Searching for the ideal vintage bookshelf speakers.


Greetings Gentlemen. I am looking for the ideal pair of vintage bookshelf speakers. My "listening room" doubles as library and design studio. It is approximately 12 x 30 x 8 feet with wood floors, one small rug, several wooden cases lining the walls, and no drapes.

The speakers will sit horizontally atop two bookcases which are against one of the 12-foot wide walls. Maximum speaker dimensions: 31h x 16w x 12d inches. I will not be buying a subwoofer, so I want speakers that can deliver the broadest and clearest dynamic range possible.

My preference is for sealed box or front vented three-way speakers. I have selected the following prospects: Altec 874A Segovia, Acoustic Research 11, Harbeth Super HL5, KLH Model 5, Rogers Export Monitor, Allison Four and Spendor SP-1.

If you have direct experience with these speakers, I would highly value your thoughts regarding 1) quality of cabinet construction 2) clarity and naturalness of sound 3) warmth vs brightness of tones 4) open vs tight sonic image 5) listener fatigue value and 6) speaker preference for tube or solid state amplification.

I listen to a wide variety of music: medieval, renaissance, swing, beebop, blues, Scandinavian folk, Celtic, organ, opera and orchestral, and a good helping of classic rock.

Many thanks for your ideas. Best wishes.
unclechoppy
For the record, why limit yourself to  "vintage" bookshelves ?
Is this a nostalgia wish? If so, fine, but...and it is a BIG  "but"...

"Vintage" in speakers is not "vintage" in wine. Without prejuduce to avoiding the issues of replacing unavoidable deteriorating speaker surrounds, caps etc., as old speakers age,  today's bookshelves speaker technology and build quality  and their resulting audio performance will smoke the "vintage" fare.


Add  to this that many of the old stuff had unique and purposefully exaggerated sonic signatures e.g JBL L-100s with their spiked treble and bass for 60s pop and 70s Geezer Classic Rock fare. They excelled in college dorm berry and Maui Wowee parties but sucked at Jazz, classical, etc. ( I had 'em along after a transient parade of EPIs, Acoustic Research, ADVENTS, DYNACOS , CAMBERs, and others , and conversely the classic British ROGERS BBC monitor and its clones (a la HARBETH) with their flat-line frequency response with a very rapid bass dropoff simply sucked out at rock but sounded just fine for polite Classical and "polite" light FM. The latter were also much more sensitive to their matched electronics (ergo quality build British ....) to permit them to perform at their max. 

Your road to Oz for "vintage" kit is largely just pick-one-of-em IMO, especially if you are running them with matched vintage gear, subject to the notes of caution above. 
If you have direct experience with these speakers, I would highly value your thoughts

Yeah, about 40 years of experience with my first pair of speakers being KLH 17’s.

I agree 100% with akg_ca’s post above. Why vintage speakers? Of all the components from the so called golden age of HiFi in the 70’s, speakers by far have come along the farthest. A vintage speaker is the last component I would want in my current system. Besides you haven’t told us what amp you have and vintage speakers, especially sealed ones, were fairly inefficient back in the day. You will find far better sound looking at todays offerings.

But if this is nostalgia or styling thing, then you may want to look at the some of the DIY kits being offered with modern drivers based on classics from yesteryear like the Dynaco A25. Good luck.

I love the above vintage wine analogy!

My final chirp and navel-gazing the lint in my navel as I ponder this thread

todays speakers simply smoke (emphasis added ) the "vintage " (ergo "old") speakers in both component / build quality and resulting audio performance ... Full stop.

Why?

Simple.... lived that era in college. Let's not forget that the bookshelf speaker revolution started in the 70s with the intro first by the AR / ADVENT / EPI /DYNACO  fads was a new wave about making cheaply made transportable speakers, mated to cheap receivers and cheap turntables to satisfy the tsunami of a new era of rock music fans eager provided by the baby boomers trundling off to college in the era of emerging beer-soaked and pot-infused party dorm arenas.

The operative word - CHEAPLY made for the masses...cheap speaker drivers, cheap - dare I also say crappy -- crossovers and cheap overall build quality - again full stop.

Contrast that with today's brands with their quantum leap improvements in drivers, crossovers, caps, cabinet bracing and overall build quality. The degree of current audio performance improvement in comparison is seismic - not even close.

The one common theme in any of today's top performers (and you don't  have to go to thin air levels to get that PRaT .. Pace, Ryhtem and Timing) is the MIDRANGE .... Cuz that where most of your audio spectrum lies.

For example

Why you want top-shelf midrange performance is emphasized in a REGA speaker review link below (specifically commenting on its midrange/upper bass driver) that sums it up nicely....

"....Immediate impressions are a clear and transparent portrayal with very high detail retrieval, fast and controlled transient response, and superb musical timing, both in articulating rhythms and tempi, and in placing instruments within the temporal flow and context of the performance. The RR125 is an outstanding mid/bass driver, sonically and musically right in line with the midrange performance of Rega’s amplifiers and phono cartridges. Get the midrange right and everything else will fall into place. Get it wrong, and all the king’s horses… "

your current speaker choices are VERY many depending on your wallet and synergies with the rest of your system and also highly dependent on the strengths and warts of your listening environment  ......

Sampler in the "affordable" range:

REGA
PROAC
JMR (Jean Marie Renaud)
PMS
ATC
Audio Physic
ELAC
TOTEM

For example here is a budget speaker Review on a unit that is that are designed to be either put onto shelves and close to the back-wall 

REGA R1s / RS1s (...now the new improved model RX1s...)

http://www.stereotimes.com/speak121305.shtml

"....The Rega R1 becomes my new budget reference speaker. In addition of its ability to get the fundamentals of music right, it adds clarity and resolution, and an ability to lay out a vivid and coherent 3-dimensional stereo image. In small room applications, what more could you want?..."

high recommended ... I have them in my office system and as surrounds in my HT system.

FWIW....
Correction to the above ... Not "PMS" but rather "PMC".... (Sigh... The perils of sneaky instant autocorrect on an iPad...
i don't think that jensen drivers are cheap and don't think that speakers with jensen drivers cheaply built. "cheaply made for masses" simply implies that "masses" had substantially better consumer ability to afford.

Unclechoppy,
I'd suggest you ask this same question over on the audiokarma forums where there is a much broader, and experienced knowledgebase regarding vintage equipment. The regular contributors there would also be able to assist with required maintenance for speakers on your wish list. Something like the Harbeth SHL-5 would be easier to own, since its still in production, than something like the Allison where replacement parts could be hard to find. Foam surrounds are easily replaced, but you would want to make sure proper sized surrounds are still available before committing. 

From your list, the Harbeths and Spendors would present the lowest risk in that they're generally respected, and could be easily resold if they weren't to your liking. But, I'm not sure how well each of those would work in a near wall environment. I understand Harbeths need a bit of room to keep the bass under control. 

Best of luck with your selection and let us know what you end up with.
Can't comment on all - but I do own and continue to use a pair of Spendor SP1 in my second system.  I recently set them up after a number of years in storage.

They are absolutely wonderful.  A full, rich musical presentation that I can listen to for hours on end. I have them on small stands, and they perform well with all types of music. Never any fatigue.

In my main system I alternate between Dynaudio C1, and believe it or not rebuilt Quad ESL57.  While a case could be made for newer technology, I just can't imagine any more enjoyment than I get from my "vintage" speakers.
yakbob +1 !
Honestly, this thread makes me laugh. It's like you're asking "Which old, rare, finicky sports car should I buy to drive only in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 20 mph?" Then all the discussion of the nuanced differences between the Lambo, the Ferrari & the Lotus.

If your criteria includes "speakers will sit horizontally atop two bookcases", your in room performance will be so compromised that the list of 6 issues seems really over the top. You need to setup most monitors on proper stands somewhat away from the wall behind them to get anywhere near their capabilities. 

OP's list of concerns indicates a fairly high bar of what he's hoping to achieve. Perhaps if lifestyle issues preclude proper setup, consider a nice set of headphones instead.  Sorry, not trying to be Debbie Downer, here. Cheers,
Spencer

OK. So you want a pair of 40+ year-old bookshelf speakers, installed high on bookshelves (with 31" vertical clearance) to fill a space almost the size of a 2-car garage, but NO SUBWOOFER.

Well, I think I almost have an answer. It may meet a lot of objections here, but for your purposes it should meet your visual and sonic requirements well.

With that size of a space, I doubt you’re looking for pinpoint imaging. You’d probably like a large soundstage so you have an even balance as you move about your studio.

So here’s my suggestion: Bose 901 direct/reflecting speakers. No need to buy used; they’re still in production and look pretty much as retro as the originals. It also means a factory warranty and all the parts are available and in production.

But for these to work right you’ll need to fudge a little on your placement ideas while not violating the general idea of keeping them up and out of the way. The 901s have eight rear-firing 4.5" drivers and a small port. There has to be at least 12" between the back of the speaker and the wall behind it. Two or three feet might be better. Setting them on the top of your bookshelves leave no space between the back of the speakers and the wall, but you could hang them from the ceiling on cables or chains, at the same height as if they were on top of the bookshelf, and about 1-2 feet in front of the wall behind.

Bring a lot of power to the party--150-250 wpc preferred. They will play a wide variety of music well. They will fill your space pretty effortlessly, and with a high current powerful amp, you’ll have fast, tight bass. You’ll also get a stable soundstage and pretty uniform volume and timbre response throughout your studio.

Tone Publications did this review of the 901s, listening to them without prejudice, and flew in the face of long-running audiophile sentiment with a very favorable review, especially at their asking price of $1395/pair.
Thank you for your replies. Unfortunately, most missed the mark. I like vintage audio equipment in the same way I like vintage automobiles, vintage books, vintage paintings, vintage architecture and vintage furniture. Yes, I am still interested in an intelligent discussion regarding vintage bookshelf speakers. Thank you yakbob, yashu and johnnyb53 for your thoughtful comments. I hope to hear from more people who can address the specifics of my initial post. Best wishes.
unclechoppy, a few thoughts based upon some decades of experience.

First, the term "bookshelf speaker" has an unfortunate evolution.  It is true it connotes speakers of a size and weight that could fit and be supported by a bookshelf.  But very few of them sounded as good there as compared to placement on stands and out away from the walls.  Your 4th point includes imaging and only a few speakers have been designed to image well close to a wall and surrounded by other objects on bookshelves.

Second, with your appreciation of "vintage audio", understand that some repair/updating will be likely.  Many woofers and some mid-range drivers were built with foam surrounds which may not survive even 20 years.  Fortunately surrounds can be replaced.  Crossovers will likely include parts which benefit from upgrading, particularly capacitors.  A number of "vintage" speakers included tone switches with two to five positions.  Those too may require replacement.  Cosmetics are a personal choice but finding 30 year old speakers with good finish on the cabinets and speaker cloth which is not soiled or ripped may not be easy.  Of course they can be restored too.

Third, I've never owned any of the speakers you listed, though I have heard some specifically and others in similar models.  From my experiences I can recommend two choices if you want to pursue this.  The Dynaco A-25 (or rare A-25XL) if deep bass is not too important, and the Large Advent if bass is important.  The A-25 can be driven by smaller amps (20 - 60 wpc) and sound good with either tube or SS of reasonable quality.  The Advent will need more power (50 - 200 wpc).  I've never heard those driven by tubes but something with KT-88, 6550, or the new KT-150 may be fine.  Also, both are 2-way systems, thus easier to restore.

Lastly, the danger in recommending any old/used component is it will depend on what you can find in your price range.  I could suggest you get the Blast-off X 1000 but while looking for that you might miss the QRD which would be just as good or better.  Therefore, having a list of candidates rather than one specific model will be best.  And allow some $ out of your budget for restorations mentioned above, just like that vintage auto.

Good luck, and let us know what you find.
Your requested specifics on Spendor SP1:

1.  Thin walls but solid.  Fine workmanship.  Mine still look great.
2.  Extremely natural realistic presentation.  Vocals are marvelous.
3.  No brightness.  Leans towards warm, musical with sufficient detail.
4.  Wide open soundstage - however you can pinpoint specific instruments in small combos, etc.
5.  No listener fatigue.  I listen for hours to all types is music.
6.  I always used a SS amp.  Have heard they work well with tubes.

Hope this helps

A detailed audiophile technical specifications of Spendor SP1:
yashu129 posts03-08-2016 12:49pmYour requested specifics on Spendor SP1:

1.  Thin walls but solid.  Fine workmanship.  Mine still look great.
2.  Extremely natural realistic presentation.  Vocals are marvelous.
3.  No brightness.  Leans towards warm, musical with sufficient detail.
4.  Wide open soundstage - however you can pinpoint specific instruments in small combos, etc.
5.  No listener fatigue.  I listen for hours to all types is music.
6.  I always used a SS amp.  Have heard they work well with tubes.

Unclechoppy,

There is a certain satisfaction and appreciation owning vintage equipment.  Of the speaker choices you've listed, I have owned the AR-10tt; it used the same components as the AR-11 but also included adjustments for bass along with adjustments for midrange and treble the 11 had.  They were excellent sounding and am sure they still would be today if in restored condition. They had the classic New England or East coast presentation of smooth natural sound.  Very easy and enjoyable listening, with a wide dispersion, and nice clean simple looks.  I can't comment on their imaging since when I owned them, imaging wasn't talked about as much(late seventies), but I'm sure the 11's would perform well.  You might also want to consider the AR-LST or AR-LST-2.  When I first listened to the LST it was the finest sounding speaker I had ever heard, but that was some 40 years ago.  They don't come up for sale very often, and when they do, they're normally expensive, and most likely need a lot of work.  Plus they're heavy-ninety and sixty pounds.  The AR-11's are probably over fifty pounds so your bookshelves will need to be very sturdy for these speakers.   We are not talking about vintage acoustic windup victrolas here.  These were very well designed and made loudspeakers.  I wish I still had my AR-10tt's.  Best of luck in your vintage search.

I'm surprised you have the Altec 874A Segovia on your list. It's fairly obscure, but it's also the only one I have direct experience with, though I heard the AR3a plenty back in the day as well.

I bought my first stereo in 1972. It was an Altec package deal--the 911A compact, which had a nice Altec receiver with the Garrard SL95B turntable set into the top, outfitted with a Shure M93E cartridge. The speakers were *supposed* to be the 8" 2-way Altec 887A Capri, but the sales person wrote down 874A instead on my sales ticket. 

I got the whole package for $419. The Segovias were supposed to be $560/pair. I flipped.

So I got to enjoy them for a couple of weeks before she found out her mistake (I thought it might have been a closeout bundle) and asked for them back. I followed my conscience and brought 'em back in exchange for the Capris.

While I had'em, however, at the time, to those 19-yr-old ears, and without benefit of bookshelves *or* speaker stands, they sounded really good to me--effortless, with quality bass and a pretty linear and dynamic presentation.

I consider them Altec's answer to the JBL L100, but I consider them better in general, and for your situation in particular. The midrange is actually an Altec full-range speaker, which enables it to cover a large part of the frequency range without strain. The 12" woofer has a 17-lb. magnetic structure and is in a sealed cabinet, so there's no placement problem. The tweeter is a textile dome. 

In spite of the sealed enclosure, the speakers were easy to drive and the bass was strong but not overpowering, and tight. They were also pretty efficient with a 4-ohm impedance besides, which opens up more wattage from the amp if it has the durrent delivery to allow the amp to do so.

I could see the Segovias for a match for your requirements as well. Bear in mind that the woofer has a foam surround, so either you find a pair that's been recently refoamed, or you'll have to do that (about every 10-20 years). It's not that hard, and most speaker reconing services could do it as well (I think).
Unclechoppy,  I'm with you on all things vintage and you either get it or you don't. You might consider adding ADS to your list, I recently acquired a pristine set of ADS 570/2's and I must say they really shine, I've got them paired with a museum grade Yamaha CR1020 and together they create a clean and wonderful sound. My ADS's are a two way with an 8" woofer and the fantastic ADS soft dome tweeter, the highs on these are so refined and delicate sounding, amazing for a 30 year old speaker. Another thing to consider is they are sealed designs so placing them on a bookcase shouldn't be an issue for your purposes. Anyway, good luck with your endeavor...
^^^ Now ADS is an idea I can really get behind. I had a pair of L1090 ii floorstanders for nine years. They get it all right--dynamics, linearity, smoothness, frequency extension. Like a good vintage anything, the cabinetry and veneer applications are first-rate too.

They have a wide variety of bookshelf configurations from mini's to dual-woofer models. The L710 would probably be a nice choice, but there are some others as well. They use dual 7" woofers instead of a 10" or 12", so the width is narrower. And they're 10" deep so they'll fit comfortably on the shelf. Here's the product sheet.

The ADSs were ahead of their time. They don't suffer from the quirks and shortcomings of other vintage speakers, such as boomy bass, dispersion suckouts at the crossover regions, diffraction distortion, foam rot, etc.
I was just going to suggest the 710's Johnny good call. I have owned many models of ADS & a/d/s/ speakers and for bookshelf's the 710's and the L9e are my two favorites. Of those two the 710's are a bit more efficient. Can't go wrong with any of their speakers.

Bozaks had no "Foam surround" on their drivers [I always hated the phony bass on AR speakers] and I still have a system with 6 Bozak woofers, 4 Bozak mids and 24 Bozak tweeters that will blow you out of the room. Imaging ? Nah --- not much. Bottom end? Definitely. Satisfaction quotient ? Truly enjoyable ! It provides a LOT of fun but not if you are a true "Audiophile". If you are, you will tear the system to shreds with "informed" opinions !  Relax !  If it sounds good ---- it IS good !
I would look at Audionote AN J's or even K's will fit your size they are wonderful speakers and designed to be positioned close to a wall so in your book shelf they will do better then most.
I still have a system with 6 Bozak woofers, 4 Bozak mids and 24 Bozak tweeters that will blow you out of the room. Imaging ? Nah --- not much. Bottom end? Definitely. Satisfaction quotient ? Truly enjoyable ! It provides a LOT of fun but not if you are a true "Audiophile". If you are, you will tear the system to shreds with "informed" opinions ! Relax ! If it sounds good ---- it IS good !

Stereophile reviewed some fully restored Bozak Concert Grand B410s a little over 10 years year. They looked past modern audiophile concerns and were very favorable about these. An excerpt from the conclusion:

Conclusion
You read about speakers that perfectly image but have limited bass, or hyperdetailed speakers that, over time, fatigue the listener. But the Bozak Concert Grand does everything well while not excelling at any one sonic parameter. I believe this is its greatest strength. It is dynamic beyond belief, with gobs of musical detail and harmonic richness. A pair of them are magical in their ability to deliver space and ambience cues, but they image more like what you hear at a concert—not "pinpoint" imaging, but a more blended sound. And the speaker has extraordinary but not superfast bass. The Bozak Concert Grand is the most musically satisfying loudspeaker I’ve heard. It may be the best non-horn vintage speaker you can own.

However, no way would these Concert Grands fit on the OP's bookshelf space. But they are definitely "vintage" in its most favorable connotation.
I totally understand the interest in vintage speakers.  All of the speakers in my house could be called vintage---homemade speakers with Jensen and Altec drivers, Spendor SP-100s, Fulton FMI-80s, and Dyna A25s.  Based on your criteria including the bookshelf mounting, I would highly recommend the Dyna A25 or if space is really tight the A10.  With either tube or solid state amps, the Dynas still sound "right" to my ears, not the very best but they get out of the way and let you enjoy the music in ways that many modern speakers do not.

AR 11 pair would fit most of your criteria.  Very solid construction, excellent bass response, non fatiqueing but natural sound.  They will not deliver a pinpoint image like a pair of LS3/5a properly mounted on stands etc.  The AR11 and most AR speakers were designed for med-far field listening.  IE a seated position 10-15 feet away from the drivers.  They have exceptional off axis response.  They respond well to 50-60wpc of tube power and 100-150wpc of ss power that is very stable into a low impedance load.  The AR 11 represents a transition of sorts.  The 11 (and 10 pi) added newly designed mid and tweeter domes to the classic AR 12 inch 2 way design.  Prior AR speakers, like the 3, 3a (and 2ax / 5) did not provide truly flat on axis response because the mid and tweeter drivers were incapable of providing then necessary spl due to power handling limitations.  The new dome drivers were among the first in the world to use ferrofluid to increase power handling capacity, and spl, resulting in a flat response curve.  A pair of AR11 speakers will be 40yrs old, so expect to either purchase a restored pair, or be ready to have them restored.
"  the classic AR 12 inch 2 way design"   Should be 3 way design.
If you can find a pair, it's hard to beat the Rogers LS3/5as. They are one of the most honest sounding speakers I have ever heard. Don't expect heavy bass -- and they may be pushing their limits in a 30 foot long room (unless you sit closer to them) -- but they are a remarkable, collectible, vintage speaker.