My wife and I love to "junkteque". We browse through our own past as we browse through the past of others. Most recently, we came across an old pair of Jensen 10" loudspeakers from the mid 1960's. They were being closed out at a price of $3.00 for the pair! How sad, I thought, and of course adopted these poor speakers and brought them to our home which is full of love and compassion for old speakers. A quick test showed one speaker to be fully operational while the matching twin suffered from a dead woofer. An A/B test of the working Jensen to my current reference speakers (Tannoy 12" Dual Concentric, Gold Series) indicates the Jensens may be good enough to provide background music in my office, but will not earn a prime position in my home. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you do not. Frankly, I do not have enough room to set up the speakers I have collected over the years (i have seen Eli's speaker collection. He could possibly cover Wembly Stadium... or at least a good sized night club --ed). Not many speakers can actually compete with today's offerings. When these Jensens were made the technology considered commonplace in today's speakers was just being born.
Going back to the early 1960's, first acoustic suspension speakers were being introduced by Acoustic Research with their now famous AR1. These were magical boxes that produced clean and tight bass, but fell short in the highs. This was fixed by adding an aftermarket tweeter until AR was able to create the AR2, AR2A and the AR3. The mainstream thinking was bass reflex speakers and a few folded or loaded horn types. Bigger was better in every way (have you been talking to my girlfriend again? --ed). University, Altec, Electro-Voice, Bozaks and Wharfedales were popular. Loudspeakers could be purchased in factory made enclosures or as do-it-yourself assemblies. Clearly there was a lot of experimenting going on and only a few books written on the subject to guide us. A few aspiring dealers traded in "Hi-Fi" gear and mail order catalogs began to spring up to help out the folks who could not get to a major city. In my 1961 Radio Shack Catalog, number 96, the struggle was apparent. Radio Shack boasted four, yes four stores to serve you! Sam Goody, I believe, had two stores. In New York we had Sam Goody, Harvey Radio, Leonard Radio, and several weird places selling old World War Two surplus items that could be converted by some into Ham Radios or components for Hi-Fi. Hi-Fi was monophonic, and Stereo was becoming popular. A walk through the old Radio Shack booklet reveals I could have bought all the components in my original set up. This included a Dynaco Stereo 70 Power Amp, Dynaco PAS 2 Pre-Amplifier, Fairchild Turntable and Pickering Cartridge. We later added an Altec mono FM receiver, used, and was received as a gift. Also found in this magical book are Wharfedale series 60 and 70 speakers... which I still own today!
All the amplifiers, tuners and preamplifiers were designed with (gasp) tubes! Aside from the in-house brands, Radio Shack offered H.H. Scott, Harmon Kardon, Bogen, Fisher, McIntosh, and several brands of kits! My Dynacos could be purchased as a kit or factory wired. By today's standards prices were reasonable. How about a Mac MC60 for $219 cash or $10.50 a month? How many would you like? (i will take six please --ed). Putting things in perspective, that was about two weeks of my then salary.
Today's newer gear and loudspeakers have much tighter specs, greater clarity and the even take up much less space - but there is something so special about some of these "Senior Citizen" speakers driven by the golden glow of tubes. I knew I had to have it after I heard a massive Wharfedale sand filled corner enclosure powered by a lovely English Leek Point Ten amplifier. Both pieces of equipment showed loving care in their construction and the sound knocked my socks off. There was dignity and pride that went into the hand construction of the equipment. An examination of the woofer units in my Wharfedales will reveal the soft pencil notation of which unit this was within the batch being made. I guess I relate to the hand work and pride that went into the construction and assembly of the older gear. Somehow the pride and workmanship still shines through and the performance is still respectfully good.
The final point of all this, folks, is take the time to listen. Buy what you love, even though the cost may be hard to justify now. Quality will endure, and provide years of pleasure.