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Is The AR-91 A "Sleeper"?


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#1 Steve F

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 07:52 PM

<...was a compromise to cost containment to create a product at a lower price point..>

This is a true statement that applies to virtually all non-top-of-the-line products in every industry--cars, cameras, computers, hi-fi, etc.

"How much cost can we cut from this original product and still retain a meaningful amount of its performance and quality?"

The 91 accomplished that pretty well, relative to the 9, as the 2ax did to the 3a, or as the 4x did to the 2ax.

Additionally, AR did--finally--run the 12" woofer up to a 700Hz x-over point in the 91, compared to the unrealistic 525Hz in the 3a-11-10Pi.

Steve F.

#2 soundminded

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 05:16 PM

AR91 is very instructive. Starting with AR9's design and working backwards to AR91 and you see what problems AR9 overcame in the ultimate evolution of the full range acoustic suspension loudspeaker. Most notable was IMO the acknowledgement of the difficulty of marrying the upper end of the woofer's range to the low end of a dome midrange's. This was one of the problems the 8" lower midrange driver overcame. AR9 also demonstrated that the bass drivers had even more to give extending their range and power at what it was most notable for, its remarkable bass. This is not to say that AR91 was not an excellent speaker system and an obvious decendant of AR3, AR3a, etc but it still had some limitations to be overcome. Tom Tyson was right at least insofar as a commercial loudspeaker system is concerned, it is developed to solve a problem. AR9 solved it, AR91 excellent as it was, was a compromise to cost containment to create a product at a lower price point. Because of its reduced size and forward firing configuration, it may also have in some ways been preferable to AR9 in some installations where AR9 wouldn't work well at all.

#3 Steve F

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 02:09 PM

The AR-91 was a superb loudspeaker. It had the AR-9 generation 12” woofer and the same dome MR and tweeter as the 9. With its real-wood cabinet and beveled top corners, many people considered the 91 to be an attractive speaker as well, certainly more décor-friendly than the 9.

From a performance refinement standpoint, I think the characterization of the 91 as a step above the 3a-11-10Pi is accurate. Its LF response was rated at –3dB at 35Hz, the same as the aforementioned bookshelf models, but with the “stand” built in, so to speak, by the floor-standing cabinet. The 91 was never reviewed (to my knowledge) by any of the major mags, but it was quite a good speaker. I owned them for several years, from 1980-1987, before I gave them to my sister for her house.

The absolute descendant of the 12” woofer, dome mid/tweet, real wood veneer cabinet speaker would actually be the original AR-58. For a VERY short time, the 58 (not the S, B, Bx, or Bxi) had the same drivers as the 91, so in a sense the original 58 should be considered the real successor to the 12” W, dome M-T bookshelf models

Steve F.

#4 ar_pro

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Posted 19 July 2005 - 09:20 PM

Wasn't the AR-91 the logical extension, and evolutionary descendant of the AR-3a?

With all of its drivers derived from the AR-9 (as well as the Acoustic Blanket, and vertical driver alignment), does this make the 91 AR's most refined 3-way?

Is this system undervalued by AR enthusiasts?

#5 RoyC

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 05:27 PM

Hi Tom,
Sorry for the false alarm...Its Oiled Teak. The sad thing is I KNEW it was Teak but had Rosewood on the brain. I had been discussing the "new" speaker, acoustic guitars and wood finishes with a friend earlier in the evening. I'm probably in denial that it isn't Rosewood! I need an AR therapist. Thanks for catching that...

Roy
Roy Champagne

#6 tysontom

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 04:57 AM

>Thanks Steve..I share your enthusiasm for the "charm" of the
>old AR 12" 3-way. That paragraph summed it up for me too and
>the AR-3a's remain my main speakers as well.
>
>To some extent I believe my personal preference for the "wood
>and linen" appearance of the '3a's era has helped keep me from
>settling on any of the later models including the AR-11
>through the AR-91.
>
>I recently acquired a beautiful, solo Rosewood '3a with an
>alnico magnet woofer (with yet again the elusive #7/1.88mh
>inductor, by the way) which prompted inevitable comparisons
>with my ceramic magnet woofered AR-3a's. They do sound a bit
>different from each other...and both are charming! (The
>Rosewood finish may "sound" better than the Walnut however
>:-)).
>
>Roy C.
>

Roy,

Could you send a hi-rez image of that Rosewood AR-3a for us to see on the forum? Take the images outdoors in natural bright light, if possible. AR did not specifically offer Rosewood AR-3as, but someone might have requisitioned a "special-order" cabinet finish through a personal connection at AR. A fried of mine in New York ordered a special pair of Allison: Ones in Rosewood, probably the only ones ever made, but he then turned around and sold them.

--Tom Tyson

#7 RoyC

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:57 AM

Thanks Steve..I share your enthusiasm for the "charm" of the old AR 12" 3-way. That paragraph summed it up for me too and the AR-3a's remain my main speakers as well.

To some extent I believe my personal preference for the "wood and linen" appearance of the '3a's era has helped keep me from settling on any of the later models including the AR-11 through the AR-91.

I recently acquired a beautiful, solo Rosewood '3a with an alnico magnet woofer (with yet again the elusive #7/1.88mh inductor, by the way) which prompted inevitable comparisons with my ceramic magnet woofered AR-3a's. They do sound a bit different from each other...and both are charming! (The Rosewood finish may "sound" better than the Walnut however :-)).

Roy C.
Roy Champagne

#8 Steve F

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 05:55 PM

Foam surround Tonegen replacements from AB Tech, complete with their higher resonance and slightly elevated upper bass response. Original mids and tweeters, original (thoroughly cleaned, fully functional) pots, AB Tech replacement grille cloth, original, fine-condition, logo plates, oiled walnut cabinets in excellent shape.

I can hear the slight difference vs. factory-original, but my memory fills in the lowest 5 Hz. They're 3a's as far as I'm concerned.

Steve F.

#9 RoyC

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 02:49 AM

Steve,

Just curious...Are the woofers of your AR-3a's of the cloth surround/alnico magnet or foam surround/ceramic magnet variety?

Roy C.
Roy Champagne

#10 kkantor

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 10:07 PM

At the highest level, I am in agreement with you. In the real world few, if any, companies operate in accord with a clearly identifiable conceptual framework. Factors which tend to have a great deal of influence are, for example:

1- Financial goals of the investment resources.

2- Glory-seeking vs. risk-aversion in management.

3- The possible lack of a market or technology infrastructure to allow an innovator to capitalize on innovation in a timely fashion.

4- Asynchronous internal visions and agendas.

5- The ability of idea generators to be idea promoters.

etc.

#11 soundminded

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 04:29 PM

It was a tsunami of a standing wave. If you never experienced being in the middle of one, you don't know what you're missing. By my calculations, the major resonance node of the room is at 36.8 hz based on a 29'-5" room length and a couple of more inches where there's a window on the short wall so it's slightly lower at that point. D1 by my calculations is 36.7 hz. The organ pedal hit it dead on and wow! That's all I can say about it. It brings high school physics lessons alive.

#12 soundminded

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 01:33 PM

I think Tom Tyson was right when he said that a new product (speaker) is created to solve a problem (at least one developed commercially as opposed to one created by a hobbyist like PeteB who experiments solely for his own amusement.) The question as I see it is how do you go about identifying a problem. Every problem and every solution is based on a paradyme, an idealized model for looking at both the problem and the approach to solving it. The solution can be no better than the paradyme itself. If you use an existing paradyme, you usually cannot expect more than marginal improvements tweaking what already exists. Throwing the paradyme away and trying to solve the problem from scratch allows you the opportunity to go into uncharted waters where you can break all of the rules and taboos and find new gold or you can crash against the rocks and drown. It's a question of evolution versus revolution. It's what management of many high tech firms in the 80s and 90s called thinking outside the box, the confinement of the prior art. That doesn't mean you throw away everything you knew or learned from the past, these are valuable tools which can be used selectively but put in context of a different, hopefully larger view of a problem. Products which break the old paradymes will often look and perform entirely differently from everything else that went before it. Some people in the marketplace will embrace it, others, probaby the majority at first will reject it. One trap revolutionaries often fall into is that in solving some previously unsolvable problem with their new idea, they have failed to solve the old ones in more than a mediocre or poor way not equal to other products so the poorly executed idea new idea becomes a tradeoff between which problems you can live with and the new product's only value is its novelty rather than its potential for overwhelming superiority. Unfortunately, most of the products in the audio market today are based on 50 to 80 year old paradymes. The direct firing two and three way speaker design has now been exploited and explored ad nauseum as has the two channel stereophonic sound system consisting of a source, preamplifier, amplifier and pair of loudspeakers. And sad to say but I think quite true, there is no hope for much different or better at its core on the horizon. Every new product seems to be a variant of this theme. So we will get a lot more "improved" variants of AR1s and AR3s but little else for the forseeable future I think.

#13 kkantor

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 06:23 AM

Thanks for the kind words, David!

You really hit a number of nails on the head with your post.

#14 Steve F

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Posted 30 July 2005 - 09:55 PM

What an interesting discussion. I’ve owned as main speakers (in chronological order) 2ax’s, 3a’s, 11’s, 91’s, LST-2’s (bought used), and Connoisseur 50T’s.

I agree that the 50’s were a marked departure from the design goals of the 3a/11/91-type 3-way original AR speakers. The thought at the time was that the 50, with its 6-inch mid driver, was aiming more for the directional "imaging" kind of sound, with minimal midrange room reflections because of its narrower midrange dispersion compared to the domed models. Actually, it was considered more of a direct-listening mini-monitor speaker that just happened to have a 12-inch "subwoofer" built into the same cabinet. The 50 was never reviewed by a major magazine, but High Fidelity did review the 10-inch version (the 40) and it came of quite well.

In my own direct comparisons, since I owned all the speakers under discussion, the 50 was sharper and brighter through the upper mids and highs than were the 3a-11-91. The 50 was every bit a "modern sounding" speaker, very analytical, very detailed, it imaged very well and was generally quite accomplished. It also made blatant—though very amusing—concessions to audiophile nutiness by having TPIPLE (tri-amp) inputs and 1-inch thick cabinet walls, along with spiked, angled floor stands (yeah, I bought those also).

What the 50 did not have, in my highly subjective opinion, was any of the charm of the earlier AR 12-inch 3-way speakers. Their more relaxed, subdued high end coupled with a less sharply-imaged, more diffuse room-filling sound made for a more enjoyable long-term ownership experience, at least for me. I bought the 50’s in 1987; by 1990, I had given them to my Dad; by 1993, he had sold them and replaced them with some floorstanding BA’s.

Today, my refurbished 3a’s are my main music speakers, and I’m very satisfied.

Steve F.

#15 Guest_richd_*

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Posted 30 July 2005 - 08:09 AM

>>Wasn't the AR-91 the logical extension, and evolutionary
>>descendant of the AR-3a?
>>
>>With all of its drivers derived from the AR-9 (as well as
>the
>>Acoustic Blanket, and vertical driver alignment), does this
>>make the 91 AR's most refined 3-way?
>>
>>Is this system undervalued by AR enthusiasts?
>
>Others have commented on the AR-91 (and this applies to the
>AR-92 as well), but there are some engineering highlights that
>have not been mentioned.
>
>When the AR-9 was introduced, AR paid careful attention to the
>“boundary effect” (originally identified and characterized by
>Roy Allison), whereby the woofers were mounted on each side,
>close to the floor-wall intersection when the speaker was
>placed, as intended, back-against-the-wall. Unfortunately, AR
>did not give credit to Roy Allison for this development.
>
>The AR-91 (and AR-92) also attacked the problem of boundary
>interference, and each enclosure placed the woofer close to
>the floor with the speaker systems also intended for
>against-the-wall placement. The compromise was that the AR-91
>woofer was front-mounted, but the boundary-interference effect
>was somewhat reduced. The AR-91’s crossover also was modified
>to further minimize the effect. The AR-91’s cabinet volume
>was somewhat larger than the AR-3a’s, and system resonance was
>dropped to 40Hz (-3dB was 35Hz) with the “Q” set to 0.56. The
>result was a slightly overdamped system offset somewhat by the
>crossover and by the fact that the woofer was placed
>relatively close to the floor.
>
>The AR-91 was also a “vertical” speaker, and by vertically
>stacking the woofer, midrange and tweeter, the interference
>effects were shifted into a vertical plane, rather than
>horizontal, and thus the frequency response from both
>speakers, as heard in the listening position, was more stable.
> The AR-91 tweeter was identical to that used in the AR-9 and
>AR-90, but the midrange unit was modified. This unit has a
>different part number as well. The 1-1/2-inch midrange unit
>used in the AR-9 and 90 used Ferro Fluid on *both* sides of
>the voice coil, and sealed off the cavity under the dome, thus
>raising the resonance frequency of the dome; but in the AR-9
>and 90, the crossover was set quite high and this was not an
>issue. In the AR-91 the crossover was 700Hz, so the voice
>coil in the midrange used Ferro Fluid on the *inside* of the
>voice coil only, and thus the cavity beneath the dome was
>larger, lowering the resonance frequency of the dome. It
>could then operate within the 700Hz crossover range more
>effectively. The small “semi-horn” appendage on the front did
>not affect the lower cutoff frequency of the dome, as it was
>designed to help maintain efficiency in the upper level of the
>operating range. It did nothing below 3kHz according to Tim
>Holl.
>
>The result of all this was an improvement in many ways over
>earlier 3-way AR speakers, and a speaker not always recognized
>for its fine performance. As Steve F remarked, it was somehow
>overlooked in the audio press.
>
>--Tom Tyson
>
Allow me to carry this argument further. After a few years the AR Connoisseur 50 appears. Now we have a speaker with a one inch titanium dome that is very similar to current designs save for the flat mounting which reduces efficiency relative to modern tweeters with short wave guide structures. AR now had a tweeter that could go low enough to crossover to a 6 inch midrange when a modern 3rd order crossover was used (the Connoisseur 50 crossover is not on the web site but I assume that it is very similar to the Magic II speaker crossover which is on the web) they could get rid of the 1.5 inch dome completely. With a reasonable sized cone midrange and a high order crossover network AR could then cross the midrange over to the woofer at a frequency of 300Hz.

While I have never encountered a Connoisseur 50 let alone have had the chance to measure it I would expect these changes result in measurable improvement in the horizontal response curves since the woofer is cut off before it becomes directional. I also would expect dramatic improvement in the vertical response curves as a result of the high order crossover and the drop of the midrange - tweeter crossover point by an octave.

So is the Connoisseur 50 the best 3 way speaker AR produced? It is clearly a speaker that is very close in design to how speakers are produced in 2005. The most significant difference between the Connoisseur 50 and high quality speaker being produced in 2005 is the use of multiple small woofers in a thin tower replacing the single 12 inch driver. This final change yields similar bass with a more appealing form factor and perhaps a reduction of early reflection of the baffle.

What I am getting at here is the sound of speakers produced by classic AR speakers in the 60s, which is highly valued by this group, changed as AR produced newer models. The later models sound very similar to well designed speakers of today. The classic sound is a result of what would be considered very strange design decisions today. Decisions that AR itself pulled back from as the speakers evolved to measure and sound like modern speakers. At least at the top end of the line these evolutionary steps are very abrupt (AR3 to AR9 to Connoisseur 50). It is unclear to me that all members of the group would consider trading an AR 3 for an AR 9 or even a Magic speaker. Few I think would trade for a Connoisseur 50. Improvement is thus a very tricky concept when it comes to AR speakers.

The AR 30X speakers Ken Kantor designed in the early 90s are an example of how difficult it is to define improvement in sound quality when talking about AR speakers. The Kantor designed NHT 3.3 is clearly an engineering improvement from the AR Magic speaker and the AR 9 but for the AR line itself he created something very different. In the AR 30X a mix of the old and the new engineering approaches are found in effort to produce a compromise sound between the classic speakers and the modern ones. I think of the line as the missing link in evolutionary terms. I know of no other audio product from a mass market manufacture that could be called a missing link. The AR 30x development program was obviously a reflection on how prized the classic AR sound had become and how hard it was for the company to decide if some the later designs were viewed as an improvement by the AR customers.

David Rich

#16 soundminded

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 11:33 PM

Scared the living daylights out of myself today with my AR9s. I was listening to the Bernstein recording of the Copland 3rd symphony and decided afterwards to play the last movement of the Copeland Organ Symphony on the same disc. I have my system equalized so that it sounds flat to me as low as I can hear or feel. When the organ came on, the entire room began to vibrate wildly. I was sure every one of the 28 window panes in that room was about to break and I was worried that my expensive TV set sitting between the AR9s would be damaged as well. I turned it down fast. I have never heard a sound so deep or powerful come out of a loudspeaker system before like that in my life. That thing is positively dangerous.

#17 Guest_LOVEAR_*

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 03:45 PM

My 92's are the best purchase I ever made, period. Bought new in 1980, I spent all my money on them, and have dragged them across the country countless times. The "big" and accurate sound still amazes me to this day. I now use the 92 as a center in an AR9 based surround system. I can't imagine how much an equivalent system would cost today.

#18 tysontom

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 03:26 PM

>Wasn't the AR-91 the logical extension, and evolutionary
>descendant of the AR-3a?
>
>With all of its drivers derived from the AR-9 (as well as the
>Acoustic Blanket, and vertical driver alignment), does this
>make the 91 AR's most refined 3-way?
>
>Is this system undervalued by AR enthusiasts?

Others have commented on the AR-91 (and this applies to the AR-92 as well), but there are some engineering highlights that have not been mentioned.

When the AR-9 was introduced, AR paid careful attention to the “boundary effect” (originally identified and characterized by Roy Allison), whereby the woofers were mounted on each side, close to the floor-wall intersection when the speaker was placed, as intended, back-against-the-wall. Unfortunately, AR did not give credit to Roy Allison for this development.

The AR-91 (and AR-92) also attacked the problem of boundary interference, and each enclosure placed the woofer close to the floor with the speaker systems also intended for against-the-wall placement. The compromise was that the AR-91 woofer was front-mounted, but the boundary-interference effect was somewhat reduced. The AR-91’s crossover also was modified to further minimize the effect. The AR-91’s cabinet volume was somewhat larger than the AR-3a’s, and system resonance was dropped to 40Hz (-3dB was 35Hz) with the “Q” set to 0.56. The result was a slightly overdamped system offset somewhat by the crossover and by the fact that the woofer was placed relatively close to the floor.

The AR-91 was also a “vertical” speaker, and by vertically stacking the woofer, midrange and tweeter, the interference effects were shifted into a vertical plane, rather than horizontal, and thus the frequency response from both speakers, as heard in the listening position, was more stable. The AR-91 tweeter was identical to that used in the AR-9 and AR-90, but the midrange unit was modified. This unit has a different part number as well. The 1-1/2-inch midrange unit used in the AR-9 and 90 used Ferro Fluid on *both* sides of the voice coil, and sealed off the cavity under the dome, thus raising the resonance frequency of the dome; but in the AR-9 and 90, the crossover was set quite high and this was not an issue. In the AR-91 the crossover was 700Hz, so the voice coil in the midrange used Ferro Fluid on the *inside* of the voice coil only, and thus the cavity beneath the dome was larger, lowering the resonance frequency of the dome. It could then operate within the 700Hz crossover range more effectively. The small “semi-horn” appendage on the front did not affect the lower cutoff frequency of the dome, as it was designed to help maintain efficiency in the upper level of the operating range. It did nothing below 3kHz according to Tim Holl.

The result of all this was an improvement in many ways over earlier 3-way AR speakers, and a speaker not always recognized for its fine performance. As Steve F remarked, it was somehow overlooked in the audio press.

--Tom Tyson

#19 mluong303

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 11:33 AM

The AR-91 speaker set at 700Hz crossover point was due to the limitation of the short horn 1.5" soft dome midrange driver which bottom out around 600Hz. On the other hand the original AR-3a/AR-10Pi midrange bottom out around 475Hz, that was why it can be used set at the 575Hz crossover point for the AR-3a and even pushing a bit down to 525Hz for the AR-10Pi/AR-11 was still within Specification.

Minh Luong

#20 Pete B

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Posted 01 September 2005 - 01:23 AM

I would say yes, I believe the AR-91 is AR's most refined 3-way due to the reasons you mention. I stated in other threads that I'd want vertically aligned drivers if I had 3a's or 11's. I'm not sure what AR's goals were for voicing around this time, and I'm not sure the 700 Hz crossover is a good choice, but the potential is there to have the best of the breed in my opinion. This leads into a question from Wally that he posted over in the Advent area, I think this is a good place for it:

Wally wrote:
>Hi Pete,
>
>Have you done the specs on the Tonegen replacements for the 12" AR >woofer?
>
>Bret still has a pair to sell and I have been toying with the idea >of building a 'modern' pair of ar11/ar58's....
>
>Would I just copy the volume of the AR98 for optimom low end >response? I would use the 'original' replacement tweeter and >midrange that Layne Audio sells. Or
>Any suggestions based on your reference speaker project?...
>
>regards, Wally

No, I've not had any Tonegens come my way yet. I think your idea is a good one for someone wanting to build the best of the 3-ways. I just noticed you say 98, did you mean 91s? Yes, just copy the box volume, however if you want to make up for a stiffer suspension you could make the box larger to bring Fc back to the correct value. I'm not sure what to tell you about the "original" replacements from Layne since we've not completely figured out what all the different 1.5" domes are and there've been reports that these "universal" replacements do not always sound right. (Note above where Tom Tyson points out differences in the ferro fluid for the mids in the 91) I would only use them if a person came to me asking for such a design, there are much better drivers out there for less money. I would use a cone midrange which of course would require crossover changes, so there is some logic for you to try to keep it the same. The AR-3a or 11 crossover with the correct drivers should work fine in the 91 enclosure. My choice would probably be the AR-11 crossover and drivers in the 91 enclosure, then I might try revoicing the system based on a few of my ideas.

Interesting, I was checking out a friend's new system and there in his basement were a pair of AR-11s. He said they've not been out of the boxes in 10 years. He also said that even though they had the ferro fluid tweeters he blew about 10 of them during the time he was in college. I asked if he had enough power. He said 110W/ch at first then 300W/ch later (bridged amps, these are 4 ohm speakers and it's possible that the output protection was tripping), I guess he had enough. He says everything else is original. This confirms what I'd heard from other reliable sources about tweeter problems.
I'm not completely clear on which woofer versions were used in which speakers, which version would be in these 11's?

Wally you should measure the Fc of the Tonegens in your LSTs, then we can determine how far off they are.

If your thinking of building the boxes from scratch, you could build them and try the drivers out of your LSTs, I think these would be AR-3a types so you'd need that crossover, or could even use the LST's crossover. This would provide a "vertical" AR-3a reference You could then try the AR-11 or 91 crossover with the replacement drivers or the correct drivers bought used and have the "vertical" 3a to compare against.

I have no problem with moving this post if anyone thinks a new one should be started.

Pete B.


>Wasn't the AR-91 the logical extension, and evolutionary
>descendant of the AR-3a?
>
>With all of its drivers derived from the AR-9 (as well as the
>Acoustic Blanket, and vertical driver alignment), does this
>make the 91 AR's most refined 3-way?
>
>Is this system undervalued by AR enthusiasts?




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