Certain speakers don’t just change the way the game is played; they change the playing field. In the twentieth century, the Quad ESL-57s (par excellence), the Maggie 1-Us, the Dahlquist DQ-10s, and the Wilson WATT/Puppy were bellwethers. In the new millennium there has been no more influential loudspeaker—no loudspeaker that has had a more profound effect on the way other loudspeaker manufacturers design and style their products—than these massive, beautiful, stand-mounted two-ways from upstarts Alon Wolf and Yair Tammam of Magico. The Mini and Mini II set new standards for neutrality, resolution, dynamic range, frequency extension, and musicality in compact speakers—and they did so not just by upping the ante on the way enclosures, drivers, and crossovers were built but also by upping the ante on the science that speaker manufacturers brought to bear on designing enclosures, drivers, and crossovers. Since the Mini II, birch-ply and aluminum boxes, high-tech composite cones, Mundorf parts, computer-assisted design have become mainstream—and other things like beryllium diaphragms, field-coil magnetics, and coincident drivers have been added to the mix. The competition in compact speakers has never been stiffer; nonetheless, the Magico Minis were the first on the ground and continue to more than hold their own against all comers.
David Wilson’s WATT is one of those products the world had needed without realizing it. Created in 1985 as a one-off location monitor for Wilson’s recording work, the WATT inspired desire in all who heard it. Despite an astronomical price (at the time) for a small two-way, the WATT was an instant hit and went on to become the most popular high-end loudspeaker of all time. The WATT broke new ground in several areas. First, it established that a market existed for a very high-quality small loudspeaker, paving the way for products like the Sonus faber Extrema and later, the Magico Mini. Second, the WATT was the first loudspeaker in which reducing enclosure vibration was a high design goal. The modern trend toward stiff cabinets can be traced directly to the WATT. Once music lovers (and other designers) heard a loudspeaker with the sound of the box removed, the world never looked back.
The LS3/5a was a BBC design, licensable to any manufacturer. But it was the Rogers version in particular that swept the USA in the late 1970s. This small two-way (7.5" x 12" x 6.25") offered startlingly realistic vocal reproduction and a remarkably expansive and “boxless” sound picture. With its essentially neutral midband but upper bass bump and slightly projected treble, it was not entirely flat, and it had no deep bass. But for a whole generation of listeners, it redefined the possible for small speakers. Some other, larger BBC-influenced designs—the Spendor BC1 first and the Spendor SP1 and SP1/2 and Harbeth Monitor 40 later on—were better speakers overall. But none quite seized the imagination of the U.S. audio public as did the little LS3/5a. With an updated version still in production today, the LS3/5a has stood the test of time as few other speakers have.
Robert E. Greene
Edgar Villchur invented the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker. He founded the Acoustic Research Company with Henry Kloss and began production of the AR1 in 1955. The acoustic suspension principle was elegantly simple; Villchur mounted a long-throw 12" woofer in a sealed box, using the air trapped inside the box as the spring to launch the woofer’s cone. His design so reduced the size of the cabinet that you could place it on a bookshelf, making it an instant sensation.In 1958 Villchur demonstrated a new 3-way version, the AR3, with live vs. recorded events where the musicians would stop playing the notes but continue to “pretend” to play as the ARs were switched on. Suddenly, the musicians would stop and freeze while the music continued. Jaws would drop; everyone was fooled—it made newspaper headlines! At its peak the AR3a captured 33% of the high-fidelity loudspeaker market. The Smithsonian Institution has placed the AR3 on permanent display in The National Museum of American History.