They are a very famous and rare speaker. I have some AR-11s from the 1970s collecting dust and drying out.
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My original pair of AR3a speakers are sitting on the floor of my closet. From time to time, I imagine having the Marantz 18 and AR table I used with them checked out to create a vintage setup, but I'm unlikely to do it. Nevertheless, I'll hang onto these icons of my youth because I'm basically a pack rat.
For anyone who questions Violin's perspective in praising the old AR-3s, I can tell you that I've known him for many years and consider him to have some of the best ears I've encountered in this hobby.
What he didn't mention was that he has played the violin since studying it as a teenager and has the experience of playing in multiple orchestras, thus great exposure to the sounds of live, acoustic music.
Also, his AR-3s are not completely 55 years old! He had them gone through to ensure all drivers and crossover parts were performing as intended. He also replaced those troublesome level pots. My reason for mentioning this is you should not expect to pull out a pair that was in storage for the past 30 years, or some you just found at your local thrift store, and expect to experience the same level of performance as Violin enjoys.
But now perhaps the most telling part of the story. For years he has been frustrated that he couldn't convince his wife to sit down to enjoy music with him, regardless how refined of a system he'd assembled. Now with his AR-3s she is happy to have music on and listen all day long.
Hopefully he won't mind my telling "the rest of the story".
I have owned two pairs of 3a's,I ran them with a AR amplifier that I still have,it is rated at 60w per channel at 4 ohms.I can say from experience they will NOT handle that kind of power with 500w,they were never designed to handle that much.The problem was they sounded decent in the day and I always wanted to hear them louder,excellent bass but the tweeters are fragile.The AR amp was a perfect match for them,I found that with larger amps they were only slightly louder but were easily damaged.
The relationship is power needed to achieve a given SPL, and it isn't usually very much for practical listening levels. What gives AR speakers their LF capability is the large excursion the diaphragm can make. I recall a debate between Paul Klipsch and Edgar Villchur at an Acoustical Society meeting in which Klipsch said something to the effect he didn't care if you push it (the diaphragm) with a broom handle you still have to move the air. IME, well designed powerful amps do a superior job of controlling diaphragm excursions.
Dbphd, your earlier statement was that the speakers the ARs would replace are more efficient than the ARs. That fact has nothing to do with the maximum power handling of either speaker. The AR is spec'd at 100 watts max. Using them with an amplifier 4x their rated max probably won't cause them damage, but then again it might. There's only one way to truly find out and to quote Clint -- "do you feel lucky?"
Onhyw61, the AR3a speakers have been sitting in my closet for years and are likely to remain there. I use the 400 watt/channel amps with a pair of KEF 107/2 mains and a pair of 102 surrounds, speakers much more efficient than the ARs. The danger you envision could happen I suppose if a noise were sent over the system inadvertently, from a short, for example, but not by listening at the levels most folks use. I can't imagine using anywhere near 100 watts into an AR. I never cranked the 40 watts/channel Marantz 18 anywhere near its peak even in the days of playing Let It Bleed while smoking a substance common on college campuses at the time.