villchur out the door.

The initial lineup of Allison Acoustics speakers is a pretty clear indication that appealing to mass market rock and roll listeners with small budgets was not very high on Roy Allison's priority list, either. So my guess is it was not that they "missed the importance" of Advent speakers, but just didn't like them very much and didn't want to make any speakers that sounded like them.

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So my guess is it was not that they "missed the importance" of Advent speakers, but just didn't like them very much and didn't want to make any speakers like them.

A statement like that requires us to read the minds of people from 45 years ago. Above my pay grade, as they say. I can deal in factual occurrences (dull, unprofitable, etc.), but as to the personal motivations and thought process in a given individual's mind way back then, I'll leave that to others more qualified than myself.

AR didn't respond to Advent effectively in the 1971-75 timeframe. That's a factual observation.

I can't speculate "why."

Steve F.

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The only reason the speaker was created was to help fund the cash-strapped company's effort to develop the Videobeam TV system.

Henry Kloss was a visionary--ahead of his times. IF HDTV had been around sooner maybe the Videobeam would have taken off. And while "The Advent Loudspeaker" may have been a one trick pony, there were other innovations: The first Dolby cassette deck and Chromium Dioxide tape moved the old dictation machine into the realm of hi-fi and forever ended the cassette vs 8 track debate. The Advent Model 400 was (is) an outstanding radio that unfortunately didn't have a realistic profit margin. The Advent 300 was a very nice, inexpensive receiver (assembled in Mexico to save costs) that featured not only the outstanding FM section Kloss was always known for but also an exemplary Tomlinson Holman phono preamp. All good stuff.

I know the OLA has a lot of fans but IMHO it didn't hold a candle to the AR-2ax.

-Kent

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So my guess is it was not that they "missed the importance" of Advent speakers, but just didn't like them very much and didn't want to make any speakers like them.

A statement like that requires us to read the minds of people from 45 years ago. Above my pay grade, as they say. I can deal in factual occurrences (dull, unprofitable, etc.), but as to the personal motivations and thought process in a given individual's mind way back then, I'll leave that to others more qualified than myself.

AR didn't respond to Advent effectively in the 1971-75 timeframe. That's a factual observation.

I can't speculate "why."

Steve F.

That's ok. I'm more than willing to do the speculating for you, based on what Allison chose to make long after the "importance" of the Advent was too obvious for him not to have known about it. :)

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Henry Kloss was a visionary--ahead of his times. IF HDTV had been around sooner maybe the Videobeam would have taken off. And while "The Advent Loudspeaker" may have been a one trick pony, there were other innovations: The first Dolby cassette deck and Chromium Dioxide tape moved the old dictation machine into the realm of hi-fi and forever ended the cassette vs 8 track debate. The Advent Model 400 was (is) an outstanding radio that unfortunately didn't have a realistic profit margin. The Advent 300 was a very nice, inexpensive receiver (assembled in Mexico to save costs) that featured not only the outstanding FM section Kloss was always known for but also an exemplary Tomlinson Holman phono preamp. All good stuff.

I know the OLA has a lot of fans but IMHO it didn't hold a candle to the AR-2ax.

-Kent

I listened to a number of speakers, including the OLA, before buying my 2ax's back in 1975. I didn't like the sound of the OLA or the KLH 5 and 6. I couldn't afford the AR-3a and the amplifier I would have needed to power it, and I didn't hear enough of a difference between the AR-2ax and the AR-5 to justify the extra cost of the AR-5. I was 21 at the time and had just graduated from college and gotten my first job, so I should have been the perfect candidate for the OLA, but I rejected it the moment I heard it.

Henry Kloss was way ahead of his time on the TV thing. When the VideoBeam came out, cable TV had barely started delivering movies, and the VCR was still years in the distance. As cool as the thing looked, I couldn't imagine myself spending that kind of money to sit in a darkened room and watch what was being broadcast on TV. Maybe if NBC hadn't cancelled Star Trek three years before that...

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As talented an engineer as Roy was, he was a sales/marketing failure of similar proportions. Allison Acoustics failed because of some blip in the European market (France, where they'd done pretty well for a short time), but the line was never exactly a rip-roaring success, anywhere. It was destined for quick failure from Day 1.

OK, let's Etch-a-Sketch things back to a clean slate. The sales/marketing failures of his last years at AR and the corporate failure of Allison are wiped clean.

Roy starts over, with a blank-sheet-of-paper opportunity to do it all again. But right this time, learning from the mistakes and misjudgments of the past, his previous misreadings of the market behind him, lessons well-learned.

This time we'll do speakers that just sound good in an uncomplicated way, that appeal to the heart of the market, that don't have to be explained with an understanding of arcane audio minutia.

RDL. Room Designed Loudspeakers. So much smarter than Advent.

Never mind.

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I listened to a number of speakers, including the OLA, before buying my 2ax's back in 1975. I didn't like the sound of the OLA or the KLH 5 and 6. I couldn't afford the AR-3a and the amplifier I would have needed to power it, and I didn't hear enough of a difference between the AR-2ax and the AR-5 to justify the extra cost of the AR-5. I was 21 at the time and had just graduated from college and gotten my first job, so I should have been the perfect candidate for the OLA, but I rejected it the moment I heard it.



Henry Kloss was way ahead of his time on the TV thing. When the VideoBeam came out, cable TV had barely started delivering movies, and the VCR was still years in the distance. As cool as the thing looked, I couldn't imagine myself spending that kind of money to sit in a darkened room and watch what was being broadcast on TV. Maybe if NBC hadn't cancelled Star Trek three years before that...



I agree with all of this, except that I bought my 2ax's in '72, not '75. But I bought them over OLA's and KLH 6's. I could hear the improvement in the AR-5, but couldn't afford them. Almost bought AR-6's, almost bought AR-2x's + MicroStatic tweeters.


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I probably could have afforded the 5s, and yes I could hear a difference, it just didn't strike me as enough of a difference to justify the added cost. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, they probably should have done what they did later with the 12, merged them into a single model. A 2ax variant with a dome tweeter and a less complex crossover priced between the 2ax and the 5 probably would have pulled me in.

I also have a pair of 6s (bedroom system), and three pairs of MS tweeters that I picked up at a yard sale but never really found much use for until I converted my main system into a home theater surround setup using a pair of 3a's and my 2ax's.

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Did what Allison Acoustics and RDL turned out really strike you as being aimed at "the heart of the market?" They all seemed to shout out "niche market" to me.

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Did what Allison Acoustics and RDL turned out really strike you as being aimed at "the heart of the market?" They all seemed to shout out "niche market" to me.

Bingo--that's the point. Poor Roy totally misread the so-called niche market, the suitability of his strange-looking, hard-to-place products to appeal to that niche market, and the appropriate channels through which to sell those bizarre speakers. Retailers had a devil of a time displaying, explaining and demo'ing Allisons. His brochures had no success at all conveying the merit and sound quality of RDLs to enough people to make it a worthy enterprise.

He discovered something technically valid in his so-called 'Allison Effect' research. However, he totally overestimated the commercial appeal of products based on that research.

40 years later, and not one speaker company in the universe places their woofers ala the Allison Effect.

Was it good engineering/research on Roy's part? Sure.

​Was it commercially meaningful? Not in the slightest. Case closed and point made. Just a factual observation--you know, the only kind I'm capable of.

Steve F.

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Interesting discusion!

Did Advent ever sold in Europe?

Yes, I think Advent did have some presence in Europe with rep firms and such, but no major presence there as in the case of AR with its manufacturing/research facilities in Great Britain and Holland. Advent could barely keep up with demand in the US during the "heyday" of their product, so they were not too concerned about global marketing. Allison Acoustics also did fairly well in Italy and perhaps France, but the products sold poorly in Germany and England, I believe, in comparison. Allison shipped all of their speakers to Europe from the US.

--Tom Tyson

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>In retrospect, Edgar Villchur's timing in selling AR was either brilliant, clairvoyant or both. Villchur was a classical and jazz listener through and through, both genres where the classic ARs' mellow sound excelled. Even years after he had left AR, he continued to reiterate his preference for live vs recorded tests using chamber music, long after the commercial speaker market had refocused its performance standards to reproducing the live sounds of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

I've also often wondered how much of AR's commercial success during the Villchur years resulted not from the speakers themselves but from AR's decision not to use its rights under Fair Trade to prevent their products from being discounted by retailers and from its seemingly suicidally generous product support policies.[genek]<

Genek, as it happened, Ed Villchur's pet peeve was that loudspeakers of the post-war (II) period—all the way into the mid-1950s and no matter how large or grandiose—were simply incapable of reproducing deep-bass organ music or bass drum or the like without distortion or coloration. This drove him crazy. He obsessed over it while he taught a course in sound reproduction at New York University night school; and at his home in New York, he developed his acoustic-suspension woofer prototype during the 1953 time-frame.

Villchur's "brilliance" in selling had little to do with his choice of music or live-vs.-recorded concerts or anything like that. Exactly the opposite: he was never a hobbyist in high-fidelity—he had little interest in it—and he hated the thought of ever going into business. He loved research; he loved to tinker and write and he loved to solve problems. Villchur's disdain for business had to do with his laissez-faire business attitude, especially after he had been rejected during his search for a buyer of the acoustic-suspension patent. After those rejections, he did agree to go into business with Henry Kloss. But overall, he also had little respect for dealers who demanded big product discounts, kick-backs, spiffs and other incentives to sell product. Therefore, as AR speakers grew to such huge demand (it is true that people beat a path to AR's front door, insisting on its products), AR decided to offer products to any dealer qualified to sell them and who could pay their bills.

The product discount policy at AR applied to anyone and everyone qualified: two discount levels, one in the 30-percent range for large orders and the other in the high-20% range for single orders, etc. There were no holdbacks, spiffs, incentives, but there was advertising co-op for all dealers. This allowed the big discount mail-order houses to order huge quantities of AR speakers without fear of being out-sold by dealers with special "deals" from manufacturers. By the way, in contrast, most other speaker manufacturers offered discounts as high as 45%, and also gave salesmen "incentives" and "spiffs" for selling a certain number of speakers, etc. However, none of that deterred the sales of AR speakers: by 1966 AR had a commanding 32.20% of the entire US domestic loudspeaker market.

Did you know... Acoustic Research, Inc. was always profitable [despite what SteveF said previously], from the very first year of manufacturing in 1954 all the way into the late 1980s. Yet, AR manufacturing markup, early-on, was comparatively low. Pricing for a product was based on what company executives felt was the fair market price at the time. For example, the 1957 AR-2 was priced quite low to fit into a particular market segment, and it took AR nearly a year to break even on the pricing. Finally, AR found ways to improve product quality and manufacturing efficiency, and the little AR-2 went on to be profitable all the way to the end. The AR-3 was originally set at $216 (mahogany) each, and the company struggled for many months to make money on this speaker as well. There was talk at the 1958 New York High Fidelity Music Show—after receiving more than 50 dealer orders for the speaker in the first day—to raise the price to $315 each, as the speaker could easily out-perform any speaker at anywhere near its price, but the company wisely decided against this, again, part of his customer-centric viewpoint. Edgar Villchur wanted to get the most quality and performance for the price to the customer, and this policy paid off with great success. Had he jacked-up the price, the company might have made bigger profits for awhile, but sooner or later, this would prove to be a mistake. By intention or pure innocence, Villchur was more interested in producing a best-in-class product, and this created the huge demand for AR speakers for all those years.

His live-vs.-recorded concerts with the Fine Arts Quartet, guitarist Gustavo López or the 1910 Nickelodeon were means to an end. As it happened, reproducing the nuance string sound of violins proved to be very difficult; if it were so easy, why didn't others try it over the years? He strongly believed that a speaker could be designed, tested and quantitatively measured in performance. This he did with his AR loudspeakers: they represented the ultimate degree of performance in smoothness, off-axis response and acoustic-power performance and low distortion. Nothing else in high-fidelity land even approached AR speakers in this regard for at least a decade after the introduction of the first AR-1 in October, 1954. The live-vs.-recorded concerts were a means to subjectively prove that a speaker that measures well will also sound good, and AR's LvR demonstrations did exactly this and became the most successful comparisons of speakers and live music in the history of audio—also the most criticized by many "experts" in the industry, especially the left-coast JBL crowd.

—Tom Tyson

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>Villchur's "brilliance" in selling had little to do with his choice of music or live-vs.-recorded concerts or anything like that.

Didn't mean to suggest that it did. Just that the coincidence of him deciding to leave just before mass market preferences in sound took a turn toward speakers that didn't jibe with his ideas of quality sound reproduction was very fortuitous. If he didn't like the business end of things, how would he have reacted if the marketing folks started telling him that maintaining the company's market share depended on retuning the product line to sound more "left coast" and adding some bass-reflex models with horns?

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Did you know... Acoustic Research, Inc. was always profitable [despite what SteveF said previously],

Complete misinterpretation of what I meant--AR was not profitable for dealers to sell. Dealers couldn't make money selling AR speakers at retail because those same AR speakers were available by mail-order for 25% off "list." Why should a dealer take the time to demo and present AR only to have the customer say, "Thanks--now I'll order it through the mail for 25% less than you were going to sell it to me for."

Advent wasn't available via mail-order with huge discounts. Dealers made their full mark-up selling Advent, but couldn't make decent money selling AR. That's what I meant when I said AR wasn't profitable. It wasn't a profitable line for retailers to sell, which--along with AR's HF dullness in showroom A-B comparisons--is why they suffered compared to Advent at the retail store level in the 1971-75 timeframe.

I thought I'd made that obvious. I was talking about dealer profitability selling AR, not AR's corporate profitability. C'mon--this is common historical knowledge to anyone who paid attention through the 60's-80's, not new info.

Steve F.

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Didn't mean to suggest that it did. Just that the coincidence of him deciding to leave just before mass market preferences in sound took a turn toward speakers that didn't jibe with his ideas of quality sound reproduction was very fortuitous. If he didn't like the business end of things, how would he have reacted if the marketing folks started telling him that maintaining the company's market share depended on retuning the product line to sound more "left coast" and adding some bass-reflex models with horns?

Genek, I think I understand what you meant.

The point I was trying to make about Ed Villchur was that he simply wasn't "into" the high-fidelity-business thing much at all. We all appreciate his contributions to the science of sound reproduction, and the fact that he wasn't a hobbyist probably is the reason his designs were so good. He never allowed emotions to get in the way of science or problem-solving.

As we said before, Villchur didn't want to get into business from the beginning, and he looked for ways to retire from the beginning of AR's incorporation in the late summer of 1954. You could see this in his casual way of operating the company: he commuted the nearly 200 miles (by car or plane) from Woodstock, New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts, each week, usually working at the plant from Monday to Thursday and doing writing and research in his Woodstock laboratory during the weekends. Meanwhile, plant manager Henry Kloss and a few others worked in the Cambridge factory assembling loudspeakers and taking care of other tasks—at least until early 1957.

I do think that by the mid-60s Villchur realized that the company could not stay on top forever, and he decided that this was a good time to look for someone to buy the company. He would be free to return to his love of research and writing. Because of its top place in the industry, there were several companies interested in AR, but Villchur looked for a company willing to provide job security for his top people for a period of five years, and Henry Singleton's Teledyne, Inc. provided the necessary ingredients to satisfy Villchur's demands. In 1967, the deal was made.

—Tom Tyson

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Did you know... Acoustic Research, Inc. was always profitable [despite what SteveF said previously],

Complete misinterpretation of what I meant--AR was not profitable for dealers to sell. Dealers couldn't make money selling AR speakers at retail because those same AR speakers were available by mail-order for 25% off "list." Why should a dealer take the time to demo and present AR only to have the customer say, "Thanks--now I'll order it through the mail for 25% less than you were going to sell it to me for."

Advent wasn't available via mail-order with huge discounts. Dealers made their full mark-up selling Advent, but couldn't make decent money selling AR. That's what I meant when I said AR wasn't profitable. It wasn't a profitable line for retailers to sell, which--along with AR's HF dullness in showroom A-B comparisons--is why they suffered compared to Advent at the retail store level in the 1971-75 timeframe.

I thought I'd made that obvious. I was talking about dealer profitability selling AR, not AR's corporate profitability. C'mon--this is common historical knowledge to anyone who paid attention through the 60's-80's, not new info.

Steve F.

My mistake! I get your meaning! I get it. I did misunderstand your meaning, and you are certainly right that dealers hugely resented trying to compete with mail-order outfits that sold for huge discounts. Some dealers were so resentful that they began trade disparagement in earnest, sometimes "doctoring-up" AR speakers to make them sound terrible when compared to their high-profit models in the showroom. I saw this all through the years when visiting various hi-fi dealerships and salons. Some dealers turned the AR level controls all the way down; I even saw a hole drilled in the back of a speaker to break the acoustic-suspension seal, and this single AR speaker (an AR-3 out in El Paso, Texas) was placed out in the middle of the showroom floor and compared to a pair of Altec Lansing speakers. The comparison was so comical that it bordered on the ludicrous. The sounds coming from that one AR-3 were barely audible when compared to the efficient Altec speakers. "See there... the AR speakers have terrible sound," said the saleman.

By the way, not only did the dealers not like the low markups and the competition from mail-order discounters, but they also didn't like AR's strict policy of being made to display certain models on the showroom floor (mandated in the early years). They didn't like the policy of no kickbacks, no spiffs, no holdbacks, and the low promotions. AR sort of burned some bridges during the early period, and once the luster of AR's huge superiority had begun to dull, getting dealers on board became more challenging for the company. They did manage to do it in the seventies, but it wasn't an easy task.

—Tom Tyson

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