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Impressions of my new AR-9's


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I picked up a pair of AR-9’s a few months ago from a Forum member here in MA. They were in truly excellent shape, the 12” and 8”-ers re-foamed with care and the x-o re-capped correctly. (The previous owner is an MIT electrical engineer.) The cabs have nary a scratch and the grilles have no tears or pulls. Truly a great find, and my unrelenting appreciation to the previous owner for keeping them in such good condition.

Like many Forum members, I have too many speakers already and I certainly didn’t need these. Restored 3a’s were my main music speakers in an upstairs office (I have a BA-based HT system in the family room that is quite excellent in that role) and I wasn’t looking to change.

But….well, you guys know how it is.

So, we have this “living room” downstairs. Not our big 23 x 25-foot family room where the big screen is with the BA HT system. A living room, off the main traffic pattern of the house, a room that can be sealed off with closed doors and be made private. It’s not huge—about 17 x 13 or so—but big enough. Like most living rooms, very little “living” takes place in it, and the room goes mostly to waste.

Perfect for the 9’s.

Full credit to my wife. She has green-lighted all these recent indulgences of mine (“Hey, we put the girls through college and gave them values such that we couldn’t have hand-picked nicer men for them to marry. Mission Accomplished. You want to spend a few bucks on some speakers and such? Go ahead, have some fun.” What a gal.)

I had originally pre-wired this room for surround sound when we built the house back in ’02, but things came up and we never made this room a theater. I may or may not put a TV in this room, but if I do, the TV will be augmented by the 9-based music-oriented system, not a 5.1 HT system.

Initially, I was driving the 9’s with an ‘80’s-era NAD 7140 receiver, rated at 60/60 into the 9’s 4-ohm impedance. The NAD is actually quite a gutsy little receiver, with a big toroidal transformer and double output devices nestled in substantial heatsinking. It’s 60 watts per channel the way 60 per side is supposed to be. In this smallish room, it was surprising how well it drove the 9’s.

But the NAD was never intended to be the permanent solution, so I bought a Parasound 2100 pre-amp and their model 2250 power amp—385 wpc into 4 ohms—to power the 9’s. 385/side might be overkill in this size room (fully 8 dB more power than the NAD), but I never run out of power, which is nice.

Here’s the twist, and it’s a nice one: Remember I said that the room was pre-wired for surround sound? Never one to let good speaker wiring go to waste, I mounted some Atlantic Technology 4400 SR bipole/dipole surround speakers on the sidewalls, alongside the listening area. The 4400’s have a triangular cross section (like the Allison:Ones) with dual 4 ½” woofers and dual 1” tweeters. From the Parasound pre-amp’s ‘rec out’ jacks I feed the ‘aux in’ of an NAD C-315BEE 40/40 integrated amplifier. The NAD drives the side-mounted AT’s and I use them to fill in the rear of the listening room at a low level, just enough to ‘flesh out’ the image for a shade more three-dimensionality. The AT’s also use a soft-dome tweeter like the AR’s and they’re voiced similarly. When the level is properly set, you don’t even hear the 4400’s as a discrete sound source.

I love this set-up.

Now, to my impression of the 9’s. I (or my Dad) have owned, since 1969 in chronological order (as well as my rapidly-aging memory can recall):

4x’s

‘New’ 2ax’s

LST-2’s

11’s

--------------

91’s

50t’s

--------------

Restored 3a’s

My two older cousins each had 3a’s during my new 2ax timeframe.

I’ve also had assorted ‘secondary system’ speakers like TSW 105’s, 110’s, etc.

I’ve enjoyed all of them and they all have their particular charms. There is a dividing line of sorts, between the sound of the 11’s and the sound of the 91’s, to my ear. Old and new. The 11 was more closely related to the sound of the 3a than it is to the 91 and 50t, in my opinion.

The 9 is an effortless speaker that for all its capability and size doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself. Obviously with dual 12-inch woofers, you expect bass, bass, bass, but that’s not the first thing you hear. Instead, the first thing that strikes you is the speaker’s amazing transparency and presence. It is definitely NOT merely an “11 with more bass.” The 9 has a striking midrange clarity and utter command of the material such that the listener is really “listening through” the recording, right to the performance itself (at least on good recordings). No doubt the speaker’s 4-way design and the 8” driver’s 200-1200 Hz role has a lot to do with its complete lack of midrange strain and coloration.

And further, the 9 is so revealing that colorations and nasal vocals on what you previously thought were “excellent” recordings can occasionally make themselves quite apparent. Conversely, what you previously thought were mediocre recordings sometimes turn out to be models of understated excellence. As I said, this is not merely an 11 with more bass; it’s a different caliber of speaker altogether.

Like all ARs, if there is little or no deep bass on the recording, you get (accurately) little or no deep bass from the 9s. At moderate listening levels, it has a very AR 10-inch character to it; at loud levels, it takes on the more authoritative AR 12-inch sound. Only at the upper-upper limit does it really show what it can do. You find yourself pre-emptively “cringing’ a little bit, waiting for the breakup, the distortion, the strain.

It never comes.

Assuming no amp-induced distortion (and with 385 wpc RMS in my modestly-sized room, there isn’t any), the 9’s just never run out of steam. You find yourself playing things a bit louder than usual just because everything is always so darned clean. When the branches of a decorative artificial tree in the corner were literally waving in the breeze, I knew the 9’s were really cranking. But sweetly.

It is definitely ‘modern’-sounding, in that it has plenty of HF energy and very precise ‘imaging,’ if imaging is important to you. I have extensive acoustic treatments adorning the walls (my wife the Understanding One, again), and I still find that I run the 9’s with the lower and upper mids at “-3.” I run the tweets flat out, however, in deference to my 50-something ears.

A good friend of mine is an acoustic engineer at a well-known speaker company, with several highly-regarded products to his credit. He’s in his mid-thirties, has excellent hearing, and knows how to listen (the two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand). His immediate impression of the 9’s when he first heard them was that

1) They were truly excellent, as accurate and wide-range as the best speakers he’d ever heard (he had never heard old AR’s before, only heard about them), and

2) He was amazed that ‘back then,’ engineers were allowed to make the best-performing product they could, and then the industrial designers made the best-looking design that they could out of what they had to work with. These days, it’s often just the opposite—the industrial designer and Marketing pick the look and size first, and then the engineers do the best they can with the hand they’re dealt.

I have great respect for the 9’s design, its purity and purpose. There is not a single nod to flash or appearance for appearance’s sake. The side woofer grilles are remarkably clunky looking, purely functional. The 8” lower mid driver looks just like the 8” woofer from any $90 AR bookshelf speaker. Considering that the 9’s 8-incher crosses over at a low 1200 Hz, AR could have fancied up the cone’s and dustcap’s appearance with all manner of treatments and plastic appliqués, since those would have only affected the upper-range of that driver’s response anyway (above, say, 2000 or so, well beyond the bandwidth where that driver is used in the 9), but the thought never entered AR’s mind. Just make it perform as good as possible, and let the looks fall where they will.

The 9 is an amazing engineering tour-de-force, taking on so many different speaker problems at once (deep LF response w/controlled impedance, no driver interference in the H plane, reduced near-field baffle reflections, wide uniform dispersion, elimination of ‘Allison-effect’ problems when properly placed, very high PH, etc.), and it deals pretty successfully with all of them.

That so many jaws still continue to drop upon hearing them (including mine!) 30+ years after they came out, says it all.

Steve F.

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I picked up a pair of AR-9’s a few months ago from a Forum member here in MA. They were in truly excellent shape, the 12” and 8”-ers re-foamed with care and the x-o re-capped correctly. (The previous owner is an MIT electrical engineer.) The cabs have nary a scratch and the grilles have no tears or pulls. Truly a great find, and my unrelenting appreciation to the previous owner for keeping them in such good condition.

Steve F.

Steve,

Congratulations on a great find (and understanding wife). Excellent write up!

David

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Really great post Steve.

>>They were in truly excellent shape, the 12” and 8”-ers re-foamed with care and the x-o re-capped correctly. (The previous owner is an MIT electrical engineer.)<<

I was wondering if you could elaborate on the x-o recap. I have 4 AR-9’s (possibly 6 if my brother wants his done) I’d like to recap, but not run into any problems other forum members have indicated they had with recapping their AR-9’s.

>>I’ve enjoyed all of them and they all have their particular charms. There is a dividing line of sorts, between the sound of the 11’s and the sound of the 91’s, to my ear. Old and new. The 11 was more closely related to the sound of the 3a than it is to the 91 and 50t, in my opinion.<<

I completely agree with what you are saying about a dividing line between AR-11 and AR-91.

>>It is definitely NOT merely an “11 with more bass.” The 9 has a striking midrange clarity and utter command of the material such that the listener is really “listening through” the recording, right to the performance itself (at least on good recordings). No doubt the speaker’s 4-way design and the 8” driver’s 200-1200 Hz role has a lot to do with its complete lack of midrange strain and coloration.<<

Absolutely correct. You might be able to say the AR-9 is an AR-91 with more bass. But, it is more correct to say the AR-9 is an AR-90 with more bass. Also, The AR-9 is a completely different era of speaker from the AR LST, another AR “tour-de-force” speaker.

>>Assuming no amp-induced distortion (and with 385 wpc RMS in my modestly-sized room, there isn’t any), the 9’s just never run out of steam. You find yourself playing things a bit louder than usual just because everything is always so darned clean. When the branches of a decorative artificial tree in the corner were literally waving in the breeze, I knew the 9’s were really cranking. But sweetly.<<

Crank it up!! The 9’s will not disappoint. One thing I found with LST’s vs. 9’s is the LST’s needed a lot more power to "come alive" than the 9’s. Like the AR-11 vs. AR-9 you really can’t compare the “sound” of the AR LST to the “sound” of the AR-9. Both are outstanding speaker designs. They just present the soundstage to the listener differently.

>>That so many jaws still continue to drop upon hearing them (including mine!) 30+ years after they came out, says it all.<<

Amen. I enjoyed reading your post.

Rich

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<Really great post Steve.>

Glad you enjoyed the post.

I don't have any specific info on the re-cap. I listened very closely to them before I bought them, with a combination of familiar CDs and my trusty Stereophile test disk, and they sounded "correct." My opinion of their 'correctness' has not wavered in the two months I've owned them.

I agree completely with you about the LST needing somewhat more power in order to 'open up' so to speak. I find all AR's that used the 1 1/2" midrange in a 3-way system all shared that trait--the 3a, 5, LST-2, and even the 11 and 10Pi to some extent.

It was amazing how well that NAD 7140 receiver (60/60 into 4) drove the 9's. The ultimate loudness capability is greater with my Parasound, but as long as the NAD wasn't over-driven, the 9's sounded great.

Steve F.

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It was amazing how well that NAD 7140 receiver (60/60 into 4) drove the 9's. The ultimate loudness capability is greater with my Parasound, but as long as the NAD wasn't over-driven, the 9's sounded great.

Steve F.

I have used a NAD 7140 to drive my Heath AS-103 pr (kit version of the AR3a) for several years. Nice clean and powerful sound, with plenty of control. Even at high volumes, no sign of distortion or clipping and the amp is barely warm to the touch. Great receiver....then again I have never met a NAD product that I didn't like. I currently have 4 NAD receivers in use in my house. NAD and AR, a great combination.

Best,

Ross

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I have used a NAD 7140 to drive my Heath AS-103 pr (kit version of the AR3a) for several years. Nice clean and powerful sound, with plenty of control. Even at high volumes, no sign of distortion or clipping and the amp is barely warm to the touch. Great receiver....then again I have never met a NAD product that I didn't like. I currently have 4 NAD receivers in use in my house. NAD and AR, a great combination.

Best,

Ross

NAD and AR have a nearly-formal connection, dating back from the late '70's. If you like, I will tell you the story.....

Steve F.

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