Iconic speaker nostalgia - Rapallo New Zealand :: Home Theatre & Hifi | Design & Installation
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I don’t know if it’s just us who have noticed, but it seems that the latest thing in loudspeakers world is to release new versions of previously iconic speakers. 

I’m sure the right psychologist will come up with an explanation of some sort, but I wonder whether it ties in with the whole resurgence of vinyl as well. Like a bout of global audiophile nostalgia? Who knows…

Feeding this initial observation was an article published by Audiophile Review in 2011 about the history of high-end audio.

It’s so interesting to read how the seeds of high-end audio go back to WW2 and the Korean war, where training in electronics set veterans up for the build of new music systems. It saw the birth of floorstanding radios and entertainment consoles that were real (and beautiful) pieces of furniture. The focus was on the design of the furniture rather than on the sound it produced and they were definitely not for everybody’s pockets. But it was the start of many brands that are still around today.

In the amplifier world names like McIntosh and Marantz saw the light of day. It was during this time ELAC started making their iconic turntables and Beyerdynamic developed their first pair of dynamic headphones.

But when it comes to speakers, in a short amount of time 3 different speaker brands that date back to these early Hi-Fi years, managed their way on to the Rapallo radar. Now, I don’t know about you, but when things pop up in threes, I pay attention 😉 The funny thing is that while all three speakers are undeniable speaker legends, the companies each approached the current day speaker re-release in very, very different ways.

 

Acoustic research (AR)

The first speaker brand that wiggled its way into our awareness was Acoustic Research (AR). Having spent our childhood, teenage and early adult years on European shores, we were not familiar with the brand, but just in the last few weeks, it came to our attention that AR-speakers were quite well known on this side of the world.

Stories about the brand’s high-end speakers featuring in window displays, it seems they once were the speaker on many Kiwi’s wishlist. The speaker range was highly regarded for their ‘acoustic suspension’ bass-alignment speakers, resulting in deep, clean and distortion-free bass in an enclosure that was lots and lots smaller than the other speakers of that era.

The first Acoustic Research (AR) speaker found its way into an audiophile magazine in 1954.

What started off with the AR-1, up until the late 60’s it was the AR-3 that was widely regarded ‘the most accurate speaker available’. The cause for that success was down to the introduction of the industry’s first dome tweeter and dome midrange drivers. How many speakers today use a dome tweeter? The AR-3 was the first! They sure were game changers.

AR’s market-share in the USA in the mid 60’s was an unbelievable 32%. In the early 70’s the AR-3 naturally transitioned into the AR-LST, a giant success with well-off audiophiles. By the late 80’s AR disappeared into obscurity.

You can understand our surprise when, despite not being marketed in any way at all (not even a mention on the AR website!), it turns out Acoustic Research speakers are very quietly being manufactured in China. It looks like AR is banking on having a nostalgic ride on the speakers’ gigantic reputation from the past.

 

Klipsch

The second legendary speaker demanding our attention is the Klipschorn(but also re-released versions of the Cornwall, The Heresy, The Forte and The La Scala) all designed by the eccentric Paul W. Klipsch.

Love them or hate them, there is no going around the fact that the Klipschorn are a conversation starter and are about as big as it gets in speaker land. Originally designed in the mid 1940’s, they are said to be the only speaker in the world that have had a continuous run of availability for over 70 years.

Now known for their horn-loaded design, it wasn’t so much the use of the horn that was revolutionary (other speaker designers were already using the horn), but the way the speaker was designed that made the difference. It was the efficiency and sensitivity of the speaker that was outdoing the competition. The result was less distortion, more headroom and the feeling of listening to live music.

These days the Klipschorn is still handmade and built to order. Some cosmetic and functional revisions to this legendary speaker have been made (including a new horn-loaded tweeter, a new crossover network and the use of AudioQuest wiring) for better “clarity, accuracy, and remarkable tonal definition” with less distortion from the amplifier and speaker.

But despite some updates, the speaker remains fairly unchanged compared to what it was in its heydays. Klipsch themselves put it this way: ‘You’re not buying a speaker, you’re buying a piece of history’.

So how did this speaker get our attention – apart from the fact that they are probably one of the most talked about speakers? After having the Hereseys and the Fortes (The Fortes are still on demo, by the way), we are waiting for a pair of Klipschorns to arrive in to our Rapallo showroom. I know… talking about an attention-grabber! We’ll be sure to make some noise when they make it to 11A Allens Road.

 

Yamaha

And last but not least, there is the Yamaha NS-1000. The NS-1000 is an iconic speaker that has a cult-like following.

Although Yamaha Audio started their journey in Hi-fi as early as the 1950’s, it wasn’t until 1979 that their NS-1000 speaker saw the light of day. The speakers made waves because of the use of a beryllium diaphragm.  Beryllium is lightweight with high rigidity and hardness.  From the early days beryllium had drawn attention as an ideal diaphragm material. Its brittleness, however, made it difficult to work with, and its susceptibility to corrosion meant that up to then, it had never been put into practical application. Thanks to a unique manufacturing process, Yamaha managed to overcome these hurdles and the NS-1000 was the first speaker to use this beryllium diaphragm.

Although an extremely popular speaker (especially as a reference studio monitor), production ended in 1997. But it was never forgotten. In audiophile circles and for studio environments, any pair that comes up for auction gets scooped up at a premium price in no time. That didn’t escape the attention of Yamaha Audio and the result was the release of the Yamaha NS-5000 speakers, a 3-way ‘bookshelf’ speaker (nothing ‘bookshelf’ about them, in our humble opinion, but that’s a different story) that draws its design from the legendary NS-1000. Just like the NS-1000’s, the NS-5000’s drivers are asymmetrically positioned on the front baffle.

Yamaha NS-5000But it looks like Yamaha Audio is serious about their high-end Hi-Fi and the NS-5000 is full of smart technologies. The NS-5000 has newly developed diaphragms (made out of Zylon, a material used by NASA and in F1 cars) and has a newly developed innovative cabinet construction, which includes a new resonance suppression chambers (suppressing virtually all unwanted resonance) and new acoustic absorbers. It sure brings the iconic speaker into the 21st century.

Despite being inspired by the NS-1000 and clearly looking like it, the bowels of the NS-5000 are a current day speaker design, drawing from the most high-tech aspects of modern day speaker know-how.

The Rapallo guys auditioned the NS-5000’s in a set-up with two Perreaux monoblocks and also with the PrimaLunas. Their verdict?

Deano: ‘I think the NS-5000’s are truly exceptional. What does 22k buy you? It buys you dynamics, speed, resolution and transparency. If I was looking for a remarkable, uncoloured, dynamic speaker then the NS-5000 would be the one. Well done Yamaha you have done everything right!’

Bart: ‘Impressive…. those Zylon tweeters are unbelievably fast. Listening to ‘Private Investigations’, the NS-5000 are very, very balanced and so detailed. If I had the dosh I would buy them :)’

And Ben: ‘ I must say listening to the fusion flamenco duo “Rodrigo y Gabriela” with their incredibly fast finger plucking and strumming, the NS-5000’s keep up and don’t miss a beat. The complex speed of the the drivers deliver such clean un-distorted sound you can hear every single fingernail skim the high “E” string even when the duo goes to town on their guitars.’

So, we invite you to come and listen to the amazing Yamaha NS-5000’s in our demo room and keep an eye out for the iconic Klipschorns when they arrive. But also, let us know what your thoughts are on the resurgence of several of these speaker-legends. Would you consider them? Which ones? Why? Or why not? 

Photo Yamaha NS-1000 ftom Stereofile; Photo RA-3 from Hifi Engine; Photo Klipschorn from Klipsch

 

 

 

 

 

 

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