Steve F Posted March 16, 2016 Report Share Posted March 16, 2016 Was the 3 better than the 3a? An intriguing question. On “paper,” the 3a was an unquestionably improved design. The drivers with their greatly-improved dispersion, the lowered crossover points, AR’s published power response—all superb and they were all advancements over the 3. (Well, AR never published a system power response curve for the 3, so that is not directly comparable.) Julian Hirsch said of the 3a in his April 1968 review, “The best frequency response we have ever measured using our present test set-up.” There was a published FR curve of the 3 in High Fidelity by Julian several years prior, but it wasn’t particularly uniform or flat, no doubt due to the measurement conditions and environment. As to the 3-3a comparative sound quality, High Fidelity said “what was good has been made unquestionably better.” Julian said that depending on the position of the level controls, “either speaker could be made to sound better than the other,” although he implied that when the controls were set identically, the 3a was better. But the disastrous 1968 Consumer Reports review of the 3a (where CU stripped off the Emperor’s Clothes and said exactly what AR’s harshest critics had been saying all along) really laid it out: that the 3a was thick-sounding, colored in the midrange and the tweeter (although it had a flat, extended response) was too low in level and could not be brought up to the same loudness as the woofer. CU said the 3a’s main problems seemed to be centered on the “new midrange driver.” CU never reported those problems in an earlier test of the 3. Indeed, except for a general sense that the 3 may have been too “polite”-sounding, the 3 never received the very specific “thick” or “colored” criticism from anyone that the 3a often did. So why did the 3a sound “thick”? Its 575 Hz w-to-m xover “should” have resulted in a faster, cleaner, more open-sounding midrange than the 3’s 1000 Hz w-to-m xover, right? And we all just know—without a doubt!—that the AR 12-inch woofer is far too ‘slow’ to take all the way up to 1000 Hz. Roy Allison found a 2dB rise in the 3a’s woofer’s response when measured through the crossover at around 550-600 Hz, and that resulted in a new choke for the 3a a few years into its production life. That is probably the change that accounted for the 3a’s published crossover spec being changed from 575 to 525 Hz. Yes, 550-600 is directly in the “thick”-sounding region. Has anyone here done some extensive A-B listening to properly-functioning 1967 vs. 1971 3a’s? That would be interesting. One thing we all know for sure, courtesy of 20-20 hindsight: the 3a’s thickness was not because of the “new midrange driver.” The AR-11 and 10π used the exact same driver and they didn’t sound thick. For that matter, all 1 ½” AR dome mids were essentially the same, so the 91-58s-78LS also used that driver, and none of those 12-inch 3-ways sounded “thick” either. So what was it? It’s not that the 3a was a bad speaker—it was quite justifiably lauded as one of the best speakers ever made, with amazing dispersion and wide, smooth frequency response. Except for that trace of lower-mid thickness, it was as sweet and musical and unstrained as could be, plus with its phenomenal bass response—bass that has still never been equaled for deep extension, tightness and definition from a 1.48 cu.ft. enclosure. Never, not even close. So, yes, the 3a is a terrific speaker, one that I am proud to own and delighted to listen to. But why does the 3a have that slight lower-mid heaviness that the 3 doesn’t? The $64,000 question. Steve F. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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