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To what do you attribute the Classic ARs' enduring popularity?


Steve F

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C'mon Forum: tell us why you think the Classic AR's were and are so popular, without pontificating about your pet theories/pet peeves.

Their "smooth" sound?

Their great bass?

Their "credible" reputation?

Something else?

It should be possible to posit the reasons for their popularity without the discussion devolving into an invective-laden insult fest about design theories, proven/discredited technical or performance assumptions, personal attacks, or anything else.

Very simply: Why do you think the Classic ARs were and are so popular?

Steve F.

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I'm not looking to "arrive at a consensus on a "factual basis" for the speakers' popularity."

I'm looking for the opinions of the Forum's members, who have, collectively, a wide and varied background, and whose opinions would make for interesting reading, to all our benefit.

So, Forum--to what do you attribute the Classic ARs' enduring popularity?

Steve F.

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For "why it sounds the way it does" I thought I coverd that fairly well with the AR4x. Of course I was always mindful that there was a fine line between explaining measurements and their subjective consequences, and being a traitor criticizing the sacred cause.

The ongoing debate is always between those that drank just enough cool-aid to have an interest in AR and those that drank all the cool-aid. I have a great interest in the history of hi-fi, the people and companies that made up its history, the theories that came in and out of favor and of course the products that succeded and failed along the way. I just don't think that one company (or 2) had all the answers or made the only significant products. As I keep saying, I certainly don't think a narrow era in time was a high point and that all "advances" since are meaningless.

Steve asked what I thought of or liked about the first generation products and I was leary of getting into it because any balanced analysis is always taken as criticism. Well, I like that AR was an engineering driven company, that they pioneered acoustic suspension and dome drivers, that their marketing featured both endorsments from the music comunity and unabashed technology. There might have been other companies doing equally good engineering at the time but you don't easily get a glimpse into their inner workings like you do with AR. Through ARs papers you see how the units measured and what they were trying to achieve. I suspect that philosophically I am more of a "KLH" person, but you don't really have a glimpse into their inner workings as you do with AR. Now, by the early 80s, when I was in the industry, KEF was a technical leader, through their published tech notes they were revealing a lot of their advanced thinking. That appealed to me to the point where I pulled up stakes and moved a continent away.

People need to find a balance between enjoying an older product and proclaiming it the best of all time. I have a pair of AR4x and they needed a lot of modification to get to the point where I am quite happy to listen to them. My AR2ax are unmodified. I can enjoy them, but as Steve F understands, they are a product of another era. I haven't hear AR 9s but I suspect that I would be completely happy with them. They appear to be a "modern era" speaker.

I have no problem with Howard being a huge fan of RA. I am a bit of a fan myself, although I suspect he never really walked on water. I've known a lot of impressive people in my career, including,Peter Walker, Peter Baxandal, Laurie Fincham, John Eargle, Bob Stuart, Dick Small, John Atkinson,Tom Norton, plus a lot of less publicized but equally impressive figures. Did RA pioneer some novel technology and legitimately worthy products? Certainly. But what about the KEF 105, the B&W 801, the models of Spendor, Castle and Rogers, of NHT or the later products of JBL? sure this is a fan site for the New England schoold of products, but people who like those other products aren't idiots or dillusional.

How about a little balance here?

David

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I agree with all the reasons you give, although your answers are mainly along the "why people responded positively to the engineering/credibility" aspect of the Classic AR era products.

Why do you (and everyone else here) think people liked their sound?

I'm not saying that anyone here was or was not a fan of their sound. I'm asking why you think people at the time liked their sound, hence their large sales numbers?

Steve F.

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Unless we can somehow get access to a customer surveys of the period, I suspect that most of us who bought them can only say what we liked that caused us to choose them, but here goes anyway.

In my case, I had grown up listening to a lot of live music and a number of very large speakers (mostly Hartsfields and some really big Bozaks whose model numbers escape me years later) along with a pair of AR3s. The ARs were, to my ear, every bit as good as the bigger boxes, so when the time came for me to buy my own and big boxes were out of the question, that's where I started. By that time (early 70's) there were lots of other "bookshelf" options. I listened to a fair number of them, and in the end the choice narrowed to ARs, KLHs and ADCs. What all three had in common was that they produced sound from the recordings of the time that seemed closer to the sound of the live music I was accustomed to, and what narrowed the choice to AR was their relative insensitivity to placement (musicians that didn't seem to be playing on roller skates if I got up to move about the room), a seemingly more robust reaction to louder volumes (I recall ARs playing happily at volumes that made equivalent KLHs and ADCs buzz), and the manufacturer's reputation for not forcing retailers to keep prices high and for liberal warranty policies (not that I ever had to invoke any service under warranty).

Since these were all qualities that AR put a fair amount of emphasis on in their literature of the period (most of which I never saw until years later when Mark launched CSP), I can only presume that they correctly believed that many other speaker buyers of the time were attracted and persuaded by the same things.

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How are you going to determine if success in the marketplace is from superior engineering, good marketing, being the first in a category? Bose is the most successful company around yet many of us have a low regard for most of its models. Certainly a lot of AR's success is due to the combination of good design and a serious advertising budget. Would other companies have been more competition if they had the ad budget?

David

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How are you going to determine if success in the marketplace is from superior engineering, good marketing, being the first in a category? Bose is the most successful company around yet many of us have a low regard for most of its models. Certainly a lot of AR's success is due to the combination of good design and a serious advertising budget. Would other companies have been more competition if they had the ad budget?

Survey people who actually buy your company's products, especially people who buy them more than once, and ask them why. The opinions of people who didn't buy and don't like your products are only meaningful if you don't think you're selling enough of them and want to find out why.

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Advertising was the likely starting point for most of us - whether directly, or indirectly through experiencing another's AR speakers, someone first read an ad, and thought "hmmm...".

I have a large number of ancient issues of High Fidelity, Audio, etc., and the most remarkable aspect of AR's advertising from that period is the absence of condescension regarding the targeted market - selling was oriented toward intelligent, educated men, and it proved to be an effective method.

Hell, most of my friends' dads who owned AR speakers were smart, and confident in their choices, and how could that not influence a young guy?

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My own draw to classic AR speakers came from wanting to revisit the sound I remember from my youth and researching hear and at Audio Karma. Reading members comments that wax poetically about AR's and the fact that I can now afford them led me to try AR 2AX from Andy. I recapped, resealed (probably a mistake) and viola they did indeed sound better than any speaker I've ever had.

I think it's first and foremost the bass. Rich accurate, musical bass that draws you in.

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QUOTE (Steve F @ Jun 2 2010, 06:36 AM) *

I haven't heard from anyone else, but since Zilch has posed the same question, I'd love to hear his and others' responses, in very specific terms, as I tried to do in Post #49 in this thread.

(Zilch) And I have provided my answer a dozen times, including here, at least to the extent that I understand it, and that is constant directivity, and ultimately, even Howard agreed to the terminology.

Well, doing some quick calculations, all the Classic ARs--save the 2ax--do seem to cross over to the next driver before the larger one gets too beamy. Very consistently. The 4x, 6, 2x, 5, and 3a all "pass' the test.

Only the 2ax falls short. The 10 woofer is just a bit (not too much, though) beyond its optimum range by the 1400Hz x-o point, but the 3 1/2" mid is fine up to the 5000Hz x-o. Still, the overall system is pretty good.

Combined with their "non-offensive" tonal balance that 'wore well' with owners over the long haul, their linear, extended bass, their inherent ability to handle lots of power, and their uniform cd character--coupled with their great ads and eng 'rep'-- this might actually be the formula that spelled success for the Classic ARs.

Steve F.

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QUOTE (Steve F @ Jun 2 2010, 06:36 AM)Well, doing some quick calculations, all the Classic ARs--save the 2ax--do seem to cross over to the next driver before the larger one gets too beamy. Very consistently. The 4x, 6, 2x, 5, and 3a all "pass' the test.

Indeed, many owners observed that ARs were unique in that they "sounded" the same from anywhere in the room, and that remains true today, in comparison to typical modern cone/dome designs.

[That's constant directivity in action.... :unsure: ]

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for me its the overall balanced sound. AR speakers of the classic era do everything well, no one aspect of the sound overpowers the others. even with the prodigious low end that is a characteristic of many models, the balance from top to bottom remains intact. far too many speakers are either so lacking or dominant in one part of the spectrum that their obvious absence of balance makes for a disappointing experience. add to that their "natural" voicing and you get a speaker that never fails to deliver a very satisfying sound.

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C'mon Forum: tell us why you think the Classic AR's were and are so popular, without pontificating about your pet theories/pet peeves.

Their "smooth" sound?

Their great bass?

Their "credible" reputation?

Something else?

It should be possible to posit the reasons for their popularity without the discussion devolving into an invective-laden insult fest about design theories, proven/discredited technical or performance assumptions, personal attacks, or anything else.

Very simply: Why do you think the Classic ARs were and are so popular?

Steve F.

Good question. For me: "trust" > "identification" > "sound."

There were a several speaker companies getting good ink as I was coming into the world of hifi, and most of them could muster a convincing dealer demo. But the claims and explanations often seemed contradictory and hyperbolic. AR, in contrast, always seemed to attempt a logical and well-researched justification for their products. And, by inference, they seemed to be after customers who valued this kind of approach. Of course, if they hadn't sounded good, (full, rich, smooth, deep, balanced), I would have hung onto my A25's.

-k

(Sorry for the "I"'s....)

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Good question. For me: "trust" > "identification" > "sound."

There were a several speaker companies getting good ink as I was coming into the world of hifi, and most of them could muster a convincing dealer demo. But the claims and explanations often seemed contradictory and hyperbolic. AR, in contrast, always seemed to attempt a logical and well-researched justification for their products. And, by inference, they seemed to be after customers who valued this kind of approach. Of course, if they hadn't sounded good, (full, rich, smooth, deep, balanced), I would have hung onto my A25's.

-k

(Sorry for the "I"'s....)

k,

A few "I's" here and there to give time/historical/personal context is fine (and probably unavoidable). It's quite different than using the "I's" as a device for self-promotion or self-justification.

"I" say, don't sweat it.

Steve F.

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C'mon Forum: tell us why you think the Classic AR's were and are so popular, without pontificating about your pet theories/pet peeves.

Their "smooth" sound?

Their great bass?

Their "credible" reputation?

Something else?

It should be possible to posit the reasons for their popularity without the discussion devolving into an invective-laden insult fest about design theories, proven/discredited technical or performance assumptions, personal attacks, or anything else.

Very simply: Why do you think the Classic ARs were and are so popular?

Steve F.

Steve,

AR speakers sound good, as Ken stated, with deep, clean bass, clear, unexaggerated midrange and treble, and they have a "spacious" encompassing sound-presentation. Music-lovers for generations now have come to enjoy this sense of smoothness, clarity and realism -- low-coloration without sonic exaggerations that many competing speakers often gave. In an 70s Audio Times interview with Jerry Landau, Director of Marketing at AR for many years, he was asked why AR speakers remained so popular and he noted, "once sold, AR speakers tend to stay sold." Few owners became dissatisfied when they got their speaker homes from the audio dealership.

AR speakers demonstrated properly in a dealer showroom frequently came out on top, but this required a knowledgeable dealer capable of getting the sound levels adjusted fairly for A/B comparisons, and so forth.

AR's (Ed Villchur's policy) more-or-less laisse-faire business policy -- no interference with the selling price of the product -- was very popular and "customer-oriented" vs. the more traditional "dealer-oriented" fixed-price sales policy. AR speakers were usually always available at a competitive discount -- great for the consumer, but bad for the individual dealer. This accounts for the popularity of larger discount mail-order sales and big-retailer organizations, but less favorable to smaller dealers. This practice also forced many other reluctant speaker manufacturers to sell through mail-order discount houses if they were to remain competitive!

AR advertisements were tops -- all written by Ed Villchur from 1954 until 1966 -- and there was a strong following and universal admiration in the industry based around the no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is methodology used in those ads. Testimonials from many famous people (no one was ever paid a cent for their endorsement during the "classic" years) were frequently used in AR ads, letting the reader decide for himself by the judgment of musical artists, institutions and the like without the usual "my-product-is-the-best" form of advertising so prevalent in this industry.

AR's warranty and service policy was the best in the industry. In the early 1960s, AR instituted the first "Full" Five-Year Warranty, about ten years before the heralded Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and at a time when most manufacturers were offering either 1 year or 3 year "Limited" warranties. AR's warranty covered not only parts and labor, but also freight to and from the company. It covered performance, and was an assurance that the speaker would meet its published specification for at least five years after purchase. Typically, AR honored this warranty for much longer than five years.

AR speakers had an enduring look of quality and craftsmanship.

AR speakers usually had the top ratings in most consumer magazines, such as Consumers Union.

AR speakers invariably received top critical acclaim in all of the popular high-fidelity magazines. Most of us waited anxiously for each new High Fidelity, Audio or HiFi/Stereo Review to be delivered in the mail to see if there was another AR speaker being reviewed.

AR speakers were frequently handed-down from one generation to another; children grew up listening to the sound of their parents' AR speakers, and then an opportunity later in life would bring this memory back to life.

--Tom Tyson

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AR speakers were originally designed to be small, and to better integrate with the living space, relative to other speakers of the day. A goal that has become highly desirable again today.

All of the sonic attributes mentioned in the above posts were engineered into aesthetically pleasing, high grade furniture cabinets. AR, therefore, was the first to introduce high quality sound reproduction into the homes of non-audio buffs. As a result, many folks developed an increased interest in music and audio...and, surely, many became buffs.

It seems now that video has caught up to audio, "invisible speakers" will be the dominant residential trend for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, due to the reputation for high quality sound (regardless of the technical and philosophical nitpicking going on here in the "kitchen"), and classic design of the cabinets, AR speakers still find a place in residences that would otherwise be sporting those little cubes, or in-wall speakers.

The AR-3a IS a classic Corvette (I think it was Steve who recently made this analogy). It is not the perfect speaker, and the Corvette is not the perfect car, but it is still fun to drive, and performs quite well. It still has a timeless aesthetic appeal for many people, and will therefore continue to reside in a fair number of living rooms long after those other "great sounding whatevers" have been brought to the landfill. I seriously doubt that if the parts of an AR-3a were transplanted into a big black vinyl-veneered cabinet today, it would enjoy the appeal or popularity of the original. It is the complete package, and place in history, that makes it (and brethren) special.

On the other hand, if it were not for those crappy level controls, there would be FAR fewer ARs in landfills...sigh. THOSE, I could have done without! :blink:

Roy

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Oh, okay.

"Eliminate the necessities; live for the luxuries..." --unknown

Frank Lloyd Wright. The original quotes were, "Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities," and "So long as we had the luxuries, the necessities could pretty well take care of themselves.” There are probably more versions, as he wrote a lot over the years.

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C'mon Forum: tell us why you think the Classic AR's were and are so popular, without pontificating about your pet theories/pet peeves.

Their "smooth" sound?

Their great bass?

Their "credible" reputation?

Something else?

It should be possible to posit the reasons for their popularity without the discussion devolving into an invective-laden insult fest about design theories, proven/discredited technical or performance assumptions, personal attacks, or anything else.

Very simply: Why do you think the Classic ARs were and are so popular?

Steve F.

I think the classic AR speakers were the first serious effort to commercially produce true high fidelity loudspeakers. It may also have been the last. The unwillingness or inability of others to perform LvR demonstrations is proof. It is the only acid test.

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Roy,

I think you have touched on something that is critically important, yet generally ignored in "audiophile" discussions: size.

Size is a powerful factor in lifestyle products of all kinds, and innovations that allow consumers to get acceptable results from smaller packages are generally very disruptive in the marketplace. Sometimes more so, even, than price benefits. I think AR, Bose, Sony and Apple have all capitalized on this at one time or another.

-k

AR speakers were originally designed to be small, and to better integrate with the living space, relative to other speakers of the day. A goal that has become highly desirable again today.

All of the sonic attributes mentioned in the above posts were engineered into aesthetically pleasing, high grade furniture cabinets. AR, therefore, was the first to introduce high quality sound reproduction into the homes of non-audio buffs. As a result, many folks developed an increased interest in music and audio...and, surely, many became buffs.

It seems now that video has caught up to audio, "invisible speakers" will be the dominant residential trend for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, due to the reputation for high quality sound (regardless of the technical and philosophical nitpicking going on here in the "kitchen"), and classic design of the cabinets, AR speakers still find a place in residences that would otherwise be sporting those little cubes, or in-wall speakers.

The AR-3a IS a classic Corvette (I think it was Steve who recently made this analogy). It is not the perfect speaker, and the Corvette is not the perfect car, but it is still fun to drive, and performs quite well. It still has a timeless aesthetic appeal for many people, and will therefore continue to reside in a fair number of living rooms long after those other "great sounding whatevers" have been brought to the landfill. I seriously doubt that if the parts of an AR-3a were transplanted into a big black vinyl-veneered cabinet today, it would enjoy the appeal or popularity of the original. It is the complete package, and place in history, that makes it (and brethren) special.

On the other hand, if it were not for those crappy level controls, there would be FAR fewer ARs in landfills...sigh. THOSE, I could have done without! :D

Roy

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Roy,

I think you have touched on something that is critically important, yet generally ignored in "audiophile" discussions: size.

Size is a powerful factor in lifestyle products of all kinds, and innovations that allow consumers to get acceptable results from smaller packages are generally very disruptive in the marketplace. Sometimes more so, even, than price benefits. I think AR, Bose, Sony and Apple have all capitalized on this at one time or another.

-k

Ken,

I wasn't thinking solely of size, but now that you mention it, I guess size has generally proven to be the most significant factor in the integration of electronics with lifestyle (as video screens, for example, continue to grow, shrink, and become increasingly mobile). The audio portion of things was probably always destined to become invisible, and it seems AR took the first step in that direction.

For most folks today, seamlessly integrating video and audio into a residence has much greater priority than simply owning an audio, much less a near-obsolete "stereo", system. A couple of big honkin' speakers taking up valuable real estate is now the realm of an ever diminishing slice of humanity. Even your slim, but deep and heavy, NHT 3.3's (which, btw, are probably the finest sounding speakers I have ever experienced) look like they would be tough to place in a typical residence today.

Hey, I understand high quality guitar amps are becoming quite small as well these days...;)

Roy

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