The Hub: Acoustic Research - second in a series

Our last installment gave a Cliff's Notes version of the origin of the American Hi-Fi industry, and we began our look at the postwar boom in the field, with a specific interest in the company which led the industry for 25 years, Acoustic Research. Commonly known as A.R., Acoustic Research was founded in 1954 by Edgar Villchur and Henry Kloss (pronounced "close").

With Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Art History, Villchur might seem an unlikely speaker-pioneer, but wartime Army training in radio and electronics gave him the skills needed to work in sound-reproduction. Villchur realized that the weakest leak in home Hi-Fi was speakers, and in 1952, following several years of intensive research and experimentation, he applied for a patent for a principle he called "acoustic suspension". Put briefly, compared to the large ported speakers that were the standard of the era, an acoustic suspension design utilized a more flexible driver-surround coupled with a smaller, sealed enclosure of carefully-determined volume. The innate springiness of the air contained in the box allowed remarkable bass-extension at a low level of distortion, but at the cost of very low speaker sensitivity. The acoustic suspension speaker, then and now, requires much more amplifier power to reach a given volume level, compared to ported or horn-loaded designs.

Villchur taught a night-class in Sound Reproduction at New York University, and one of his students was Henry Kloss, who had studied physics at MIT, but had never graduated. Kloss owned a loft in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he built speaker cabinets for a company called Baruch-Lang. According to an excellent profile of Kloss by Wes Phillips , Villchur was unable to sell the acoustic suspension principle to any existing speaker company, and Kloss decided to go into business with his former teacher.

Kloss raised $4000 from friends, Villchur put in $2000, and with the help of Kloss' friends Malcolm Low and Anton "Tony" Hoffman, a pair of prototype speakers was built in time for the 1954 New York Audio Fair. These speakers were designated "The Villchur Loudspeaker System" in the directory of exhibitors in the October, 1954 AUDIO magazine. These speakers (which became the AR-1 in production form) were an immediate hit at the show. Right?

Not quite. The Audio Fair (grandiosely called "Audiorama 1954") was a public show, and by all accounts, the public loved "the little speakers with the big sound". The problem was with others in the industry. Reviewers made positive comments about the sound quality, especially the bass, but dwelled upon the inefficiency. Luckily, 20 to 50 watt amplifiers were becoming far more common and the same time, and the public overruled the reviewers' concerns.

That issue of AUDIO featured several landmarks for A.R.: in addition to the listing of Acoustic Research's first public appearance, the magazine (then still associated with the Audio Engineering Society) also published Villchur's paper, "Revolutionary Loudspeaker and Enclosure". The sub-heading stated, "The author describes a fundmentally new loudspeaker system whose 12-inch woofwr utilizes an enclosure volume of only 1.7 cubic feet, but whose bass performance is claimed to be superior to that of a true infinite baffle installation." As though to emphasize just how revolutionary the design was, a few pages later engineers from Jensen described their mammoth "Laboratory Reference Standard Loudspeaker System". Villchur's design was barely the size of the tweeter section of the Jensen; however, the Jensen design was said to need only 1/20th of a watt to reach full volume in an average room.

Finally, on page 85 was a 2-column ad from Acoustic Research Inc., headed "THE PEDAL TONES OF THE ORGAN---the upper harmonics of strings and brass reproduced fully and naturally by the Acoustic Research AR-1 loudspeaker system (12" woofer, separate HF section)". AR would soon be known for the elegance of both its products and its ads, but this initial effort had a decidedly homemade appearance.

A side-note: true audio geeks know that the "separate HF section" was in fact a Western Electric 755 driver. AR-1s are rare these days to begin with, but few have survived intact as prices for the 755 have skyrocketed. Sad, but true.

Our next installment will detail the variants of the AR-1 and the models that followed, including AR's best-known product, the AR 3a loudspeaker. Meanwhile, check out the AR family tree in our model database and feel free to search our discussion forums for our members' extensive experience with AR speakers, which were once among the best and best-known in the world.
Great articles,keep em komin,thanks alot,Bob
A lot of us enjoy things in life everyday that we take for granted.Yes I'm guilty of it too. The "acoustic suspension"speaker design may have been invented way before its time. If it wasn't invented by Villcher and sold with the help of Kloss and some friends back then,the idea might still possibly be shelved somewhere.Some just have brilliant ideas that are rejected because is was to modern in its day when ported speakers did everything they thought it needed to.These fine articles brought to us by Audiogon Bill helps us realize that our music we enjoy has its past.It just didn't come from nowhere.Next time we listen,think about the brilliant people that helped make it possible.I look forward to more of these enjoyable articles that help us appreciate these inventors.Thank You!

Wow. Thanks to you both.

Looking through the 1954 AUDIO magazines was eye-opening: many of the companies we take for granted were just getting started, like A.R. and Marantz (listed as S.B. Marantz, by the way). The presenters at the Audio Engineering Society convention included most of the greats: Harry Olson, John Hilliard,Paul Weathers, F.V. Hunt, Norman Pickering, Ben Bauer, H.H. Scott, Paul Klipsch,Arthur Janszen, Abraham Cohen...and on and on. Unbelievable.

Pretty much like the Yankees of that period! Do you suppose the conventioneers realized what a golden era they were living in?
Having been in this hobby/business since 1957 I remember these companies such as AR and the other menetioned quite well indeed. And for thier period of time where clearly pushing the design parameters of what could be accomplished. Sadly today most of these companies are nothing more than mere shells of thier once proud past and most of the product from them is from dubious off shore manufacturers. One that was not menetioned was Harman Kardon. Dr. Sidney Harman who many credit with the genesis of high end, with the Citation series of products. Although he started with Dave Bogen. But that's a story for another time.

It's good to look back at the founding fathers of audio and the products from these truly gifted people. Our debt of gratitude to them is boundless

Already working on something regarding Harman and HK.

You'll see more regarding "shells" and "off shore", as well.

Thanks for the comments.
Thanks Bill, these are the HiFi companies that I grew up with and it is always a pleasure to hear more about them. I often wonder why more modern speakers don't use the acoustic suspension design. Seems like most everything is ported these days. I remember when this idea was new and the sound even to my young untrained ears really was special.I remember going into the AR display room at Grand Central Station. Can you imagine today, a High End audio company appealing to the masses enough to justify a high profile store in Grand Central Station? Oh sure, that will be the day!
Among the many, many things that AR did - the AR turntable, to name a few, was give birth to the two way speaker in a small enclosure a la the AR-2A. The 2A led Kloss to design the KLH speaker and later, the Advent on which it is based. The goal of these speakers was to devote funds away from complex cross overs and drivers and devote funds to simpler, better sounding drivers and cross overs.
What ... no Ohm A or F loudspeaker thoughts ???
Thanks, Harv and Joe.

Music, perhaps we'll address Ohm another day. Lots of companies are worth looking at.

Thanks to you all for your comments.