Vintage Loudspeakers
Copyright 2010 © Troels Gravesen

GREEN-CONES     SONAP OA5     JBL L100 CENTURY     JBL LE20-25 TWEETERS     JBL LE26 TWEETER     SPENDOR BC1
GOODMANS AXIOM 150     WHARFEDALE SUPER 8    WHARFEDALE SUPER 3     WHARFEDALE SFB     KARLSON ENCLOSURE     ROGERS LS3/5a     TANNOY MG15       TANNOY MGIII-LS      JBL L26     SEAS KIT 503      PHILIPS 9710    SEAS CLARION     CELESTION HF1300          

Peoples' attitude towards vintage equipment is very different. To some people vintage gear is almost sacred and shouldn't be changed in any way. If it only has to me kept on the shelf, this is fine with me. If the equipment actually has to be used we may leave things as they are and not really enjoy the full potential of an e.g. speaker driver. It's like digging out an old Gran Torino from the barn and leave it rusty and dented and never again enjoy the ride as it once was. Like old cars, speaker drivers may need new/restored suspensions to work properly. I've seen vintage drivers with softened spiders lacking elasticity and resilience and being pretty much useless despite pristine cone and voice coil. Towards loudspeaker drivers - usually made by the thousands - my feeling of reverence is modest. As the saying goes: It takes three hifi nerds to change a light bulb, one to do it and two to discuss why the old one was better!

Below and overview of some vintage hifi drivers and speakers I have bought over the years, mostly out of curiosity due to the enormous interest some of these items have acquired.

Some of the drivers listed here have to my ears qualities that were not revealed in the constructions where they were used. This goes for the JBL drivers and the drivers used in the legendary Spendor BC1.

The Philips 9710 full-range driver is totally nostalgia as this was one of the first quality drivers I had when I started getting interested in hifi back in the late Sixties. I hadn't heard the 9710 drivers for 3½ decades until recently, so would they live up to my expectations?


German SABA Greencones
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Reproduced music can be enjoyed on many levels. I recall great moments from my car stereo (first time I heard Renee Fleming) and many years ago I remember a Danish violinist demonstrating the difference of a "standard" violin and his Stradivarious - this heard on a B&O "transistor" radio! The difference between the two instruments was striking, even from the 4-5" oval in-built loudspeaker!
Vintage light-weight paper cones can have something special as long as we don't push them too hard. I think some people emphasize the use of alnico magnets too much. These drivers would most likely sound the same fitted with ceramic magnets, but the low-mass voice coils, low-mass paper cones, the low-loss suspensions are likely causes for some magnificent midrange reproduction. Again - if we don't push them too hard.
Click image or heading to read about German SABA greencones.


Sonab OA5 mkII
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These speakers are quite good at "making music in a room" - if you get my meaning. Forget about pin-point imaging and the like. Listening to the ever-lasting Jazz at the Pawnshop, all the usual details of people speaking and rattling glasses is pretty much gone. Overall the sound lacks bass and the middle and upper treble is dominant and prevents you from turning up the volume, which again will make the sound even slimmer as we do need a certain loudness level to energize the room. A drummer seriously hitting his cymbals... let's be honest about the treble coming from 5 drivers in different locations, it just isn't good from these speakers.
Read more by clicking heading.


JBL L100 Century
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The James B. Lansing L100 Century studio-monitor became the best selling loudspeaker model of any company in the Seventies. 125,000 pairs were sold. By the end of the decade, recording studios in the US used more of JBL’s monitors than all other brands’ monitors combined. Due to the materials used, the L100 drivers are as good today as when they were produced, but the overall sound can be vastly improved by modern crossover technology.

Go to website and read JBL-L100 Kit Details.

Read about my L100 recreation in a new 65 litres aperiodic cabinet.


JBL LE20-1 and LE25 tweeters
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The LE20 is the early alnico cone tweeter from JBL followed by the LE25 having a slightly smaller membrane and ceramic magnet. The measurable performance of the JBL cone tweeters was steadily improved over the years as can be read from the articles on these three tweeters.


JBL LE26 tweeters
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Why can't I stop bidding on LE26 tweeters on eBay?

1. The LE26 is quite sensitive; average SPL/2.8V is around 94 dB. From 6-15 kHz sometimes up to 96-97 dB/2.8V.
2. It has a large membrane area, almost twice that of a standard 1" dome, so it doesn't have to move much.
3. Membrane material is paper and I've found it integrating well with e.g. Supravox drivers. Paper + paper?
4. A waveguide can relatively easy be made to raise the 2-6 kHz region further, thus reducing distortion towards point of crossover.
5. The LE26 is better than the LE25 - for some reason. Only difference appears to be the colour of the paper pulp used.
6. Last but not least, high-efficiency paper cone tweeters are becoming rare as hen's teeth these days.

Click heading to read more.


Spendor BC1
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1969
These speakers from approx. 1982

I'm not sure which vintage speaker has the most pages on the web, but the Spendor BC1 must be in the top 10. I recently acquired a pair of these from Steven Marsh, UK. Thanks Steve! This BBC monitor had been on my wish list for a long time because it's a reference when it comes to tonal neutrality and a smooth midrange. Does the BC1 live up to its reputation?
The BC1 is going to be reported in detail with lots of measurements and crossover schematics, which I never managed to find on the web. The use of the Scan-Speak D3806/8200 in my SP38 was highly inspired by this speaker as the modern BC1 (the Spendor SP1/2) uses this driver.
Read report here.


Goodmans Axiom 150 mkII
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In search for suitable drivers for an open baffle 3-way, these Goodmans came up and I took my chances and bought them. Buying vintage drivers on eBay is gambling and in particular when we're talking drivers some 40 years old; drivers having paper surrounds and paper voice coil formers. Paper may over time take up moisture and we run the risk of rubbing voice coils and suspensions having lost compliance. TS-data may be way off what they were back then. The drivers reported here were so and so, but suitable for what I had in mind.
These Goodmans Axiom 150 mkII - and some Altec 414Z - have become my "wicked" drivers. When someone brings a modern 10-12 inch bass driver, I run a kick drum test track on the Axiom/414Z and the poor newcomer. My guests don't like it. If we leave out PA drivers, this ancient relique with a cone mass below 50 grams and a BL = 20 will kick the pants of any modern hifi bass driver.
The Axiom 150 mkII is not ideal for open baffles, but I had some great times during the summer of 2007 from this project:
OB7.


Wharfedale Super 8/RS/DD, 10-15 ohms
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One of the worst drivers I've ever tested.


Wharfedale Super 3 tweeters, 10-15 ohms
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After the disapointing Super 8, how about these beautiful Wharfedale Super 3 tweeters?


Wharfedale SFB, sand filled baffle, approx. 1956
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2- or 3-way dipole loudspeaker

No, I do not have a pair of these speakers, but I would like to hear from someone who has. If any of these speakers are still around, please write and tell me about them. My friend Darryl has provided me with this old 1956 review. It's great fun reading this review of a speaker considered "retro" already at the time it was launched. 37 £ in 1956 for a pair. This way of making speakers is far from extinct.

Download Wharfedale 1956 review, 800k pdf

View some of the best images of the SFB I've been able to find.

SFB pics and comments from owners

More SFB pics here - from an eBay auction.

New: Go to Wharfedale 1962 brochures/handouts download page.


Karlson Enclosure, 1955
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Kindly sent to me by Bruce Bender, US.
Click image to download article, 6 MB


Rogers LS35A, approx. 1975
These speakers from around 1988, 11 ohms version
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I have a pair of Rogers LS3/5A for reference, and I'm not going to report these in detail as so much can be found on the web including all schematics. It's even got a LS3/5A exclusive website http://www.ls35a.com/
I don't value this speaker as highly as Ken Kessler does, but under the right circumstances it can deliver a fine balanced midrange and a little too energetic treble. The LS35A is also useful for comparing sensitivity, being thoroughly measured by John Atkinson in the Stereophile review(s).


Tannoy Monitor Gold 15
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The MG15s are a great experience. I had the good fortune to borrow four of these and two 100 liter cabs. I was told I hadn't heard the MG15s until 250 liter cabs were realised. Well, I didn't make 250 liter cabs but I did have some enjoyable weeks with these monster drivers before delivering them back. I didn't buy a pair. Click heading to read why.


Tannoy Monitor Gold IIILZ
These drivers are probably from around 1970
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A pair of Tannoy Monitor Gold IIILZ drivers were available on eBay and the price went too high, but I took my chances and I'm pleased with what I received. I was afraid these drivers would have a much too high Fs and not deliver any bass, but I was positively surprised when I mounted the drivers in the wide baffle cabs and finally again could hear that Tannoy sound after the 15" drivers had gone. YES, these drivers have a great midrange, they can play vocals so loud that most modern drivers are left far behind and they can make you feel the bass from a vented 90 litre cabinet - and they have that treble that make you jump in your seat when a drummer hits the snare drum hard. No, they are not aural nirvana - few speakers are - but they have qualities we just don't get these days from most modern loudspeakers.

To the right the Tannoys in the wide baffle cabs. I had just routed for the new 12" bass drivers and the Tannoys just fitted in. Turning the cabinets upside down the sound wasn't bad at all!

Read report on Tannoy MG IIILZ


JBL L26, approx. 1973
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I paid 400 DKK (65 US$) for these JBL L26 speakers and the bass drivers badly needed refoaming, so this was a good opportunity to improve my skills in this area. I'd never done such a big driver before, and thanks to Speakerbits in Australia I got new foam surrounds and started playing with the 125A bass drivers. This 10" paper cone driver has to go all the way up to 2.5-3 kHz where the LE25 tweeter takes over. Is this possible and could JBL really make a speaker that just wouldn't be "tizz-and-boom"?
Well, the result was better than anticipated, but it took some serious crossover work to make it happen. The original JBL crossover is really bad with coils so tiny I couldn't believe it.
Eventually the drivers ended up in a much better 3-way construction with the LE5-12 for mid.
Read JBL-3W.


Read L26 restoration
Read about the L26-3way set-up.


Philips 9710
Full-range driver, late Sixties
"The Poor Man's Lowthers"

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One evening, I was writing to a friend on old hifi stuff and I mentioned the Philips 9710 full-range drivers. I took a quick look at eBay and there they were. And not just there, but only a 100 km from where I live. Couldn't believe it. Thanks to Kenneth in Aalborg! I've been looking for these drivers for years and years. A nice pair of 9710 drivers and price OK. Actually I got an extra driver for free, so I had one for experiments as an untreated paper surround really does not stand against time when we are talking 40 years or so. These surrounds did not have any resilience left and you could place the cone wherever you liked in the magnet gap. After the surrounds were coated with some very dilute coating material, they regained performance and they play better than you would expect. These drivers are sensitive: 93-94 dB in the midrange and 100 dB from 2 kHz up to 10-12 kHz. No wonder they could make a lot of noise from a 2 x 5 W solid state amp or a mushy EL84 valve amp.
But what about the sound today? Obviously they play way too much treble, but it's more tolerable than I had expected - off-axis.
Read report 1+2+3 on 9710
Read report 4: Don't do this at home!


SEAS Kit 503
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One of my friends bought these old SEAS speakers for ~100 US$ and I had them for some days to hear how they would perform and to see if an upgrade was worthwhile.
The original SEAS Kit 503 had a SEAS 1" 86H dome tweeter, here replaced by the ScanSpeak D3804, the ancestor of the current D3806/8200 used in my SP38 construction. Unfortunately the former owner of these speakers had connected the tweeter with the wrong polarity and may have "enjoyed" a less than ideal sound for a couple decades.

"As is" these speakers can be fine-tuned to a performance that leaves many modern speakers behind. Giving the tweeter the right polarity plus some further attenuation, the frequency response was reasonably flat and I'm almost stunned by the performance of these speakers: Dynamic, transparent, etc. This is "an-easy-to-listen-to" speaker.


Clarion by SEAS, 70120
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Nils-Åke/Sweden came by with these 1978 Clarion speakers. "Clarion by SEAS" the badge says. I have no idea about the financial set-up behind this speaker brand, but SEAS seems to have been involved in more than only producing the drivers. The speakers were in pretty bad shape and mid and bass drivers both had rotten foam surrounds and needed replacement.

This speaker is some of the better vintage stuff - and I like it. The classic 3-way, here from a 10" bass driver (25 F-WBX/DD), the magnificent 11FM (H130) mid driver, and the so-and-so 1", H107 tweeter with polyamide dome. I had my reservations with regard to the dome, but in this application is does fine with a point of crossover above 5 kHz.

To my eyes it's an elegant speaker with the sloped front panel and matching front grille. The veneer is excellent and with the narrow front fillets it makes a nice light-weight appearance; very Scandinavian and in the best tradition of some Danish furniture designs (Mogens Kock).


Celestion HF1300 tweeter
Developed in the Fifties.
These units? Probably from the Seventies.

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Details to be found in the Spendor BC1 file.

This is a strange fellow. Works well from 1.5 kHz to 13 kHz. Sounds very good but needs flush-mounting like all tweeters. The cone has a very wide suspension and it may actually be the ancestor of the modern e.g. Vifa DX25TG tweeter. But who designed the housings and who got the idea for the turbo grille in front of the diaphragm? Do you know the story behind this design, please tell me. Martin Colloms has some details on the tweeter in his book. Excerpt at the BC1 page.


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