Steve F

Should the AR-5 have been a 12" Speaker?

65 posts in this topic

The AR-5 was a great-sounding speaker in its own right, but it was a sales/marketing flop. At the time, $175 ea. was very high compared to the 2ax’s $128 and the Large Advent’s $102/116. Especially for a speaker (the 5) with low bass so deficient compared to the OLA. 

What AR should have done is come out with a 12” 2ax, not a 10” 3a. 

Looking at the cost-up from the 2ax (AR’s own parts price list), the 12” woofer is $20 more than the 10” woofer. That’s retail, so wholesale (AR’s likely cost at manufacturing level) would be half that, or $10. 

The slightly larger 3a-sized cabinet, extra internal bracing and machine inserts for the 12” woofer mounting would be about $10 tops wholesale for the cabinet. (There wouldn’t be any fancy 3a-style picture-frame molding on this one; that would be reserved just for the 3a. This cab would be the same size and construction as the 3a, however.) 

Everything else would be 2ax—mid, tweeter, x-over. It’d be a straight $20 wholesale cost-up from the 2ax, which would be $40 retail. 

10” 2ax = $128 ea.

12” 2ax = $168 ea. Now that kind of AR-5 would’ve sold. 

Steve F.

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The problem with a 12" AR-2ax is that it would probably have had the same power requirements as an AR-3a, which for the time were prodigious and even now are still considerable. The objective of the 5 was supposed to be to provide AR-3a-quality mids and highs to buyers whose room sizes and power capabilities were more modest than those of AR-3a buyers.

From a manufacturing viewpoint, they would probably have had better results by making the AR-5 the next incarnation of the AR-2 family. They could even have redesigned the crossover to use the same 4 ohm tweeters and mids as the 3a, reducing the number of different drivers they had to produce and stock. Turning out a 5-like 2ax in the same volumes the 2ax was being made in would likely have enabled them to set the price somewhere around $140-$150.

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The 5 at $175 was a total sales/marketing flop. AR misjudged one simple but undeniable fact: Above the mid-price area, their customers wanted AR 12-inch bass, not AR "1 1/2-inch dome midrange" sound. The bass. They wanted that 12-inch bass. The 5's failure speaks for itself.

As far as the 3a's power requirements, you misjudge and mis-characterize the 3a's power-handling ability and benefit from Phase 400-type power with the 3a's power requirements. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of 3a's sold lived and played quite happily on 40-75 wpc Marantz's, Fishers, Pioneers, AR amps, Dyna SCA-80s, etc. Did the 3a sound really great with 200 clean watts behind it? Yup. Did it absolutely need it? Nope. For Joe GE Engineer in his suburban living room playing Herb Albert or Mozart's 40th or Take Five, 50 Marantz watts did a fine and dandy job, thank you. A 12-inch 2ax wouldn't have needed any more power than the vast majority of 3a's lived quite nicely on.

But a 12-inch 2ax would've been a legitimate step-up in performance over the 10-inch, and the 3a would've still had legitimate advancements over the 12-inch 2ax. The difference would be instead of only 2 of 3 top AR models selling well, now AR would've had 3 out of 3 top models selling well. When I bought my 2ax's new as a high-schooler in 1972, had there been a 12-inch 2ax, I'd have saved another two weeks and gotten those.

A 10" AR-5 at $150 and no $128 2ax would've been a disaster for AR. What are you going to do--jump from the $81 AR-6 to the $150 AR-5? What do you have to combat the $102 Advent Utility? Advent was fair-traded at the time, so the $102 was always $102. AR dealers could discount, so the $128 2ax got very close to the $102 Advent, and you had real walnut and "3-way" to go against the Advent. The 2ax had a reasonable chance against the Advent. A $150 AR-5, discounted down to $130? That's nuts.

No. The thing for AR to have done was a 12-inch 2ax called the "AR-5," and not to have done the AR-5 the way it was. The 5's sales history proves it.

Steve F.

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At the time I was a new college graduate and concluded the 5 didn't offer a significant improvement over the 2ax for the money. That was with the 2ax discounted to $115 each and the 5 discounted to $150. If the 5 had been $150 discounted to $130 each, I probably would've gone for it.

But assuming the 5 was doomed from the start no matter what it was called, would the 2ax midrange go low enough to work with the 3a woofer? Or would they have needed a different one?

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In addition to seeing these great-looking AR-5 systems, this is also an excellent conversation regarding company choices made during the Classic era.

Having owned new AR-2ax speakers in college, I was numbered among the many who voted with their wallets; the difference in price between the AR-2ax and AR-5 being of enough significance to make the decision an easy one. If more funds had been available, I probably would've leap-frogged past the 5 to the 3a, which is in fact, what eventually happened.

The decison to produce the AR-5 as a more-capable version of the 2ax - but without the 3a's bass extension - could have been an attempt to reach an older, more sophisticated listenership who might appreciate the superior presentation of the 3a, but not have the physical space or wherewithal to accommodate the larger, more expensive speaker. In other words, instead of viewing the AR-5 as a marketing "step-up" from the 2ax, AR could very well have seen the AR-5's niche as a worthwhile "step-down" from the 3a. Sadly, there wasn't enough of this perceived market to make this excellent speaker a financial success.

But that said, in all, the AR-5 might easily fit into a manufacturer's lineup in our current time; I don't believe it's unusual to find top-of-the-line tweeters & mids matched to smaller woofers in a company's less-expensive offerings. The AR-5 might've been 50 years ahead of itself. ^_^

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In today's lineups, we'd probably be picking our base units separate from our mid/hi units.

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But assuming the 5 was doomed from the start no matter what it was called, would the 2ax midrange go low enough to work with the 3a woofer? Or would they have needed a different one?

 

 I am so tired of this topic:

“The AR-12-inch woofer is too slow/ill-suited to use above XYZ frequency.”

People, both on this Forum and elsewhere, seem to have come to the conclusion that the AR 12-inch woofer is imbued with some special, unique characteristics that make it totally unsuitable for use above an arbitrarily-imagined frequency, usually around 700Hz or so. If you take the AR 12-inch woofer any higher than that, some horrible audio fate will befall you, the heavens will open up and strike you dead, and you’ll be banished to audio purgatory forever.

This is so much BS, both from an objective scientific standpoint and from an historical standpoint.

First, do the math:

To determine the frequency at which a driver becomes directional, you take 13560 (the speed of sound in inches per second) and divide that by the diameter of the radiating piston. The “radiating piston” is measured from about mid-surround to mid-surround. In the case of the AR-12-inch woofer, this is about 9.5 inches.

13560 divided by 9.5 = 1427. So just from the “numbers,” the AR 12-inch woofer is ‘good’ to 1427Hz. So, yes, it would match up just fine with the 2ax’s 3 ½-inch cone mid with a 1400hz crossover.

Now, the history: The implication of the 12-inch woofer’s unsuitability into higher frequencies is, of course, that it’s so “slow” and “sluggish” that taking it too high will ruin the system’s midrange character by imparting a “thick, heavy” character to the midrange.

That’s the main criticism leveled at the 3a: Thick and heavy through the lower midrange.

No such criticism was ever leveled at the AR-3. Only the 3a.

So since the 3a was “thick and heavy,” that must mean that AR took the 3a’s woofer too high, right?

Uh......errrr.....no.....the 3a crossed over at 575Hz (early versions)/525Hz (late versions), while the 3 went “too high,” all the way to 1000Hz. Yet the 3 was never criticized for the lower-mid heaviness that the 3a was. And, no, it wasn’t a matter of cloth/foam, alnico/ceramic woofer differences. Late 3’s and early 3a’s had the same woofer, but the 3 was not heavy in the lower mid and the 3a was!

And let’s put an end to the “the world will come crashing down” aspect to a 1400Hz x-over on a 12-inch woofer. We’re not taking about 2500 or 3000Hz, which would be noticeably beamy. We’re talking 1400 Hz, well inside of the mathematical ‘safe zone.’ Does anyone really think that the 2ax’s 10-incher sounds fine going to 1400, but the 12-incher going to 1400 would sound so completely different and horrible that you couldn’t stand it? Please. Be serious.

And remember: the AR-2, 2a, and 'early' 2ax had their 10-inch woofers go all the way to 2000Hz, well beyond their 'safe zone' of 1600 or so. And they sounded fine anyway.

The AR-12-inch woofer, like all AR drivers, was a well-designed driver with a correctly-done voice coil/polepiece/magnetic structure and the correspondingly excellent and appropriate ‘soft parts’ (cone, surround, spider). Their inherent frequency response, transient response and distortion characteristics were excellent. The 12-inch woofer was fine to 1000Hz in the 3. It would have been fine to 1400 in a 12-inch “2ax.” A tad rough at the upper end of its passband? Yes, no question. A little, but not a show-stopper. And the benefit of getting that dramatic, gutsy -3dB @ 35Hz 12-inch bass at $168 far outweighs a little mid roughness.

Let’s stop this nonsense of the AR 12-inch woofer being somehow magically and uniquely unable to respond past 700Hz. Yes, it would be optimal to x-o lower than 1400Hz, but it wouldn’t be the Crime of the Century to have it go past 1000Hz.

A 12-inch 2ax called the “AR-5” priced at $168—nicely between the $128 2ax and the $250 3a—would’ve outsold the actual 10-inch $175 AR-5 by a country mile.

Steve F.

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20 hours ago, genek said:

But assuming the 5 was doomed from the start no matter what it was called, would the 2ax midrange go low enough to work with the 3a woofer? Or would they have needed a different one?

From a technical point of view, an off the shelf 3a woofer and 2ax midrange combo would not work as well as the Large Advent woofer's transition to its large mid/tweeter. AR would have had to change something in that regard. Once that was resolved, I wonder to what degree this model would have cut into 3a sales. Discerning meaningful differences in the typical showroom was not easy, so would a less costly AR model with a big woofer have undermined the 3a?

Roy

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IMO the 12 inch system under discussion would not have cut in to 3a sales.  The 3a could have been promoted to appeal to listeners with golden ears and discerning requirements which would have guaranteed those with the money would have made the leap rather than compromise.  This sounds like a precursor to the 58b.

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Let me cut to the chase here: I’ve been directly involved at the very highest levels of marketing and product development in the consumer electronics (mostly speakers) and musical instrument industries. They are highly competitive industries with a lot of players and everyone’s looking to have the strongest product lineup they can possibly have, where every model in the line is a winner and shines vs. its competition from other companies.

I’ve been at this for 40 years, and in the speaker/electronics biz, I’ve worked for and with some of the “really big names” in the biz and have been directly responsible for more than just a few of the biggest-selling, most highly-reviewed, most successful products in the last several decades.

There’s a huge truism that I’ve learned the hard way and observed a million times and it’s this:

Never, ever worry about the possible cannibalistic effect a strong new product will have on an existing product.

Never.

You competition is already gunning for you with everything they have.  That great model that sits at the top of your line, the one that has received all those great reviews, Best Buy awards, Editor’s Choice, Product of the Year? You know, that one? The one that you got for your brother-in-law for half price and he was so happy you thought he was going to kiss you? (Yuck.) That one?

Its days are numbered. It has a fatal disease called The Competition. It’s already dead, you just don’t know it yet. You think it’s a reliable annuity, returning a guaranteed profit, unending, year after year. Wrong. It’s a collapsing stock from a company about to go belly-up.

If you have a potential great new product that may take sales away from some existing product, do not hesitate or delay in bringing it out—because your competition is about to come out with theirs and it’s better to “lose” sales to yourself than someone else. Keep the dollars in your own house. Once you lose the sales to an outside entity, it’s 10 times harder to get them back and reclaim your market share. Keep people—both dealers and end customers—buying your product. Once they sample someone else’s charms, they may not only like their products better, they may also like the other company’s terms and repair policies and salespeople and exchange policies and freight polices and a lot of other things better too. 

Then, you’re lost and you’re sitting there like yesterday’s newspaper, wondering what the heck just happened.

I know of what I speak. I’ve been on both sides of this equation. If the 12-inch “2ax” would’ve taken sales away from the 3a (although I agree w Aadams that it wouldn’t have really), AR should have intro’d it anyway.  It would have been a great-selling product. Advent, EPI and others were gunning for them and AR’s 32% 1966 market share went to single-digit% by the mid-70’s and AR was sold and sold again shortly thereafter.

Here’s AR: Load gun. Point at foot. Fire.

Steve F.

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and probably would have cannibalized a lot of sales from the 3/3a....

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I agree with Steve that fear that a new product will be competition for one of your own products is not a reason to not make it. Because even if that does happen, it's better than losing sales to one of someone else's products. And if having two similar products does become too much of an issue down the line, you'll just end up discontinuing the one that is less profitable.

From a strictly marketing POV, the questions are whether there was any strategy that would have enabled AR to make the AR-5 a success, and whether there was something else they could or should have produced that would have been a better product for the company's bottom line.

So if the 2ax midrange wouldn't have been a good match for the woofer, could they have gone 2-way with an updated version of the AR-1x that would have been a closer analog to the Large Advent? But the 1x and 2x weren't exactly big sellers either, were they?

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4 hours ago, Steve F said:

To determine the frequency at which a driver becomes directional, you take 13560 (the speed of sound in inches per second) and divide that by the diameter of the radiating piston. The “radiating piston” is measured from about mid-surround to mid-surround. In the case of the AR-12-inch woofer, this is about 9.5 inches.

13560 divided by 9.5 = 1427. So just from the “numbers,” the AR 12-inch woofer is ‘good’ to 1427Hz. So, yes, it would match up just fine with the 2ax’s 3 ½-inch cone mid with a 1400hz crossover.

Ok, although what I actually meant was whether they'd need a different midrange, not a different woofer.

Would you still have called it AR-5, or given it a name that associated it more with the 3 series?

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I knew you were talking about whether you'd need a new midrange, and I was showing everyone that no, you didn't need a new midrange because the 12-inch woofer would meet up with the 3 1/2-inch cone from the 2ax just fine. No sweat. A tick rougher off axis than the new 2ax's 10-inch woofer was at 1400 Hz, but far better than the 2, 2a, and old 2ax's 10-inch woofer were off axis at their 2000Hz crossover point. This is the real world, and it would have been fine. As I said above, a slightly rougher off-axis midrange was a more than equitable tradeoff for getting that AR 12-inch bass for $168.

Name? AR followed a time/sequential naming process at that time in their corporate history. If "5" was the next number up for a brand-new model (and I'd consider this a brand-new model), then I'd have named it the "AR-5." In the end, the name makes no difference at all. None. It's all about the product. 

Steve F.

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                Accumulated Inflation 1971 to 2017                             503%                                      

 

                                                                               

Model                                              Retail Price/Pair                                   AR/Advent

                                                                1971                       2017             Price Ratio          

Large Advent Walnut                             $250.00                $1,509.00                          

AR2ax                                                    $250.00                $1,509.00              1             

AR5 12_inch (proposed)                        $336.00                $2,028.00              1.344    

AR5                                                        $350.00                $2,113.00               1.4         

AR 3a                                                     $450.00                $2,716.00               1.8         

                                                                               

                                                                               

Not trying rewrite history or talk about what could have been but here is some objective data based on the numbers that have been suggested.                                                                   

I, like many of you, was a young man in these years and for me, at the time, it was all about the bass and "presence".   For me to have chosen the ARs over Advents would have required a good pitch from the sales rep and a willingness to set up the ARs to suit me my ear.                                                                             

I probably could have been steered to the proposed 12 inch AR5 or the 3a as alternatives with opinion shaping assistance from stereo publications and a smart rep but my ear at the time would not have chosen either of the 10 inch ARs over the Advent.                                                                               

Full disclosure.  I currently own every actual model under discussion but was not a fan of Advent or AR in 1971.                                                                 

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The above is not quite accurate and it needs a little more explanation.

First of all, in the early 1970s, when the Classic ARs and the Advents went head-to-head, Advent was “fair-traded,” which meant that Advent dealers sold their products at ‘list price’ and Advent, for their part, didn’t artificially inflate the list price. Dealers made full mark-up on Advent and therefore enjoyed selling them.

The Large Advent in Utility walnut vinyl was $102, a great deal. Even in real walnut veneer, it was $116, still a great deal.

AR was widely discounted, usually 20% or sometimes even more. But their list prices were higher than Advent, so it took the 20% discount to get them to be competitive with Advent for the retail customer to get a decent deal. The problem was, of course, that the 20% discount came right out of the dealer’s hide, so naturally, retail dealers weren’t so enthused about selling AR speakers. This led to the common practice of “disparagement,” where dealers would turn down AR Mid-Hi level controls, drill very small holes in the back of the cabinet to ruin the acoustic seal, etc., all in an effort to ensure that AR sounded lousy in a retail showroom comparison to Advent. Dealers just didn’t want to sell AR for such a small profit when they could make a fortune selling Advent.

These were the actual list and selling prices of AR in those days:

Model                    List                        -20% actual selling price

2ax                      128                        102.40

5                           175                        140

3a                         250                        200

12” AR-5             168                        134.40 (proposed model)

 

ARs were competitive when discounted by 20%, but then the dealer made no real money, so they didn’t want to sell them.

Most of the original Large Advents sold were the utility vinyl model at $102 ea., and these were the biggest-selling speakers in retail showroom comparisons in the early 1970’s. Remember also, that the Advents had that slightly forward midrange that sounded good in a retail A-B, while AR had a laid-back “neutral” sound with somewhat reticent highs that didn’t come across so well in the dead acoustics of a retail showroom.

Steve F.

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I paid $250 each for my AR3a back in 1969. I remember distinctly because $500 was a huge sum of money for me back then. Bought from Custom Stereo on S. Hamilton Road in Columbus, Ohio. 

der

EDIT: I had several friends that owned them and they were highly recommended by Custom Stereo. At least by Don (forget his last name) that was the salesman that I always dealt with. 

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Ok

In 2017 dollars that is still $1230 for vinyl clad particle board.  My point was about how I would have reacted as a shopper in the perspective of a 2017 dollar.  At the time I would have preferred the Advent sound for the bass and mid range emphasis unless the dealer tried to educate my ear to toward the AR sound, which he apparently had no financial incentive to do given the margin range available vs AR.  The Advents presented a great value for rock & rollers.  I don't see any cannibalization though perhaps self immolation on the part of AR.

 

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I don't recall even hearing Advents until at least 1971. I had a friend that helped me with some live recording I did locally and he had a pair - the large I believe. I recall that I didn't particularly like them very much.  It was a long time ago though.

der

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4 minutes ago, der said:

I don't recall even hearing Advents until at least 1971. I had a friend that helped me with some live recording I did locally and he had a pair - the large I believe. I recall that I didn't particularly like them very much.  It was a long time ago though.

der

Sounds like you were already conditioned to appreciate ARs.  I was not.  My ear grew up with different influences and biases .  My preferences changed over the decades but I did not come to appreciate ARs until comparatively recently.   IMO 12 inch ARs could be made to mimic an Advent but the reverse is not true given the right music material.

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44 minutes ago, Aadams said:

Sounds like you were already conditioned to appreciate ARs.  I was not.  My ear grew up with different influences and biases .  My preferences changed over the decades but I did not come to appreciate ARs until comparatively recently.   IMO 12 inch ARs could be made to mimic an Advent but the reverse is not true given the right music material.

There is much truth in what you say. I had another friend that was a JBL fan.  He played them so loud you could not believe it!  And they could be very loud. Same as another friend that plays his Klipsch at very high levels.  Not my cup of tea but I mainly listen to jazz. 

der

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My first serious investment in speakers was horn loaded JBLs in 1972.  They  looked like works of industrial art. They had a "presence" adjustment that made things sound real plus a 15" bass driver that probably went all the way to 45hz on a good day and they had high sensitivity. I could play them very loud on an little amp that would have been life threatening to an AR3a and they cost more than 3as.  They had to be better. 

Quote

 

 

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The case of the disappearing post ???

At any rate, the AR-5 should not have had a 12" woofer because it would have adversely affected AR's bottom line. This is a case of "bean-counters" rule not whether the speaker was a scientific plausibility.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I cued up a Dire Straits album on the AR-3a/58 combo. An AR-5 with 12" woofer would not have survived its first party night without blown drivers which would have required warranty service, etc. Hate to be a party-pooper but ... ;)

Just ask Frank -- I venture to guess he has blown more Classic-era drivers than anyone else here ...

My "party-animal" friends during the 70s bought JBL Century 100's. I bought the AR-5's. This is why AR's market share disappeared.

Roger

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Assuming you have positive profit margin it is always better to get the sale than lose it.   If the AR5-P cannibalized 3a sales at the same time it negated an Advent, EPI, JBL etc. sale that would be a good outcome.  The 3a would still be there for listeners that could hear the difference.  This is all speculation but here are some questions for some here who might know the answers.  Was the refusal by AR to lower wholesale prices in the face of competition a product of arrogance or complacency.  Did executive pay plans depend on margin or market share?  Would a Villchur owned company have responded differently than did Teledyne management to the value proposition and threat posed by Kloss?

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Yeah, the topics were better off separate. Oh well...

The closest thing AR made to the Large Advent was probably the 1x, which was essentially the AR-3 cabinet and woofer with a cone mid/tweeter and a plate over the hole for the dome tweeter. It was priced at $194 in 1969 and would probably have been discounted down to the $150s. With a vinyl cabinet, maybe it would have made it down to the $130s and stood a better chance of surviving The Who and Led Zeppelin?

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