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Owner: Gerry E.
Digital: Metronome CD2V signature, Ack! dAck! 2.0
Integrated Amplifier: James Burgess 45
Speakers: JE Labs style Open Baffle using Altec 756Bs or Hartley 310s full-range, Jensen RP-302 super-tweeters and one ACI Force subwoofer
Cables: Anti Cables and Anti Interconnects
Room Size: 30' x 16' x 10'
Listener: Michael Lavorgna

Altec, Hartley Open Baffles and Burgess
What's Old is News Again
Gerry E. is a collector. And the object of his collection is vintage audio gear. Gerry runs ads in the local papers' "vintage audio equipment wanted", he checks out the Penny Saver, the classifieds, garage, estate and yard sales and of course the grand electronic marketplace that knows no geography - eBay. And like any good hunter, Gerry has a few stories about bagging that rare beast in the wild. Near extinct species in generic speaker cabinets, stuffed into closets. A sole power cord dangling tail-like, the only hint of something precious promising perhaps the elusive field coil lurking within. Western Electric?

The thrill of the hunt. But instead of stuffing his captured prey, Gerry listens to them. And like any good collector, Gerry is also a seller. Turning finds into funds for further collecting is the self-perpetuating ideal of any collector. And that's how I got to meet Gerry: "Altec 846A Valencia Vintage Speakers NY PICKUP/DELIVERY". I've had "Altec Valencia" as a saved search on my eBay account for months. When I saw Gerry's listing and location, I bought it now. This was one Road Tour where I literally left with much more than I came, namely a beautiful pair of 1967 Altec Valencias [below].

I asked Gerry how he got started down the vintage path: "My interest in vintage hifi was piqued purely by chance. I had saved the winter 1988 issue of The Absolute Sound (#51) because it contained several references to an amp I owned at the time. In 1995, while browsing through that issue, I noticed Walt Bender's now famous Vintage Hi-Fi article.

"After reading it, I became curious. Of course the internet was still in its infancy and there was no eBay, so I put a WTB Vintage Hi-Fi ad on the company bulletin board. A female employee saw my ad and just happened to have a Harman Kardon Citation II amplifier for sale. It had belonged to her ex and she was selling all of his stuff!

"I was very excited to purchase that Citation II because it was mentioned in Mr. Bender's article. Like a person winning their very first bet at a racetrack, I was hooked. Mr. Bender's Vintage hi-fi article became my bible and the rest is history. I wanted to try every component listed in the article and I'm about 75% of the way there!"

Altec Lansing 756B
The 'full-range' Altec Lansing 756B is the 10" sibling of the famed Western Electric 755A driver. Altec Lansing also manufactured the 755A after the merger between All Technical Services/Altec (the divested arm of Western Electric's theater sound division) and James B. Lansing's Lansing Manufacturing in December 1941. This merger gave the new entity Altec Lansing free reign to reproduce any of the Western Electric speaker systems and components as well as those developed by Lansing. For more history on James B. Lansing which includes Altec Lansing and JBL, I encourage you to visit the excellent Lansing Heritage website.

The Altec 756B is a direct descendant of the Western Electric 756A from 1947. From Gerry: "The only difference between the WE 756A and Altec 756B is the former has a 4-ohm voice coil and the latter an 8-ohm voice coil. Of course not even Altec performed the fanatical quality control that Western
Electric did for their products. For example, you will see only one or two quality control stamps on the Altec 756B, but typically four or five on the WE 756A." The Alnico-endowed Altec 756B was paired with the 3000A tweeter and sold as the model 700 Melodist [above], a small two-way bookshelf speaker produced in the 1950s.

Hartley 310
H.A. Hartley started making full range drivers in 1928 in England. He also penned the Audio Design Handbook and is given credit in most circles for coining the term 'high fidelity'. The original company, Hartley Products, Ltd. was sold to Robert Schmetterer, the US Distributor in 1956 who moved operations and manufacturing to the US. Robert's son Richard is still making Hartley drivers under the name Hartley Products Inc. The 47 Labs Hotei uses the famed Hartley/Harold Luth-designed 220MSG. For some history on Hartley and the Hotei speakers, check out Art Dudley' excellent (isn't that becoming redundant?) review.

The Hartleys at Gerry's place are the 10" model 310s dating from the 1960s. They use a cast frame, Alnico magnet and a polymerized grey paper cone with a dome center. Again from Gerry: "As you have found out, there's very little information available about the Hartleys. Mine are the model 310 which is similar to the famous Hartley model 220MS. They are both 10 inch 'full-range' drivers with cast frames and large Alnico magnets. The 310 has a special chemically treated paper cone but does not have the magnetic suspension of the 220MS."

Jensen RP-302 Supertweeter
A super tweeter from the 1950s? You betcha. Billed as both an "ultra-h.f. unit" as well as a "Supertweeter", the Jensen RP-302 was intended to function from "4,000 cycles out to the limits of audibility" according to the original Jensen marketing copy. While the RP-302 was incorporated in some of Jensen's pre-built speakers such as the G-610 Triaxial, it was also offered as an add-on device. Just like today's supertweeters from muRata, Townshend and others which can still cause consternation on the boards. I wonder if similarly heated debates raged regarding the efficacy of the supertweeter during "Leave It to Beaver" commercial breaks.

The JE Labs Open Baffle
Gerry's open baffles are based on the JE Labs baffle design and constructed from ¾" Apple ply. The JE Labs design is a modification of plans that appeared in an article in Stereo Sound "Tube Kingdom", Volume 3, 1996. You'll notice two variations on the JE Labs theme with Gerry's OBs; the use of a supertweeter and a stand. While the main drivers are run full-range, the Jensen RP-302s are used with a simple Mundorf Silver-Gold .56uf cap to gently roll off the RP-302's low end. And due to the nearfield listening position, Gerry felt the stands helped to improve midrange weight and overall soundstage height. However, this lift leaves behind some floor reinforcement so bass energy suffers. To fill out the low end, Gerry uses a single ACI Force subwoofer sparingly.

I'd suggest giving the JE Labs website a thorough read-through if you haven't done so already. It's full of great information including some details on the WE/Altec 755s. You can also look up Joseph Esmilla's "Homebrewer of the Month" article on your Sound Practices archive CD, Issue #17. You do have the Sound Practices magazine archive CD,right? Joseph, the JE in the Labs, is also an accomplished musician in addition to being an accomplished audiophile.

James Burgess 'Blue' 45
James Burgess is an underground SET builder. He doesn't actually live or build under the ground but he has no website, he doesn't advertise and there's not a heck of a lot of information about him or his amplifiers online. You will find mention of his work on various forums but you need to dig for it.

The 'Blue 45' is a single-ended, point-to-point wired integrated amp using the type 45 triode as power tube for about 2 Watts. Employing Magnequest transformers, Gold Point attenuators and Black Gate capacitors, Gerry has opted for EML solid-plate 45s, the new EML mesh-plate 5Z3 rectifier and Tung-Sol 5687s. James Burgess is a jeweler by trade and this is apparent in the finish work in this amp. We didn't open her up but Gerry commented on the execution of the hand-wired circuit as being pristine. Trivia: This amp made an appearance at JC Morrison's 2002 New York Noise Show.

Metronome and Ack!
The digital front end consists of the Metronome Technologie CD2V Signature used as a transport feeding the battery powered Ack! dAck! 2.0. The Ack! is a Kusunoki-style non-oversampling filterless DAC.

All cabling is from Paul Speltz and his Anti-line of speaker cables and interconnects. The Anti-speaker cable is made from "12 gauge, highly annealed, super long drawn, Continuously Cast Oxygen Free Copper". The Anti-ICs are of similar construction using a smaller gauge wire.

The Simple System or 'Simpli-Fi'
Gerry calls this his simple system. "Instead of hi-fi, I like to use the term simpli-fi". He plans to move to a one-box filterless/non-oversampling CD player in the very near future to further reduce component count. While our listening session was rather brief due to the parking lot they call a highway system connecting NJ to Westchester and a late-night, noise-averse neighbor, I was still able to get a taste of each driver.

The Hartley 310s were delicate and warm but I suspect they want more power than the Burgess 45 can muster. When a driver sounds sleepy and slow, it may not be the driver's fault. While it's always tempting to blame the speaker -- and I've read this done often enough -- a single listening session does not give anyone the ability to point an accurate finger. That said, the few tunes played through the Hartleys were rich and enjoyable, albeit on the darker side.

A quick swap to the Altecs offered more light and a lighter, nimbler step. Since the 756Bs wake up with less power and Gerry used these drivers to dial in his system with in the first place, the promise of the open baffle room-filling experience did not disappoint. Airy, energized and tonally saturated, the rig at Gerry's cooks up a subtle but flavorful sonic brew. The simple system seems very well capable of conveying the musical essence in areas where I've heard the un-simple system stumble. Namely coherence.

I brought along a few favorite CDs and while I hesitate to foster the less-is-more approach to music-mentioning in hifi writing, there is an undeniable benefit in using the familiar to get to know the unfamiliar. So Don Cherry's Art Deco and Taj Mahal's Kulanjan spent some time on each driver setup. And through the Altec 758Bs, all of the tones and textures including Don Cherry's blatty and shouty pocket horn took pride of place in the air of Gerry's listening room. The wonderfully rich and complex mix of Taj Mahal's dobro with Toumani Diabate's Kora and a host of African percussion were also given room to breathe their life into our space.

Even Modern is Old
I think there is something more to simplicity. Something more than more. Could Simpli-Fi equal semper phi? Always faithful? In some ways I'm reminded of the 'reductionist' approach of such artists as Odilon Redon and Albert Pinkham Ryder. Working and re-working, covering and uncovering to reveal a simplified form that somehow resonates. Let's call it hifi symbolism then, where we leave the misguided goal of realism in representation behind to focus on a musical essence. A re-presentation of the recorded musical event that unfolds without calling attention to the mechanics at work. An effortless experience which allows us to focus on the musical event in time in our place.

But wait a minute. Aren't we really just talking about old-fashioned sound? Something quaint based on outdated technology suitable only for the nostalgic and hopelessly romantic? Surely our new stuff is simply better than our old stuff; the inevitable march of progress stamping its youthful feet all over alnico, paper and vacuum tubes? I say it all depends. After all, Kodachrome did not signal Rembrandt's demise. And if we can agree that there's art inherent in the mechanics of the listening experience -- and I will never cede that point so you may as well just agree -- then progress yields to the personal experience of timeless artistry...