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Are my AR9's getting old?


Steve F
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I think you need something objective to compare using your ear insitu.   My 9s were acquired from an audiophile fanatic after he died.  I have never touched them because they were near 10 when I purchased them, though there was obvious evidence they had received some level of electronic refurbishment.  The 9s can still barely be beaten IMO in specific areas when measured by ear but I have concluded there is probably not another another 10 octave speaker that is more automatically, out-of-the-box,  adaptable to the home environment.  You will pay a dear price and, if you discard them in the process, new sonic apparitions will arise and you will always wonder if you did the correct thing.  That is the short version.

Good to hear from you.

Aadams

 

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Hi Steve, that guy sounds like a typical 'worry-wort' and I find it's a common mind-set of many non-cognoscenti/ new comers.  And although the OP made some valid points, simply scan all of the novice stereo sites and one will readily learn of how many are late-comers to this hobby.

If that is the case, 90% here would be using new speakers and not decades old speakers.

Though, I will say there's a number of folks on a budget and cannot consider new costly speakers, I feel many are quite happy with what they already have and are probably incapable of discerning the differences (due to ear conditioning), that an aging loudspeaker can exhibit other than major noises or obvious problems.

In 1971-72 I had to wait about three weeks for my brand new AR-3a speakers to 'break-in' when I first took them out of the box new. The woofers sounded a little hollow and honked a bit and I couldn't wait until they started to 'age' a bit. How many here or are still alive who can tell of owning AR speakers when they were brand 48 years ago? Very few, I'm sure.  Most folks are second or third and fourth-hand owners and weren't AR purchasers when these speakers were offered as brand-new purchases. In that respect, I'm a dinosaur original AR speaker owner I go back to times when the 3a was still one of the hottest speakers around. Years ago, a friendly competitiveness sometimes existed between system owners, these days many melt like a candle and become offended if challenged. This ribbing was based on a minor and natural male competitiveness that I can recall countless moments of when that was the norm and simple clean fun.

Then there's the 'back to the earth factor' which states that everything on this earth will return to the earth be it because of old age or a mass-extinction event and those factors are completely out of our individual or collective ability and control. 

On another level if this were entirely a valid and absolutely true condition of concern to the point of making me question the speakers sound quality, I wouldn't have invested and spent the thousands of dollars in tonearms, cartridges, records, and ancillary equipment as I did these last few years. So, I'll worry about this fellow's paranoia as much as I'll worry about 'cow-farts'. On another note, I give myself plenty of credit for knowing even subtle differences of the sound quality my speakers/system project. On the basis that I have become more aware than ever of the quality sound that expensive phono-cartridges can make, as a generalization and because of obvious differences. Though, other's vintage systems can't even resolve better quality sound to be able to know or hear the differences.

Many out there are still using less than under $100. cartridges, $200. turntables, 18AWG speaker wire and $10. inter-connects or as we use call them back in the '60s and '70s,  'patch-cords'.  By the same token many others more fortunate than I, spend thousands and thousands on their systems and would probably laugh at mine. In fact some have done just that on an upper-tier, high-end web-site where the big-dogs play, I never posted there again. They all mostly had new high-end stuff and here I come with 45 year old speakers, turntables, amps. 

However, lately I see a number of know-nothing types post there and some elder members of that site have become tolerant further attesting to the fact that the information is repeated and repeated the same as common gossip you'd hear if you belonged to a knitting club which I called this site 3 years ago. How much can we discuss the same things over and over again?  One of many differences on some new posters simply come rite out and ask for information because they feel entitled whereas years ago, most folks went out into the world and taught themselves by reading test-reports, store listening or just taking educated chances as I and many have done. 

Let's not forget, some folks think all amplifiers sound the same and that all inter-connects sound the same, and that low power amplifiers can drive inefficient speakers as well as high-power amplifiers can. Some posters display their defiant ignorance by saying; "It sounds good to me" and other mindless, indiscriminate and idiotic philosophies that I don't retain in my mind. Many speak as though they're long time experts merely on the basis of reading what some one else has said and written about a particular item or topic.

So, onward and upwards to learning what 'is' better and staying away from becoming a neurotic stereo person.

 

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Are my AR9’s getting “old?”  Steve F

I bought AR9’s in 2010 in Boston from their second owner, a young EE who had graduated from MIT. He had re-surrounded the woofers and LMRs and had re-capped the x-overs. I’ve never opened up the cabinets to check his work, but the speakers sound great and I have no aural reason to doubt the quality of his work.

I think the 9’s are remarkable speakers. They do everything at least very well and some things the best I’ve ever heard. I haven’t tired of them in 9 years, nor do I find their performance lacking in comparison to more “modern” speakers. I do a fair number of speaker reviews for the website Audioholics.com and I compare every speaker that comes my way to the 9. There are some very good mid-priced tower speakers out there these days, but even so, none surpasses the 9, in any area.

But I am nagged by the suspicion that my 9’s are aging. I fear the aging is gradual and subtle, such that I don’t notice, and the 9’s margin of ascendancy over other speakers I’ve compared it to side-by-side is great enough that a slight diminution in their absolute performance is not enough to significantly affect their competitive standing.

________________________

There is likely more reduction in your hearing acuity in the intervening ten years than reduction in output fidelity in the AR9s, but without actual before-and-after response measurements to verify it, there is no way of knowing whether or not your AR9s have declined in output and fidelity, or if distortion has increased over time, etc.

But, intellectually, academically, I can’t help but think there are areas in which my 40+-year-old speakers have slipped, even if just slightly. Specifically:

1.     The woofers’ and LMRs’ spiders. Yes, they have been re-surrounded (by all subjective audible and visual measures, correctly), but the spiders are original. 40 years old. Surely, they have stretched and sagged a little over time. Maybe, just maybe, the spiders are not exerting quite the same degree of control over the cones’ motion as was the case when they were brand new. Could be that the woofers and 8” LMR are just ever-so-slightly looser and floppier than before. A tiny amount, but certainly possible.

Sagging of the woofer spiders is more a function of gravity, not so much a function of wearing out during operation, in the 200003-0 woofer, although the strength of the spiders has probably diminished over time due to constant movement.  If, however, the voice coils don't rub, or that there is no tear or rip in the spider fabric, you should be fine.  The only true function of the spider in this woofer is to center the voice coil both longitudinally and vertically—hold it correctly in place—thus to bring the cone back to the center resting position and and prevent it from rubbing the pole piece.  It therefore exerts very little force on the woofer cone.  The air in the enclosure does most of the restoring of the woofer to the center position; the spider/skiver only do about 10-15% of that anyway.  Remember: the electrical signal driving the woofer cone does not provide the necessary restoring force of the cone to keep it centered; that falls on the suspension system.  Therefore, if there is no rubbing, banging noises, rattles, obvious distortion, off-center cones or physical rips... I wouldn't worry too much about the spiders.  On this woofer, the spiders are loose but fairly durable, but they certainly will sag if the speaker driver (or the speaker enclosure) is stored face-up or face-down for prolonged periods.

 

2.     I’ve never checked the condition and seal of the LMRs’ tubular sub-enclosure. A tube of heavy-duty cardboard is actually quite a strong structure, but I wonder if they’re still properly sealed against the backside of the baffle board. These speakers have been moved around a lot, from location to location. Glue dries out over time and becomes brittle. Wouldn’t surprise me if the glue seal has cracked slightly and there is a small air leak in one or both LMR enclosures.

I think the seal for this sub enclosure was carefully crafted when originally designed, so it shouldn't cause an issue.  You could always remove the 8-inch LMR driver and check the seal.  No problem here.

 

3.     Slight thickening/degradation of the ferrofluid in the UMR and tweeter. Again, they sound ok, but their output may be slightly compromised and/or the distortion/VC travel slightly impeded compared to factory-fresh units if the FF has degraded even a little.

This may be a concern, and there is likely some drying out over time.  The problem seems to be worse in many other brands than with the AR series, but no one knows how long it will take for the oil to dry out.  Removing all of the old Ferrofluid and replacing it with the proper amount of new stuff is extremely problematical.  On the other hand, we don't often hear of this problem as a serious concern with this series of AR speakers.

 

4.     Mediocre 1978 crossover component quality and garden-variety internal wiring. This is both a design and an aging consideration. The x-o’s have supposedly been re-capped (by an MIT EE!) and they sound fine, but still, I wonder if there are any age-related issues with the x-overs. The internal wiring and binding posts that AR used were hardly audiophile quality by today’s standards, but does that matter? It could, even if just a little tiny bit.

AR9 crossover components were actually of high quality, mostly Sprague capacitors and large-gauge coils and so forth, and the wiring was more than large enough in gauge with high-temperature insulation.  The mediocrity might be in the (lack of) "neatness" of wiring, using very few Ty-Raps to bundle cables together and nicer-appearing crossover boards like those done by some boutique manufacturers during the day.  The extra cosmetic things only cost money, and no one looks inside anyway.  Nevertheless, the wiring is more than adequate for proper electrical performance.  Also, most newer crossovers are usually completely board-mounted and circuit-board soldered, so the appearance of "hand-made" wiring is absent in the newer designs.

 

5.     An undistinguished cabinet. These two 12” woofers can and do generate a great deal of internal cabinet pressure and panel vibration in a sealed enclosure. Are the cabinet glue joints still as strong and vital as they were in 1978? The panel thickness is ¾” all around and the internal bracing is minimal. If these speakers were done today by a high-end speaker manufacturer, the side panels where the woofers are mounted would be 2”-thick MDF, the front baffle would be 1” MDF and the inside would have top-to-bottom windowpane bracing. Does that matter? Probably a little.

The AR9 cabinet is not heavily braced, but it is adequately braced for the need.  AR extensively tested for that during the development stages, and the bracing was used that provided adequate cabinet damping.  Oh sure, additional bracing would help to make the cabinet sides more inert, but there is probably negligible audible benefit and very little measureable benefit from doing that; again, it adds cost.  The truncated top-back of the cabinet adds huge stiffness, too.  As you know, I had a pair of B&W "Matrix" 801 Series II speakers, which I liked very much, and the cabinet was heavily crossed braced with a high-dollar, honeycomb bracing insert.  I still had my AR9s at the time, too, and without doubt I felt that the AR9 was cleaner in the deep bass than the 801s, and the 801s were equalized flat to 18 Hz.  Did that bracing make that much difference?  It no doubt helped this vented enclosure quite a lot, but the cost to build that speaker was very high and the selling cost was exorbitant, more than twice as much as a pair of AR9s.  I personally felt that the AR9 was a superior loudspeaker overall.

1837552284_BW_801_Matrix_(01).thumb.jpg.2fe2c6075d1161da7377ac3e2e85e66b.jpg

The thought has crossed my mind to send the woofers and LMRs to Bill Legall at Millersound and have them completely rebuilt. I’ve also though about duplicating the x-overs electrically, but with much higher-quality components and having new custom cabinets built with the same internal volume, the same stuffing arrangement and the same dimensions, but with thicker panels and better bracing.

This is probably the last thing you should do.  If it's not broke, don't fix it.  New spiders, cone and new surrounds will most likely raise the resonance frequency of those woofers and likely change their frequency-response characteristics , and this will, for better or worse, affect the sound the speaker.

Just my thoughts!  Good topic for discussion, though!

—Tom

 

 

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I'm not touchin' 'em. I was just wondering.

My feeling is that the AR9 is akin to boxer Muhammad Ali. When young, the untouchable heavyweight champion of the world. No one even close.

When old, he was still good enough to knock out George Foreman and and become champion again. Was the 32-year-old Ali of 1974 as good as the 25-year-old Ali of 1967? Maybe not quite, but he was still the best in the world. Those are my 9's: a 32-year-old Muhammad Ali.

Steve F.

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Steve - your speakers are almost certainly fine, you're just a little used to them.

Maybe you could have some fun with minor tweaks - install a set of spiked feet, or experiment with different speaker cables. Washing & detailing a car always seems to make it run better, so perhaps a complete re-oiling of the AR-9 cabinets would do the trick! ^_^

 

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23 hours ago, tysontom said:

... As you know, I had a pair of B&W "Matrix" 801 Series II speakers, which I liked very much, and the cabinet was heavily crossed braced with a high-dollar, honeycomb bracing insert.  I still had my AR9s at the time, too, and without doubt I felt that the AR9 was cleaner in the deep bass than the 801s, and the 801s were equalized flat to 18 Hz.  Did that bracing make that much difference?  It no doubt helped this vented enclosure quite a lot, but the cost to build that speaker was very high and the selling cost was exorbitant, more than twice as much as a pair of AR9s.  I personally felt that the AR9 was a superior loudspeaker overall...

—Tom

 

I was not aware that you had the B&W's.  "I personally felt that the AR9 was a superior loudspeaker overall."  If there was ever a statement that tells me just how good the AR9 was/is, it's that one.

Regarding your statement, "There is likely more reduction in your hearing acuity in the intervening ten years than reduction in output fidelity in the AR9s..." Geez, the truth hurts!

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Holy moly,  "I personally felt that the AR9 was a superior loudspeaker overall."  If there was ever a statement that tells me just how good the AR9 was/is, it's that one.""

If T.T. says that, it makes me feel a whole better because if I were faced with not having my AR speakers, the B&W 801 speaker was one that I've had my eyes on for a long time.

Luckily, a couple of years ago I was graced with a pair of AR-9's and they comprise my 'second-system' and although it's not my main-squeeze system, it easily could be if I choose so, a very nice option. It's just that I'm so very married to my LST's and I'm more sonically comfortable with them. 

But if,  mystical,  magical,  grand exalted ruler Tom Tyson feels this way then I shall remain happy and confident knowing I have a pair. Besides all of their excellent qualities, those four 12" woofers are an attraction for me as AR's 12" woofers in general have always been the main part of my affection of the AR line since day one of ownership.

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DavidR, that's actually good to know. If I ever decide to replace or retire my 9's, I will contact you. I'm in Foxboro (as in "Home of the World Champion New England Patriots"). You may kid around about "haul away free of charge," but they would be. I wouldn't want money for them. They've given me so much enjoyment for so long that just the knowledge that they're going to a good home, so to speak, would be more than enough.

It ain't happenin' too soon, however, so I wouldn't be holding my breath if I were you.

Steve F.

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