The Hub: Refrigerators that can really sing

Can you look at those beige grille-cloths and NOT think, "Oh--'70's"? I certainly can't. I can almost FEEL the polyester. Yes, they are big, and if you put them side-by-side, you might mistake them for a rear-projection big-screen TV...assuming that TV had a beige, polyester screen. It could happen.

Enough of the '70's-slamming. The worst thing you can say about these Snell Type A is that those grilles really are hideous, and that they are BIG muthas. Beyond that? These are some of the most-musically-involving speakers ever built, a total work of devotion from designer Peter Snell and meticulously built to standards that are impressive even today. The only question is: why aren't I buying them? Why aren't YOU?

Obviously, everybody comes from SOMEPLACE, and Peter Snell came from a scientific household: his father, Dr. George Snell, was a geneticist who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1980. Peter grew up on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine, where his father was a researcher at the Jackson Laboratory. Peter studied Physics at Marlboro College and Brown University, and went from his grad studies at Brown in 1970 to become a principal engineer at EPI (Epicure Products Inc.), one of many Boston-area speaker companies founded by alumni of AR (Acoustic Research).

In 1974, Snell left EPI, and began the research that would result in the Snell Acoustics Type A in 1976. As we can see here, Snell started his new venture off with a big splash: the '70's was an era of big bell-bottoms and mostly small speakers. In a marketplace full of bookshelf speakers, the Snell Type A was unabashedly big, in some ways the spiritual descendant of the Bozak Concert Grand. The Type As have a simpler driver-complement than the Grands, having only three drivers facing front, and one tweeter firing to the rear for ambience, but the As have a more complex enclosure and crossover.

The Type A enclosure was a far more sophisticated creation than its refrigerator-box proportions might lead one to believe. Under that grill was the top section, shaped like a cylindrical prism in order to minimize diffraction from the mid and tweeter. The bottom section contained the 10" woofer, in a sealed box. The heroic bass output belied the relatively small woofer, and the acoustic-suspension enclosure was in the best tradition of the Boston school of speaker design. The wide baffles ( a design element rarely seen in speakers in the new millennium) were thought by Snell to propogate a more realistic wavefront than a narrow cabinet.

Peter Snell clearly was a talented designer; the smaller Types E and J which followed the Type A have survived to this day--sort of. Their basic design parameters,including the proportions which Snell felt to be crucial to good sound, are still found in Audio Note speakers today. Curiously, today's Snell speakers bear little resemblance to the company's early models.

Why the change in direction? Sadly, after the Type A reached its third iteration in 1984, 38-year-old Peter Snell dropped dead of a heart attack on the floor of the factory he seemed to love. I suppose it could be viewed as a cruel irony that the son of a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, died far too young from a heart condition.

A less-cruel irony of the Type A is its name: can anything be more antithetical to Type A behavior than a big, effortless speaker which allows one to immerse oneself in music?

Peter Snell's love of music was reflected in his designs, and his company lives on, now under the same ownership as McIntosh, Denon, Marantz, Boston Acoustics and probably a company or two I can't recall. The Illusion, a new $50,000 cutting-edge flagship Snell model designed by Dr. Joe D'Appolito, will bring new luster to the Snell brand, even though their curvy form resembles the Type A about as much as Angelina Jolie resembles Rosie O'Donnell. Perhaps the true legacy is in the sound, not the style.

Well, I for one, have to say I'm enjoying these histrionic junkets down audio lane.
OMG...LOL, I saw the title and was wondering if you were going to describe how certain kitchen refrigerators influence the sound of the system throught the power lines. WHEW!!!! I was considering cancelling my membership at this point!!!!
Huh. Now that you mention it, that'd be a GREAT topic to write about! Thanks for the inspiration!!

...Just kidding: although as I've said, in audio, EVERYTHING matters. Wouldn't surprise me if LEDs in refrigerator displays threw hash into the power-line. Ya just never know.

Thanks for the comments.
Bill, keep the articles coming... they've been great. I heard the Type A's in 1979 and was utterly blown away.
Thanks for the kind words. We'll have more histories of significant products, but we will be looking to the future, as well.
I, too, have to admit that I am enjoying the historic audio tid-bits.
I did not know the personal history of Peter Snell & the sad truth about his untimely passing away.
Maybe it's true - the good always die young?
Good die young? Nah; I've made it to 53.

Oh, wait: maybe that means I'm not as good as I thought!

Thanks for your kind comments. I hope you'll continue to read and enjoy The Hub.
I was in my 30's in 1977 when I was first smitten by the Snell Type A. In 1989, I was finally able to own a pair of Snell Type AIIIi, which served me well for 19 musically blissful years, still in mint condition, and a magnificent to-die-for mid-range. In 2004, I acquired a pair of Snell XA Reference Towers, and it still took me 4 years to decide to part with the Type A's in 2008.

Properly set up, those huge boxes would disappear - sonically speaking. The XA Ref Towers are 6' tall and weigh 200 lbs each - much more imposing than the Type A's. But they do take the legacy of Peter Snell to another level.
What a great post to read. I owned Type A-II's and they remain the most musically involving speaker I have ever heard. I would listen to record after record, disk after disk, and get goosebumps. Very few speakers give me goosebump realism. Peter Snell was really something.
The 'hideous' beige grill was a special order speaker. It was I believe offered with a light white oak to be visually different from the standard dark oak with black grill Type A.
The above combo must have been one of a kind special order. Since Snell did all it's woodwork for the speakers onsite doing custom colors was not that big of a problem as all of the Type A's were custom matched to the drivers with Snell listening to each individual speaker. Snell was one of the first if not the first to come with the realization that cabinet diffraction made a difference in sound quality. Peter Snell was a genius. I should know it as I was a distributor for Snell Acoustics in the late 70s/early 80s.